I've been spending the last couple of days lounging, eating, shopping, taking in the lovely Bay Area weather and reading, which is exactly how I was hoping to spend my long weekend away. I'm grateful not only for the beautiful setting and the time with family, but also for the time to properly read Eric Weiner's book The Geography of Bliss, which is both thoughtful and hilarious in equal measures.
I have to admit that the the unrestrained buoyancy of the image on the front cover made me a bit wary. Happiness, although pleasurable to experience, is not the most interesting thing to read about for the length of a book. However, I should not have worried. The discussion of happiness is dotted with mirth, self-deprecation, and much more wise introspection and contemplation than I would have imagined. One of the quotes of praise on the book jacket reads "Laugh. Think. Repeat", and I would agree that that is the pattern I have so far adopted.
I particularly enjoyed Weiner's account of his visit to Switzerland. He hypothesized that the main source of happiness for the citizens of this very wealthy, beautiful, orderly, restrained and functional country is their extraordinarily deep connection to nature. Having just spent a few days hiking in the Alps this summer, I can attest that this connection does exist on a much broader basis than I've seen elsewhere. I was consistently passed on hiking trails by Swiss citizens both much younger and much older than I. And from what I understand from a friend who lives there, true blue city dwellers make it out of town to climb the mountains just as much as the granola set (if that exists in Swizerland) does.
The author mused, worriedly, about the fact that he was more comfortable with the idea of walking down an alley at night than with walking outside a remote cabin at night. How could he be truly happy and be so disconnected from nature?
I can relate. Walking through the tiny Alpine town of Murren at 10:30 pm (after everyone had gone to bed and the lights were out) made me considerably more nervous than walking around questionable New York City neighborhoods much later at night does. Why I don't know. The scariest thing in Murren is a herd of cows. The scariest thing in New York? Well, you've seen Law & Order. It's much worse than cows. Have I, the girl who spent her childhood camping all over the western United States with nature loving bird watching parents, become scared of nature?
In response to this somewhat disturbing idea, I'm spending some time outside. In my parents' backyard.
I know, I know. But baby steps.
Sitting under the apple trees...
which for years were overshadowed by a larger apple tree, which my sister and I spent countless hours climbing when we were young. But now that it has gone to a better place, the younger ones have blossomed...
to the point that they are now bending under the weight of their own fruited boughs.
Hanging out by the begonias, which my mother swears save the garden at this time of year when everything else has bloomed and faded.
Walking through the rose garden, admiring the once colorful but now muted blossoms.
This one reminds me of a very sweet woman who is beginning to droop a bit around the edges but still lives her life richly.
And this sultry yet vaguely macabre flower brings to mind a woman who was once extraordinarily beautiful but has succumbed to the decay of a bitter old age.
And perhaps counter to my mission, I'm also wandering around admiring my dad's anti-squirrel devices.
After many different designs, he settled on this plastic awning to keep the beasts from stealing the nuts and seeds meant for the small birds that frequent the garden.
Prior to this installation, squirrels would catapult themselves from trees, grasp on to the cage with all four feet for dear life, and start swinging it in an effort to dislodge the seeds from the central column. I must admit that it was quite a feat to watch.
The persimmon tree also has its share of intruders...the squirrels love the sweet orange fruit just as much as my family does.
So, taking a pointer from the tin man, my dad fashioned a squirrel thwarter.
My dad holds patents on several items from his working years and although I always found the concept cool, I could never understand what devices he had invented. Now that he is retired and his efforts are being redirected to the house and garden, his inventive nature is on full display. And these things I understand.
They allow Nature and my dad to live in (almost) perfect harmony. He's fine with the critters as long as they don't steal his fruit or bother the birds. We should all be so tolerant.