My father directed me to an essay today in American Scholar by David Gessner, entitled Looking Back from the End of the World. I encourage you to read this beautiful essay which is “What Thoreau can teach us about living life during- and after- the pandemic.”
Alas, I do not have an eight by 10 foot cabin on a creek as the author of this essay has. Yet….But in the past weeks since I began my full-blooded affair with Lake Hollywood I recognize what it is I am hungering for during this pandemic. Amidst the intensity and frenetic planning around and avoidance of the Coronavirus, the reunion with Lake Hollywood has provided me a glimpse into the nostalgia of my early life and marriage. Walking around the lake transports me to a simpler, sweeter time. In nature.
Speaking of sweets, I just returned from the supermarket, after a trip initiated by a desire for something sweet. My spontaneous text to my downtown neighbor, Rob, at 4:00PM, “Do you want some ice cream, little boy?” elicited not even a giggle, much less a reply, so I put together a list that could justify risking my life for a trip to the store.
- Dishwashing detergent
- Chicken legs
- Ice cream
- San Pellegrina Blood Orange Aranciata
And off I went, mask firmly on my mug. I walked to the corner, and as I waited for the light to turn, I looked to my left, where two young invincibles without masks stood talking loudly and laughing, mouths open to the air. All I could think of was the “mouth rain” forest I had found myself in, and turned my head sharply to the right, pretending to watch the food truck parked on the street in front of my building.
The store was busy – 6:00 PM on a Saturday night. Took me right back to the Marina Safeway in San Francisco in the early 1980s, affectionately called the meat market. The lines were all crowded, but not with people flirting; people look wary these days in grocery stores. The shelves were emptier than they’ve been, but I found everything on my list and was able to go to self-checkout where the line was shorter. Off in the distance, someone was singing, calling out for Jesus to save the sinners. The people waiting behind me mocked her. I tried to ignore their ridicule as I scanned my own ridiculous items. All in all, a wilder scene than I’ve become used to in my oh so quiet apartment. As I lugged the heavy bag home, I found my mind wandering to my new lover…
Since July 5th when I first rediscovered Lake Hollywood, I’ve been back ten times. Four last week, six this. I sneak off in the morning, pounding the pavement as the marine cover hangs above the loop. Thursday evening, I walked at 6:00PM, followed by a 7:00AM and 6:30PM on Friday. I’m a little obsessed. At least four of the ten visits have been with friends to accompany me, so my social life has quadrupled from my usual one-hike-a-week arrangement. My new obsession feels seeded with the urgency I felt rushing from my friend Caroline’s Pearl Street apartment to Jimmie’s upper west side aerie in those early days of our fervent courtship.
There’s an undeniable element of nostalgia to my pastoral passeggiatas. Nostalgia is a powerful force for all of us these days. As I walked around the reservoir earlier this week, I listened to an mini-episode of the podcast Hidden Brain on NPR that alleviated any guilt I harbored about my nostalgia, not as indulgence, but as preparation for what will come afterwards. It called for appreciating the gift of time that this pandemic affords us. The host, Shankar Vedantam, invites us to close our eyes and think from our future selves back on the things we will feel grateful for in the early months of 2020. I find myself thinking frequently about what my granddaughters, now 4 and 1 will remember about this time: the sheer cornucopia of time and attention from both their parents, the long hikes, the camping trips both out in the woods, and once, even, mid-day, in their driveway, when Chris assembled the tent so they could “get away.”
But primarily I am hungry for nature. There, on the concrete path around the reservoir, I can tilt my head back, and if my glasses aren’t fogging up at that particular moment, take in the pine trees and the bluest skies I’ve ever witnessed in Los Angeles. Since 1986 when we first ventured out here.
As I sit out on my urban balcony, the late Saturday afternoon light illuminates the ruby throats of the tiny hummingbirds who come to find succor in my plastic feeders. I feel fortunate. Fortunate for my good health, my loving family, my loyal friends and colleagues who lift my spirits when it would be easy to become discouraged.
When we first moved downtown in 2008, I reveled in having shortened my commute by about 10 hours a week, which we filled with dinners out, more trips to the theatre, movies, and visits to our neighborhood park. In this difficult period, all our beloved cultural assets are shuttered, even the park’s gates firmly closed. Having open access to both exercise and beauty in my almost daily walks has seduced me like a new lover. An hour in the fresh air to clear my thoughts, stretch my legs, use my observational powers. I do a daily bunny count. Today there were at least 5. A few days ago, I noticed some people coming out of a gate above the end of the dam. This morning, when Michele and I started off, I suggested we try following that path to see where it went.
As we climbed the hillside, the wide dirt path narrowed until we questioned whether we were even on a trail. But it was worth the climb, as the higher elevation provided a spectacular view of the reservoir and the city south of the reservoir. We climbed even higher, finding ourselves at the base of the retaining wall around what was in the late 80’s Madonna’s house. We walked away from the house toward Mulholland Drive, spotting this blood red droplet perched on the hillside. The next part of the walk took us down through the neighborhood, eventually dumping us out at the Tahoe gate to the reservoir, where we continued down the dirt path along the street to where we’d parked our cars.
All in all, the walk was about 3.7 miles instead of the usual loop which is 3.3, but the view was spectacular, and the sense of getting away from the city even briefly was just what I’d wanted.
Thank you to my friends for joining me on these jaunts in the past few weeks and helping me locate my Walden Pond. I hope it’s been as satisfying for you as it has been for me!