Monday, December 8, 2008

Living in the Light

San Juan Capistrano, Edgar Payne, early 1900's

It has rained twice since we left Vancouver Island in mid-September. At first the blue skies were like drinking champagne every day. Eventually I longed for rain. Some mornings I would wake up and imagine the sound of the snapping shrimp under the dock was the light patter of drops on the skylight, but then I’d stick my head out the hatch and there was the San Diego sun, sometimes veiled with sea fog, but climbing resolutely out of it by mid-morning.
I used to love fall. You know that old “My sorrow when she’s here with me thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be…” But in recent years my sorrow moved in around mid-November and by January even she was getting kind of pissed. So I was pleased to check out of a whole winter of rain, which where I live would put everything under three feet of water if it didn’t run off or evaporate.
And it’s not exactly like I miss it now. It just feels weird. I start thinking about how much of what we are is where we come from. For instance, what would Neil Young have been like if he didn’t come from that town in North Ontario, where he had nothing to do but stare at the blue windows behind the stars? Would he have felt so helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless, if he grew up in San Diego?
Maybe Jesse Winchester, shivering in his Montreal flat, put his finger on it when he wrote that song to a lover, fled to California: “if you are never cold girl, who’s gonna keep you warm, you’ll take the sun for granted, you’ll run from every storm.”
Still I can see the appeal. I recently went to a show of California paintings from the early 1900’s. I don’t know what California painters are painting now, most contemporary painting seems kind of tortured, but back then they were called the California Impressionists, painting landscapes (which would be considered sentimental now) bathed in that gorgeous light. I think they were happy.

Monterey Cypress, Edgar Payne, early 1900's

Even the California poets seem less morose than most. Kay Ryan, the Californian who was recently named American poet Laureate writes:

“The Best of It”

However carved up
or pared down we get,
we keep on making
the best of it as though
it doesn’t matter that
our acre’s down to
a square foot. As
though our garden
could be one bean
and we’d rejoice if
it flourishes, as
though one bean
could nourish us.

I’m sure people suffer anxiety in California. Judging from the cosmetic surgery advertisements in local magazines, at least some of it seems to go along with trying to look as good as possible in skimpy clothes and the unforgiving light. But let me just say (except for perhaps the homeless men who seemed to inhabit every public bench, which is another, sadder story) I didn’t see much evidence of it.
Which brings me to my final question. Do we each get a standard amount of happiness? Do we either take it measured doses, as we might living in sunny latitudes. Or do we use it up in spurts, running on empty in our northern winters, and guzzling it down in the summer?
Me, I guess I’m too old to give up my existential angst very easily. It may have been doped by all this sunshine, but I can feel it, like some desert plant, biding its time, waiting for the rain.


Circadia at anchor, Turtle Bay, Baja

We left San Diego a week ago and are now sailing down the west coast of Baja (which is long and mostly deserted). Many wonders along the way though: pods of bottle-nosed dolphins, estuaries full of northern breeding ducks, grebes, geese on their wintering grounds; my first ever sighting of a Burrowing Owl in the wild.
Plan to be in Cabo in a week or so…


materfamilias said...

Shall I package up some greyness, mixed in with mud splashes that get through the bike fenders to beautify that back of one's coat, mixed with some lashing rain that forces one to retreat back to fireside and not go into town for days on end except under protest . . . I could send it all to you express mail? Maybe we could do an exchange?
But really, I'm so happy for you, or would be if they were enough light here to solar-power up my happy cells!
hugs to you, my dear, enjoy the sunshine
btw, pretty funny, my word verification is "unshn" -- pretty close to my current weather situation of "unshine," but also close to your "sunshine" -- so I guess we can meet in the unshn

Alison Watt said...

Oh yeah, the mud that splashes up the back of the coat, forgot about that. And now I hear there's snow. Well, at least you can't ride a bike through it! Sorry, I didn't mean to sound whinney. And I feel your pain, I really do. Feel free to go over to my house and borrow my Light Book. I like the word unshine, it sounds like a government euphemism for rain.
hugs back