June 20, 2011
With a compact SUV full of evidence that I’ve spent the past hour and forty five minutes of my life running errands in town, I approach the steep, curvy, deeply-rutted-with-the-history-of-several-winters driveway that leads to the joy that is the modest home in which I live, immodestly placed at the sea’s damp edge. Each tire-threatening divot is like a fossil, telling a silent tale of the windswept force that has pushed against this hill for tens of thousands of years, and against this house for a little less time. Not a single tree grows here.
Receipts in my wallet from the grocery store, the post office, the dump (more politely referred to in these parts as “the transfer station”), the bank, the hardware store, the thrift shop, and the liquor store (you can get wine in the market, but hooch is only available– at full price– in the sole state-run store on the island), are a forensic breadcrumb trail tracking every move I’ve made. There are no receipts, however, for each of the random, enjoyable conversations with island friends, also out creating their own breadcrumb trails of errands. In fact, I’ve almost never left the house without running into at least one, if not six, people I know reasonably well. That statement is enough to make my urban readers cringe and celebrate the anonymity of city living. But having lived my entire life until four years ago in two of the nation’s largest metropolises, I treasure my new reality. Yup, there’s no hiding, in a tiny town. On bad hair days I wear a ball cap. And when I look like crap anyway, no one cares.
Whatever I happen to fill my days with professionally is immaterial to what is actually the most important determination if I’m worth talking to: whether I’m a nice person. Whether I make someone smile, laugh, or generally feel comfortable. Whether I’m kind. Way down the list, whether I bathe regularly [enter: ball cap]. And dangling at the very bottom of the list: what I do for a living. People here know that I travel frequently for my artsy work, and that even though they don’t see a lot of me, the island is my full-time home. When asked, and I reply that I’m a composer, without fail the immediate and somewhat astonished response is, “music?” (I have never ceased to be both amused and bewildered by this; is there another kind of composing out there of which I’m unaware?). If you were to say the words “contemporary music” or mention the name of a well known living composer, you’d be greeted with a blank stare (with the possible exception of John Williams, whose revered name would elicit a “DUH da DUH da DUH da…” “Jaws” quote).
And that’s okay. It’s very, very healthy for me (and frankly, for any of my colleagues) to be reminded that while what we do is excruciatingly important to us, it’s not considered by much of our society to be deeply vital to daily existence. I see it as a happy challenge to find ways to create an affinity between myself, my music-making, and my fellow humans, framing the musical part of my life with lots of other non-musical things that may be of even more interest to a broader scope of folks. This algae-laden blog, its musings and photos sharing my passion for my environment, is one example. Ever since I began pounding out these pixels in 2006 (gee!), pound for pound, there’s actually very little here about my musical pursuits. This might seem counter-intuitive, for a blogging composer. Just about every composer I know writes about composing. But I merely assume that if anyone is really curious, they’ll hop on over to my professional website for a look-see. Here in Kelpville, I let the music itself do the talking, by underscoring a photo in each post with an excerpt from my catalog, be it concert music, jazz, or even a pop tune demo with a questionable, if sincere, chick vocal track. I’m passionate about music, and about nature and my relationship to it. And if I were passionate about car races, or badminton tournaments, or polenta recipes, I’d share posts about those. The key to a happy web life is identical to that of a happy personal life: linking your passion, to someone else’s.
Ok, back to my little parable of the day having something to do with running errands. In this village, there’s no such thing as pulling an efficient, stealth, “surgical strike” in which seven places can be conquered in 35 minutes, with a zippy retreat home. No, that’s for big city life, where one glides in and out of parking spaces and storefronts anonymously, and where you risk being considered a social deviant by the stranger in line next to you if you strike up a chat. Here in floating Mayberry, we chat in the shop aisles and in the parking lots and in the grass fields between buildings. The little post office is a veritable coffee klatch. And it would be unthinkable to honk your horn at the two folks who have stopped their cars as they passed each other to have a short conversation side window-to-side window– right in the middle of the town’s main, two-lane street. If you’re in a rush, you are living in the wrong place.
As I pulled up to my steep driveway off the cul de sac of a paved road, I noticed a couple of parked cars and a handful of people standing on the hill a few yards away, taking in the stupendous view. It occurred to me that in addition to the many miles of sea and islands and mountain ranges they were enjoying, there were probably also some whales in the neighborhood. But with or without the big fellas, this is one of the most spectacular residential spots on the island. I waved as I slowly drove past (slowly is an understatement, since the loose dirt and rocks demand about 0.4 MPH).
My body bobbed with the rhythm of the ruts, and my eyes caught the unmistakable ink-black of two dorsal fins.
How many times have I stood somewhere amazing, looked over to a nearby home and thought to myself “wow, it must be incredible to actually live there! I wonder what lucky person lives in that house!”? At this moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I am That Lucky Person who actually lives in that house that stands all by itself by the sea and the whales. The visitors watched as my car toddled its way down the hill to the water; I felt almost as though I was trespassing. A keen sense of gratitude for my great fortune swept over me; even a little embarrassment.
Hopping out of the vehicle and loading my arms with as many bags as possible for my personal weight-training exercise program, since you’ll never see me in a gym [helpful note to my stalkers: you can save time by bypassing that place], I started to make my way among the chest-tall weeds, down the narrow grass goat path that leads to my front door (for a moment, one can hear the theme from Deliverance. But only for a moment). The sunny day had turned blustery, and the sea was getting grey and choppy. I looked up to scan the water, and sure enough at that instant, there came a small pod of orca whales, swimming fairly close to the kelp beds. I walked inside, put down my groceries, picked up my camera, and grabbed the shots you see here. Nothing spectacular about them in the least. Except for the fact that they were taken from the house that I get to live in. The one where my groceries are.
I will never get over the combination of a mundane act like bringing in toilet paper, and seeing killer whales.