I am house sitting at my dad’s house right now. Dad has a big huge house on the cliffy waterfront in Magnolia. I’m here, taking care of the dog and keeping tabs on the teenage foreign exchange student.
Dad and Irene rarely go for beach walks. I mean, they go for walk all the time, but usually up on the street. It’s easier walking. And I mean, I understand. I was almost never in the back yard when I lived here. It’s part of the sickness of stress, work, busy, busy busy… no time for aimless wandering.
But I’ve been here nearly three days now, and aimless wandering is really all I’ve done. Actually, lots and lots of writing. And lots of complex, in-depth conversations with the dog (that’s a whole ‘nother story). Lots of sitting in the back yard, smoking weed, watching the water and the sky, watching the dog investigate All Of The Things.
Yesterday, we went down to the beach and turned left. Today, we turned right.
I’m meandering along, smoking my joint, and the dog is meandering her own way, pursuing her Investigations. After a half a mile or so, we come up on another person, also wandering the beach. She is medium height, blond, tanned in that way that travellers and adventurers often are. She seems close to my father’s age, and robustly healthy. She is surprised to see us,
“Oh hey, a person! I’ve been down here for hours, and I haven’t seen anybody!” She has a voice that is slightly huskier, but quite a bit more mellow, than Paula Poundstone of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”
“Well y’know rich people, they just don’t have time to hang out down here,” I say. Snap judgement.
“Yeah, they’re too busy working those jobs, so that they can live here.” My snap judgement is immediately validated. She goes on, “I’ve just been collecting rocks and shells. Wow, it’s a nice day. I’m at my brother’s house down here. Whenever he’s out of town, I come over the raid the beach. I’m supposed to be working today, but I just can’t stop myself. I’ve been down here for hours.” She said, gesturing behind her.
“I’m house-sitting for my dad and his wife, they live down that way. House-sitting and dog-sitting. I’m collecting rocks too, I do wire wrapping with them.” And I rattle the pockets of my boxy cardigan to demonstrate.
“OH MY … YOU DO WIRE-WRAPPING?” She replies, practically grabbing my biceps and shaking me; though not quite. Instead, she clutches her hands together in excitement, holding her breath and conniving. “I want to learn wire-wrapping. I’ve got all of this ivory, I’m an ivory trader. Do you need any ivory?”
“Well, I’m still learning, I’m teaching myself. My sister’s an electrician, and she collects bits of copper wire, so I’ve just been practising with those copper bits.” I say.
“Oh, well, there’s so much on youtube… I really want to learn how to wire-wrap. Oh, I have been out here all day, and you’re the first person I’ve seen. My bag got so full it was too heavy to carry. I had to put it down over there. D’you wanna see them?”
“Sure!” I say, with the nerdy enthusiasm of anyone about to geek out over a shared hobby. We walk over to the rocks and she grabs her bag and we sit down. The dog happily continues with her Investigations.
“What is your name?” I ask.
“I’m Pheonix. Really nice to meet you!” Chris is pawing through her bag of rocks, pulling out the exciting one to show me. We spend a moment looking at her haul, and then I paw around in my pockets to show her my treasures. We chat easily. Like old friends. Like we already knew each other.
Chris asks me about my family. I tell her I’m 30, the youngest, the youngest by quite a bit. “Six and eight years,” I say.
“Oh no, so the older two were a pair, and then there’s you, all by yourself!”
“That’s right! That’s exactly right! My whole life, it was so annoying,” I exclaim, doing that thing where you point to your head, and then you point the other person’s head, then to your head again, then back at their head, to imply complete mutual understanding. Chris is really good at asking friendly, conversational questions, and I enjoy answering her.
“So your dad lives there, your mom doesn’t live there, where does you mom live?”
“She’s passed.” I say. I always try to be matter-of-fact in a wistful, yet cheerful, way hoping to avoid people’s melodramatic responses. No such luck here, she heads straight into melodrama. But she is so sweet and sincere about it, it doesn’t grate the way such reaction usually do. After a while, I’m wondering all of the same questions about her, and I’m starting to feel awkward for not reciprocating her curiosity in the same fashion. But she’s an expert conversationalist, and gently just starts talking about herself anyways, which suits me just fine.
“Oh, you’re so young! It’s wrong, it’s just so hard for kids to loose a mother…” Chris trails off, tearing up a bit. “Well so, my daughter, my daughter is coming to visit me soon! She’s my only child. I’m 63, I had her when I was 39. I’m, I mean, I’m like this,” she gestures at herself broadly, gestures at me, gestures at the beach. “I mean, I travel around and trade ivory, I do art, I wander around on the beach. My daughter, she’s like, type A, straight edges, tidy tidy tidy, she’s at Harvard, studying right now. I call her up, and I say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ and she says, ‘I’m in the library, studying’. ‘Get the heck out of there, get outside!’ I tell her. She says, ‘You’re the only mom here who ever says things like that.’ But she means it with love, right, cause she’s friggin hilarious. I love that, ‘I’m the only mom who ever says things like that’.” Chris beams proudly, wearing her daughter’s loving teasing like a badge of honour.
We talk some more, I keep asking her questions about her business. “I need to learn how to sell my art, what do you do, do you have a store?”
“Oh, no, no store. I sell in batches, to traders and collectors. I travel, I make stuff, I sell it. No store. That’s the thing, every artist just wants to make stuff, sell it, then make some more stuff. But the business always gets in the way. Running a business will kill everything.” I like the sound of what I’m hearing.
“Yeah, I keep dealing with that. I’m gonna have a place, and I keep trying to figure out… how to have a store without having to be the one to run the store. I mean, I don’t want to run a store! I just want to make art.”
She’s doesn’t respond for a bit, she’s scrolling through the photos on her phone, looking for pictures of her ivory to show me. “Oh, here’s something, look at this. I saw this down in California. This lady takes old window panes, and laminates dried flowers onto them.” She shows me the pictures. Window panes, with really beautiful arrangements of dried flowers modge podged onto them.
“Nice. There’s a lady at the Bellingham farmers’ market who sells something like that. ‘Cept she puts them on rocks and bits of beach glass and random knick knacks. I think they’re mostly paper weights. Those are really nice though, the way they glow in the light of the window.” As we talk, we are both still compulsively scanning the ground, continuing to beach comb. One particular stone catches my eye and I pick it up. “See, I like the long narrow ones. They’re really fun to wire wrap.” I pick up another rock, and then I rummage around in my pocket again, pulling out a few specific rocks. I lay them out in my palm, and show them to her. “I like the normal-looking ones, you know? The ones that are just regular rocks, but I pick out ones that have special shapes, or look nice.”
“You pick out the ones that speak to you, yeah. That’s art right there.”
“Are you a witch?” I ask her, feeling brave.
“Now, I’m just, y’know, you would like my friend, she had me do this thing with her one time, she had to do some ritual on the beach with menstrual blood. She did this thing, and then she gave her menstrual blood to the ocean. She’s my age. But this was in the 80’s.”
“Oooh yeah, that sounds familiar. I’ve read about rituals like that, written in books that were written around that time… there’s a couple of specific books that were written about that time, sort of a ‘well shucks, I just decided that I think I’m a Witch, now what does that mean…?’ They’re probly the first books that would pop up in an Amazon book search about modern pagan spirituality.” I shake the rocks in my hand again. “Yeah, I like the normal-looking ones. That’s sort of what my magic is all about. Taking mundane, normal, everyday things, making magic out of normal stuff.”
Chris laughs, and smiles with a sarcastic gleam in her eyes, “Normal magic. Mundane magic. Everyday stuff.” She shows me a photo on her phone, of a beach glass necklace that someone she knows has made. “She has a diamond tip drill bit.”
It is a gorgeous necklace, the green beach glass glowing faintly. “Yeah! stuff like that! I want to make magical amulets, and sacred pieces, and healing pieces.”
Chris nods, “Yeah yeah yeah, you just take the things that speak to you, it’s just about feeling thing that feel good. So how do you find it, wire-wrapping? Is it hard to figure out? Does it look good when you do it?”
I wince a bit, “Well, I’m still learning. I’m really good at making the wire look nice and pretty on the front, but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to end it in the back, and how to make nice looking loops for them to hang from.” She nods, understandingly.
“Youtube videos. There are so many good videos.”
“Yeah. That and practice.” I shake the rocks in my hand, relishing the thought of fiddling around with them later, wiring them up and making them into little magical amulets. “So I’ll do a whole batch of these, while I’m watching TV or something, and then sell them at the market for $3 or $5 each.”
“Oh yeah, you could do real good with that!”
We chatter on for another bit, and I talk about the complex philosophical conversations that I have with my step-mom’s dog, and how the dog is quite frustrated with being kept in the kennel too much, and has asked me to intervene on her part.
Chris nods, “Oh yeah, that’s interesting. Cause you normally wouldn’t say anything, but the dog is making a request, and you care about her, and she needs help.” I get that fizzy, bubbly feeling again. The feeling of mutual understanding.
“Exactly, so I’m trying to figure out the best way to say it to them, you know? Say it to them in a way they can understand. In a way that won’t be scary and confrontational. And I feel pretty silly sitting them down and saying, ‘So your dog asked me to explain some things to you…’ How do I bring that up? I mean, there’s evidence. They know. When the dog is with me for a couple of days, she’s super chill and zen for a whole week after. It’s a noticeable transformation. But then, after a week of crate time, she’s crazy again, and they don’t know what to do.”
“Hmmm. Maybe lead with that last part. Y’know? Lead with the part that they can see and observe and that they already know. It’s like, ‘See this lovely calm dog here now? Would you like her to be like this all the time? Well here’s how…’.”
“Oooh, I like that. Thanks, that helps a lot!”
Chris asks me if I’m on the internet, and tells me about her website, and says her phone number is on there, if I ever want to call her and hang out and work on art. Well that just sounds like a dream come true to me. I say, “Oh, I could just give you my phone number!”
Chris snorts, “that’s so low-tech! My daughter would think this is really funny. How long are you in town for?” I’m just thinking that would totally love to hang out with this lady, and my lazy-ass might not get around to looking up her website. I tell her my phone number, and she puts it in her phone. “You really want me to call you?” She asks tentatively.
“Heck yeah! I love hanging out and doing art! Let’s see, I think I’m busy Saturday, so it would have to be either tonight, or Sunday night.”
Chris nods, doing mental calculations in her head, “Okay, well not tonight, but yeah, Sunday…”
“Or just call me, and I’ll let you know the next time I’m in town.”
“Yeah, okay! Great! We’ll work on wire-wrapping: you’re learning to wire-wrap.” She’s bouncing with that fizzy bubbly feeling too.
“Heck yeah! Cause we don’t need to take a class, right, we just need to do it. We just need that focused time to actually sit down and do it.”
She gestures for a hug, and we happily hug each other. “Oh, it’s so nice to meet another person like me! ” Chris says, and I smile. “I gotta get going… I’ve been out here four or five hours today. I’m supposed to be working right now… gotta pay rent… It was so nice to meet you! So I’ll give you a call…” She says, still a little shy and tentative in the feeling that she’s just met a random person on the beach who now actually wants to hang out and be friends – such a weird and uncommon phenomenon in Seattle. We are both revelling in our mutual weirdness.
As we part, she says, pointing to her head, “Hey! We’re not crazy!” I grin, and hold up both hands for a double high-five. And a glorious high-five it is. She collects her rock bag and heads towards the stairs up to her brother’s house, and I collect my pockets, and meander back down the beach with the dog following, continuing to pick up rocks here and there on the way home.
Did that just happen? I ask myself. It did. That really happened. That was awesome.
I get home, make myself dinner, then sit down to write it down, lest the delicious feeling of sorority float away on the breeze.
I’m a little worried that Chris won’t call me, and that I’ll never see her again. There’s almost no chance that I’ll remember the name of her website. I already can’t remember it. There’s a chance it could float back to me, as things something do, but it doesn’t seem likely.
I hope she calls me. I want to be friends with Chris.
***update! I just found Chris’s website, so I don’t have to worry about whether or not she’ll call me***
Other note. I’m aware of the cognitive dissonance between being an arnarchistic environmentalist, and any parts ever of the ivory trade. I’m aware. It’s… multi-dimentional, this dissonance. But being judgy has never really gotten me very far, and I prefer to meet people where they’re at and give them the benefit of the doubt before diving in to deconstruct their entire world view and reality. Because that’s pretty invasive and offensive, and sometimes you just take people at face value and accept them for their overall awesomness. Sometimes. Depending on your mood, and the quality of the awesomness. It’s subjective.