Out of nowhere
And the background’s fading
Out of focus
Yes, the picture's changing
And your destination
You don´t know it...
Avalon"--old Roxy Music song
I love the view outside the airplane window when one is landing on an island. Be it Hawaii or New Providence Island, the sensation that one is leaving behind the world of compressed air and "lift your tray tables" and entering some new, misty, workable place, always thrills me.
We're now in the time of unpredictable micro-storms, when the weatherpeople on the television cease being always right, and often just miss the boat altogether on coming weather. Last night's rainstorm came up in an instant, and was gone in two instants. I felt warm and at home when the rain fell in huge, thick drops, a sheet of water, passing quickly.
I'm intrigued how these visual images of natural things have almost a chemical effect. But this morning my topic is not "warm, fuzzy places I have landed", but instead the elusive island of equilibrium.
Colmar, France is one of those little Alsatian tourist towns which features lots of old, hip art (golden halo, saintly rays of light) hundreds of years old and good sauerkraut (in French: "choucroute"). In the museum there with all the really old paintings, I remember standing in front of a huge triptych. Now triptyches are very cool, to me, very "we're unfolding reality" and very "cool hinge-y action". Never mind that for some reason the finish on this particular one conjures up for me the vague image of gold spray paint. I remember seeing a particular triptych and having this experience that the work was a little self-created world. Tolkien did not originate but elucidated the concept that each novel is a kind of sub-creation. I am no artist, but I like about paintings or sculptures that they, too, can be little fictive universes all their own.
Perhaps I like some outsider artists because, like me, some I like have the constant desire to annotate. "This is Satan", a hand-lettered sign might say, in case the horns and the Mephistophelean glare had thrown the observer off. In some of these "sub-created universes", one feels anything but at home, as one realizes that the vision of the person who created the work is a bit alien to one's own way of looking at things. That's the virtue in a work. That's the vice in a work.
Sometimes,though, I long to feel that set of emotions I feel when I see a familiar landmark. Pinnacle Mountain is a state park just north of Little Rock. Pinnacle Mountain itself is a small mountain, which one climbs on easy but exercise-worthy
hiking trails. When one reaches the top, a huge swatch of the Arkansas River Valley stretches before one--green trees, greener river delta, and undulating landscape.
On days when law classes ended early enough for me to do so, I used to love to drive up Highway 10 the short way to Pinnacle Mountain. I'd climb all the way up, and then just feel at one with everything I see.
That sense of equilibrium--that one is at home in one's surroundings--matters so much to me. I notice that in each place I've lived the last few years, I "take possession" of things I enjoy visiting. "This is my hiking trail", I'll think, about a favored place to hike, or "this is my home lake", about a favored lake.
Actually, my "favorite lake" is two tiny prairie ponds. I do not know that I have the ambition anymore for large bodies of water. But perhaps one gets the idea.
I think it is just a rule in life that if one is in a workplace, then one will encounter at least one "nemesis" whose views on life include exploiting each situation to the detriment of everyone but the nemesis and the aggrandizement of the nemesis. Law firms abound in nemeses, because (and I feel a little sad to give this unknown word out to the public, as it will no doubt come as a total shock) trial lawyers can have really big egos.
Now, if you've ever fallen from the Bridge at the San Luis Rey, then you know that in this life sometimes the virtuous topple and the evil prosper. But I find that "law nemeses" almost always have a shelf life of 18 months. They follow a simple pattern. 1. Nemesis is hired amid fanfare, usually because somebody wants to put a political counterweight to someone else 2. Nemesis makes bold speeches about how Nemesis is a real trial lawyer, and nobody else is a real trial lawyer, but instead is only a "litigator" 3. Nemesis comes to the attention of everyone, by going to the local firm restaurant/hangout, and demanding to be seated on a crowded Friday night with the phrase "Do you KNOW who I AM? I'm a partner in XYZ Law Firm!",which, to me, is just about as silly as saying "I buy savings bonds, so I should not have to wait in line at the postoffice".
The law firm in the clutch of "Nemesis Fever" roils with gossip and hassle worth of Peyton Place. Then a big work explosion occurs, the Nemesis goes someplace else to
play his or her corrosive trade, and equilibrium returns.
Those Greek folks always saw the end of stories as restoring the order. I love that idea of the "order", that the Universe has a natural state of workable repose.
I no longer work at law firms where office politics really exist, in the Nemesis sense. I love the feeling that when I walk into my law firm, it's not that different from walking into my home.
In two weeks, we're planning to meet one of my dear friends for a hike in the woods. We'll go to east Texas or central Texas. Perhaps we'll go to Tyler, the Rose Capital, and to a state park where rhododendrons run wild. I've never been to a state park where rhododendrons run wild, nor, for that matter to the different state park where Texas palmetto plants grow. But I know that I would instantly feel at home in either place, just as I would feel at home in the sand dune state park in west Texas, with the two foot tall oak trees.
An old friend of mine described going on a first date with someone she'd been friends with for some time. The date was going all awry, because a nervousness chilled conversation. Finally, she leaned over to him and said "the wonderful thing about this evening is that we never need to do this 'on a date' thing again. We're just going to go out together from now on". I suppose if this were Reader's Digest, I would report that they married in 1921, and now have 43 grandchildren. In fact, they did not last as a couple. But I like to think that they found an equilibrium, for a while, just being able to relax with one another.
It's that moment of relaxation that matters so much. I used to commute nearly every week from Dallas to Los Angeles on business. I love Dallas, and I love Los Angeles, so it was no great burden. But I loved that feeling of stepping outside the terminal at DFW Airporat at midnight, into cold or heat not present in Los Angeles, and feeling in the extreme temperature a sense of balance, a sense that I was home.
In this world, it sometimes seems there are too many toxic waste dumps and not nearly enough comforting islands. In California, the Channel Islands are tens of miles off the coast. Catalina Island is settled, but the other islands are more like hiking/wandering destinations. My friend Gene and I once took a boat to Anacapa Island, a green rock just off the coast. In the Santa Barbara Channel, dolphins and whales play everywhere. In the distance, the island looked an improbable Spring green. Inside, somehow, the smell of the ocean and the sight of the island and the look of all that cetacean frolic made me feel at home.
In February, the fog can roll up and eliminate the visibility. You know the island's there, but you just can't make it out. In a world of nemeses and office politics and domestic worry and a radio that keeps relating the most toxic facts,
I truly enjoy the moments when the fog lifts, and if I just row a bit, I can kayak into the island, and find my way home.