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I have known stronger winds than England’s, but never have I known a wind so constant or so present. It has come behind me to push me on my way, and before me to throw the rain in my face, and I have have heard its voice all about me, thundering and magnificent in the trees.
I do not know what England is. In almost twenty years I have not learned what Los Angeles is, so it is not surprising that in seven days I do not yet know England: but if I had to guess, I would say that England is something like the yellow leaves, damp from the morning dew and pushed in piles around the red brown stumps. Perhaps it is also a little like the solitary tree in one of a thousand treeless fields, but mostly, I would say that England is like this wind, as cool and damp as ancient stones and as immensely wondrous as the sky.
There is no light like the light through airplane windows. They are small, like the windows in a castle wall, but the light they let in is like gold and fire. Our ascent carries us closer to the sun, where we may feel the thrill of Icarus while, thankfully, escaping his fall.
There is a mother with two sons and a small daughter on the plane. They have two seats right behind me, and two across the aisle, next to the windows. They keep switching out, so everyone can see outside. The middle son asked to be allowed to sit with his sister at the window, and for the first hour of the flight, they stared out the window while the brother told her how many meters they were up in the sky and read to her while her eyes were open wide as windows.
We are driving east on the 210, and I am grateful that there is AC in the car, because when I hold my hand to the window, it is as hot as the glass front of an oven. My eyes are closed, and I am almost asleep, and it feels like the car is ascending off the concrete. When we get to our destination, there is family and beer and noise.
My young cousin, the one who both needs touch and is scared of touch, wants to play. She holds her hand out to me, and when I reach to take it, she does not hold on, but slides her thin fingers quickly through my grasp– and in that instant, I am half afraid to let her go.
The San Gabriel River is full today. There is hardly ever any water in the river, except after a heavy rain. I’ve never seen it full in the summer, not that I can remember. The river used to run, clear and deep from hidden springs in the mountains: but the valley needed electricity and a water reserve, so it was dammed, and now for some reason it has been released.
The river is named, like the mountains from which it flows, after Saint Gabriel the Archangel, the messenger of God. Today, the river runs loud with the loveliness of his voice, and I can hear in the gurgling of the water the echoes of the words that changed the course of human experience: “Blessed art thou amongst all women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
The afternoon was getting unbearably hot and dreary, and so my sister and I ended up at Seal Beach. The sun was already a low-slung chariot of flames in the sky, and the throngs of beach-goers, mourning the loss of hot, tan-inducing sunbeams, hurried to get back to their cars before the free parking expired.
I took a walk along the shore, sometimes straying into the edges of the tide and sometimes leaving prints on the just-damp sand. A little brown boy in a Beatles t-shirt threw himself into the surf, his sister running in after him. An Asian boy in a Hawaiian shirt chased the tide out to the sea and then let it chase him back to his parents. In the sand behind them, two black boys were flying brilliant blue kites.
Sometimes I wonder what race is: and sometimes I think that there are only children.
There are four of us in the living room. Someone sits down at the upright piano and absent-mindedly plunks out a few melodies while we talk. Just a few notes, here and there, played against the overtones of conversation; but music is contagious. Two of us excuse ourselves to fetch a guitar and a cajón, and when we return the cellist is unpacking his instrument, pulling a slim wooden bow from its case. We tune to the piano, fiddling with knobs and wires, chasing low and high after the constant note—and then it begins:
The cello plays a slow, mournful, tune with Slavic soul. The crisp thuds of the cajón tap out a driving beat, and the guitar follows in expansive rhythmic strums as the piano floats a haunting melody above the sea of sound and movement, ebbing into the night and fading into the silence of summer.