Yesterday there was a morning walk under the pines, cut short by a squirmy toddler. But not before we heard doves, and saw them perched among the branches. Not before we saw the tall rattlesnake grasses, as high as my shoulder. Not before we felt dry, golden grass against our legs. Not before we heard the sound of our feet crushing crispy brown pine needles. Not before I felt my muscles working as they pushed the stroller up and down the hills, and remembered how a morning walk opens things up like nothing else.
But the day was still long afterwards. Wednesday, the middle of the week. When the heat bears down all day long, it’s easy to go stir crazy. To feel like a prisoner of the air-conditioned house. To crave an outing of any kind. But even a walk around the block or to one of the parks nearby has no appeal when it’s 100 degrees outside. When the black asphalt radiates heat that is almost visible in its intensity.
So in the evening we went to the library. The county library here is in the top floor of the Alcazar, the famous and imposing fortress that reigns over Toledo’s skyline. From the windows there are sweeping views of the city, and the wide open plains beyond. I look through the wooden shutters into the distance and imagine a watchman warning of the approach of an army in the distance in centuries past. Basil jiggles with giddy excitement at the sight of another child, toddling up to him and offering a book. “Hi” he says, and when the other small boy says nothing, he tries “hola”. I smile at the mother and wonder if she’s as glad to have her child entertained as I am, or if I should redirect my enthusiastic little boy.
After the library we went to a park. The parking garage where JJ’s parents have passes hugs the side of the hill by the Alcazar, its roof level with the street next to the fortress. There is a big square on top of the garage, and in the late evening when the sun goes behind the buildings and it finally cools off a bit, children play there. Parents sit along the edges talking and looking down at the river below, or have drinks in the café tucked in one corner. Basil watches a group of boys playing soccer. He follows two little girls riding their bikes around. And then he toddles into the play area and climbs up the slide behind a much bigger girl. I watch his cheerful attention to the other children, and feel guilty for how little he sees other kids here.
Now it’s Thursday and I can feel how things are shifting towards the end of our trip. Basil’s abuela has started saying she can’t wait until he leaves, which is her way of saying how much she’s going to miss him. Abuelo has begun to ask Basil for kisses all the time, linger longer over him at mealtime, and get jealous when we spend time with Great Grandma. JJ comes back from Barcelona tomorrow. We are going home soon, and a sense of possibility has replaced the mid-trip restlessness.
I’ve been wanting to blog lately. Each time I post a comment on someone else’s blog, and it has a link to mine, I think ‘gosh, my last post was months ago’. But more than the typical guilty blogger feeling, I’ve been wanting to blog because I am writing, and taking pictures, all the time these days, and I want to share.
I am taking pictures of my Basil, every day. Capturing his expressions, his growing chubbiness, the way he looks at his dad at the end of the day like, ‘hey, you’re back!’. And I am writing about Basil, our time together, what it’s like to be his mom. How we sat this morning, in a strip of sunlight pouring through an open doorway, and felt the heat on our bare feet. How he stands already on my lap, and his legs flop a little like green beans, but he gets frustrated when I sit him down. How I settle him into the front carry, bundling up against the spring coastal winds, and we set off on an evening walk, up and down the hills around our house. And how I wanted to move so badly 6 months ago, and now with Basil here, I am falling in love with the possibilities of living where we do.
But mostly, my thesis writing fills every spare moment I have. I am writing about Barcelona, what I learned from the teachers there, about how immigration was transforming their daily lives. There is power in listening, really listening to someone talk for up to an hour, and that is what I did in my interviews with teachers. They told me their life stories, how they had grown up being punished for speaking Catalan, or feeling uncomfortable because they only spoke Spanish. How integrating or assimilating immigrants is a process of all of us changing, making a new society together. Or how integrating newcomers is about the immigrants changing, learning our language, because they are the ones who came here. Or how it’s really about basic respect, across divides of cultural difference, starting with learning to say ‘hello’ in each others’ languages. I am writing about all this, working on the second findings chapter of three, on track to finish by the end of July. If I keep at it.
So back to it, while Basil takes his morning nap. But I’ll see you here again soon.
Out on the marsh, I watch birds. A tall, white crane, standing still at the edge of the water. I take a picture, wishing I had brought a zoom lens, knowing the photo wouldn’t capture the feeling I have here. The feeling of being open, relaxed, taking in the world. Suddenly the crane lifts off, flies above, wings large and almost awkward for the size of its body. It swoops around, flies out of sight, and I keep walking. Smelling fresh air blowing off the water, feeling fresh spring grass against my ankles. The next day, my body still relaxed from a weekend in Pt. Reyes, I can still see the orange poppies when I close my eyes, feel the open space and rolling green hills.
Back in the city I worry about which windows are open, whether I locked the backdoor, and what time I have to leave today. I think all too much about clothes though my wardrobe doesn’t matter in grad school. I walk to yoga class, grateful to have found a teacher nearby. I worry about the progress I’m making on my thesis, whether it’s enough, what it means to me, what I will become when I finish. What if there are no jobs I’m interested in applying for next year? I feel completely open to shifting my career for family, yet children feel further away than ever. I’ve stopped thinking ahead, planning, thinking about what things will look like if I get pregnant this month, or next. Who knows?
I stall this morning, making a quiche for tonight’s class potluck instead of writing first, as I know I should. Chopping broccoli from last week’s farm box, weighing down the crust with rice and putting it in the oven for 10 minutes, mixing together eggs and milk, throwing in thyme, cheese; all the while listening to the radio, a show on Alzheimer’s and new research about its causes and cures. “The scariest thing for people is losing cognitive functioning” a doctor says. “I think, therefore I am Shakespeare wrote, but he might as well have written “I remember, therefore I was, for without our memories, who are we?”
It’s a good question. What will I remember from this time in my life?
“My childhood dream was to start a business, like my dad, and then use the money for a good cause”, says my friend Kate as we pick our way along the hill on a narrow, muddy path. She tells me how her dad arrived here as an immigrant, worked hard to support his family. “We didn’t even have milk money at one point” she says. “My dad had left everything behind in Asia, but he built a successful business from nothing, and now quietly gives back to the community. He’s an inspiration to me.”
It’s Saturday morning, a glorious day already. Blue sky, low-lying ribbons of mist along the bay that come into view as we climb Twin Peaks. We wind up wooden stairs bolted to the side of the hill, climb up to the topmost peak, where the city and ocean sweep out around us. We talk about entrepreneurship, and education, and making an impact.
“I don’t know, sometimes I think making money first is more important than focusing on the cause; once you have money, you can do so much more” Kate says. “It’s true, money is power”, I reply, “maybe it’s better to start by making a lot of money; but the problem is, people sometimes end up losing parts of themselves in the pursuit of money, and they forget about the cause.”
We keep walking, and the conversation turns to other things. But the question stays with me. If you want to do good, does it make sense to focus on making money first, or working for the cause you care about? Can you do both at the same time?
Sand, pushing against my steady gait, filling my shoes, hiding the city behind with tall, grassy dunes.
Ocean, rolling waves toward the shore, carrying surfers and foam and piles of coiled, hairy seaweed.
Rocks, piled with sand dollars, funneling the quicksilver water and turning it to foam.
After years of living in SF, I’ve “discovered” the beach is right over the hill, a mere 15 minute drive. I will be back.