Upstate

From the balcony the world looks lush. Upstate New York is green and filled with trees. Layers of hills gradually recede in the distance. For this transplant to California’s drought, the sight of so much water and growth is a relief. My body lets out a sigh I didn’t know it’d been holding.

We are in the Catskills for the weekend, seven of us, to celebrate a friend’s impending marriage. Like all such adventures there is little sleep and much remembering. Collecting the past thirty six years of someone’s life takes a lot of hours and whisky. The stories alternate between the embarrassing and the hilarious, with the best managing both. We who began as brothers, high school friends, college friends, we are all now adult friends. As such we play lawn jenga and shoot arrows together late into the night. In some ways it’s a celebration of one person, but in others that of a group who have known each other for at least fifteen years now.

On Saturday we go swimming in a river down the hill. The water is cold but not painful, save for one of us who hates such things. We splash and swim with some locals and some other vacationers, no one in any hurry.
In good coincidence it is also my birthday. And so I turn thirty six in a river upstate, some hours from where I was born but not many, surrounded by friends from college. It’s a good reminder of how things change and do not, and how we make friends and maintain them. We meander between talk of childcare and investments, and pure joy at the toppling of a tower of two by fours. We manage to mix pleasure and laziness in good measure, without much excess or any physical damage.

Sitting on the balcony as Saturday fades I think of the places I’ve lived with the people in this house: Vassar, Shanghai, and Tokyo. The specifics aren’t important, just the distance, the sense of how far we’ve traveled together in our thirty six years.

Calm evenings

In between larger moves, we pick berries. On a friend’s farm outside Portland, in the afternoon sun, we gather hundreds of black berries in a white bucket to take back to friends in the city who had to work this afternoon. This is the relaxed part of summer, a breather between work, ultimate, and airports. In the last month we’ve swum in the Russian River, the Feather River, and now the Sandy. Living in a city where the months of July and August mean continual fog and a brisk sixty two degrees F, this feels like success.

The summer has come, and we make time to celebrate. In the background, on walks across the park to dinner at 9th and Irving, we discuss larger steps, more serious plans. Grad school, a wedding, and jobs, always jobs. At home we try and institute a time for art, try to make it to the gym before work or at lunch time.

We don’t always succeed. Some days we’re too tired after work, some days we play ultimate or meet friends in the evenings. We know though, that there are larger goals, and we have ideas for the people we want to be.

In the summer Mr. Squish gets fleas. We fight them with laundry and diatomaceous earth, with vacuuming, combs, and more laundry. With poison, when we’re tired of the bites. And with constant attention to our house and cat.

Swimming in the rivers these last few weeks I think mostly of how much their temperatures vary, how much warmer the Sandy is, outside of Portland, than the Feather in the Sierra Nevadas, fed by PG&E dams from the bottom of the reservoirs. How much more comfortable games are when the water’s as warm as the Russian River, and how in groups they are all delightful.

Summer in San Francisco consists of long walks late at night, awake because we should be, but wrapped in hoodies hats and fog, unable to see the sun set, unable to see the sky. It’s a decent home base, a city full of life, but it’s our adventures out that keep us aware of the seasons outside the bay.

We are planning larger changes, and we are working hard to be more capable. Some days though, we’re working on remembering the joys of our childhood, berries and floaties and friends all over the coast.

 

Happy birthday

From his spot atop my backpack Mr. Squish laps up the sun. He loves these hours with the bay windows in our Richmond apartment, when the morning light comes in thick and hot.

In the afternoon the space chills, and he seeks refuge on the furry blanket that is his favorite possession, that has been since his first days in this house. He stretches and turns and settles in, his head pressed deep into the fur and paws extended forward to knead the soft material. Purring loudly he shuts his eyes and begins a nap that ends only when we return from work.

Today however he has company, and sneaks up on my keyboard as I type, sniffing for the remnants of my bagel sandwich on the plate discarded after breakfast. Finding little he settles on a cushion in the window and watch for pigeons and Coca-Cola delivery trucks. The small fleet of police trikes that lead the street sweeper, giving tickets to parked cars, startles him with their strange speed and clustering. Occasionally the 38 hisses loudly as it brakes to a stop at the corner and he rises, fur on end, prepared to defend his home from the unknown.

Mostly he watches me, and naps, content in the knowledge that his people are near by.

Today Mr. Squish turns one. In his first year he has grown from a tiny ball of fluff with pale blue eyes to the king of the house, a cat of no small size or shedding power. His fur remains strangely soft, a single coat of fluff that he disperses widely and yet never seems to lack. Rather than an unknown creature of mystery he seems to be a specific breed, and a gentle one. He is not afraid of dogs or other cats, though the latter are not his biggest fans. At fourteen pounds he intimidates without meaning to, and is uncertain of the social mores surrounding cat-on-cat interactions.

His early life on the street, before the shelter and the foster family, left him with something of a wheeze, and he catches colds easily. Thus Mr. Squish is more like his owner than otherwise would seem, asthmatic and often sneezing. These ailments have not stopped his adventures, from frisbee field to wedding party to coffee shop. Today on his birthday he will see Golden Gate Park, Jenny’s Burger, and the Little Shamrock. Being a creature of San Francisco’s small apartments he is amazed at the variety of trees, birds and boxes in the wide world, but knows his own gate well and is always ready to return to the furry blanket.

In the last year Mr. Squish is not the only one who’s grown. Our lives have changed with his company, and with a creature at home we are more likely to leave early, or sleep in, content with his warm fur on foot or head. So too have we come to rely on friends for food and care on our frequent expeditions, for patience when we speak of his antics. Those who’ve visited have had to tolerate his nightly curiosity, and have benefited from his love for snuggles. This first year has been a happy one, and tonight we go to sleep hoping to wake to his sniffing for many more.

 

Turning over

On my birthday the skies of San Francisco are clear. Mr. Squish and I open all our windows to this gift, the heavy fog of summer seemingly evaporated overnight.

All day not a single cloud dots the tiny patch of sky visible from our window. Mr. Squish sniffs and purrs without much disturbance. As is his wont he attacks the Lego he is now large enough to reach, and chases my pant legs as I walk from room to room. The cat and I are spending a quiet day together, celebrating my personal year in our new fashion.

From New York an old friend writes with thoughts that mirror my own. He has  just returned from six weeks abroad.

“Not that I spend much time in my apartment anyway…” he begins.

We live in two of the world’s most expensive cities and yet inhabit our own apartments so rarely that a day at home has become a vacation.

The air here is clean, and the temperature far cooler than the record-breaking triple digits in Portland last weekend. Like age, the moderate temperatures of the Bay Area are probably weakening my body. After a future move to hotter climes I will most likely regret these years spent in a study of the gradients between 52 and 68 F.

My friend’s letter, though mailed from the US, was written in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea. Edited on a Japanese train and a Thai bus, it brings the feel of motion, if not the specifics. Like most correspondence it is concerned with relationships, with the play between people and the motion of time. He writes of the ease of travel, the challenges of learning a new place, and the enjoyment of labor. So to do these letters mention our aging, the growth of knowledge and the familiarity with the road.

Are we wiser, he asks, a decade later, when we are still moving, still looking?

How could we not be, I answer, reading in the breeze of San Francisco, in the calm of a day without destination.

This city is as Tokyo was, a new place to discover.  As Shanghai, Hong Kong, Houston, New York are and were. We are travelers not only when abroad, not only when unaware of local custom. After so long on the road, on the lookout for the new and different, I hope we will never awake in a city without wonder.

We grow older, I think, trying to answer his deeper question, not because the world is less interesting, nor because we are less spry, but because the things we see on occasion recall things we have already seen. We receive letters from friends we have heard from often, written from cities we can successfully imagine. Their words remind us of shared dinners, of train rides together through humid countrysides, of apartments we both once worked to afford.

Yet we still adventure. We do so without the sense of need that pushed us out of doors of a decade ago. Instead we adventure because it has become who we are. After a decade of correspondence, after cohabiting in upstate New York, in Japan, China, and Texas, the two of us are closer to who we wanted to be. Watchers and letter-writers, wanderers with jobs that span countries. My oft-mentioned goal of comfort in any city, any location, is no myth. Instead at the dawn of thirty three it is a comfort, a truth built on the friends gained at each stop along the way.

The circle grows

In May we acquire company. Mr. Squish, as he was known at the SPCA, enters our home and our daily routine. We sit on the kitchen floor and chase crumbled balls of paper together. It is a trick we’ve been taught at other houses full of kittens. It is the season.

We nap together, him curled on my lap and me, exhausted from the cleaning and preparing, the allergies and the stress of selection, with my head against the cabinets. A little later on I move him to his bed, in the overturned cardboard carrier he came home in. I then go back to sleep against the cabinets before making it out of the kitchen.

After the lights go out he mewls, stuck in the kitchen. From the bedroom we ignore him, as old instincts and new SPCA handouts have taught us. Impatient for access to the larger world he vaults the cardboard barrier to the mudroom. Built from a diaper box I’d found in the downstairs recycling earlier that day, it had looked far taller than he could jump. In play, anyway. A bundle of fluffy nerves in the dark he clears it easily.

Lights on again and nerves of my own aflutter I re-tape it after assuring him there is nothing of interest in that direction. Some shoes. The fridge. A handful of re-usable bags for grocery runs. He seems equally surprised to find himself out of the tiny sphere of the kitchen. I pull him back with one hand and work on the barrier. The gaff tape is confusing to my half-open eyes. Eventually he is again constrained by temporary walls featuring giant babies. He mewls. I lie on my back in the dark and think of all the things in life I am not yet strong enough to survive. Eventually I sleep.

Our apartment is far vaster than his room at the SPCA. He was kept by foster folk for some weeks, but confined to a bathroom, and with other kittens. Even a dog, says the report. In the kitchen, Mr. Squish is a rampaging animal of adventure. Out of it, on his rare forays to the mudroom, the living room, the hallway, he is a jumpy creature of extreme fluff, puffed up and shell-shocked, eyes wide. He hops on all fours and ducks under the built-in cupboards.

His name, like his fur, is something of a mystery. The SPCA had several kittens, short hairs of standard nomenclature. They were called Giles and Lucy and Lulu and Hawk and Cleo and Colin and Clyde. Among them, with his long black hair and soft underfur, Mr. Squish stood alone. To find him the SPCA required precise spelling. Mr Squish produced no such cat. Neither Mister Squish. And so, in his scant days with us, he has earned the title I repeated often to politely searching volunteers: M R period Squish.

Long may he remain.