Friday, January 07, 2011

I Am Sea Lion, Hear Me Roar

They sound like a dog with laryngitis, woof woof, their bark carrying through the early morning air from the seashore to my garden hermitage in the foothills of Santa Cruz more than a mile away.  I can't hear the waves but I can hear the sea lions (distinguished from ordinary seals by that flap of skin that resembles an ear).  This fella (or lady as the case might be) rests under the pier at the end where tourists can get a glimpse of sea life at home.  Others recline on the aptly named "Seal Rock" near Steamer Lane, one of the state's premier surfing spots, and wait for the salmon to run.  Which, I discovered, they're doing now, from December through March.  The San Lorenzo River, which empties into the Pacific on the other side of the Boardwalk amusement park, used to be a prime site for salmon as well as Steelhead to spawn.  But stocks have dwindled in recent years for various reasons, including the seals who wait at the mouth of the river to munch on lunch or dinner, and fishing for humans is restricted now to "catch and release."  No more trophies or gourmet meals.

I don't know whether to identify with the endangered salmon or the sea lions shouting for joy, but I do know that this last week has been a glorious time of reunion with my family and friends.  The rains that drenched the state in December, filling reservoirs and making skiers deliriously happy, have abated and days on the California coast are clear and cool.  Perfect bike riding weather.  Each day I ride down from my temporary home into town to sip cappuccino at Lulu's and clean up a backlog of correspondence and projects on the internet.  My calendar is filled with lunch and dinner appointments.  And yesterday I rode my borrowed bike along the coast to watch the dance of surfers and seagulls and the parade of bikers, skaters, runners and walkers, and not a few mothers pushing strollers along the path above the beach.  The seascape, so familiar after thirty years of living in this place, is breathtaking. 

A week from tomorrow I leave San Francisco for the flight home to Bangkok via Tokyo, and I expect to see my wife Nan again after a three-month separation when she greets me at the airport around midnight.  Two days later I begin teaching again at Mahachula Buddhist University.  Nan and I have spoken via emails, letters, phone calls and Skype, but the distance is still heartbreaking.  I have promised her never to leave like this again.  On this side of the ocean, I have been reunited with my three grown kids.  Nicky and I ate cookies (the Thais just can't bake them like that), and Molly and I met for coffee.  We'll see each other again before I leave.  My eldest son Chris is coming down for a visit this weekend.  And just a little while ago I accidentally met my ex-wife Cici at the coffee house where I am writing this.  This month we mark the tenth year of our separation (both of us are now remarried) and I believe the old wounds are healed.  We made plans to get together again next week.

I will be leaving with my objective partially achieved.  My monthly Social Security income should be reinstated by the first week of next month.  I say "should" because the two clerks I spoke with on three separate visits to the office in Santa Cruz two months ago assured me that it would happen in December.  The clerk I talked to this week, however, said that they had each failed to do the necessary paperwork and that I should receive every agreement in writing.  I have her name and telephone number in case it does not happen.  The question of back payment of income was not resolved.  My faxed appeal from Thailand never made it into the system.  I was told I could begin the process anew, but that it would be difficult to handle from Thailand since a personal interview, not to mention extensive documentation, would be required before a decision would be made.  It also might delay my monthly income.  After a few minutes of thought, I decided to let the whole matter drop, even if I feel justice might ultimately prevail (can you win in a fight against City Hall?)  I'd rather not spend the next year or two engaged in a battle with this U.S. bureaucracy.  As long as I get the income due me from the system, I'm happy.

An old friend recently wrote me that he wished I were "making music, or some kind of art somewhere.  The thirst in your soul might be sated thereby.  All this seeking among the dust and ashes, this quest for some kind of renewal via young flesh, this blame-fulness directed at American culture/society/politics as the source of your discomfort with these days of old age, this ambivalence about the realm of the spirit . . . all these things would fall into some kind of perspective and be less of a torment (if that's the right word -- maybe 'distraction' is better) if you were able to be writing creatively, playing creatively, producing creatively, creating creatively.  Or so it seems to me."  I take his thoughts seriously since we have been friends since junior high school, even though in recent years we have kept in touch only irregularly.  He knows me best now, as do many, from what I write here in this blog.

He remembers when my dream was to play sax and clarinet in Stan Kenton's orchestra. But I ultimately missed the boat on music and art.  In later life I've become kind of a spiritual philosopher, somewhat academically trained, a homegrown intellectual.  But it seems I'd failed to communicate to him the joy of life I feel now in my 72nd year, the happiness I've found in Thailand with Nan and with the monks whom I teach.  And I do see my work in this blog as "creative," even if it reaches only a small audience.  The "thirst" he sees is mostly satisfied and I'm comfortable with a this-worldly spirituality that crosses the bridge between Christianity and Buddhism and pays its respects to the popular piety of believers like my friends at Holy Cross and my wife and her Thai family.  Perhaps I have spent too much time in "blame-fulness" directed at American culture and also at Thai politics.  I hope after this return to blogging that I can praise and celebrate far more than blame.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back Will !

saw the recent "Ted Williams" viral videos ?

God is indeed Great and Good, as long as He is in our lives.

Blessings of a wonderful return to Thailand and Nan and the monks.

Peace and Joy.

Janet Brown said...

Dear Will--
I too resolve to be more creative with my writing and less judgmental in my perspective this year. Come home, slap me if I backslide, and I
promise I'll do the same for you!

As for "renewal via young flesh," seems to me it's more renewal via love for and from a lovely woman--that Nan is young isn't the true point--you two care for each other and this is a rare state of being for many, regardless of chronological age. You are blessed.

Actually we both are--for finding a home that is forgiving of our quirks and forbearing of our crotchets. Come home, rest, and be thankful. I certainly am...

Janet Brown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Roxanne said...


So glad you are back on the Internets.

I saw, for the first time, sea lions in San Francisco in early October. How funny their barking and snorting is.

Happy and Healthy New Year to you and Nan.

Take care,

Raymond Voigt said...

Good luck going home. Been following your blog for a few months and enjoy your observations. I'll admit to being a bit judgmental about your relationship with Nan, but I understand its a committed loving relationship. And that is all that matters.
My feelings now are closer to envy. I'm married with a teen son. I have no intention of burning down my current life for a chance at something new, but do admit a reboot of my life is tempting at times.

Anonymous said...

Hey Will !

Back into LOS as yet ?

you have lots to look forward each and every day !!

Anonymous said...


Anxiously awaiting your first post from Thailand ! :-)