July 10th, 2005

Lifting the Lid

The night before we left for D.C., my partner and I followed our specular cavorting with speculation on the importance of place. I revisited the entry I posted after our Bay Area trip in June, in which I reflected on the deepening of my relation to the San Diego area, and noted that we seem to be trapped in an I-5 or I-95 corridor, at least as far as the trips we've been making the past few years and the ones we're making this year are concerned. Every place we go is burdened with a steamer trunk full of memories, more than a few of them with the density of lead.

It would be nice, I added, for us to go some place new together, some place where we don't know what we'll find, what we want, or who will be there to meet us. The reconnecting-the-dots excursions we've specialized in since our move to Tucson are rich with importance and, frequently, delight. But sometimes it's nice to feel free. She agreed. Right now, we're thinking Flagstaff, then maybe Albuquerque-Santa Fe, and a trip next year to Seattle.

In the meantime, though, I'm in a place that's far more massy for me than it is for Kim. Strangely, though, my back feels a lot more up to the task this visit than it ever has. The contrast to recent trips that had me an emotional and physical wreck is even more pronounced. Something has shifted inside me. I know the weather has been unusually pleasant since we arrived, but I still can't believe that a D.C. summer sky, with which a great many of my least appealing body memories are fixed in place, is inspiring only bliss.

I'm loving the foliage so much it hurts. I vividly remember back in June, 1989, when Annalee was flying back east with me for a three-week stay in my parents' house -- not a good idea, for any number of reasons, but with the absence of air conditioning at the top of the list -- and, looking down at the rainy Dayton, Ohio airport where our plane landed en route, said, "It's so beautiful. I've never seen so much green." I now have a clearer sense of what she meant, better attuned to the ways in which even coastal California manages to be lush without ever being as verdant as summertime along the Atlantic Seaboard. At the time, though, I thought her comment touchingly ignorant and therefore innocent in a way that I never would be. Well, I was wrong. That "green breast of the New World" is calling out to me from the overgrown edges of every vacant lot.

I looked out the Metro train window today between Addison Road and the new Largo terminus and saw wild, delirious beauty where I once would have seen a wasteland. "Look, Skylar, that's a beech tree," I interrupted her, marveling at the V of silvery trunks spreading greenery over a radius bigger than our house. "Cool, dad. Piglet lives in a beech tree. In fact, all the characters in Hundred Acre Wood live in trees."

The pleasure of that exchange and the sights that provoked it were still with me when we disembarked amid the ghosts of the Capital Center, the arena where I saw my first rock concert -- Rush, if you must know -- and numerous basketball and hockey games. I'm usually distressed by desaparecidos, whether animate or not. This time, though, I was flooded with good vibes, not minding the new mall adjoining the station because there were still plenty of trees around despite decades of moronic suburban development.

I clearly took this perception with me to our destination, because I was more relaxed in my parents' house than I've been in a very long time. I'm always glad to visit. But this time I was able to see the place for what it is, instead of worrying whether it lives up to my sense of what it should be. I was taken aback by how gorgeous the yard looked and enjoyed my father's garden and its fruits in a new and different way. Seeing them through my daughter's perpetually wide-open eyes only made that impression exponentially stronger.

The six hours that the Bean and I spent there were so mellow and fun that I had the impression that a spell had been cast on me or, more likely, that a curse had been broken.

I really do want to spend more time seeing less familiar sights in the future. Yet my experience of this trip to D.C. reminds me that the contents of that steamer trunk can sometimes metamorphose into butterflies that dart upward when you open the lid. It takes a lot of patience to get to that point. And its arrival is not guaranteed. But when you finally make it there, all of a sudden, as I did today, the relief is its own reward.
  • Current Music
    Skylar snoring in the bed next to me