Hallowell: Part 1

Captured in Bologna, Italy. Captured in Bologna, Italy.

We want so many things from family.
Usually impossible things.

I call my father on my morning walk to Handlebar, a simple coffee shop on Canon Perdido, about a 30-minute walk from my front door. When I arrive, I’ll order an espresso and a croissant with strawberry jam. I order this every day. Then, I stare out from my small table to the Santa Ynez mountains, shaded by an umbrella from the sun. American crows will caw from the red-tile shingles of the coffee shop’s roof and I’ll worry about possible dangers in my future. My father’s mother was superstitious, sitting on a front porch and counting to a hundred with her toothless mouth every time we forgot something and had to go back for it. The crows sound like her, her voice and her cadence. Her demands rang guttural in my youth, and now, while making my way to breakfast and work, it occurs to me that I’m not sure how my father bore the burden of her his entire life.

I don’t call my father often. I call my mother less. Calling either of them on the regular requires a singular effort beyond any strength I may have cobbled together by 7:45 am in the morning. It takes a staunch will to hear my mother talk about her goddamned cats or the latest manifestation of her hypochondria. Talking to my father isn’t much better. A delicate touch is required to talk about unimportant things, shallow things like the weather or my upcoming vacation to France or my job as a software engineer. These small conversations are sweet little dances that carry little to no risk. Simple topics that act as a ground wire for our attitudes and tone, a connection to the earth that protects us from each other in the small possibility that one of our mouths becomes unrestrained, words striking the other and ultimately, wounding.

This morning, I talk to my father about California’s drought, reciting statistics I’ve gleaned from The Atlantic and NPR. I talk about how almond farmers are compounding the effects of the drought by drilling wells and wringing the groundwater from the bedrock. That the farmers can’t plant more drought resistant crops because trees are an investment. And I may have used phrases like “catch-22” because it’s more in tune with his vernacular, so he might understand the economic repercussions of stopping almond farm production weighed against the fact we could very well run out of water. Period. And what happens to a community, a county, a state that doesn’t have any water? It’s easy to see how difficult this problem is when California will probably take the economic hit regardless of whether almond production is curtailed or not; and I’m only five minutes in, but I’ve already stopped myself from saying about 43 obscenities because my father is a religious man of the fundamental type. I do my best to be something of the son he might remember, but I’m not. I’ve been lying to him for 15 years about who I am and what I believe and up to this moment, I’ve been certain we had an unspoken understanding about what conversation topics are appropriate. I am, as usual, a fool.

My father says, I don’t think the drought is a climate thing.
My father says, I think it’s a sin thing.