Afloat

Stepping off the plane the weather is calm as always, by the beach and exceedingly early. I woke even earlier, to fog and a chill wind, my car covered with tiny droplets. Waiting for friends by the curb the clear skies and lack of humidity feel wonderful, a gentle weather that to me is Los Angeles.

Stepping out of the car some four hours later the heat assaults. Within seconds I begin to sweat and my companions make sounds of awe at the change. The amazement is not purely at the temperature, but at how great a change four hours could bring. Distance is a tricky thing, surprising when encountered suddenly. Our brains, I think, evolved to walk, to travel slowly through such shifts as I saw that morning. From fog, wind, and persistent damp to the relaxed 70° F of Southern California, to the open desert, the barren rock filled with heat accepted and re-radiated. Shorts, I think, and sandals. Both are in my shoulder bag, carried on to my morning flight in anticipation. They were too much to ask my brain at four am, waking chilly in the 52° F of San Francisco. We were born to acclimate gradually, to walk over a mountain range and see the sea rather than to land suddenly in the East Coast’s stifling humidity after a restless night’s sleep seated in an air conditioned tube of metal.

My companions are likewise overwhelmed, and we spend the afternoon, the two days following, alternating between AC and water. This seems to be how lives are lived in Arizona, as most vehicles tow boats and the lake, the Wal*Mart, are filled in the afternoon. Our home for the weekend, a sixty foot behemoth, offers us both air conditioning and water with ease if not grace. Trying to start the grill for an early dinner my friend is quickly drenched in his own sweat, his wool Dodgers cap a burden in its authenticity. Fire, while necessary for cooking beef, is not something to linger near when the ambient temperature ticks over 115° F.

For three days this lake is our playground, this boat our castle. Filled with food and friends from across the country, it is all we need. Together we float and swim. We learn, from each other and the world, how to drive large vehicles and leap from cliffs. We work together to tie up on beaches and dive through inner tubes. As the sky cools we are alone on the shore, and sit high on the boat watching the sun. It sets behind the mountains, splashing the lake with pinks and oranges as speedboats rip past heading home. Tied up on a small island we linger on the top deck, no longer forced into the AC or water. Our topics grow serious, brains finally cool enough to process. Business school and marriage, families, jobs and houses. Later, in the dark, we set off fireworks, spin fire, and tell stories. We speak of experiences we will never have again, of first encounters and the strange adventures that have brought us here, across miles and years. It is a weekend to celebrate our friend, his growth and a new phase we know he’s ready for. That we are ready for.

On our last morning, all of us slowly waking to the sun, I walk across our small island and swim to the shore. The cliffs, so inviting the day before, look wonderful in the fresh light. With a couple other early risers I climb, pause for the view, and jump.

Airborne for a full second not a single thought goes through my head. Below, having hit the deep cold water and pulled my way back up, I feel complete. My muscles and brain are weary, and awake. Finally, after hundreds of miles and hours of travel, I have removed myself from the world. Alone with this small circle of friends, on this small circle of water, there is nowhere more to go, nowhere else to be.

At least until after breakfast.

Homes belonging

In a span of weeks I am in a variety of homes belonging to good friends rather than landlords, occupied by owners rather than tenants. It is an exhausting tour of small neighborhoods and cities I may one day inhabit. Returned at last to our apartment north of the park in San Francisco I think mostly of the difference between here and all of those homes.

In Santa Monica to begin I have a spare key, a room and seclusion from the week day bustle. From this cool comfort I work, computer on my lap, and give thanks for the privacy, the lack of a commute. Having a home in a city not one’s own is a key step for this would-be global wanderer. Having one well situated is an even greater boon, with coffee near at hand and the airport an affordable taxi. In Santa Monica when my hosts come home I close the laptop and prepare for dinner. My Haro, pulled from the rafters of their garage, needs air and dusting, and then we are off.  For both my belongings and my body their home is a quiet spot safe from all the city, traffic, and heat.

In Portland on a Monday the house sits on a corner lot, the mulch newly laid. Gorgeous in the long days of June it is a work in progress. The bathroom sink, I am told upon entering, does not work. The kitchen sink does, and we share it each morning in between teeth brushing and work. The hole in the wall between closet and kitchen is a visual problem my friend, an architect, assures me, not a usability one. I concur, and sleep well. Bus lines are close at hand, as is a coffee shop to work from. A spare bike caries me to dinner with a huge group of friends from China. Lingering downstairs in the evening he points out planned points of improvement, the next place to repair.

In New Jersey after a long drive the houses are also under construction. One has an addition growing beside it, about to break through, and in one the downstairs is in various stages of spackle, flooring, and paint.

“Most of the electricity is done,” I’m told.

“After this room is painted it’s basically finished.”

“Tomorrow I’ll knock through the wall here for the duct work.”

These are the projects of my peers, the weekends and money sinks of couples already married, about to be, still tentative. We sit over dinner and discuss mortgages, we sit over wine and plan weddings, we bicycle to beers and talk furniture styles, long term commitments.

After this string of visits I fly home to my Fit and my kitten, to my apartment, ultimate team, and companion. In so many ways the two of us are part of the decisions of our age. We share solutions and discuss options with these friends and others, in Portland, in Montana, in St. Louis and New York.

Yet in this sphere of property, of homes belonging to those under forty we remain visitors, grateful for the spare bedrooms, bicycle options, and permanent addresses. As yet untethered by projects of such scope we elope on weekends to the Russian River, for weeks to Japan. We are settled and yet not fixed, comfortable but not permanent, and the ownership of property remains at a distance, with no clear path between.