reading a book

I have, in recent months, returned to spending more and more time with those old friends of my youth, namely, books. Yesterday I picked up a free one in front of the supermarket, which bears a small label upon its front, affixed with scotch tape, reading TAKE ME HOME I’m a book I am a very good book. Please take me with you. I promise to behave.

In short, I am reading Devices and Desires, a detective novel no less, written by P. D. James, published in 1989. It is English. I find it (so far only on page 69 of 466 pages) rather dense but engaging, even challenging. It has landscapes and people, described and detailed with skill and psychological depth. I hope it continues to proceed (is that redundant?) with at least the same intensity and challenge.

Challenge. I have in recent years grown inordinately lazy – well, I have always been lazy, truth be told – but recently much more so intellectually (again I have always been intellectually lazy, but more so recently because…) because I believe and point the finger casting blame upon the internet so simple so quick so easy. Yet here I am again, delving within an almost 500-page piece of writing. Yes. Challenge.

The main character is a detective, the one and only Adam Dagliesh. I have seen his television version or vision or revision on PBS, but am at present reflecting how much more dense a book is than a TV show or film. Again, the question of “lazy” reader (or “viewer”) crosses my mind. It seems that my old friends, the hand-written books, can be much more demanding than a movie or television drama. Oh yes.

I could never read this book in an hour, for example. Not even in two or four. Oh no. Furthermore, I seriously doubt I would be able – nor willing – to power through this book like I raced through two Heinlein sci-fi novels in scarcely three days last week. Still, the story has hooked me, and I may be reading more and more of it, all the way to the end, so… well. We shall see what we shall see.

And, yes, yes, yes, I confess, I have already skipped ahead a couple of times to try and see if I have correctly guessed who the killer really is, even at this early stage. But so far, my literary “burglary” has not achieved its nefarious ends before attacks of reader’s guilt assault me and I turn back to where I am regularly reading straight and forward like an honest, alphabetic, workman.

6 June 2015.


Vacation Homes and Camping.

When I was a child, I learned that one of the dreams of my homeland tribes was to own a second home, a vacation home. It could be a beach house, a cabin in the mountains, or even just a trailer in a landscaped desert compound.

My mother, in her 60s, eventually followed this dream and bought a modular home in Borrego Springs – a lovely desert valley in the far northeast corner of San Diego County. The “house” actually has a Department of Motor Vehicles “pink slip” – so technically it is still a “trailer” even though it was trucked in only once, riding upon sets of temporary wheels which were immediately removed. The so-called “mobile” has never moved since the day it was delivered – except of course for shaking during earthquakes and windstorms – both of which are rather common out on the back side of the peninsular mountains.

So, thus, my mom, over the course of thirty years, was able to fulfill the local bourgeois dream. She and my stepfather, often in company with many members of the extended family, enjoyed many long weekends and holidays together. With the dogs, of course. That’s where we all were on New Year’s Eve 2000, for example.

Furthermore, she had a chance to get to know her sister more intimately than before, simply as a friend and neighbor, since she (and my uncle) lived in the same “resort” for more than twenty years. They played tennis together, went to the clubhouse swimming pool, and occasionally went for a drive to admire the springtime wildflowers – a brief moment of sublime desert beauty.

Things were never quite the same after my aunt and uncle and then my stepfather died before and after the turn of the millennium. Mom could hardly bring herself to go out there anymore – even though I did all the driving now – and finally, after trying to sell it during the great real estate depression of 2008-2010, she gave it away to an elderly priest who needed a retirement home. We heard this year that he has died after a few happy years in the sun. One of the nuns around the corner from Mom’s home was a good friend of old father William. Mom had first offered it to their monastery here, but they could not take it. Sister suggested that her friend was looking for a place to live. So it goes. Sometimes one dream leads to another.

We never had a beach house, much to my regret, since I adored going to the beach and body-surfing when I was a child and young man. Nevertheless, the family of one of my mom’s old school friends, whose husband/father was a rather successful businessman, owned a small house in Mission Beach for about twenty years, and we occasionally spent a few nights there, but not too many, because the house was quite small and they (with five children) had many relatives and friends with whom we literally had to compete for reservations (or, to put it more politely, for scheduling convenience).

An old friend of mine from school and boy scouts also had a beach house, where they often spent the summer. I occasionally, but not often, visited him there. His parents were not old friends of my parents, so I was considerably farther down on the invitation pecking order. I remember once I was actually asked to leave when his dad and sister were having an argument, or should I say, “discussion”? Heh. Yeah.

As for a private mountain cabin, well, I cannot remember even visiting a single such creation. A childless couple my parents were friends with (the husband was a fellow rocket engineer with my biological father) owned a small cabin in Idlewild up in Riverside County, but children were never invited to those adult only weekends. I only saw photographs.

The closest I came to a mountain cabin was years later, another neighbor around the corner from my stepfather and mother’s home in San Diego. This neighbor owned a small A-frame on Mount Palomar, which she offered to sell to me. I deeply regret not being able to have taken her offer, but at that time (around 2002) I had already run away to Tijuana and could afford no such extravagance. I coveted it mightily – especially the two shares (not just one) in the mountain water district which were part and parcel of the small property. Let me tell you dear reader, there is absolutely nothing like the taste of our local mountain water. It has a sweet granite purity that is almost heavenly, no, it is heavenly, especially when tasted after years of drinking our horrible, hard Colorado river aqueduct product called “tap water” here in San Diego.

You want good city water? Go to San Francisco. They steal it from Yosemite. John Muir is still turning in his grave over that delicious purloin. But I digress.

Where was I? Oh yes, vacation homes. The desert, the beach and the mountains.

As I was saying, I simply do not remember ever being invited to spend the night – let alone several days – in anyone’s mountain cabin. But I knew – and still love – the mountains quite well.

My parents were fond of camping, or even just visiting the local mountains for a picnic day. For my part, at eleven years of age, I joined the boy scouts, and, well, let me tell you the one thing all scouts in my troop agreed on was that camping out was simply the best way to spend a weekend. We tried to go at least once a month, and each patrol (there were four or five of us) would organize and cook our own meals, usually over a campfire. We would always have vigorous discussions beforehand, trying to decide should we go to the mountains or to the desert. I generally favored the mountains. Something about the woods has always enchanted me. Oh, and of course, the water. Natural spring water with that sweet granite taste of pure heavenly earth.

Every summer our troop spent an entire week in the Cuyamaca mountains, sleeping in tents at old Camp Hual-Cu-Cuish, and taking our meals in the dining hall – which was a sort of a “cabin” – now that I stop to think about it. After a long day spent hiking the wonderful trails and dirt roads of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, there was nothing like a good solid meal in the dining hall. Meat, potatoes, vegetables and desert.

In spite of several devastating wildfires, the state park is still thriving, though seriously tarnished by the burn scars (now happily, albeit slowly, rejuvenating), and it remains one of the greater crown jewels of our back-country landscape. The official campgrounds at Green Valley and Paso Picacho are functioning, and beautiful. But old Camp Hual-Cu-Cuish of many treasured boy scout memories is, alas, gone. It appears (if my information is correct) to have been burnt during the great fire of 2003. I visited the site a couple or three years ago, on an afternoon road trip to Julian with Maria. Nothing remains in situ but the ancient hillsides and a few scattered ruins of cement foundations, which melancholy presence marks where the main cabins (dining hall, office, showers) used to stand. Local history says they were built by the CCC in the 1930s.