This week my writers group is retreating in Carmel only a block from Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House. The first 24 hours here have been quiet ones of rest, naps, and walks. Two of our group could not come, and we feel their absence. It would be easy to sink into who is not here!
The houses on our street are unique, humanly scaled, as my husband Donald would say, and creative. The ghosts of Robinson and Una Jeffers walk the streets. You can almost hear the laughter as they entertain Charlie Chaplin, Martha Graham, and George Gershwin, all known to have been their dinner guests. Carmel in the early 20th century was becoming a thriving artists’ colony, a time I tell Jimalee that I would have loved to have been here.
The home we are staying in has been occupied by a family for over 60 years. It is also one that would not be built these days of the McMansion era. Nevertheless, its rooms are generously scaled, with a central dining room; a living room with windows on three sides and a floor to ceiling grandmother clock, solid mahogany, made in the Black Forest(1899); a modest kitchen and pantry; and two bedrooms. Its walls feature French paned windows and doors which look out onto brick walkways and patios, and the furniture fits the smaller of us, the chairs of a size that are no longer made, to my knowledge at least. The interior walls are lined with built in bookshelves filled with classical books. Photographs of the family over the years adorn wall space between windows, doors, and bookshelves, excellent photographs in black and white: A baby granddaughter held by her grandmother meeting an ailing great grandmother, the young and beautiful mother looking on. A boy outside in the garden. A older man imitating a flamingo at a lake. Again you can almost hear laughter echoing through the years, laughter that threatens to become nostalgic.
What is nostalgia? What sinks me into its quicksand about a chair that would suit a hobbit or the verdant if overgrown, unkempt garden? Or is this grief for an era that used materials sensibly and beautifully, building living space that supported soul and spirit, and the creative thrust?
A mourning dove coos. Time to write, I decide, time to stay on the firm ground of the present.