Sunday, June 28, 2009

2:27 on a sunday afternoon in june

Hot and dry and dusty. That was the California of your growing up, when days were cooled by Tang and sprinklers (once the drought had passed) that made lazy arcs in the sky like a jump rump. All these decades on, and California is as you remember it, the air baked as if in a brick oven, and heady with the smell of pine and eucalyptus and lavender and parch.

Driving back home through Hidden Valley in the early afternoon, you dropped off at Foxfield, a riding school across the street. You'd been meaning to come over to take photos, hoping to capture the essence of this hot dry dusty place nestled into a corner of the Santa Monica Mountains, and with little left to do on a lazy Sunday in late June, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

From the road, without the benefit of the sign, you'd never know it was here, would never guess that the place was a hub of laborers and instructors and students and patient horses, large and gentle things that submit humbly to the rider's instructions at the click of the tongue or the tap of a boot heel... well as a few others, whose purpose at the school you can only guess at.

The stables sit under a knot of Oak trees, which is just as well, because without them, the already-oppressive heat would turn the blood in your veins to sludge and melt the marrow in your bones. You're sure of it.

This early into the summer, and already there are fire warning signs on the sides of the hills — advice the stable owners seem to have taken to heart, and with great success, judging by the cobwebs on this fire extinguisher:

At the back of the property, behind the barns and storage units and ancient trucks

and storybook tractors

and tools designed to measure and gauge

stretches this bridge:

a rusty, angular expanse of utility and purpose that tries not at all to fit in with the aesthetics of its surroundings. You love this bridge, this wobbly catwalk of cables and isosceles triangles

love its quiet importance which must ignore the fact of the empty creek bed, below, in order to justify its existence.

You'd think the California earth would protest more, would cry out for water, especially this far into a year with little rainfall to speak of, but it doesn't. Where there may have been desperation is only a calm, patient attendance, an acceptance of what is, a quiet expectation of what is to come. True to its boom/bust Gold Rush nature, California takes things in stride. The rains will come again, and once again, these creeks will be teeming with life-giving water, and the hills will be as green as Ireland's, as impossible as it seems now.

You and your companion don't have as much tolerance for the heat, however

and after a while, it was time to cross another hopeful bridge home.

Along the way, you found the greenbelt dotted with lavender bushes. Their scent always takes you back to another summer, one that folded into memory 20 years ago, the one which your older sister and best friend spent in the south of France, where she purchased for you a harlequin doll stuffed with lavender seeds.

The doll is long gone, but to this day, you can't pass a lavender bush without calling it to mind.

You stopped once more to appreciate this symmetry, purchased with your Home Owner's Association dues

and a neighbor's drought-tolerant yard featuring a gaggle of hens and chicks plants

and then you were home, where you were greeted by the cool of the brick floors and evidence that the rest of the family had already taken measures to beat the heat

as they waited for your return.

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