Rama and I crawled into la cama practically immediately upon arriving back in Oakland--not the first time I've ruled that shut-eye supersedes showering. It felt really good to sleep in a bed, which isn't to say we're by any means roughing it when we camp. Rama has Rama-ish-ly dialed in our camp sleep set-up, and it's completely comfy. Man with a plan, right after we met he went out and purchased two big green Coleman bags to zip together (not for hike-in camping, obvi, but since leg room in the bag is paramount to my peace of mind they're dope for our yoozh bourgie car camping). As to padding, for at least the first year of our campvibes we used stacked-up moving blankets, very princess and the pea style, which is totally sufficient but cumbersome to pack. Rama bought a queen air mattress for my ma to use when we camped with her in Santa Cruz, and we've used it since and never looked back.
The next morning we showered (hallelujah!) and then Rama bopped over to the Beebs to get some more foodstuffs while I remained puttering around the house packing shit and tidying shit and just generally enjoying being home for a hot minute.
The cats were very much in the mix after their initial where-tee-eff have you been standoffish-ness, and it twinged me I'd be leaving them again, though at least Momma Madz would be remaining in town with them this time around.
We took our time getting out the door (I, as you can see above, even painted my toenails), and ended up driving through the heat of the afternoon, stopping briefly in Carmel for some late-lunch deli sandos. Zeke and Kingsley, our camp pardners for the evening, already had their tent up by the time we arrived at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Our site, which we'd selected online having made reservations for once, was nice, a massive "corner lot" at the easterernmost end of the sprawling campground. We quickly pitched it (while Kingsley remained entertained with a bottle of bubbles, a portion of which was dumped down one of the site's plenitude of gopher holes), then jotted over to Pfeiffer Beach for sunset. Kingsley was totally activated re: chasing the sun. It was cracking me up.
We arrived at Pfeiffer in the nick, then made our way slowly along the yellow-painted beach to a desirable cliff-side picnicky nook.
We put down a blanket, cracked some brews, and sat back to watch that day-to-nightly show of changing light.
Then back to camp to get to dinner-fixin' and fire-makin'. Zeke had brought some fresh-caught Dungeness crab, some of which we ate straight, the rest of which was integrated turbo-tastily into our jack cheese and potato tacos.
Rama cheffed and Zeke built the fire; Kingsley (who is such a junior bro) was enthralled with the process, which made for a very pleasing little vignette.
Kingsley conked first and was en-tented; I retired a while later.
The next morning we swilled some coffee, then headed back to Pfeiffer so Rama and Zeke could quickly sesh before lunch with Rama's Aunt Rosemarie and Uncle Tony (who'd very sweetly driven up to take him to a belated bday brunch at Nepenthe, their go-to Big Sur nom spot).
Kingsley towed in a wagon's worth of beach toys. Apparently he's into hats now (which is I'm sure a relief for his 'rents sun-protection-wise)--such a tiny little bro. As Rama said the other day, chuckling me deeply, "Kingsley keeps getting more and more classic."
I'd volunteered to watch King plus Poundy while the dudes surfed. It was, in a word, hectic. Thankfully there's a shallow little creek on the beach which served as a kind of lagoon/wading pool where Kingsley could splash around while I eyeballed him from a slight distance. Poundo was of course screaming the entire time because he could see Rama out in the water, and in addition to mostly ineffectively trying to shush his unrelenting disruption of the beachy peace, I also had to be on red alert that none of the canines gamboling 'round the dog-friendly beach approached unfriendly-to-dogs P, as I would be the under-qualified buffer between P's snapping jaws and a golden retriever's doofy jugular. Ramz and Zeke made it quick, but I was left with a very "phew, I'm glad I'm not a mom/dog-owner!" takeaway.
Then to Nepenthe, only a little late. Rosemarie, Tony, Sita, and Coleburn had already arrived. We shoved another table up and had a nice bite and some great convo.
On our way out Rama pulled one of his most amusing moves and used a blade of grass to lasso a blue-belly lizard, then hypnotized his captor with stomach-strokes, eventually convincing Kingsley to do the same. I'm weird about touching certain kinds of things--at those hands-on aquariums I am almost incapable of willing myself to poke the sea slug--so it was cute to see Kingsley's curiosity overcome his instinctive hesitation. Rama's the opposite of me; he's almost compelled to touch (and to my endless chagrin, toddler-style ID things, plants especially, by tossing them into his mouth). I don't know if it's a Waldorf thing or a disposition thing or both, but I like his hands-on (pun not really intended) way.
Rama's aunt and uncle stay with religious regularity at the Ripplewood, and they stopped by so they could have a brief sit-down along the stream while Rosemarie read and Tony cast a line. We bopped over as well to visit with them a little longer
Zeke/Kingsley then Rama also took turns with the pole hoping to luck into a catch.
After a bit we said our goodbyes so Rama's fam could drive home to Arroyo Grande, and then headed back to camp so Zeke could pack up and Rama and I could begin dinner prep. While Zeke put away the tent I busied Kingsley with "washing" a jenky leaf of kale, which he did, dunking it flamboyantly and incessantly into the pot of cold water. Z and K departed, then Ram's cousin Chris arrived and we shot the shit and listened to music (Chris liked Joanna!) and cooked a pasta and garlic bread extravaganza, plus Chris BBQed a steak over the fire (happy birthday to R!). A while later after dark Sita and Coleburn came to join in on the dinning.
Then the crappiness: I was running back to the site from the can, which isn't the smartest thing to do in the dark but I've gotten into the habit at our fave spot Stillwater up north. I like the heart-rate hike and the invigorating cold-air freedom of a nature-y night-sprint. Plus it expedites the return to the fire. Stillwater however has a paved road, unlike the gopher-hole-riddled Pfeiffer campground. So yeah, predictably down my boot went into a hole; I heard the crack and knew it warn't good, but hoped after the initial shock wore off my screaming ankle would be a-okay. I did ballet from when I was four to fourteen (I really wish I'd learned an instrument instead, and yeah I know it's never too late, and I really do want to get to that, maybe someday soon), and over those years I formed some fearsomely strong ankles. I'm such a dumbass about anatomy and don't know if it's possible some of your kiddo muscles stick around for the long haul; I've always had people guess I did ballet from my posture (I myself can also sometimes spot former ballerinas by their penchant for strict buns and their pursed-lipped, chin-lifted uptight bitchiness), but one woman had called it based on the shape of my leg musculature. Looking back on my grimacing costumed ballet pictures of yore, my pink-tighted piernas do seem to have retained the same basic shape.
Anyway, I've rolled my ankles so many times over the years, but waking up the next morning I knew this was different, a proper sprain, my first. I hobbled to the bathroom in a deep funk, then limped back to camp. We'd had the most romantical plan for that evening. After seeing Joanna Newsom play her Divers tour's final concert at the Henry Miller Library, we'd proceed to night bathe at Esalen. I'd tested the reservation likelihood the day before (you book the morning of) and suspected if I found a tenuous internet signal right at nine I'd likely be able to nab us a couple spots. The caveat: those "healing waters" are two "considerable hills" walking away. I wasn't sure how fucked I was, and so made the very bummer-ish and soul-torn call to save it for next time (I'm hell-bent you best believe). O how I loathe being incapacitated! (The flip side of this is I'm really thankful for my health as long as I'm blessed with it, and I'm sending out now a sincere throb of gratitude.)
I utilized the flickering signal to hit up Rama's awesome malady-remedy resource Earth Clinic for sprain advice. Apple cider vinegar was a big one (what isn't it good for?), to be dosed both externally and internally. We didn't have any with us (I take shots of it on the reg at home--blasts the top of my head right off, but if you've not eaten you run the risk of feeling dog-sick), but we did have some arnica ointment. Rama rubbed it in and I laid of my back on our picnic blanket with my ankle elevated on the picnic bench--proved to be something of a miracle treatment. Twenty minutes later I'd gone from hopping to (albeit gingerly) straight-up walking. O arnica. Weleda makes an arnica massage oil that in addition to smelling wunderbar is magic on sore muscles. Just last night (it is shamefully July now that I'm finishing this damned entry) I had a weird mid-back spasm.
O wow here I go into another long-winded aside, but evidently I do love to whine. When I was in school I had chronic lower back issues. Definitely stress-related (a disturbing thought could induce a physical twinge), and walking all around Berkeley with a shoulder bag loaded up with ten books (not exaggerating) and a laptop being cray-cray about my thesis didn't help either. I'd throw it out at least once or twice a year, even after I'd graduated and was less frequently scholarishly hunched over a desk. People have all kinds of ideas about how to treat chronic back pain; my cure has been my running habit. I think it's the nature of that kind of pain that makes you want to coddle and protect it, but for me at least moving is imperative to loosening locked-up muscles. Over this fourth of July we camped up at our go-to campsite-away-from-home Stillwater. Because it was 'Murrikuh Day even this lesser-known nook of a place was nearly at capacity. There were only a few spots left when we arrived late Monday afternoon (we'd camped on Mount Tam the previous night and took our time making our way north, as it was a RIDICULOUSLY picturesque day, one I may devote a single, photo-heaving post to). Rama was most keen on one spot close to the road, bathrooms, and host. I was less enthralled but amenable, and once we'd settled on it was delighted to realize there was a little path up to a wooded patch that could serve as an alternative tent setting. The point of all this is that this very aesthetically-pleasing and satisfyingly private clearing was also at a rather un-flat angle, and I think it was two nights of in-sleep bracing against a downhill slide whut dun me in. So I was somewhat wrecked in the back department yesterday; the location of the spasm was almost breath-taking, and I actually threw up from pain-induced nausea. I thought I had a fever or something I felt so unwell from it. Last night Rama went to town on mi epsalda with the aforementioned Weleda arnica oil, then finished it with a smear of Tiger Balm, and today I am 80% better and planning on a pre-work run. Arnica's one of the bomb balms (though I stand resolutely by the Tiger patches).
Anywho my ankle was workable, and Ramz, Chris, and I headed back to Pfeiffer Beach so they could have a cuz sesh. While they sussed out the wave sitch I iced my ankle in the shallows.
They suited and loosened up,
and then paddled out. I remained with P, who as you might imagine was delightful company (which is to say ear-splittingly and relentlessly devastated--poor little monster).
Rama did come in for a sec mid-sesh to say hi, which moderately chilled P.
I passed the time trying to quiet P, reading mah book, and snapping some (far-off and grainy, but fun for Chris and Rama) pics of them surfing. They finished and we had a quick snack and beer, then rushed back to camp so Chris could rush back to his kiddos in Arroyo Grande.
Rama and I had a little time to kill before heading early to the Henry Miller Library (I hadn't opted to spring for the extra-expensive shuttle tickets and we were nervous about parking), so we took the short trail a few yards from our campsite to have a beer and a dip in the brisk and chilly river (more "ankle-icing" for me).
After I'd swum about and was properly bone-cold (it didn't take too long), I perched on a bank root, keeping my bum ankle dangled into the stream, and made inroads on my beer while reading aloud to Rama an essay I'd stumbled across and was enamored of.
Stacy during her tenure at UC Press gifted me some really sweet and pitch-perfect nature-y books. One was Theodora Kroeber's The Inland Whale, which Rama and I read aloud to each other over a handful of camping trips (o the twee-manity). Another is Natural State, a "literary anthology of California nature writing." I've only read random parts so far, but I'd brought it with me on our Big Sur venture with the romantical notion of using its Big Sur selection to deepen my experience of the place. Unfortch the Big Sur bit was written by the man himself Henry Miller--I don't know him too well as a writer, but I was acutely unimpressed by the anthology's excerpt from his Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch. Just really basic bitch writing bearing no insight I could find. I kept leafing through the book though and was smitten with an M.F.K. Fisher piece. In addition to Rama riverside, I also later read it in its entirety to Stacy on one of our (too infrequent) phone calls, so consider yourself fortunate, gentle reader, that I'm going limit myself here to sharing just a few choice tidbits, but first a wee overview:
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is best known as a food-writer. I think she first came onto my radar when I read a review likening Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter to her venerated body of work. I love the Hamilton book, and so had made a mental to note to check her out at some point in time, adding To Cook a Wolf to my Amazon cart and leaving it there for eons, to then years later stumble upon her in a nature-writing anthology. I was gushing to my dad about the essay, "Spirits of the Valley," and he said that in his time at Westways they published her on the reg; this piece of hers definitely has that vibe of Western history and place-hood the magazine at the time embodied.
Basically she's writing about a barren ranch she and her first husband bought "for almost nothing" in the Hemet Valley, which they named "Bareacres." It was, she says, "haunted for one thing, and completely untillable," and they "lived there intensely until he died three years later, according to medical schedule, of Buerger's Disease." She retained it through her second marriage and divorce, then, living and working in Whittier, would escape there weekends with her two young daughters. The place though was too rustic for little ones and ultimately impossible to maintain, and so she decided to sell it. Here's where things get interesting though; she isn't hokily heartbroken at losing "the farm," rather her position is strikingly sagacious:
I felt thankful for everything I had learned there, and when I said it was no longer mine, I withdrew forever from it, even though the ashes of my love and my mother may still blow from under some of its great rocks. I know the wind still sings over the Rim of the World and always will.
She goes on to describe a little of the history of the place, describes the healing spring sick Indians had long before been brought to, whose waters she found were laced with lithium, talks about the land's previous owner, a shady white man who had married a Navaho woman, effectively exiling both from all until he was murdered and she was disappeared. Fisher also (very sparingly) describes the day that her husband's ashes were buried there under a rock. The piece was written many years after she'd sold Bareacres, and in this time the untouched hilly desert between LA and Palm Springs had become ultra-developed million-dollar retiree real estate. She says that though she is "told that the fine pure air that first drew [them] there, half mountain and half desert, is now foul with smog and that the rich carpet of fruit trees is now solid with RVs and trailer parks," she isn't tweaked by the transformation:
That is the way it is, I say, and I do not grieve or even care...I have taken more and been given more than can ever be known that is heartwarming and fulfilling forever from that piece of wild haunted untillable land we named Bareacres for a time. No doubt roads have been cut into it and rocks have been blasted away, but I know that the contours cannot change much in a few hundred years in that country. And meanwhile the ghosts are there, even of the sick sad Indians who went to lie in the magic lithium waters of the spring, even of the poor Squawman with a bullet in his heart, and of my own mother who loved the place...they are all there to cleanse and watch over it. They, and many more of us, keep an eye on things so that time itself can stay largely unheeded, as anyone will know who spends more than a few minutes in country like Bareacres.
There are many pockets of comfort and healing on this planet, and I have touched a few of them, but only once have I been able to stay as long and learn and be told as much as there on the southeast edge of the Hemet Valley.
First of all, that is some fucking excellent writing--scalpellic, nuanced, and precise. And at once so soulful! I love what she's saying as much as how she's saying it. The vision of protecting ghosts strikes a deep chord, as does her perspective on time's uninterrupted and unfussed continuing. There's a real feeling of the eternal and of time as a continuum in the piece, and I like her sense of our lives' humble but enduring positions on the river of it. I love how she doesn't get all catastrophic and despairing about the changes made to the place she loved, but dismisses them as superficial and holds fast to the knowledge that anything we do can't alter what's lasting.
What does matter is love, for a place, lived in a place, learned from a place. And I am captivated by the idea that there exist these magical pockets on this spinning earth that we might, if we're open-eyed and primed for thanks, be lucky enough to tap into at times, for a time. I think I know a few so far of mine: Point Reyes, my love at first sight, also farther north what feels like Rama's and my own quiet cloudy stretch of Sonoma/Mendo coast, and lastly Nevada City--the green-glowing Yuba but also specifically Rama's fam's property there, where I know time to slow and settle into a pleasant placidity, overlaid with mindful routine. A corner of my mind holds the dream of maybe one day living (at least part-time) in one or more of these experientially holy-ish zones; naming names I'd be beyond stoked on time-chunks passed in Inverness and Sea Ranch (and of course NC).
So I read this essay aloud to Rama and then we headed back to camp to get dapper for the concert. I regret to report neither of us felt up to going fully-monty in the heavily trafficked, somewhat nasty showers, and so we, river-rat-status, whore-bathed ourselves into a semblance of presentability. We were relieved to land a parking spot a few yards down-road the Henry Miller Library (take that shuttle!), and since we were quite early hoofed it up the hill to Nepenthe for the second day in a row.
We sat outside, ordered a couple beers and split their veggie burger (Rama had some sort of meat soup also). I'm sad to say their burger's famed "ambrosia sauce" is merely a glorified "fancy sauce" of mayo and ketchup--I'm a lover of sauces and my high hopes were somewhat dashed.
Then back down to the library.
We weren't too far back in the line, but there were definitely lots more peeps than when we'd piggied off to dinner; we did at least arrive before a couple shuttle-fulls of concert-goers (and not to hate on "my own" but my o my what a douchey group of hipster folk they were). It was open-seating inside but set up with chairs (unlike the Bill Callahan concert I'd seen there which was all picnic blankets...I can't recall how they'd arranged things for the BPB concert). We got some seats maybe eight rows back but in the middle section, laid down our jackets, then toddled off to check the little library building. There was a kitteh:
and Rama gifted me The Milk-Eyed Mender LP, which I'd been missing from my Jo-New vinyl scene. Then show-time.
It was of course great and très intime, though her setlist was nearly identical to that of the Fox show's and her voice sounded comparatively tired.
Rama, because he is Rama, had charmed/finagled Poundo's admission. He was very good, lying quietly in the aisle alongside us, but he did unfortunately unleash a multitude of thankfully silent but nostril-scorchingly deadly farts, which was hilariously horrible. Also Andy Samberg was there chillin' in the mix. I'd spotted him on the deck when I was en route to the portas and reported back to Rama, who was very pleased to go say a quick hello, praise his lady, and exchange a fist bump.
We'd had grand plans to red wine and s'more it up beside a crackler post-show, but were knackered and went straight to sleep. I'm sure Esalen would have been pretty taxing after all, plus the next day we were back to the world and to work. Next time!