Last week Erik and I took advantage of midweek hotel rates to go on a mini getaway, our early Valentine’s present to ourselves. We knew from past road trip experience that the coastal country north of San Francisco — Marin and west Sonoma counties — is breathtakingly beautiful, so we returned there, spending a night in the tiny town of Valley Ford.
We drove around little country roads (where you can buy pastured organic eggs for $6/dozen) and along Highway 1, and saw cows, sheep, eucalyptus trees, and along the coast, signs advertising fresh crab at every eatery. We ate delicious apple-cranberry pie at Tomales Bakery (I still regret that we only bought a slice instead of the whole pie) and local oysters and chicken at Rocker Oysterfeller’s (downstairs from our hotel room). At our hotel we met a cat who meowed at us in friendly fashion. His purring head-butts brought me to uncontrollable tears, when I stroked his stripey head and was suddenly awash with visceral, tangible memories of Tisha.
In Petaluma we discovered a seed bank (over 1,200 varieties of heirloom seeds for sale!) that was delightful in itself, but its majestic location in an 1866 bank building made it even more fantastic: ornate ceilings, ironwork doors, and solid stone walls housing shelves and shelves of little seed packets, local jams and honeys, and gardening books.
We had nowhere to go so we drove where we pleased, and stopped when it suited us. I got a little too much sun, I forgot to drink enough water, and all our meals were at odd times, but we had whole beaches to ourselves — and the gulls, and occasional ladybug. We clambered over big rocks and inched our way down steep, narrow dirt trails, and we crept closer and closer to the ocean and then ran back when the waves almost touched our feet.
Afternoon on the second day, on a tiny beach in Marin, I got a funny feeling. Erik was walking along the water, trying to get to some odd-looking rocks he wanted to investigate, and I was taking pictures of all the interesting-looking shells we encountered.
“Hey,” I said, and Erik turned around. “I think… this is what happiness feels like. I’m happy.”
“Good,” he said, smiling, and continued toward the rocks.
I kept turning the feeling over, like a smooth round rock in my hands.
“No, but I mean,” I said, “we’re not doing anything, we’re not going anywhere. There’s no point to any of this, except to do it. And it’s nice, and… it feels different.”
I think, because I don’t work for anyone but myself, I spend more energy than a lot of people, asking myself things like Where am I going with this and What does my future look like. I have to, because there is no one else to check me on these things, and no job or institution to provide the answers for me. Lifelong fulfillment is an enormous process, and it’s good that I am always working on it.
But when I say I want to be happy, I think actually that has very little to do with lifelong fulfillment, and everything to do with the moment. After all, it’s only in the future that we can go anywhere; in each moment, we can only be where we are. It’s good to remember that. Standing on the beach looking at shells, I realized that it made no difference whether I was successful or talented or beautiful or whatever; I was just alive and human, and appreciating it.
I think this is the key to something I’ve been thinking about for months. You might remember that since Tisha’s death I have been wondering how we reconcile a more free-floating, relaxed way of living, with the long-term goals we all have. Can we move through life with ease and joy, but still keep up with the action lists and master plans that we need to make a life for ourselves? I think the key is to remember that our happiness can be so basic, so intrinsic and internal, and that it has nothing to do with anything more than being alive and human. No matter what else is going on with us, we can tap into that happiness, and know that we are complete. And from there, knowing we are already perfect and happy, we can do whatever it is we need to do, and it doesn’t have to affect our happiness or our calm or our joy in living.
I don’t know if I’m expressing this well. I’m sure I have read these thoughts hundreds of times, in wise books and blogs, but I guess we all need to realize these things for ourselves. I hope you will all know this simple happiness; I hope I will remember it too. We don’t need to reconcile the perfection of living with the aspirations of making a living; they already coexist.
The rest of the photos are at flickr! There are 47 of them!