Driving north on Highway 1 again. Through the same blackened and blasted landscape of six weeks ago. Today, the charred hillsides wore the gauzy green mantle of new growth that signifies Spring in California. My internal landscape was slightly less dreary than on our first trip. Only slightly. Whizzing around Oxnard and through Ventura, with the bright promise of sunshine and clear cloudless days ahead, we turned onto the highway that leads into the coastal hills. The drive winding up the mountain to Ojai seemed much shorter this trip, we were there in no time. As the grey wooden gates to our friend’s home in Meiners Oaks swung open, tires crunching across the pea gravel drive, I had the distinct sensation of coming home. It is a welcoming place; now familiar through the few days we spent here in January.
The signs of spring are everywhere. The slender white birch sported shiny green leaves the size of half-dollars, the sycamores small yellow-green leaves, not yet the huge hand-size leaves they will wear in a few weeks. Even the majestic oaks showed new growth in the tops of their towering branches. Citrus blossoms filled the air with a sweet scent; white azaleas and pink camellias bloomed along with the magnificent purple irises rising from the ground. I somehow expected a rebirth of my own to match the rest of the world, but I am on a different cycle of seasons. It is perpetual winter. Not even winter. Winter has its own beauty, its own charm. For me, it is always the end of autumn, the days before winter arrives. All life lays dormant, hidden, trees barren, the world painted in austere shades of grey and brown, the very earth settling down for a long slumber. So it is with me. The dry brown leaves of my old life have fallen to the forest floor where they lie. Unlike the birches and sycamores here, the leaves of my new life haven’t yet shown themselves.
On Friday, I restrung a set of wind chimes, an oddly satisfying task. I noticed they were in need of repair the last time, and I came with nylon twine and tools to bring them back to life. I passed a pleasant hour working in the warm sun. Once finished, clapper properly adjusted, the wind catcher at the correct length, I felt a sense of accomplishment far greater than the small chore might suggest. Fitted with new strings, they tinkle merrily in the breezes that drift through the birch where they now hang.
In the evening we went to a local reform synagogue to say Kaddish for Jake. The service included their Purim celebration. The Rabbi gave the Cliff Notes of the Reader’s Digest version of the story, along with some dreadful songs, and his commentary. We weren’t really there for that, and it caught us unawares. The President of the temple did welcome us and asked if we would stay for dinner. Apparently they were having a Purim Pot Luck. When we declined, she seemed crestfallen, and turned away. At another time we might have been delighted to join them, meet some new people, but this night, the thought of being amidst people who were celebrating what is a joyous holiday, was unbearable. When the time came for Kaddish, we couldn’t even speak Jake’s name without tears. Shabbat does that to us now.
We silently walked the two blocks back to the house in the gathering dusk. We made our Shabbat dinner, (oak-grilled balsamic salmon, smoked cauliflower and beets, brown rice and a huge garden salad. Hey, no reason not to eat well. Jake would have approved), covered the beautiful homemade Challah our Rabbi’s wife baked, and poured out the wine. I picked up the cup and once again, as every Friday night since Jake’s death, could only whisper the blessings through my overflowing tears. Whenever we traveled, we always made Shabbat wherever we were. Lighting the candles with my family and welcoming the Shabbat Queen into our dwelling, be it hotel, motel, cabin, cave or tent, made it our home for that time. Now my family is diminished; there is Terry, and Jake’s spirit, only his spirit. How can I ever say the blessings again without sorrow? Jake was our biggest blessing and now he is gone. He will never share our Shabbat table again.
We planned a full day for Sunday. Farmer’s market, picnic at Meditation Mount, wine (and pizza) tasting. We packed our lunch, piled into the car and drove the few miles into town. Terry is a farmer’s market junkie, and Ojai has a nice one. As we wound our way through the tables laden with a bounty of the freshest fruits and vegetables, local citrus, oils, lotions, fresh-baked bread, arts and crafts, I heard the faint notes of a pennywhistle. I followed my ears and discovered a trio of young women playing lovely Irish music; on the day before St. Patrick’s, most appropriate. Fiddle, guitar and the whistle that lured me there. I listened for a spell, put some money in the open case in front of them and asked if I could take a few photographs. They said yes, and I snapped off a flurry of shots. During a break between tunes, I made a comment about the music and one of them asked me if I played. I do, or rather did, play the tin whistle; have for many years. When she asked me if I still played down in Los Angeles. I said I didn’t play much anymore and suddenly, out of the blue, a bolt of the sharpest anguish struck, and my eyes felt the familiar heat of impending tears. I just shook my head and, lowering my sunglasses, had to walk away.
Before Jake was born, I played music all the time. When Terry was pregnant, I used to put my guitar on her belly and play for him. I wanted him to love music as much as I, and he did. Just after his birth, some friends and I made a record of folk music for children. I played for Jake often, nearly every day, guitar, banjo, ukulele, he loved it. For a while his bedtime ritual included me sitting on his bed and playing music. Even at such a young age, his taste was eclectic. He loved This Land is Your Land, Mr. Tambourine Man, If I Only Had A Brain, and all the folk songs I grew up on. I was full of music. Time passed and the routine changed. The people I played with moved away, life impinged, Jake grew up and I played less and less. When that guitar player asked me if I still played, I realized that my muse had deserted me; that the music dried up. I have played music for most of my life. Clarinet in elementary and middle school, then on to guitar in high school and beyond. Dulcimer, banjo, pennywhistle and ukulele followed. For many years I played every day. Now, I can’t even imagine playing without tears just waiting to flow. My instruments sit in cases, gathering dust in my office. Or more accurately, in what used to be Jake’s room. I envision someday I will be able to bring myself to crack open the banjo case and give it a strum, or pick up the whistle and play a tune. Just not now.