Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Egg Lady

“Remember going out to Mrs. Bianchi’s?"
Paula laughs. “Yes! The egg lady!”
Our long distance, weekly phone calls replenish our spirits.
Together we reminisce driving with our moms out to the northern California hamlet of Woodacre, a primarily Italian community of houses, farms, a church and a general store embraced by rolling hills. We’d turn off the main road to a country lane and pull up in front of white wooden house set behind a fence. There we’d buy fresh country eggs. Ours were not big families, yet our mothers felt it was worth the effort to make the trip. It wasn’t far, but it was out in the country.
            “My mother always gave me soft boiled eggs for breakfast.” I tell Paula. “I hated that runny gelatinous slime. It would stand before me turning cold as I tried to gather up the courage to eat it.”
“Me,too! Awful! Just couldn’t get them down and would barf all over my St. Anselm’s school uniform!”
“Those early soft-boiled ruined me for eggs for life!” We howl with laughter at this yet another convergence in our childhood memories.
I haven’t changed my opinion over the years. Scrambled and egg salad I’ll accept. Forget poached, fried or eggs Benedict. I now justify my egg phobia pointing to the mass egg production process, herding thousands of hens into wire cages with no elbow room and just food and water. Only free-range go into my shopping cart.
            I can no longer picture Mrs. Bianchi, but I do remember the trip. What a treat sharing those memories with Paula, recollections only she and I, as lifelong friends, can appreciate. Our phone conversations ripple with laughter:
“Remember the Russian Dance in ballet class with those flowered headdresses and streamers we’d wear?”I ask.
“Yes! Yes!”
“Didn’t your mother have an old grey Plymouth?”
“Yeah. It was a 1939 coupe, dark grey, had running boards (remember those?) and a rumble seat.”

“Remember our buckeye apple fight with those mean kids in your neighborhood? I’d walk alone over to your house over hill and dale. No roads or subdivisions between my house and yours.”
“I know.”
“What was the name of that crazy, untrainable dog you had?”
“That’s right! Now that Easter is coming up, I think of the photo of us decked in our Easter dresses and hats sitting in our front garden.” I say.
“And the gin fizzes that our parents drank Easter morning.”
            “At your house.”
“No, it was your house!”
“Sometimes we’d go to the Hamilton House in Fairfax for Easter brunch.”
“I remember that place, right across the road from where you and I go every year for dinner.”
Our restaurant.”
“Let’s have a long distance toast on Easter.”
“Yes, let’s. Cheers.”
“Love you.”

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Fall Explorations

 These golden-brown fall days spark nostalgia. The scent of wet leaves underfoot and a wood fire. A campfire. Bright crackling flames in a dome of darkness. Roasting marshmallows and singing old Girl Scout ditties: Down yonder green valley where streamlets meander...
Fall is bright days punctuated by an occasional shadowy day, like today. I pull on my Berkeley sweatshirt and take off for a stroll. I am grateful for the growing coolness after the harsh summer heat and savor the soughing of the paper-dry leaves waving to the breezes, tapping like strings of wooden beads.

Five months without respite from this city stirs in me a need for a distant, uninterrupted horizon stretching out before me. Forest and ferns, paths through moist soil, gurgling streams, fresh cool air filling my lungs. While I wait for an escape to the countryside, I take refuge in a new book, Robert Moor’s On Trails: An Exploration. Just what I need. The author, while hiking the Appalachian Trail, begins to ‘ponder the meaning of this endless scrawl.’ He wonders who created the trail and why does it exist. Some trails are very old, often starting as animal paths. Usually, no one person made the trail; it just emerged satisfying a need
            I wish I’d read this before treading the many paths I’ve covered over the years. Trails invite me to appreciate and communicate with the natural world, maybe spotting a kingfisher, a frog, a coyote, or a delicate forest orchid. But did I stop to wonder how this trail emerged or who were the first to walk it? Native peoples? Deer? Rabbits? Wild boar? I think we humans share most trails with animals. Though smaller animals – skunks, rabbits, badgers – have an advantage over us, carving narrow paths through thickets and prickly grasses where we just do not comfortably fit.

Chilean kingfisher

            Although a sporadic hiker, I possess a deep treasury of trail memories which bring me great pleasure. In case my memory fails, I can turn to my travel journals that include descriptions of the trails I’ve known. Yet, what gives me the most joy is recalling sharp visual memories of those landscapes – whether they be Patagonian glacial moraines or slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada – which I can call up on a moment’s notice.
Mr. Moor explores the deeper meanings of paths: the roads we choose to follow in life. Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken comes to mind. Many writers and philosophers have pondered these meanings: Emerson, Wendell Berry, Lord Byron, Bruce Chatwin in Songlines. Rebecca Solnit devotes an entire book to exploring people’s meanderings in Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

I don’t know which will be my next trail, but I do know I’ll be pondering its origins. Will I unknowingly leave a subtle sign here marking my passing? A bent fern frond? A footprint?  Will I be changed by having taken this path? Will it have made all the difference?