I’m back in Santa Barbara, California.
We lived here for two years in a compound once owned by the Beach Boys. In fact, we lived in the Love house, once inhabited by Mike Love. A very generous couple gave it to us, to live and work in. Our neighbors were kind and warmhearted. Later, even New Englanders would wonder why we left paradise to go and live in snowy, cold Montague.
Santa Barbara was almost too beautiful. You caught your breath every morning coming out on the deck. We slept with the endless sound of waves crashing onto shore. There’s something about that feel of eternity that lulls you into insignificance, not just you but also the suffering of the world around you, the full catastrophe.
Yes, garden workers are here from Mexico, how can you miss them? And yes, Bernie and I went out onto the streets, walking down from the Mesa all the way downtown (did he really then walk that long?). A law had just been passed in Santa Barbara making it illegal for homeless people to sleep in their cars, and if you dozed off on the beach a policeman might wake you and tell you to move on. Of course, only if you looked a certain way. You have your old lady with you, they told Bernie, you’ll be fine.
We flew off from here and traveled to many places, returning to this place where day after day the ocean sparkled, surfers surfed, dolphins frolicked, and whales cruised slowly by between the beach and the Channel Islands.
Finally we left to New England, where the winters are really cold and the nearest ocean is 2 hours away, where folks told us we were crazy to come there from a place called Santa Barbara.
The photo above shows you where Bernie used to sit. He had an office indoors, but why bother? He sat on the deck 30 feet from cliff’s edge, looking out at the ocean far below. He wore jeans and Hawaiian shirt, and smoked his cigar while working on his computer or talking on the phone.
My office, on the other hand, was in back of the house, a middle room wedged between the bathroom and our neighbor’s studio. My view was of the lemon and cherimoya trees, and the world’s most colorful cactuses. Micro rather than macro.
The view of the ocean was too much, I told Bernie, who told me I was crazy. But I still feel that even now, as I write where he once worked. Some things are too big, too awesome, to be confronted head-on. I have to come up to them sideways, shyly, like an invited guest. Look out at infinity, but never lose sight of the young man in sombrero mowing the lawn, or another digging under the grass to put a wire contraption with which to trap the gophers.
Let me break your heart by telling you that there’s a hot tub right at the edge, where I go in at night and then stand by the railing and look down at the high tide. There’s danger there. When you look down at so much, it’s easy to feel you’re on top of the world, that perhaps you are the top of the world.
This place is full of love and recollection. We got married here, we fought here, left here, came back, left here again. A dog’s ashes were sprinkled here; we went vegetarian and made pasta dinners for our neighbors with a tomato sauce that Bernie nursed all day long.
A Buddha sits close to the edge of the cliff, but to his side stands the charred sculpture of a human being, one arm outstretched. Just one arm to envelop all my wantings and nostalgia, the fierceness inside that wants more and more and more. Yes, I practice Zen, shouldn’t grasp so much. But just look at this world, look at it! And then tell me about your own glorious attachments.