16 May 2007

California Daze

All right, so when I stopped yesterday, it was two in the morning on Saturday, May 12. Let's pick up there, shall we?

I managed to get back to sleep at some point, and when I woke again, it was about 30 minutes before the breakfast bell was due to ring. I don't think I mentioned yesterday that all meals are communal (just like the bathrooms!) and that's actually fun. There is a staff kitchen, where they can cook for themselves, but with no power, there's no point. Let the kitchen crew cook for you!

I slipped out of the cabin, not wishing to wake mum or babysis. She and I had planned an early morning hike into the hills, but that wasn't going to happen with so little time before breakfast, so instead I walked down to the dock that reaches out into the ocean, bobbing along on the tide. I noticed that the sky was overcast, just like it is so often at home. I had expected abundant sunshine and warmth, coming to California. It was cool. I say yet again, sunny California, MY ASS.

I stood at the end of the dock and went through the yoga poses in Sun Salutation, trying to loosen my stiff neck and back, breathing in time with the waves. When the breakfast bell rang, I went in the direction of the mess hall, searching for the rest of my family. Even with no electricity, the kitchen staff managed to do an amazing job, so many props to them for what they do every day. A typical breakfast at camp is as follows.

scrambled eggs
hash browns
french toast
vanilla yogurt
corn flakes
soy milk
whole milk
skim milk
cottage cheese
apple juice
orange juice
sweetbread, like a cinnamon-raisin bread
hot water for tea

Is that enough? Herregud! So much food, and mostly healthy stuff too. I took lots of fruit, a little bit of the eggs, half a bagel. Unreal, the way they feed just the staff.

After breakfast, we changed into clothes that we wouldn't mind getting wet, because we were going out in the ocean kayaks. (You know how badly I want to put that Dean line in about "She's 23, she kayaks, and they're real," don't you? LOL. At least I entertain myself.) The kayaks are red, molded plastic, with compartments at the front and back for gear, should you, you know, want to paddle one of these things to some remote campsite. I'll pass, but, the idea is there. They say "classic scupper" on the sides, I've no clue what that is supposed to mean. Babysis gives me a few quick minutes of instruction, I've never been in one of these before, and we carry three of the kayaks to the ocean's edge.

I managed to get out in the boat without tipping over in the surf, and I'm pretty darn proud of myself for that. I've got on my camelback, and I'm having a tough time adjusting the backrest on the seat so that the camelback isn't interfering with my comfortable seat. Manuvering the kayak is both easier and harder than I thought it would be. My upper body strength is fine, and I'm not having any trouble rowing, but I must paddle harder on one side than I do on the other, because it seems to pull constantly to the left.

There is so much to see. The water is so clear, and we approach the kelp beds, looking for all manner of wildlife. The kelp is like an underwater forest, with leaves swaying in the current instead of in the breeze. And the kelp grows up to the surface at an angle, to better capture the sun's rays. I have a ton of questions about each part of the plants, and babysis is able to answer them all, in far more scientific detail than I needed. I spend too much time looking over the edge of the boat and not enough looking where the hell I'm going. I managed to not run into any of the rocks along the edges, but that ends up being sheer luck rather than by design.

Some of the kelp comes all the way to the surface of the water, and then grows along the surface on a sort of horizontal plane. When it glides under the kayak, it makes a hissing, scraping noise, a "shhhhh" sound, although you do try to not steer directly over it so as not to damage it.

The ocean meets the land in a series of cliffs, rocky shoals and straight drop-offs. The rocks are red, brown, dusty looking. There are beaches, in certain coves, but mostly the waves crash against jagged edges. We spend nearly three hours in the kayaks, covering probably four miles of ocean. By the time we head back, I am sore, but not where I expected to be. I expected aching arms, but instead it is my hip flexors that are screaming for relief.

We put the gear all away, rinsing the life jackets with a wetsuit conditioner to prevent the salt from damaging them, and we lie in the sun until lunch time, trying to warm back up. Yes, there's that famed California sunshine, but it still isn't warm. After lunch, we sat in the sun for a while longer, contemplating our next move. The ocean is cold, COLD, about 60 F, and we're trying to decide if we're macho enough to go snorkeling. We decide that we can't pass up the chance, it is after all some of the best diving grounds in the world. So we gear up. I've gone diving before, and snorkeling too, a time or two. But this icy cold water requires far more gear than I am used to, boots, pants, jacket, hood, all made of black neoprene. It takes a HUGE effort to get all that stuff on. When I was taking my dive classes, we always just geared up in the water. It is far easier to put on a wetsuit when you are wet than it is when you and the wetsuit are both dry, however, when the water is as cold as it is, it isn't a good idea to hop on in and take your gear with you.

By the time we've got all that crap on, we're almost relieved to get into the cold water, because you're so overheated. First, though, there's a long walk across hot sands, and the requisite safety instructions. I already know just how cold it is from kayaking, but with all this gear on, at first I don't even feel the temperature of the water, all I feel is pressure, the water pressing on me. And then all of a sudden, it rolls up from my ankles to my chest as if I'd been lowered into the water all at once instead of wading in that far.

My sister encourages us to get all the way wet, that it is easier if done all at once, and she demonstrates with a dolphin dive. When I put MY face into the water, it is so cold that it takes my breath away, and I gasp, sputter, and end up taking in nearly a lungful of seawater. As a young child, I was terrified of the water. I've worked very hard to overcome that fear, but every now and then it sneaks up and catches me off guard. When I swallowed that water from the snorkel, I tried to stand up to regain my breath. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that I was already out way, way, WAAAYYY over my head, and I panicked for a moment. Alright, several. Then I remembered that neoprene is really buoyant, and I stuck my arms out to gain some stability and was able to remove the snorkel and clear the water out of it. I imagine it looked pretty hilarious from a distance, but no one harassed me about it, so maybe no one saw.

I don't have my open water dive certification, despite having taken the classes for it twice. (That's a long story.) I got to go diving in Hawai'i, and vastly prefer SCUBA to snorkel, because there's actually AIR in that regulator. I'm just not good with a snorkel, no matter what I do it gets swamped with rouge waves or I do something dumb and then, hello, I'm sucking down water again.

But one thing I like about both is the peacefulness, all you can really hear is the sound of your own breathing and whatever noises the water transmits, pops, cracks, sometimes the sound of a propeller. My old diving instructor had this thing on his air tank, a tank banger, that he would use to get everyone's attention, and it irritated me because he was disturbing my lovely solitude.

With the snorkeling, mostly you stay on the surface of the water, although you can dive down and take a closer look at something if you are any good at holding your breath. I am not. So for that reason and because the water was so fucking cold, I stayed at the surface, mostly allowing myself to drift with the current, watching the fish, the kelp.

Each branch of the kelp sways with the waves, and as I watched, I thought about the motion of the sea and then the motion of the earth around the sun, and I felt at peace with myself and the world, for a few minutes. I was imagining a gentle mother earth goddess, rocking the seas gently, watching over all her world. My breath was in time with the waves, and all was right in the world. Until another wave swamped my snorkel and I got another unexpected taste of seawater.

Eventually, I got cold enough that I was shaking. I found my mum and sister not far away, and mum took one look at me and ordered me back to the beach. Yep, 32 years old and still listening to my mother. Before I got out, my sister dove down and brought up a sea cucumber, which is an animal, not a plant. Babysis spends a lot of time teaching at camp, and she's really good at it. I tend to think of her as permanently 17, but the fact is that she's 23 and passionate about what she does for a living. She teaches classes about the marine life, about the recycling that the camp does, the environment, and she is very knowledgeable about all of it.

The lesson on sea cucumbers complete, I swam for shore, climbing out of the water about half an hour before my mother and sister. I discovered when taking all the gear off, that I'd gotten so cold because the hood I was wearing had come un-tucked from the jacket, allowing icy cold seawater to pour down the collar of the jacket. Oops. We cleaned all of our gear, and laid on the camp's dive deck, in full sun, trying to warm up. Sunny California? Ahh, you know the rest.

We played a game of Apples to Apples after dinner until it became too dark to see the cards, which was endless fun. Babysis bought the game as a birthday present to herself, and I need to get it for myself. Hilarious, especially if you're a geek into English vocabulary.

At some point during the day on Saturday, the camp got a generator to power their refrigerators and freezers, and the noise it makes can be heard all over camp. They decided to run it during the day, and turn it off at night, around 7pm. When we noticed that it had been shut off, we all heaved a sigh of relief.

While the generator is off, the camp is surrounded by only the sound of the ocean and the wind. No electronic hum of computers, refrigerators, buzzing security lights. Most people turned off their cel phones because there was no way to recharge them if the batteries died. The peace is pervasive, satisfying some part of my soul that I didn't know was missing out on that form of solitude.

I got up in the middle of the night (yes, again) because even so far away from all my troubles, I didn't sleep well. I went outside, and even though it was freezing cold, I stopped for a moment to just drink in the stillness. I took several deep breaths, listening to the ocean and my heartbeat, allowing the quiet to surround me, trying to fix that moment of utter peace in my memory. I had to push jealous thoughts of "this is her life ALL THE TIME!" out of my head. I am unbearably jealous of the life she's leading out there, even while I know I could never do it myself. The sun! Seen more than once a month like it is in Oh-hi-ia. The ocean, steps from her front door! The incredible food!

In the morning, my sister and I took a hike, just the two of us, to a place called Inspiration Point. Prickly Pear cactus are everywhere, and some are even blooming, a yellow flower that looks vaguely like a rose. What? You think I know a goddam thing about botany? Um, no.

We talk, the conversation of siblings that don't see each other often enough and barely understand the life choices the other has made, let alone understand one another. I wonder when this chasm opened between us, and wonder, desperately, how to fix it. I try, in the brief few minutes that we have alone together to explain my unhappiness, and my dissatisfaction with my job, and how much I miss both sisters on opposite coasts, with me seemingly stuck in Ohio. She tells me that there are times when she hangs up the phone with any of us, the 'rents or our other city gal sister, and cries because she misses us so much. And damn, now I've made myself cry again.

I don't know which is worse about the depression, not being able to take much joy in anything at all, or the random bursting into tears over relative trivialities. I feel like I can't express much emotion at all, as if I'm encased in a fog that separates me from the rest of the world. Laughter, happiness, elation, all seem so distant, while pain and and a weight, a heaviness, in my every step are my constant companions. I know it will fade. I know it will get better. Patience has never been my strong suit, though, and I want it better N-O-W!!

Anyway. It was very early in the morning, and we watched the sun come up through a cloudy sky. She brought her cell phone up there, and when we turned it on, amazingly, she had a signal. And about 6 messages from concerned friends and family members. So we made a few phone calls, to our other sister, to our dad, to my husband, reassuring them all that we were still alive and that no, the fire wasn't on this side of the island.

The only thing was that there was no power all weekend, and I know I said before that it was a minor problem. The thing is, that here, it is a minor problem. I don't miss my pager--for DAMN sure-- which was left behind because as soon as you cross a state line you're out of range. My phone isn't missed either, as soon as I figured out that I've got no signal in camp, I turned it off and put it in my suitcase. I did "look" for it a time or two, as it is almost always clipped to my right hip, and I often reach down and pat that spot to make sure it is still there, but after the second time I did that, I stopped.

The internet is a distant memory, neither fond nor painful, just not much considered. I know that Asylum has been going on over the weekend, and I'm really, really curious about the girls from the board who might have gotten to meet each other and what they did and saw, but it will all be waiting for me when I get back to Ohio and I'm quite content to wait.

Much later in the day that day, when I was talking to middlesis in New York again, she laughingly reminds me that I've only been away from the computer for a little more than 72 hours and that I ought not be so proud of myself over not missing it so much for such a short period of time. Um. Yeah. Thursday 04.30 until Sunday at about 21.00 (9PM) when I was talking to her....true, not so long after all. *Shrug* It is proof to me that I could stay away if I wanted to, or rather if the situation of no power forced me to. Hee. As I told both sisters, there just isn't that much else to do at home, and they know it. In New York City, plenty else to occupy your time and attention. Santa Catalina Island, an ocean, every single toy you could ever want, sun! Ohio? Well, hardly the garden spot of the world, are we? My father often teases the sister in NYC by saying (very crudely, I might add) that if someone wanted to give the planet an enema, New York City would be the place to start. I'd start with the cities in Ohio, but hey, that's just me.

It ended up being about 4 days by the time I got back to a 'puter, we took the red eye home from LAX on Sunday night, and sleep was the highest priority when we got back. Leaving either sister when I visit them is so hard. I won't force you to read all about our leave-taking, but not really because I care about putting y'all on an emotional roller coaster, rather because I'm not sure I care to re-live it by writing it out. Again. Once in my notes was enough.

My mother said to me, as the boat pulled away from Two Harbors, "She's happy here, Lucy. You have to keep that in mind. It makes it easier for me." Well, it doesn't make it any damn easier for me. I'm really glad that she's doing so well there, and it is fantastic to see her thriving, happy, productive, but I'd really like it a lot better if it were about 3000 miles closer and I could see her more than roughly three times a year. There's no way to put a positive spin on that, it just sucks.

This post got far longer than I planned, but that's all right. I just have one more thing to share. As the boat made the crossing from the island back to the mainland, I was talking to a young couple who had been at camp visiting one of my sister's co-workers, and they told me that they've been going to the channel islands for vacations for years. They said that every time they make the crossing from the mainland to one of the islands, they see dolphins. Sure enough, just after they finished telling me this, we saw a very large dolphin pod, perhaps 2000 dolphins all told, and they were leaping out of the water and frolicking in the wake of the ferry. We watched them for most of the remainder of the boat ride, their antics endlessly funny. That did my heart a world of good, easing some of the hurt at leaving my sister behind.


Dawna said...

I wish I could love my immediate family like that...

Lucy Arin said...

believe me, I know how blessed I am to have such wonderful 'rents and sibs. I'm making them sound awesome, but they're far from perfect, lemme tell ya! There are times when we all want to positively murder one another. But I do love them.