The heat peaked at 94º earlier this afternoon. It now drops, slightly, though the air continues to hold a comforting warmth as the sun streaks at a steep angle through the tall pines. The park is filling rapidly with people. We find an empty place in a small triangle of shade that has just grown into existence, and we set down our folding chairs and open our new baby-blue picnic blanket. I rummage in one of the grocery bags for my wineglass and spike, a cookout gadget I’d never seen before moving to California. A splash of Ava Grace, a red blend from Livermore that I’m fond of these days, and I’m ready to settle in for the evening.
I reach out to touch Marta’s hand. “Happy anniversary, beautiful!” She smiles back at me.
Twelve years ago today, we celebrated our love and our good fortune in having found each other in a world of seven billion people, up in the Colorado mountains where we had met the year before. It wasn’t a wedding — I was still allergic to the institution. But we wanted a celebration, so we’d decided to hold the reception without the wedding, a two-day affair with overnight camping and an unconscionable surplus of food, surrounded by family and friends. We had a very short, eclectic Pagan circle to celebrate the wind and the wildflowers, and later participated in our first Druidic rite when three of our guests asked if we minded; they invited Marta and me to join in as the Green Man and Queen of Summer — a few days late for Solstice, but I’ve always felt the light turn in Colorado about a week after Solstice, anyway. Samantha, Marta’s friend, had paved the path to our tent with rose petals and lined it with rosemary.
Kat and Izzy, our neighbors, arrive before long, trailing three young men who have been interning at the Sustainable Living Center in Hopland, working with Izzy. Two twenty-somethings, and the “old man” who might have been all of twenty-eight. Kat pulls out a St. Michelle Riesling and passes it one way, while I pass Grace in the other.
Royal Jelly Jive fires up. They bill themselves as “soulful gypsy blues,” and — as usual — they excel, as does the sound system and the mixing engineer. We give and receive introductions all around, and laugh and talk easily as the music plays. A bag of chips is set out, then a second. Marta leaves to order an arepa, and brings me back an enormous slice of pizza. The wine bottles make another circuit.
I watch the people around us. A family has spread out on a blanket ten feet away. There are two little ones delighting themselves hiding under a different blanket and chasing each other. A girl of perhaps twelve tries valiantly to do a handstand; she’s clearly grown out her legs in the last year, and she hasn’t yet found her new point of balance. I think of the year that my voice changed, and I smile. Two old friends just beyond the family notice each other; they exclaim and hug. I fall into a brief conversation with the older man beside me; he’s a “newcomer” to town, as of some twenty years ago. A young man strides across the park, an immortal godling, head held high, muscular arms swinging freely from broad shoulders, his bare back a riot of artwork. A slender young woman minces in the other direction, carefully, carrying a plate of food — her Carmen Sandiego scarlet dress is beautiful, and the broad-brimmed hat is a matching shade that glows in the now-shallow golden sunlight. A handful of people have iPhones in hand, but they seem to have actual business on them: perhaps coordinating with latecomers. They text, and then they put the phone away and either listen to the music, or talk with their friends, or — like me — watch the people.
The light is magical. We are now in the shadow of the mountains to the West, a gentle, warm twilight, but the sun still limns the limbs of the pines. Cameras capture colors and shapes, but they cannot seem to catch the trick of light that makes the trees glow as if with their own inner light.
I can just see the dance area in front of the stage. It is packed with people of all ages, teenagers and septuagenarians, couples and singles, parents and children. A policeman strolls by, alone. He wears a uniform; he does not wear tactical armor. He is smiling. There are only a few black people in the crowd, but many Hispanic, Oriental, and Native American folk. There are a lot of tattoos.
I discover that Kat, like me, has a near-perfect memory for movie dialogue, and we begin to have a conversation using fragments from “guess that movie.” Izzy and Marta roll their eyes and ignore us. Marta falls into conversation with a woman she just met, a former Silicon Valley executive who threw it all away to move here. The bottle passes again.
At some point, I lean over to Izzy, and with a broad gesture at our surroundings, I say, “This. This. There is so much in the world that is so totally fucked up. But this — this is something right.”
We stay until the band stops playing and the crowd begins to disperse. Marta drives us home.