Undercurrents

Sometimes I wonder what more goes on in the brains of the people I hang out with. Is it always the same old stuff—family, friends, boys, and work—or is there more? There must be an undercurrent of more, there has to be.

Lewis range, Glacier National Park

A range of repetition that changes with each peak.

Is there a thought that goes missing, so all they see is the life around them in the space that they are? Like last night, the whirring fans and the fog that slowly settled all the way down to the water soothed me as the words we’ve spoke before once again spilled out of my friends lips.

It all came into focus and my brain just switched off the record of whatever continuously plays over and over again. I noticed the light behind the bar turned the etched glass a light teely-blue color, and the sound of the few customers chatting became loud. I pushed my chair back against the window, listened, and watched—half of me engaged with the person in front of me and the other half just felt quieted, at peace, satisfied.

It wasn’t the food. The sole was fishy and tough, not moist and tender like you want fish to be. The pinot noir was sweet and raisiny, not mellow and complex, like you want a wine to be.

It was just the moment. An off-switch that was triggered, allowing time to tune into the world. Time to feel the goosebumps from the fans constantly turning from the ceiling. To notice the boat outside the window had a stuffed animal hanging from its mast. To watch the mist of foggy air settle into the water of the bay, see the light turned on inside the galley of a fishing boat across the harbor, feel the vibrations of movement from the kitchen, the table next to us, and the bar.

A smile that spread over my body and the deep breath of reality that spilled into my insides left me feeling like I wanted more. More of that now, more of those moments that we filter out from the everyday. It’s not good enough to think about what’s next and why or what was last and why or how I will fill my time now. That’s boring and stifling at the same time, suffocating me with a mask of monotony that I don’t really care for. The effort it takes to piece life together from snapshots of desire and want make me tired sometimes. It drains me of my emotion, uselessly spent on the things that, in a moment, matter least.

Goose Island, St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park

A rest to watch the breath of day change to night.

I want to run, not away from something or toward anything, but just run into the breath of air that touches my face when the wind blows. Run into the ever-so-tiny drops of water that barely kiss my skin when the fog rolls in. Run like a crazy person, screaming out at the world, just because it feels good. Just because it isn’t mundane or repetitive, it’s different every time I experience it.

Because it’s what I can feel with the outside of myself rather than what I bottle up into happy, sad, angry, and bored. Last night I remembered what that feels like.

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Two shots

Templeton grain sign CL

You can’t see it from U.S. Highway 101, but there are mileage signs along the road coming from both the north and the south. Quaint and all American with a bit of a hipster/hippie vibe, Templeton is the first “new” town I’ve visited since moving back to California.  I’ve been to places that seem new, because it’s been so long since my last visit, but new new is another story. As dumb as this sounds, it was exciting to once again be someplace I’ve never been before.

Like a stupid tourist, I pulled the camera out because I just couldn’t help myself. Templeton is exactly like so many small towns I’ve seen in California, but I think outsiders (you Montanans included) don’t believe these little places exist in this state.

A nursery, a small coffee roaster, and a gigantic grain elevator sidle up alongside a fancy grocery store, winery tasting rooms, and an old hardware store on the downtown strip. So maybe a fancy grocery store, an exotic coffee roaster and wine tasting aren’t super common in less populated, less monetarily robust areas, but other than that…it’s pretty quaint, cute, and just like other small towns.

Templeton grain elevator CL

Dark Nectar door CLI wanted coffee, and just the name, Dark Nectar, was enough to get me out of my car to check out the place. Shots of espresso were only $1 each, and the coffee shop bar was the only place to drink them. A shiny newly acquired roaster was the first thing I saw as I walked through the door. A bucket of freshly roasted coffee was on the floor underneath the yellow tub that cooled the beans and swept them down the depository.

The shop was bustling—with one customer, and now me. The coffee bartender was chatting with his lone patron like they were old friends. I went in for a shot of sweet—well, bitter—energy before moving on to interview the owner of a vineyard management company for a story I was working on about the shape of the winegrape industry.

Beans CL

sunflower cup CL

What I got was my shot, plus one extra, and the ability to eavesdrop on the only other customer in the place. He was a man with a knack for drinking lattes (he had two in the 15 minutes I was there) and was telling the coffee-tender about the next plane he was going to get on for work and all the money he was making doing it.

Our tender roasts Dark Nectar coffee a few beans at a time and sells it at the local farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. Although I thought the shop was his, he actually runs it for some other folks who have another coffee shop in town. Two coffee shops within three blocks of one another is more independently owned—as in non-Starbucks—places to get coffee than there are in the whole Santa Maria area.

My $2 worth of espresso was strong, thick, and bitter. It was an amazing little cup of Joe, unlike any I’ve had since moving to the Central Coast.

leaf latte CL

In the dark

After work on a Friday, I find myself bumbling along at 60 miles per hour on a stretch of road so flat I can see the blinking light of a stop sign that is miles away. It’s not a situation I’ve found myself in since I moved back to California. It was as refreshing as it was odd, and something I’ve decided I definitely need to do more of.

Explore.

It is two lanes and flat, but bumpy because the pavement rippled with the dirt below it. As I leave Interstate 5 behind me, I wonder if I’m heading in the right direction. The further away I get from the four-lane semblance of civilization I exited off of, the darker it gets, and I think to myself “just trust your phone’s directions.” Kind of a strange thing to think, considering I’m always the type to know the route before I get in the car. Essentially I put my trip in the hands of an electronic device that has steered me wrong in the past.

But nevertheless, on I drive. The stop sign I saw from a distance 10 minutes ago, is only visible by my headlights as I approach it up close. The lights from a water truck blind me as I come to a complete, non-California roll, stop. Left I go, just like the directions told me. Onto another two-lane beauty with pot holes and signs that read “Road Subject to Flooding.” It makes sense, considering the water level on the left-hand side of the road looks to be at the same level as the road itself, held back only by a dirt berm that’s hilled up only a foot higher than the road.

That is when the smells start hitting my nostrils. My windows are rolled down so I can feel the heat of the Central Valley evening flood into my car and warm up my coastal fog-chilled bones. Irrigated fields of alfalfa, corn, and some crop that looks like small, low-to-the-ground rose bushes with yellow flowers meet up with the shadowed outlines of open barns containing far too many cows for such a tight space. The smell of sweet and wet collides with the skanky aroma of rotting roots and methane produced by dairy cattle.

Lights illuminate something I can’t quite make out. I’m staring at it hard, when I hit a pothole and swerved onto the other side of the white line to avoid a semi-truck. I missed my turn and flipped around to make my right that is now a left onto another two-lane road that takes me right by the lighted structures.

A stop sign outside the entrance reveals that it’s the home of the Corcoran Correctional Facility, like the ones I always see as I fly by them on the interstate. You know, the ones that always come with signs that warn drivers about picking up hitchhikers. Barbed wire tops one-story tall chain-link fences and guard towers watch over parking lots that become buildings. The compound is gigantic, by my slowed-down driving estimates, at least a half a mile long. And it’s also a little creepy.

The smells seem to land on top of one another as I move from staring at the compounds to looking at the what’s visible in my headlights. Scents interweave between awful and nostalgic. Corn rows hide dairy farms, lights illuminate dirt lots, barns, and mooing movement,  and the bugs start hitting my windshield at rapid fire. I get to a busy road, start to worry about directions again, and finally pull over to look at my phone one last time. It assures me to keep moving in a straight line. I thought, “here goes nothing,” and on I continue.

I cross a couple highways, but remain steady in my eastward movement. Towns, fields, and more cows click by. I start to wonder if this place I’m going is actually a segway into the mountains, because it’s beginning to seem like the flat will go forever.

Finally, I see a sign for Porterville and then a sign for Springville.

Finally, the road starts to twist a bit and gain elevation.

“Sweet,” I think. “I’m going to make it.”