I watched neighbors I hadn’t seen since October walk down the block from our open window thinking, “I didn’t know they still lived here.” Mariachi music from someone’s spring-cleaning danced its way down the block and in the garden beds snow was melting quickly in the sun; I stuffed a swimsuit into my luggage and zipped it close.
This year March came in like a lamb, warm and fuzzy, bright and hopeful, but anyone could foresee that despite its charm it wouldn’t end well. It would end as a lion in sheep’s clothing—there would be another blizzard. I took a train to the airport and boarded a one-way flight to San Francisco, in the illustrious state of California, the land of possibility.
Fritz’s invitation was simply stated, “You should come and visit. You’d be a great fit.” I simply replied, “Love it! I’ll be there mid-March.” In the true spirit of going west to find all that is waiting to be discovered, I made few plans.
I spent the four days exploring San Francisco by bicycle, hiking the red-wooded hills of Marin County, and remembering what it was like to drink coffee outside in the sun. In a Berkley parking lot I rendezvoused with two women driving from LA and together we continued north to Salmon Creek Farm in Mendocino County. Once a commune built in 1971 by a group of youth checked-out of mainstream society, it is now being revitalized by artist Fritz Haeg as a space for artists, craftsmen and thinkers to gather in celebration of nature, exchange inspiration, share creative processes, become energized and imagine new ways of being in the world at large.
Cabins on the farm are named after their builders and former inhabitants, Rainbow, Salmon, Dawn, Moonlight, Cedar, were filled with creative professionals from around the country who had all received a similar invitation. We spent the days of our collaborative sabbatical reading, making meals together, digging in the gardens, dancing through movement exercises on the beach, visiting hot spring spas, and laying in the sun discussing art.
We found a horse trough and built a wood-fired hot tub and from it watched the tops of redwoods scrap the starry sky as it moved east to west. I hitchhiked Highway 1 and was picked up by an abalone diver who told me about hunting the regal mollusks and how to prepare them. “Olive oil, pepper, a little lemon on the grill and they taste just like bacon.”
Sometimes I’m captivated by the undreamt magical moments I find myself living: atop a cliff carpeted with orange California poppies while looking out at the Pacific and catching sight of breaching grey whales migrating south, at sunset prowling the sinuous Hollywood Hills in a 1970 Mercedes-Benz roadster coupe with Los Angeles expanding to the horizon line, on a quiet redeye to New York City floating above the American landscape and its twinkling constellations of cities. In times like these I wonder “How…how did I get here?” I grew up a poor black kid in small-town Wisconsin and I often feel like Oliver Twist or Charlie Bucket and is now on a continuous journey of spectacular misplacement.
Three and a half weeks after leaving Minnesota I was sitting in Chicago Midway International Airport wearing a wool sweater waiting for a plane to deliver me back to the chilly spring of home, not quite feeling ready.
“Attention Southwest passengers of flight 2659 to Minneapolis/St.Paul. Our flight to Minneapolis has been overbooked and we are looking for two passengers to volunteer and stay until tomorrow morning. For your help we offer you…”
“Yes, I’ll take it. I’ll stay.”
That night after roaming downtown Chicago, I eased into a hot bath at a Hampton Inn Suites, soaking in the joy and bewilderment of being a young man free to venture the world as he sees fit. I had successfully biked the Wiggle of San Francisco like a local, scrubbed my naked body on a plastic foot stool in a Korean bathhouse after taking a cues from the naked men around me, swam in the waves of Malibu, kissed handsome men for breakfast, fell in love with Kehinde Whiley at the Brooklyn Museum, overate the best dumplings and noodles with my best friend in New York City Chinatown, and watched a full moon rise over Lake Michigan on Easter.
It’s mid-April back in Minnesota and the weather report is optimistic the temperature will reach 45ºF by the afternoon. I’m happy to be home, thankful even, and imagine I’m like a seedling that got a head start on the season and is almost ready for the garden. Home is like a soil-rich bed that has gotten better with time and patience. But like good fertilizer, I can’t help but depend on the dense nutritional supplement traveling offers the health and harvest of my self.