Part One: Highway 101 South…
As soon as I lost my radio signal for NPR, somewhere around Gilroy, I started listening to an audiobook of Terry Gross interviewing more than a dozen well-known writers. My favorites were David Rakoff, David Sedaris, and James Baldwin. Rakoff and Sedaris brilliant and funny. Baldwin not funny, but, brilliant. Since I was on the fourth day of a really bad head cold I decided not to do the whole drive in one day. Spent the night in San Luis Obispo, where I met up with Lewis and Nancy Rosenberg (Lewis is my 2nd cousin) for dinner, had a good night’s sleep at the La Cuesta Inn, and was the only one (out of a dozen) in the hotel breakfast room that morning watching President Obama and French President Hollande speaking on the ginormous TV screen. After breakfast, I headed south to Ojai and a 3-day family Thanksgiving at Terri & Alex’s house.
Part Two: Hwy 33 from Ojai to Oak View to Ventura and back…
West to Ventura. Got a personal tour of the Archives department Terri and her colleague Val are creating at Patagonia. Very cool.
East to Ojai. Interesting conversation with a well-heeled man and his wife at the NoSo Vita Social Cafe in Ojai. He asked me about the book I was reading, Julie Barton’s “Dog Medicine” (which I totally love). Then he told me about his soon-to-be-published memoir “Exile on Front Street, My life as a Hell’s Angel & Beyond”. Turns out he is the former, long time President of the Hell’s Angels, George Christie, Jr. We talked about writing and life. Seems like a really nice guy. His wife, super nice too. I’m telling ya. You never know.
West to Oak View. Early on Thanksgiving Day, a family conversation about global warming that was surprisingly, happily, harmonious. Our Republican family/friend had not yet arrived.
West again to Ventura. The day after Thanksgiving. After Thai food for lunch at “Rice”, went to see “Brooklyn” in downtown Ventura with Mom, Terri, Gary, Patricia, Erin and Austin.
East to Oak View. I played some ukulele for mom and Terri. Then, later, Mom “made” me play and sing for others.
I made a champagne top tiny chair.
Got to know the amazing cat Jax. Most people call him Jax. Alex calls him Oliver. Now that I know him, I call him Jaxson Pollock. I used to have a cat named Sophie Tucker.
Part Three: Highway 101 North…
Headed home, driving north on 101, I couldn’t help noticing the many shades of dark and light browns, cinnamons, beiges, sometimes beiges so light it almost looked like snow covering vast swathes of rolling hills and flatlands. Every now and then, there were small patches of green and gold, but mostly the earth looked thirsty, really thirsty. Parched. The land surrounding the town of Greenfield was totally brown.
As I drove, one eye on the road and one eye on the ever-changing topography, I listened to Adam Gopnik’s audiobook reading of “Angels and Ages”, six essays on Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. I suppose this got me to thinking about evolution and God. Which reminded me of a conversation I had, not so long ago, with a young yeshiva student. It occurred at a dinner party my mother and I had been invited to, a shabbat dinner party to be exact. Most of the guests were women around my mother’s age. The young man, a boy really, at fifteen, sat quietly and respectfully among the elders. I noticed no one was talking with him, so I decided to. I asked him what he studies at school. I thought it an innocuous question.
He answered “the Talmud, the Torah”, etc.
I queried “Math, English, Science too?”
“No” he said.
I asked “Do you learn about creationism AND evolution?”
“What’s evolution?” he responded without inflection or evident interest.
“Have you heard of Charles Darwin?” I asked, thinking that was the appropriate follow-up question.
“No, I’m going to be a rabbi”, he said. “What I need to know is what G-d said.”
I nodded, and moved on to the question of girls in the yeshiva. No, there were none. I tried for a neutral but open affect, simple interest, a nonjudgmental facial expression and tone of voice. I saw how this kind of fundamentalist religious education is connected to climate-denying. I felt sad for the boy (and, by extension, for all of us). The eyes of my fellow guests were not kind in my direction. I smiled and wished him well. I wondered if there was any chance I had penetrated his millennia-long certainty of being right? Maybe planted the tiniest seed? I held a tiny hope, as if hope were the size of a single seed (which might still push its shoot up through concrete), and doubted it.
Why shouldn’t we talk (respectfully, of course) about religion, politics, the weather? It’s not ok to allow Republicans and fundamentalists to squash this conversation. It’s the whole world’s children’s and grandchildren’s future existence that is at risk here. (not to mention polar bears, and all the other animals already suffering the effects of climate change).
Of course the word “respectfully” is the issue, isn’t it? How quickly we get frustrated and impatient with other peoples’ views. How quickly the tone of the conversation descends. How little we are taught and learn to engage in conversations based in respectful dialogue. How quickly we turn toward anger. Or withdrawn silence.
Looking at the desiccated beige landscape, I noticed an area, a top layer, rolling and smooth, which matched the surrounding terrain, but was now pushed up like a mesa, sides jagged and steep, rutted, and eroded. Had this configuration been created by earthquake, or was the topsoil lifting itself skyward in search of water? The change looked recent, but did that mean one year ago or 50,000?
The rupture looked painful, abrupt. It made me think about God. About if there is one. About, how if tardigrades were made in the image of God (really, why not?), then God could be just fine with what’s going on. After all, tardigrades roll with any and all punches. Really. Any. All.
But if it is us, humans, that were made in God’s image, then God must be weeping. Really weeping. Or making war???
There were several car accidents on 101 North near San Jose. The traffic crawled. I’d been on the road for 8 hours. We were barely moving at 0-20 mph. I was ready to be home, but felt far from it. My little iPhone’s Google app, GPS saved me. Offered me (and a few hundred others apparently) a back road detour before re-joining 101 past the accidents. So smart that smartphone. Wish it could help us get past our block of talking about important things, including the “weather”.
It was a great road trip. Many hours of listening to and contemplating great thinkers and writers. And occasionally, to keep myself awake, and also for the joy of it, I sang along, loudly and with feeling, to Nellie McKay and the original cast recording of Spring Awakening.
It was my happiest Thanksgiving ever for no particular reason and all of the above. Hope yours was wonderful too.