09 November 2008

On a Clear Day in SoCal

I imagine it seems odd in this a historic week to write about such a lowly subject as window screens, but read on, as there is a connection.

Among the many differences between east coast and west is the simple window screen. Not an item one finds in poetry, nor significant in the larger scheme of life, but of interest in this part of the world by virtue of its absence. One rarely finds a screen on windows in southern California. Nor on doors. No need. Despite green hillsides, tall palm trees and the constant surrounds of the sea, we live in a desert clime. Little or no humidity most of the time. And that sea brings with it sea breezes. Thus, no bugs. At least not the flying insects that screens are meant to obstruct. No annoying mosquitoes buzzing dangerously close to your ear in the dead of night. Rarely a wasp or a bee. Flies found largely in the orbit of open garbage pails or the sodden remains of an ice-cream cone. Termites are ubiquitous but largely unseen and they don’t fly through windows. On occasion, I spy a dragonfly and spiders abound, but they borrow their way in through the tiniest cracks and crevices. Flying roaches and killer bees seem to congregate in Texas and the panhandle, where they belong.

One day, a hummingbird flew through my open door to find itself trapped in the tiny solarium that borders my room. I watched in horror as that stunning creature fought against the glass and immediately called Byron, then living next door and the knower of all things, to determine how to help. Leave it by, he advised, as it relies on its radar and once it calms down it will find its way home. Sure enough, after just long enough for me to admire its form, it lifted its long nose, beamed on to the scent of a flower nearby and took off through the open doorway.
Tree rats are common, tiny squirrels flitting under cover of darkness among thick growths of ivy along back fences, but, thankfully, do not fly. I know this because the first few nights I slept here, I was kept awake by such rats in the overhead crawl space [no attic, that’s another thing not often found here – they interfere with views] and my only protection, I thought, was to keep the windows closed for safety, although the thunder of those little hooves overhead was nearly enough to turn this modern-day pioneer back east.
Now and then ants descend, although I’ve only seen a few now and then, hovering near the dog’s food bowl in anticipation of nearly invisible remains; Mona is a very thorough diner.
I’ve not seen any water bugs, my nemesis when a young girl in the city. In fact, perhaps the only creature that regularly sparked terror in my heart, even more so than the roaches with whom the poor in the city make peace by avoiding the kitchen after lights out. No, no nasty bugs in Laguna Beach, rarely a screen, and thus, the view is all the more clarified. A metaphor for the general sense of expansiveness one feels in Southern California. Nothing much stands between us and our environs. Breezes blow through windows without encumbrance. One steps from the inside to outside through fully open doorways, a constant connection from inside to out.
I attended a birthday party recently at a newly renovated 4-story home set into a steep incline. Every floor had a patio or two, encompassing roughly 280 degrees of breathtaking view, and floor-to-ceiling glass receded seamlessly and silently into walls so that it was hard to tell where the structure ended and the landscape began. On the upper floor, a Jacuzzi was carved into a terrace bordering the master bedroom, where I imagine sunset reflects in the wine glasses of the lucky couple while submerged in the soothing flow of rippled waters. Ah, SoCal.
However, there is one thing missing, nearly synonymous with my childhood summers – the sound of screen doors slamming through the day. I attended a summer camp in upstate New York where the sound of those doors marked the beginning and ends of day even more than flag-raising or taps. Screen doors slam in a gentler way, lighter by virtue of voided glass and thus more easily slammed, but less damning in the slamming. Warm week-ends at my husband’s family home on Candlewood Lake in Connecticut were defined by the constant banging of summerhouse screen doors, punctuating the ebb and flow of deliciously long days on the lake. I occasionally long for that sound as I long for crunchy leaves beneath my feet and the hum of the subway just below the surface on Broadway. The east coast has weather, my friend Diane reminded me not long ago, and here we have only climate, albeit lovely. And few bugs.

This week, as we celebrate President-elect Obama, and welcome a new way in the world, I imagine screens lifted from our collective consciousness, eliminating the rusted remains of mesh marring our vision for the future, a vision of hope and a new destiny, for which I am most grateful. Perhaps we have permanently shuttered screened windows against racism and opened wide a more expansive view of our humanity. I hope so.

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