The Taste was Sweeter

A conversation with a friend last night had me thinking about excellent moments. Wondrous instances in my life which were so perfect that they can never be replicated, but which sustain me on bitter days. I think everyone carries around a few memories like these, which are sometimes taken out of the box and examined, only to be carefully smoothed and put away again. When my heart is dark, I think back on these moments and remember that it won’t always be that way. I would hope that all my gentle readers have them, and I encourage you to share, in the comments, moments that make your life worth living–here are a few of mine.

Every summer since I was a wee lass, the river has played a prominent role in my life. When I was very young we went to the river almost every day–as I’ve gotten older it’s been a more rare treat, an escape from work and other obligations. As my visits to the river have become more rare, it’s easier to remember each one, but there’s a particular day last summer when the sun was perfect and I’d had a few days off in a row and we all set off for the Woodlands. I picked up Sven on my way out there because I was coming from Fort Bragg, and we all hiked out to Tautology rock together. I can’t even remember each person that came, but it was a perfect group, an ideal assemblage, and we trooped through the woods and hooted at the hicks at Boyles and after half an hour or so there we were, at Tautology. I remember the river still being fairly high, so it must have been early summer, and we left our clothes in a pile on the bank and swam across, towels and backpacks on our heads. We stretched out in the sun and smeared avocado on Beaujolais bread, eating orange slices and throwing the peels up the back. Every now and then one or two of us would muster up the energy to enter the water and paddle about for a bit. The rest of us read and ate on the bank. We stayed there all day, into the afternoon, and then reluctantly packed ourselves up and hiked back, probably to go eat a giant meal at the Matthews.

I’m not sure what was so perfect about that day. It’s like a lot of days at the river in essence. But something about those people, and that afternoon, crystallized in my mind. That day is the river for me, and it’s the reason I am so looking forward to this summer, to the rare sweet escapes from the indoors into the outside world, the sun, floating in the river, weightless.

Once, in Oakland, Erin and I went on a Berkeley adventure, determined to eat some cheeseboard pizza, and by the time we got there they were closing, and the man behind the counter gave us three whole pizzas, and we reeled out into the parking lot in shock and delight, and ate one right there because we were so hungry. We had been adventuring all day, hiking up into the hills and going over to San Francisco to wander around on Clement Street, and I don’t think we realized how hungry we were, how much food we hadn’t eaten all day long, and that moment of October sun in the Bank of America parking lot caught us out and we sat on a traffic divider with rich gooey pizza filling our mouths.

I also remember going on a hike along the Fern Canyon trail with Brendan and Brian, leaving a car at the bottom and driving up to the top, and ambling through the woods. It was still winter and still raining, and there were rich puddles everywhere and not a tourist to be seen. We played the author game and identified plants and it got darker and darker until finally, at the end, it was pitch black and we were stumbling around the trail, reaching for the end. After a time our eyes adjusted through the dark and we proceeded with more confidence. There was something magical about being alone in the woods, something awesome about being a solo expedition in the dark, fighting our way out to the sea. For a moment I thought I might be able to imagine what it was like for early visitors to California, who saw it in a wild state.

One day at Goddard, I felt a driving quest to get off campus and recruited a friend on an ice cream mission, and we wandered through the streets of Montpelier eating ice cream. I don’t even remember which flavour I got which is an unusual state for me, and there was something very companionable about that moment so far from home, eating ice cream and strolling down the streets which were packed with tourists and students, the sun brilliant in the sky, like a jewel.

One summer day I went to Jughandle with my father and his girlfriend, and we sat on a big blanket eating lychee and drinking tea from a thermos. By then I knew I wasn’t going to graduate school, but I hadn’t told anyone, and I remember going out into the ocean and swimming with my father, bobbing in the surf and waving back to the girlfriend on the shore, and he turned to me and said “so I guess you are staying around for a while,” and I dived back under the water and swam and swam, drifting with the currents. When I got back to shore there they were on the blanket, and he handed me an already peeled lychee and at that moment I tasted freedom.

On the first day of the new millenium, I remember going down to Portuguese Beach with a group of friends, and taking our shoes off to wander through the surf. We were all tired and a bit fuzzy headed, and the salt spray and shock of cold cleared our minds. It was a tender goodbye for some of us, who were driving down to San Francisco to catch planes later that day, but at that instant it wasn’t goodbye–it was a “hello world” moment, the sand squeaking beneath our feet and Mendocino still and silent in the early morning.