Friday, April 24, 2015

California Drizzle

  I’ve lived in California for most of my life, having arrived here in 1965 thanks to the random wisdom of the US Navy. First Monterey then San Diego then Laguna Beach and back to San Diego. But it’s mornings like this one—drizzling, overcast, a bit chilly, calling for a jacket—ones that often dawned in Monterey, that gratify and fortify my love of living here. Odd? Perhaps, since most people come to California for the sun and the beach. Not me. I like sunny days, but not as well as these rare mornings.

We used to call it morning fog; in fact, that’s how the ‘marine layer’ (rather ugly term somehow) shows up in “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. Morning fog, not marine layer. Just try to sing it along with Tony Bennett using ‘marine layer’ and you’ll see what I mean. The morning fog, then, came to settle over downtown Monterey, and we at the school I attended were high enough in the Presidio to watch its cottony down caress the harbor and Cannery Row with only the spires of a few churches peeking through. Often we got drizzle from it, and like a newborn duckling who, right out of the shell, imprints the image of whoever it sees first, I remember those foggy mornings with childlike love.

Walking along West University on such a morning as this brings pieces of poetry to mind. Hopkins: “There lives the dearest freshness, deep down things…” or Wordsworth: “… at once I saw a crowd, A host of daffodils …” Well, I don’t see daffodils, but in the canyon at what would be Front Street if it came this far, is a hillside covered in nasturtiums. They are in full bloom just now, and dependent on whatever rainfall they can get, their stay is short. But while they’re here, they rival Wordsworth’s daffodils, blooming among the other wildness of the landscape. This morning, drinking up the light rain, showing their brilliant faces, and like the daffodils, they are “Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”

Of course, another Wordsworth poem intrudes. Already the inexorable drier days impinge on the current greenness of the canyon with brown decay and temporary death for the nasturtiums. Part of Splendour in the Grass:

We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death, …”
There is another line that I’ve forgotten and am too lazy to look up, but the gist of the poem seems apt to the fate of the nasturtiums and by extension, of me.

Mornings like this boost the soul, particularly here in Southern California where it is often too easy to speed along in the sunlit life we take for granted. I don’t mean this reflection to usher in sadness or gloom; rather the reverse, with the secure knowledge that like Hopkins, we can commune with that ‘dearest freshness deep down things’, and celebrate with him:

Oh morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
One other thing. I have to thank Miss Kirk for getting her kids to memorize poetry. Much of it sticks in my memory after all these years, providing ongoing songs that serve to beautify as well as clarify in better language than mine, mornings like this one.

                 Robert Heylmun                    April 24, 2015

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