Eight years. Four humans. Infinity. the Ocean
Darin and I recently celebrated our eight year anniversary. There is something quite magical about the number eight: turned sideways it represents the lemniscate, or symbol of infinity. The infinity symbol is also closely associated with the mystical ouroboros, or snake eating its own tail, a powerful symbol of death and rebirth, the myth of eternal return. There are eight pagan festivals of the year, linking the number again to the cyclical nature of life. In Buddhism, the eightfold path leads to enlightenment and is represented by the eight spokes on the dharma wheel. Eight is a number of balance, of wholeness. Our family of four fits squarely and precisely into those eight years.
We always take a trip to celebrate our anniversary. No matter how poor or how busy we are, we make something happen to honor that magical day eight years ago (and the preceding weeks and following weeks) that made us a true family in the eyes of our community and remarkably, even each other. Never big on the "institution" of marriage, the wedding we had together right here in our own backyard gave us something quite unique and wonderful to hold onto. And even though we had been together for six years before that date, minus six turbulent months along the early way, we consider that starting point, June 30, 2007, a day to celebrate forever. For infinity.
This year we headed westwardly to the Monterey Bay area. The girls were sweet as pie in the car, believe it or not. We were really impressed with Polly on this trip. Whereas Lucy is now at an age where diversions like books, games, stories, music, snacks, the normal line up can function quite well to keep her occupied, a younger baby is understandably more difficult on longer car trips. It can be a real challenge when they can't express their needs and seem to just want OUt of that carseat. However, Polly seems to be joining Lucy in her ability to be entertained. She would examine pages in books for long minutes; I could see her in the rearview just poring over the details of a village scene with popsicles growing on mountains in the Good Humor Man book, or the neighbors bearing gifts in a Berenstain Bears book.
However, by the time we reached our campground at beautiful Saddle Mountain Ranch and they spied the amazing wooden playground, they were more than ready to pounce! I knew we were in the right place when I walked into the office and the woman working had a newborn baby girl smiling beatifically up from her mama's lap. The office manager and her family live onsite and her other two children were running around the playground with their babysitter. A four year old boy and a two year old girl; my girls were stoked and could have played with them the rest of the trip and been perfectly content.
But the excitment of setting up camp won out after a while, with promises to come back and play again later. Lucy and Polly went nuts for camping this time around. They are truly at an age to fully enjoy the experience and their enthusiasm was infectious. The tent was a wonderland to them; they were literally screaming with excitement and joy as we set up. Our family bed of open sleeping bags and quilts was a magical novelty and they wanted to pretend "sleep" again and again. They even loved having to take off shoes at the entry and put them on again, or better yet, run around in the dirt in barefeet.
Pondering it all, as one must, while camping.
We had sandwiches that I had made before we left home that morning, shared some trailmix with the stellar jays, explored.
I put on my traditional anniversary dress. My mom made me this eyelet wrap dress from a vintage pattern and I wore it for the second half of my wedding. I have not missed a year yet of wearing it on my anniversary, even when I was 38 weeks pregnant with Lucy, or two years ago with a new little quickly growing bump underneath that would be our Polly!
We drove around Pacific Grove looking for this mysterious house Darin wanted to find. In the 1960s this particular house was home to Clark Ashton Smith, the subject of Darin's newest film project. Smith was a fascinating artist and poet with a dark, lush perspective and voice. Our little search for his home and talks about him imbued Pacific Grove with a mystery that I had glimpsed here before. This little town has haunted my own personal Californian soul for years, ever since I used to perform in the annual marching band festival on their main street and steal sidelong glimpses as I marched, past Ocean Avenue and to the great big blue Pacific beyond, and feel my innocent little flute playing-drum beating heart soaring up like a gull. A few years later I'd return here with my sister on spontaneous allnight road trips and gallivant along the rocky shore, sleep in our car on side streets, walk Lighthouse Ave searching out bookstores and record shops. We once met a fisherman named Lucky Malone.
Wandering souls will wander. Even with small babes who toddle upward and onward over rooftops and stairways and precarious rocks toward the seals and the setting sun, because they have wandering souls as well.
Lovers Point was an old bathhouse for years and years. Now its waters are part of a marine preserve and its funky old staircases and rooftops and buildings retain some antique sense of bathers' absolution, that freedom that comes from soaking in waters. In a place as moral as turn of the century Pacific Grove, built and executed as a Christian seaside retreat, where bathing suits were required to cover the body from the knee to the neck. And yet there were public dressing rooms, hot tubs, diving rafts, and salt water baths for twenty five cents. Later a Japanese tea house with photo booths and merry go round. A bowling alley and a dance hall. The laughter this place has heard!
Colder, grayer and windier than we expected, we still spent time on the beach. We never did don those bathing suits that we basically live in at home, though. Our body thermometers were basically in shock going from about a hundred degrees all day and in the high seventies at night, to a cool misty sixty something. It felt like another world at the coast. It was fine not to swim. We swim a lot in our real lives. We gathered seaweed and shells, and then buried them. We splashed until the water didn't feel so cold.
And it was all very intoxicating, serious business.
We ate dinner at a place in Monterey called El Cantara Vegan. It really is traditional style Mexican food free from dairy and animal products and it was very good and a neat experience eating there. The girls were absolutely obsessed with the homemade horchata and I loved the variety of traditional spices in the foods we chose. It was late when we headed back to our camp and both girls fell asleep very quickly in our cozy nest. Darin and I proceeded to stay up late and warm our bellies and tipsy our souls with wine and poetry. He read me some of his favorites of Clark Ashton Smith's poems and I breathed the words in, in our rich mossy forest. Smith was a luxuriously verbose wordsmith and the night was bewitching.
"I met a witch with amber eyes
Who slowly sang a scarlet rune,
Shifting to an icy laughter
Like the laughter of the moon." (...)
"Who has seen the towers of Amitaine
Swan throated rising from the main
Whose tides to some remoter moon
Flow in a fadeless afternoon? ...
Who has seen the towers of Amithaine
Shall sleep, and dream of them again...."
Morning time in camp is my favorite. I love the cool air and the water boiling for french press coffee, and most of all these little jammied bottoms so eagerly up and about to explore and have their hot cocoa.
The playground beckoned in morning light.
Office flowerpots and camp cat, Snuggles.
After we checked out of Saddle Mountain we got some more delicious coffee in Carmel at an upscale shopping center and took the girls on a very brief sojourn in a fancy bookstore.
Then, after getting word from the fan club about the exact address, we headed back up to Pacific Grove and found the Clark Ashton Smith house! Darin went and knocked on the door and the owners kindly invited him in, offered him refreshments and told him of other Smith fans and wanderers who have made their way to this red door. I had a snack and read in the car with an ocean view while both girls napped and it was a most pleasant interlude.
And then, for the grand highlight of our trip: The Monterey Bay Aquarium!!!
Absolutely rapt upon entering:
We got to "meet" a beautiful albatross named Makana near the kelp forest exhibit. We all loved this California Sheephead fish.
Black oystercatcher, my favorite bird that day, was shy of photographs.
The girls got to touch sea urchins and living abalones and Lucy held a hermit crab who tickled her palm with his skittery legs.
Inside the wave tunnel.
Sometimes cartoon decorations are almost as cool as the real thing when you're two years old.
Okay, but not really. We were all totally entranced by the tiny seahorses, and also their buddies the pipefish.
Aquarium playland. The girls had a blast.
The only thing that was difficult about the aquarium was getting them to move on. They were engrossed in every single thing we saw there. We easily could have spent an entire day. As it was, four hours or so flew by like a bat ray.
Toot loved the idea that the otters play with toys like this red bucket.
We could have gotten way more into photographing the wildlife inside the aquarium but lighting could be difficult and it got tiresome to see a hundred iphone screens all filming the same moon jellies. It was refreshing to often just gaze and talk to my daughters about the creatures we were seeing and what their lives were like. They took everything in and it was an experience I'll never forget. Even when Polly fell off a chair backwards on her head in the cafe and cried for twenty minutes, or when my blackened thumbnail from an accident months ago got ripped mostly off and hurt like a mofo. Those things couldn't put a dent in our day. I will never forget the penguin named Sabie shaking her little tail feathers and delivering a frothy white poo into the water below right before my amused eyes, or the hammerhead shark swimming straight toward Tootie, or the way Polly got freaked out by the stuffed animal eels that you could pull out of their hidey holes, or for that matter, both of them checking out the strange gaunt old-man face of a real eel who let them gaze with great curiosity for long minutes. I will never forget the suctiony underside of the red octopus tentacles or the otherwordly pouch of a skate's growing embryo in a mermaid purse, the intricate tail of a seahorse wrapping around a kelp vine, or the shadow of a giant sea turtle looming above us at the water's top edge. Touching the bony yet gummy back of a gumboot chiton in the touchpools.
The five and a half hour drive with a mandatory stop in Stockton for Chipotle couldn't even shake the good mood of this trip.
I've written for a long time, late into the night, and there is much more I could say about my family and our adventures together and what it's like to be married for eight years to my best friend and what it's like to take my toddlers to the beach and the aquarium and camping and faces we met and streets we walked and what we ate and all of that and more. I could fill up every blank space and still not tell it right. But this little trip is recorded here now for my future and I can summon up the way it felt to be there and feel grateful, again, and into infinity, for this love of mine that eternally grows.