The wind from the Sea of Cortez seems to pause just at dawn here, allowing the birdsongs to carry a little further and let me know about the imminent sunrise. I get up and poke my nose out of the tent, and note the temperature, feels like 50 degrees or so, just enough to make me reach back for a wool hat.
I enjoy the cool as I step out into the morning from our tent, knowing that once the sun starts shining in earnest I will miss it. The tide is out, and a flock of pelicans is arrayed in a chaotic knot on one of the sandbars. They’re also enjoying the lapse in the wind, before getting ready to get to work. They, like me, work in a rhythm that is dictated by the sun, and it is foolish to waste it.
I locate and unfold a foil windscreen for our stove and begin to boil water and watch as the sun springs from beyond the horizon. The wind, on cue, resumes its steady migration from the sea to shore, and I pull the zipper on my jacket higher.
We’re about to usher in a new year, and I’m not sure any of my resolutions or plans a year ago today could have even begun to predict where this family of mine currently finds itself.
In virtually every sense we’re as far away from home as we have ever been. There are the thousands of miles, of course, and now there is a border, and there is the time – hundreds of days since I last climbed the steps at the Seventh Avenue subway stop, handed some change (or didn’t) to the impossibly cheerful homeless fellow who worked the stairs as a regular job, Monday through Friday, four till eight.
A long time since I ran home from work, maybe in the company of Z-Man or JP, both faster than me and certainly Z-Man, always, forcing me to run faster than I wanted to up the Flatbush Avenue incline until we got to my finish line, the corner of Sterling Place.
Then walked around the corner and saw the linden tree that, thanks to Val’s constant pressure, the city put up in the pit in front of our building, that gorgeous old limestone with her rounded bay windows flanking the center stairwell, whose white-grey facade reflected every sunrise as though the sun was coming from inside the bricks themselves.
A long time since I said hello to our neighbors, maybe Seth coming home from a run, or either Doctors Jimmy or Kristyna hustling out (or in) to the building, doing the good work that they do. Gia and Forrest on the stoop, Gia in a delicate negotiation to end this playtime and maybe get some dinner. Richard and Gwen taking their dog for a walk.
Or Magda hustling any or all of her three boys to or from a baseball game, a rehearsal, school. Or Perry coming home from work, late. Or Elissa bundling her girls into the elevator. David and I deciding to have a beer on the stoop instead of whatever we really should have been doing.
Or Stephen gardening, relentlessly cheerful, remaking the street in front of my eyes so that in the six years since we first moved in there are flowers and plants everywhere, pots spilling over with them, window boxes dotting the buildings, tree pits full of annuals and perennials and signs begging courtesy from dog owners.
That home of my memory is the home that I miss, that I would take back in a heartbeat if I could.
Then there are the friends, the close friends of ours that made the past few trying years not only bearable but wonderful, if anything the friendships reinforced by the difficulty of the times.
And, on this trip as the miles and distances have grown, there are the old friends, childhood friends who have surfaced in my thoughts and memories in the nights where I find myself with increasingly more time for consideration, reflection. How valuable to me they are, how durable. In many ways I think they almost parallel the miracle of these thorny but imperishable desert plants that surround me, thriving, somehow, on the thimbles of nourishment they get in any given year.
There is much to miss, and there is so much to be thankful for.
Present, too, in my mind, are the memories of the aspects of my life that took me here in the first place – the anxious, grinding worries that preoccupied me every day and took me away from my wife and my two little girls, even when I was right there with them.
And so Valerie and I find ourselves about to usher in a new year, 2014, in the sand-filled pool at a completely run-down resort and RV campground maybe ten miles south of the lighthouse for San Felipe.
We are the only people here, save for the small family that live up the hill and control the gate to the campground, and who are relentlessly cheerful whenever they see us and the girls.
The pool, indeed the entire resort area of this place has fallen on hard enough times that what was once a smallish hotel is locked up, the concrete pads for the trailers and RVs have cracked and buckled, and the prevailing wind has begun to pile dunes of sand over the seawall and pathways. Nature has won this particular battle, and it is now just a matter of time.
We set up our tent a few days ago on the peak of a dune at the north end of the site, and have a commanding view of the lighthouse and sea.
Tonight, we’ll have our celebratory New Year’s Eve dinner at the bar in the pool, as it is sheltered from the wind and has stools surrounding a lovely, broad, cement countertop. The girls love the novelty of the empty pool and, frankly, so do I.
I suppose that some might find this atrophy distressing. For some reason, it doesn’t really strike either Val or myself that way. The gifts here, the sun and the ocean and the lines of pelicans off chasing the shrimp boats, somehow displace the practical truth that this place, for all intent with regard to its original purpose is broken.
I realize, this morning, that for whatever reason I am seeing right past the present, and see this place as being reborn. Repurposed.
And, as I turn into the rising sun to face the tent in response to the rummaging and rustling of the girls climbing out of their sleeping bags and sleepily looking for their sweaters and shoes, I know that while there is no one else here with us, my family is here with me and I am as present as I have ever been, and that somehow makes the memories of my friends and neighbors more vivid to me, and I am as optimistic as I have ever been about the promise of a New Year.