There aren’t too many foggy mornings in Nebraska, but occasionally, when the temperature is precisely right, fog will form along the river, spreading out in the lowest lying areas on either side, softening the sharp edges that a clear sunrise will raise. These mornings stop me in my tracks. I had one this week, and stopped on my way to work, to follow the soft trail of fog along Elmwood Creek.
I am remembering another early morning walk, a year ago this week, on the foggy northern coast of California, in the village of Mendocino. It’s home to a few permanent residents; and many more seasonal visitors. Along the main street, a boardwalk of weathered wood, I pass a yarn shop, the offices of the Mendocino Beacon, a wine bar, an art gallery.
In one of these windows, what catches my eye are two origami cranes hung from a wire mobile; a box with a bamboo mat, a small buddha set on it, the composition of an altar. A pastel toned photo of a woman looking out at the sea; another of a man in some indeterminate uniform; a fringed shawl in reds and purples; a pair of old eyeglasses, folded.
I stop to try to capture in a photo, the way the artist found to balance the cranes, to keep them moving in slow arcs. I have been trying to perfect that issue of balance back in my Nebraska basement. But when I look more closely at the photo later, what I have taken is the reflection of sea and sky in the glass, the dreamy far horizon it looks out on.
This is an odd and lonely visit, a little sad, but sweet on balance. There is no person remaining in this small town that I know. The threads that anchored me here are gone. Friends dispersed, like me, to other places, or died. So I create small excursions, like this walk, or the ten mile drive on Coast Highway One that threads through redwoods between Fort Bragg and Mendocino; small perfect meals with a view.
It’s a funeral that brought me back after more than 30 years away. A dear friend died a peaceful death just short of her 93rd birthday, and was brought back to her coastal home, her ashes to be scattered along this rocky stretch of coast. I spent the previous evening in a motel room, composing my thoughts for her memorial service; fell into a deep sleep; and in the morning, set out on this walk.
When I was a student at UC Berkeley, Mendocino County was my place of retreat. Away from the grit and crowds of the Bay Area; the late night shifts at an institution for boys with disabilities; the pressure of academic papers and exams; the worry about the future. In quiet, this is the place where the threads came together. A child came here; an adult emerged, and departed.
I have a playlist where I store my late night impulse purchases on ITunes, the ones I can count on to evoke mood and memory. Enough songs about moons, blue and otherwise, to fill an hour. I’d recently rediscovered Jefferson Airplane’s Embryonic Journey -- this short, intricately layered and wordless guitar performance, which I am hearing again now, was the theme song for what was about to unfold from this place: a cross country pilgrimage to find a future, work, and community.
Of the many photos I took last March, it is this shop window that draws me back, its glass reflection of the foggy, softenened line of horizon, where sea meets sky. It is what I left behind.
After a few months in Nebraska, I experienced a geographic crisis. I was landlocked. It was a little claustrophobic. There was no edge to find, as one would on the coast. Rivers don’t count, and what they call a beach here is not how I know the word. No choice about it, here we are in the middle of things. So I am drawn back, to what is reflected behind me.