Beautiful Things

By Scott Gressitt

 

IslandToMyselfThe Santa Anas blew like stink all day today.

The fabric roof of my studio flew like a spinnaker on a long downwind leg, billowing and snapping, while the cycles came through my land like waves.

Rolls of Formica, bits of plywood, and stage lamps blew down from the loft above my radial arm saw, crashing on the shop floor and forcing the question, What was I thinking, building a shop with a tensioned-fabric roof?

The asparagus ferns in my garden bent over sideways, bowing to the west for a change.

A stack of Tillman’s home-school papers from 2002 blew all over the studio, my patio, and up against the side of the Jacuzzi.

The loose potting soil from my garden worktable was long gone and seed trays were halfway across the property by six a.m.

I sat outside around seven and started re-reading a book I have been looking for for 35 years, An Island To Myself, by Tom Neale, a Kiwi recluse whose story has haunted me since my youth.

At twelve, my grandfather, John Bacon, gave me the book. He was an avid reader in his retirement. He was also an avid drinker and Pall Mall smoker.

I don’t remember anything else he gave me before he died, but I’ll never forget the book. He quietly handed it to me and said, “I think you’ll enjoy this.”

Grandfather lost interest in me, his oldest grandson, when he took me to watch the Baltimore Colts scrimmage and I was far more interested in the hot dogs and the roped off and dark areas of Baltimore’s football stadium.

After two games, he got it that I hated football, and that ended his interest in me. Fortunately for Grandfather, my cousins John (his namesake) and Cole were keen fans of the game, and they handily filled my shoes going forward.

I went on to invent new sports like LSD night golf, and Pot Brownie Juggling. We didn’t juggle the brownies, but experimented with unconventional objects to juggle—a hash pipe, a tampon, a guitar capo. It was tricky and hugely entertaining after a snack of Alice B. Toklas.

Sorry, I digress.

In Neale’s book, he describes his adventures in the South Pacific leading up to a solo campaign on a tiny coral atoll 200 miles from the next nearest poorly charted speck in that ocean.

Which reminds me. The other thing Grandfather shared with me was a deep love of the Atlantic Ocean.

We spent summers in Ocean City, Maryland, swimming outside of the breakers, then lounging like otters, laying on our backs in the surf, eyes closed, lazily napping in ten feet of water.

Our friends and family never got the hang of it, but Grandfather, in five minutes, explained to me how to sleep on my back in salt water. You can’t do it in fresh water, 'cause you’ll sink.

So thanks, Grandfather Bacon. That’s two blessings at your hand. I wonder how many more I’ve forgotten.

Back to Tom Neale.

I lost the book when I left home at 15. I’ve hunted for it in bookstores and libraries for 35 years. I finally found a used copy for $3.00 on Amazon.

I was so excited!

And this morning I began the descent into my psyche at twelve years old.

Neale's book details the years he spent alone on the tiny atoll, fishing, gardening and writing in-between long hours of wandering around his turf and the dozen other specks inside the reef that delineated his home waters.

I remember as a boy longing to live as he had, growing his food, catching fish, hunting for eggs from his small chicken flock, and living life at a very slow and comfortable, utterly stress-free pace.

As I started into the book this morning, I had to laugh when I realized I have often kept a garden, chickens or pigs, and loved my solitary time in the garden.

In my twenties, I bought a small cruising catamaran, and my best days on it were the days when I would leave the dock alone on a Thursday evening, sail into the waxing moon, and spend my days like Tom, naked and alone surrounded by miles of open ocean.

This afternoon, I did as I always do on the second Tuesday of the month, load a few stories in my bag and drive to Fallbrook to read at the library with a handful of other amateur writers and my sister, the real writing talent in the Gressitt brood.

It was 97 degrees this afternoon, driving up the hill to Fallbrook, roof down, hair blowing in the hot desert wind, and my heart free of a care in the world.

There is always a guest writer who has actually managed to publish something, and tonight it was George D. Morgan, author of Rocket Girl, a fabulous story of his mother, the first female rocket scientist in the U.S.

Kit-Bacon and her husband Steve took George and me to dinner afterward, and I got to hear more of his highly entertaining life story.

We parted ways, and I left my roof down for the ride back to Escondido, as the moon was nearly full and the temperature was still in the high seventies.

I love my night rides in my beat-up sports car, roof down, the smell of sage, the wind all around me, and the descent into each valley like stepping into a cool bath, the katabating night air pooling in the lowlands, the temperature rising while I climb the next grade.

As the moon reflected off the lapels of my silk blazer, I reflected on how delicious my new life is, a single man at 59.

I wound through the hills and considered how sweet it would be to share these moments with you, laughing, touching hands, stealing a few glances, while I cornered through the winding country road, just out of sight of the freeway. Racing home to sit in the hot tub, rub your feet, take you to bed and pour my love into you.

I wasn’t lonely, although perhaps a touch wistful.

But all in all, life has gotten so good for me, making beautiful things all day, raising beautiful young men, working in a beautiful space, and crawling each night, into my beautiful nest.

Good night, all you beautiful people.

And sweet dreams.

……………………….

About Scott Gressitt

An amateur writer and rapscallion, I write of my past, a life laden with extraordinary events. I have walked in places most of the population avoids.  Besides scars and bruises, I’ve collected experiences that frighten, delight and entertain. I write with the intent to take you on a wild ride where all your senses are fully engaged. Enjoy.