Taking Care…Being Care

18 12 2015

Last week marked the last day of having workers in the house on a daily basis, but to say that the remodel is finished would be something beyond optimistic, it would be flat out wrong. There is still SO much left to do. Yesterday, one week after the last workers spent their final day here, Hilario came back to install the downdraft on the new stove, a task that couldn’t be done last week because the manufacturer forgot to put the motor in the unit. Today Rich will come to measure the counter tops for granite. Then, of course, we’ll have to pick out our slabs and schedule the install. But beyond THAT, there is STILL so much left to do that will be on me and Danae to finish up — tiling the kitchen, painting, laying hardwood floor in the master bedroom, unpacking the boxes that seem to be multiplying like bunnies on the back driveway.

Saturday we are having family over for a holiday celebration. This will be their first viewing of the house. I am asking them to bring their muck raking shoes and their imaginations. While I am asking them for their understanding in regards to the state of things, and while I want to make a nice gathering for them, I am not seeking their approval or validation for our decision to move here. This stands in stark contrast to where I was even three months ago when I wanted everyone to see and feel what I saw and felt here.

Our realtor and friend, Bradd, told us when we wrote the offer on this house back in June, that once we moved here, everything else would feel like madness. He was right. In no way did I doubt what he was saying at the time, but how could I have entered into the deep understanding and breadth of what he meant before I actually spent time here? There is something about a life among the trees, and living in a very small town that can transform you in the most positive of ways.

Aside from the fact that driving over the mountain now stresses me out — the yellow air, the congestion on roadways (and not just at rush hour anymore), the entitlement of the drivers — there is just a warmth and genuineness that accompanies every transaction here that is less common over the hill. Here, at the Ben Lomond Market, check out might take you an extra five minutes because the cashier notices you are buying artichoke and wants to share a recipe for the perfect aioli. The manager of the lumber yard will let you walk off with a $90 piece of equipment to borrow without even taking down your name, or will give you a hands-on tutorial on how to start your chainsaw when you are unable to get it started on your own. People care here and we have heard over and over again, this is a small valley, no one is going to screw you over because you’re going to run into them at the grocery store at some point and they want you to be happy to see them. And it IS a small valley. The valley is made up of four small towns, one of which, Brookdale, has a population nearly identical to the number of students that attend Palo Alto High School (1,991). Felton comes in next at 4,057 — roughly the same as the population of both Palo Alto high schools combined — with Boulder Creek coming in at 4,923,  and Ben Lomond tipping the scales with a whopping 6,234 residents. The entire valley sports a population that is a mere quarter the population of Palo Alto. The population of East Palo Alto, where we moved from, is 4.5 times that of our current town, Ben Lomond. The change is staggering.

Even your definitions change. No matter which direction we look in, we cannot see another house. It might be as much as 1/2 a mile in any direction before we might encounter another actual residence. This drastically changes what the word “neighbor” means to us. Suddenly, it’s not just a word to describe people who live in houses directly next to or across the street from us, but rather it now describes the fifteen houses that sit on or off of the dirt road portion of our road. And, just like you cannot choose your family of origin, these people instantly became “our” people. We view them differently than we would even the people that inhabited the house just 100 feet away from us on Garden Street.

These are the people you have pot lucks with when the power is out for three days. These are the people you work with when a tree falls and blocks the road. Or, as happened the other day, these are the people you go to when another neighbor needs help.

On my way to the post office, I encountered a white minivan in the middle of the road. As it wasn’t moving, and as it was stopped just along side a turnout on the one lane road, I assumed he wanted me to pull forward into the turnout so he could pass, so I did. He didn’t move. The driver was an old mountain man — slow moving, full white beard. I couldn’t pass, as in front of me were two piles of gravel for grading the road. I looked in front of the minivan and saw a viscous fluid covering the ground. First thought: did he hit an animal? Second thought: He’s leaking something. I rolled down the window and asked him if that was coming from his car. He looked upset and confused.

“I can’t go anywhere,” he said.

“Ok,” I said, “let me see what I can do.”

I got out of my car and walked around his to see if it would be possible for me to use my car to nudge him into the turnout. I walked back to my car and touched my grill. Plastic.  There was no way I could push him without cracking my grill. Suddenly Noel pulled up in his full sized Dodge Ram. I ran up to him and filled him in.

“Would you be able to push him with your truck,” I asked.

Suddenly I felt badly. I didn’t know this man’s name and could not remember if I had met him before.

Noel got out of his truck to assess the situation. By this point the man was maneuvering the car slightly by pushing backwards with his foot.

I turned to Noel, “Let’s see if we can push him into the turnout.”

Noel and I got behind the minivan and gave it all we had. We could get him parallel with the beginning of the turnout, but getting him in it presented a slight uphill that we were unable to conquer. We pushed the van back farther than it was before, the man steering at the wheel, and then tried from a different angle. Noel and I were unable to do it on our own. We pushed the van back again to a point where the road was carefully passable. Noel suggested he go back to his property and grab a couple of his guys to help. In order to turn around, he needed my car to be gone, so I squeezed past the van and went on my way to the post office. When I returned, no more than five minutes later, the van was in the turnout, the man (who I now know is Ed) was gone and Noel was on his way out toward town. My guess is that he ended up using his truck to nudge the car and another vehicle (caretakers for an elderly resident on the road) likely gave Ed a ride back to his house.

While my help really didn’t offer any solution to Ed’s dilemma, only effort and support, it is not typically “me” to jump out and act in this way. Living in a bigger city it is easy to assume that someone else will come along and help — someone with more time, more ability, more patience. What has happened though is that it has become “me” to want to help, and not just Ed, but everyone. It has become a true pleasure forming cordial, yet warm connections with people simply by holding the door for them, yielding to them on the road, or taking the time to listen to the cashier that had a horrible fight with her husband the night before. Life here is simpler, slower and, in those things, seemingly more meaningful.

Is our house a show house that will impress people when they walk in? Probably not. But is it comfortable? Totally. The sofa we moved out of the stairway hall and stashed in front of the wood stove until we had the energy to move it — has stayed. Does it look great? No, but man, do we love to sit there and watch the fire.

Is our dining room “nice”? Not really, but man do I love that I can have two leaves in my table at all times and that there is still ample room to walk around.

How much do I love that I can walk around my ow property and get lost in “looking micro” and taking beautiful photos?

What we thought we would make of this house and what we thought we would do with this place has changed so drastically. Our house, our property, our experience is no longer just about us. Once we actually moved in, we began feeling a responsibility — to the neighbors, both human and non-human. This place is for us, but it is not just for us. We share it with trees that have been here 999 years and 9 months longer than we have. We share it with generations of newts that rely on our creekside property to support their entire lifespan. We share it with banana slugs and owls, bats and scorpions. And the birds! So many birds. We share it with deer and coyote and the occasional mountain lion. Where on Garden Street we would pick up a salamander, marvel at it, then put it in a corner to find a new home while we exerted our decorative control on the yards — lawn, play structure, concrete — we now watch our every step when down by the creek taking great care not to step on a newt or slug. The newts that are crawling down on the leaves now are the hatchlings of the eggs that the females were laying in the creek when we moved in. We’ve already seen one generation unfold because our eyes are open, as are our hearts.

Emotions have been running very close to the surface for me these days. I realize that my existence in the Silicon Valley was a callous that had formed over my life. The callous is sloughing off and what lies beneath is tender. So, while I have grown more hearty in terms of physical strength — running around outside in 46 degree weather without a jacket where on Garden Street I wore a down vest in the house even if it was 72 degrees inside — my heart is feeling open and exposed and it feels amazing. And that is the last bit of responsibility that is coming into focus — to step away from just “doing” and to step closer to the being and the feeling. We need to take care of our hearts and our spirits first and foremost.

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2 responses

29 12 2015
Kim Apana (cousin)

This sounds absolutely wonderful and we wish you much happiness! Your writing is beautiful, by the way. It sounds like I am getting a most special glimpse into your lives and want to hear more, but actually live it. We know the valley a little as my husband, Steve’s aunt used to live in Ben Lomond and it was always hard to leave when we visited.
Thank you so much for sharing and much love and blessings to you all.

8 02 2016
bonnetj

Thank you! The change has been so good for all of us. We said we’d give it two years, but if things continue as they have been, I’m sure we’ll be here much longer! xo

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