Sunday, July 1, 2012

Retirement, day no. 59

Sunrise, San Jacinto

One slowly settles into the rhythm of the days, and I’m reminded of a Laurie Anderson piece called “White Lily” that goes:

What Fassbinder film is it?
The one-armed man walks into a flower shop
And says: What flower expresses
Days go by
And they just keep going by endlessly
Pulling you
Into the future
Days go by
Endlessly pulling you
Into the future?
And the florist says: White Lily.

I’m a ways from reaching that point, for it will be a month or more before it fully sinks in that this is not just another summer vacation from the classroom. But there are occasional glimpses of it on the horizon.

Desert trail, in morning shadow
The days begin at 5:00 when I get up to take the dog for a walk in the desert before the sun comes up over the eastern hills. The sky is clear and brightening overhead, and the peak of the San Jacinto mountain ridge across the valley begins to catch the sunlight. The air is alive with birdsong.

Out in the desert, there’s usually some wildlife, a flock of quail, a roadrunner, jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits. This week the dog and I discovered a pair of burrowing owls with a young one or two in a ground nest overlooking a ravine. We might meet somebody else out with their dogs. We also keep an eye peeled for coyote since one attacked a woman recently in another part of the valley.

The desert air at that hour is usually still, with currents that stir softly around you, some cool, some already sun-warmed and arriving from somewhere else. There is a labyrinth of trails, and if you want a workout, you can do some hill climbing. Normally there is a low hum of traffic from the valley and the interstate that passes through it about eight miles away. On mornings with a breeze from the east, there is silence instead, and you can watch the distant big rigs crawling along the highway without a sound.

San Gorgonio
Down the slopes of San Jacinto, you watch the light gradually descend into the valley and then cross it, moving toward you. In the west, the light catches the contours of distant San Gorgonio, often in shades of blue, and the shadows cast along its flanks have the dark and light contrast you see in Maynard Dixon paintings.

Returning to the neighborhood, we’re seeing neighbors in their cars and trucks heading for another day at work. Back inside the house, the sunlight pouring through the eastern windows, we start the coffee. And we open doors to let the desert air refresh the house after being closed up since the previous day when the air conditioning was turned on.

The patio in back stays in shade during the morning hours, and you can sit there with coffee and a book, the fountain burbling beside you. In the flowering plants in the backyard, hummingbirds will be at work.

Zoe, the Desert Detective
By mid-morning you’re driven indoors by the heat and/or the wind, which is pretty much a fact of life in the summer. The AC comes on, and you work indoors in a room with the blinds drawn, writing, reading, researching online, checking blogs and Facebook.

And so the day passes until evening when sometimes it’s my turn to prepare a little supper, and the three of us (counting the dog) spend a couple hours on the couch with Roku or DVDs from netflix. These days we’re watching old TV cop shows: Hack, Homicide. The day ends early when you’re up at 5:00. There’s some light reading—short stories or a friend’s novel—and before long lights out.

And so the days go by, endlessly into the future.

Coming up: Brian Donlevy, Broderick Crawford, When the Daltons Rode (1940)


  1. I can't tell for sure if you're enjoying your retirement or not, hope you are. It's not as hot here, but I know what you mean about retreating into the house during the heat of the day.

    1. Mostly enjoying, Susan, but there's always that underlying ambiguity.

  2. Speaking of Fassbinder, a few years ago I watched almost all of his films on dvd. It took me a couple months viewing one a day. Talk about burn-out!(He is a classic example). He was dead at an early age but left an amazing group of films.

    And HOMICIDE! What a great series, just about the best one not on cable TV. Howabout the episode where the poor guy gets squished between the subway car and the concrete? And he's still alive as long as they don't move the car.

    I get up early every day also and take a walk. Probably not too safe but I've lived in Trenton almost my entire life, and I refuse to hunker down and hide. I was here first damn it.

    Then the rest of the day reading, checking blogs like this one or ROUGH EDGES and MYSTERY FILE. I try to fit a film noir or western movie in around dinner time. Recently I've been rereading John O'Hara and Saul Bellow. HERZOG is a favorite of mine, first read in 1965, almost 50 years ago. I've found John O'Hara's novellas to be better than his long novels.

    I don't know about the "endlessly into the future" part but so far I'm 12 1/2 years into retirement, so it's possible to just lay around reading and watching dvds for a long time!

    1. Walker, maybe you know which Fassbinder film it is.

      AUGIE MARCH is an all-time favorite, and I've had intentions for at least a decade to get to the rest of Bellow.

    2. Ron, it's from Fassbinder's great TV mini-series, BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ(1980), which is 15 hours long and available in a Criterion dvd box set. A very dark film, in more ways than one, and perhaps his masterpiece.

  3. Yup...I hear 'ya. I get up at 4:00 a.m., feed the birds by 5:00 a.m., and take a walk by 6:00 a.m. That's our desert!

  4. Sounds very nice to me. Often my summers run something like this already. Unfortunately, not this summer.

  5. Sounds more than a little idyllic. You're blessed, my friend.

  6. Ron, that's just my idea of a post-retirement life. You live in a lovely place and I'm glad you're enjoying the summer. Thanks for sharing Laurie Anderson's White Lily. I had never heard it before. The background score is really good.

  7. you've got a novelist' sensibility, just saying...

  8. You have caught the sadness.

  9. Beautiful photos! That's retirement, all right. You set your own schedule. I used to walk my dog between 3 and 4 AM, Once in a while we ran into a coyote in the neighborhood, but was never bothered. They know where the grazing is. I found that after a few years my time was fully occupied and I'm working just as much as when I actually worked and it's a lot more enjoyable.

  10. I am not sure if I could live in a place where there is not a lot of stimulation. I need movie theaters, bookstores, a symphony, the theater, lots of people, museums, restaurants. I am very greedy, I think.

  11. Very pleasant post and glimpse into a peaceful desert life. I don't know where exactly you live, but it sounds so different from Palm Springs, where I did live in my youth, though the mountains in your photos are the same. I like your rural views much better than our views from town, though those were nice too. Even Palm Springs was quieter then.

    I like the way you show what you're reading on the left-hand side of the page. Good ideas for the rest of us. 'In the Valley of Havilah' sounds just right for me.