Friday, February 20, 2009

The Enchanted Tree and the Gate of Gold

I was indoors working this afternoon when I felt the bonny day slipping away...

After a week of rain and cool weather, we have resumed the sunny and mild days that have been the norm this year. Even when it is stormy, when the over-heated newscasters marvel at helicopter films of a mere dusting of snow in the hills, the plum blossoms and the green, green grass make February the first full month of Spring around here.

I broke free of my desultory work at 4:30 to walk on campus among the young and in the sunshine. Cadres of exercise comrades were beginning their routines in lower Sproul. A lone soul drummer began a timbales-style tattoo, beating his bongos with a drumstick, out-numbered and defiant. I scurried on to protect my ear drum.
Out of curiosity, because any nostalgia has long faded, I ducked into the ASUC studio-gallery. It was where I first met two of my oldest California friends who were connected to it a long time ago. The occasion was an art exhibition I had put some works in. I'd found the place after first stopping by to use their color-xerox machine. It was still a novelty then and was utilized widely in the popular art of the new wave/punk scene. (In those days "new wave" meant the more pop side of the punk movement like the B-52s, not the hairdo synth bands of the 80s for which it became a marketing term.) Color xerox was in vogue not just for fliers, zines and postcards, but for jewelry, badges, and clothing.
Nowadays it looked more focused on digital graphics and ceramics and less on printmaking and old-fashioned photography. Except for a couple of cases of craft work, the gallery aspect looked non-existent--but that was a quick impression. Too often these days things can look a little dry or unexciting to me, perhaps because I'm no longer young.

Managing to avoid areas of shade, I continued on in the warm air. A being passed me by--blond, sort of feminine, tall, androgynous fisherman's sweater--and I could not decide whether it was a man or a woman. There was no apparent attempt at gender confusion on this person's part but, even though I am as observant and as intuitive as anyone can be, I did not have even a conclusive guess. I turned around after a discrete moment and looked back just as my enigma vanished into white sunlight.

Up at Faculty glade, the scene was festive. A big circle of students sat in the hillside grass quietly playing what I assume was folk music. They were just north of the music department and maybe somewhat shy as a consequence, not like the avenue buskers who try to attract listeners.
Downhill at the Dalian dogwood tree, three little children were climbing through it's symbolist lacunae and even up into the branches. Until today I had ever seen anyone else climbing in it. I sat above on the split log bench and watched them for a while. My figurative tail no doubt was wagging, and when they climbed down to stroll on with the mom-figure, I gave into my own urge to climb.
Clouds of steam billowed out a grating between the tree and the creek, adding to the fairy tale effect. I went down and mounted the black rock at the base of the tree to stretch a moment by grabbing on a lower branch. Next, I kicked of my boots and then ascended into the smooth boughs in my stocking feet. Once again, I saw smiles of amused appreciation from passing students after I went straight up without pause. One of the two little girls with a big cute face like Shirley Temple immediately came back to the tree to join me. I asked her to be careful but, as it turned out, all the kids were confident climbers who showed real instinctive caution and balance up in the tree. It was sheer delight to talk to them a little in this situation.

More mirthful passersby reacted to the sight of an older cat and three wee ones grooving in the second story of the world. Even the youngest, a boy of two or three years, was no longer content to crawl through the hollow trunk. He insisted his Mom lift him onto a lower branch. The other little girl had meanwhile climbed onto a branch just below where I was perched against the trunk. I exchanged pleasantries with the Mom who just then got a phone call. It was for the little girl nearest to me from her friend in Pennsylvania who was having a birthday. The nearby Campanile struck five just as she took the phone and said hello. The kids all appeared to take for granted that you can talk to a friend in Pennsylvania while you are sitting in a tree in California.
As she told her friend what she is doing, the first little girl remarked that this tree is like a house. I said it is an enchanted tree, like a story-book tree. The Mom liked that notion. She told me she appreciates the enchanting weather too, that they are here only for a year, hailing from snowy cold upstate New York. Whereas this burled old survivor was already putting out its new green leaves.
This play-time went on for at least a half hour. Feeling protective of the children, I gently asked the Mom to intervene when the little girl chatting on the phone stood straight up in the tree without a hand-hold. The girl told everyone not to listen as she whispered a secret to her far-away friend. "I know the secret--her name's Rachel and your name's Anna," yelled the other little girl. The little boy meanwhile had been loaded into a stroller but he kept saying, "no, no, no..." When he was released he came right back over and said, "I want to go high, Mommy, real high." It was like being in a real-life cartoon for this contemplative loner who never gets to hang out with the under-five crowd.
Despite my genuine enjoyment, I soon had to urge things along and get down. Again, and with almost Taoist delicacy, I suggested that the Mom take the phone so Anna could have both hands free to climb back down. And so I could be free to descend from the tree myself--my feet were beginning to feel the strain. These things we did. Then I put my boots on and said my good evening. As I started to walk off, the first little girl called loudly, "good bye," and we all waved, secret best friends forever.

On tentative legs went the Flaneur, over the creek via the ziggerat bridge and around to the Campanile. There bay and bridge came into view in a blast of sunlight. Already wearing shades, I pulled my beret down half way over them to be able to look. (Biensure, le Flaneur wears a black beret.)
How far the sun has come back in the two months since the winter solstice. The clear sky was softened by ethereal clouds. It was one of those times when the entire Bay reflects the lowering sun in a vast field of light like white gold. Today this effect of a golden bay of light within the larger watery bay extended all the way under the bridge and out to sea for a distance. Then it ended at a remote band of metallic-looking ocean before another lake of light appeared beyond that. It seemed to float in the air over the Pacific horizon. I squinted into to see if I could descry the Farrallones, a wild group of islands visible from here on very clear days. I couldn't see them however. There was too much light; a different form of clarity prevailed.
Although the sun was still fairly high and warm as the giant clock hands reached 5:30, I was tiring. I had a lot of retinal after-images from trying to look at the view. I began to hear the call of my nearby pad. To which I repaired, to commence cooking a cauldron of lentils and vegetables. And over a cup of coffee and a taste of medicinal caramel, to type up another day's expedition.