Sunday, May 13, 2007

Settle In, Folks. Let me tell you about a Weekend Road Trip



Sometimes an experience feels like no big deal going into it. It's fun and breezy; we're just who we are in different surroundings, out to have a good time. And then the significance gains momentum on its own. It swells into Important. And Meaningful. The strings that bind the girls and me were cinched even tighter this weekend. I am a great event planner, but I couldn't have planned the emotion that is still tautly inflated in my chest. I suck in my breath remembering this experience.







I realized that all the traveling I've done with the girls in the last two years has been only for Taekwondo. The lightness of our trip to Northern California and to the Farm Sanctuary this weekend was a relief. The idea of a quick, fun vacation together charged me throughout the entire trip. It charges me still. We left just after five in the morning on Friday. The girls slept the first three hours of the drive as I had hoped because I enjoy the meditation of early-morning driving. The girls missed the sunrise, but I waved it in, quiet in solitude and thankful for the exact day, my exact life. I feel that gush always, often, in the presence of beauty more powerful than what I can mindfully conjure. The girls awoke well into the second half of the drive while we were on the famed highway five. I had already zipped up and over the Grapevine, me and the truckers, and I zoomed along the two lane highway that is laid down in the middle of California grape crops, mandarin groves and cattle ranches. It's a flat, serious highway; slower drivers best move to the right with the semi's because those that are Northern Cali bound are not fucking around. Along the highway are also miles-long patches of dry, golden fields and untiled dirt pierced with signs that say, "Available for sale or lease." Parts of California look too thirsty. There were acres and acres of perfectly aligned trees with floppy branches and we stole a nano-long look down clear, narrow aisles between them that stretched for miles. I did not know what these trees were -- I wish there were signs for the ignorant -- but I speculated all trip, there and back. Almond. Olive? More oranges maybe.

As the girls shook off sleep and came alive and enthralled with the drive too, we blasted hip-pop CD's and sang and seat danced. Mina is now old enough to belt out lyrics to songs and that my friends is a big fat heart tingler. "Sing it, Mina!" I yelled out, flushed with love. They gasped when the windmills of highway 580 rose up along soft, high-rolling hills. Maya had studied wind power not long ago and she gave us facts. Some of the mills had newly painted blades, black and white striped, and before I could say it, Maya said that this was probably to deter birds better. Many birds are casualties to windmills. The drive is a coast from the windmills into Oakland, then across the bay. I love riding the Bay Bridge into the city. From the middle it feels like I am descending into San Francisco. The tremendous and cluttered city line -- rounded and jammed up against the water -- approaches and by the end of the bridge, I am absorbed into the streets, sucked up fast, part of the bustle of the cityscape now and observed by those still on the bridge.

My first stop is always the Rainbow Coop on Folsom and 13th. It is a Costco of healthy living and the girls were just as enthusiastic about wandering the aisles for an hour as I. The bay area heath enthusiasts seem much more righteously serious. It was the first time I noticed the lack of children in the huge store and, as usual, the three of us tornado'ed through the place laughing and goofing, drawing the tightest of smiles from fellow shoppers. In the Rainbow's extensive and fantastic vegan bakery section, Maya loudly says things like, "These cupcakes look terrible next to yours!" And I go, "Sshh," and we laugh. And Mina says loudly, "Any bacon in any of these pies?" And I say, "Sshhh" and we laugh harder. I feel we're an avalanche of joy through the somber business of conscientious living, but maybe those that feel the need to act more dedicated feel differently. Ah fuck it -- "Girls, jump on the cart and let's try not to break the organic wine bottles!" I gave them both $20 to spend in the place any way they liked. Maya bought me these flowers for Mother's Day and some great woven earrings for herself. Mina got me a nine dollar silver rose ring and herself a fairy paper doll book. And I bought a funnel and a glass half-gallon jug for almond milk and a ton of vegan baked goods -- the pies are the best! -- and I said, "Hey, should we get any healthy food?" To which we yelled out a collective, "NAW!"

Our whirlwind tour continued when we met Betsy for dinner at Herbivore. Betsy has no children, nor desire for any of her own and does not visit with them on a regular basis. For as gregarious and fun-loving as Betsy is, I think she was taken aback by the force that is Maya and Mina. They want to be the life of the table, of the room. They wanted Betsy to hear every story and see every antic. I almost felt badly for Betsy and she looked over a me a couple times as if to say, Is this how it always is, which it is of course. After dinner, we went to the de Young to power through that. When you round the trees of Golden Gate Park to catch the first glimpse of the museum, it is flooring. The hole-punched copper is stunning. You raise your eyes from ground to sky to see this:
This picture is missing the red, almost purple, patches of metal sheen, and this post cannot contain what I felt for the museum. I'll write later in more detail. The museum deserves that. And besides, the Farm Sancutary is crying for attention.

The anticipation of arriving at the FS was prolonged by the stretches of family-style farm land. We were on a country road, Route 200, and it stretched and lasted until the girls hollered and clapped when we finally saw the sign.

The tour of the farm was just starting as we arrived and in the mild mid-day sun, we explored all barns, all corrals. We wanted to immediately go to the pigs, but we started with the turkeys because they were making such a racket. These two were squaring off, each on the other side of a fence, shuffling feathers and wahalodeling loudly at each other.

We arrived at the pig barn to hear that Ramona was living in another stall, a special-needs stall and one not open to the public generally. It seems that Ramona is smaller than the gargantuan pigs in the regular barn and she was getting picked on. She was placed with two other small pigs and an epileptic sow named Mildred. Ramona helps keep Mildred active, and in turn Mildred doesn't pick on Ramona. We gave these regular-pen pigs love anyway:

It turned out that Mina had no reservations whatsoever and approached the animals naturally and comfortably. She would just lie on a pig or a cow like it was nothing, while Maya was more skittish and nervous. I will admit that being a city girl, I had my reservations too, but I trusted that a 600lb pig wouldn't trample me and I felt that the cows were probably ok too. I told Maya that animals usually sense nervousness and we should try to play it cool. But when we checked out the goats, every single one of them, one by one, galloped away from Maya as soon as she held up the camera or her hand for them to smell. It was so sadly funny, Maya just standing there with her hand out as all goats jetted from her. We of course had to make voices for the goats, "I'm outta here." "This girl's making me nervous, man. Later." Maya was like, "What? Do I smell funny?" This goat stopped to pose with us right before it made a wide arc around Maya and jogged down the hill.
One humongous black and white cow, who was sitting basking in the hot dirt, scampered quickly to its feet when feeling Maya's presence and walked away, kind of startling us too. Maya said, "That's great." We got some good pictures with them anyway.



Couple of facts: Pigs are rough to the touch, and hard, but cows are soft especially around the neck. Cow's tongues feel like a cat's. Another fact: I didn't feel super sentimental around most of the farm animals. They are beautiful and rather majestic, and I don't eat them or cause them harm because denouncing cruelty of any kind is the right thing to do. The animals made me laugh and were a joy to see, but they didn't all particularly yank on my heart strings. But I will say that I was melted by three specific animals at the Farm Sanctuary. One was Billy, a four month old calf that was as soft as down. Billy had been rescued from a veal truck which he was on because he was sickly; his legs didn't work so well. Billy is now healthy and walking fine and it does make one wonder why a living creature can be discarded like trash so quickly. Billy is a licker. He just wanted to lick your hand or arm and if you left it there long enough, he was a sucker. Like a baby, he just wanted to suckle on whatever he could. He was so precious that I measured him up to see if he'd fit in my purse. Mina was especially game to have her hand sucked out of sight.

The second animal I fell in love with was Fergus. He is a pot belly pig that someone found wandering in a residential neighborhood. He went unclaimed. This guy was just bigger than the pugs and he was the sweetest little thing ever. He'd bury his snout in the hay and come up like someone said his name, hay all over his face. I nearly had the girls distract the FS volunteer so I could tuck Fergus under my arm and make a break for it. He wagged his tail, people! The pigs had the most personality. They were smart and playful and funny. Which brings me to my favorite animal of the FS, Ramona. I'm not just saying that! She was special.




Since Ramona was kept in a separate barn, the girls and I got a private tour because of the sponsorship. It was just us, the head of FS education, Ramona, Fergus and Kiwi, a smaller version of Ramona. Mildred was lying down somewhere too. Mina asked a ton of great questions: Why was Ramona the color she was and why was her hair so long and why was she smaller, and we learned that that the calico color is more the color of a wild pig -- Ramona is part wild -- and the pink color and smoothness was bred into pigs for domestication. Ramona was playful and followed us around. I tried to take more pictures but she would come in too close, sniffing my knees, camera, my hands. At one point, while we were talking to Fergus over the gate, Ramona put her snout up Mina's behind causing her to laugh out. That sent a startled Ramona trotting across her yard. She didn't easily come back. We had to go then and as we left Ramona came trotting back to see us off, peering and sniffing through the gate. Uh, we loved her so.

Later that evening, we attending the FS dinner & dance in the wall-less "People Barn". We were served "wheat meat", baked beans, salad and sweet potato bread. Maya leaned in and whispered, "Terrible." Mina hardly ate a thing and said, "Mami, I like your food better." It occurred to me, more strongly then than ever, that cooking great vegan food is a powerful form of advocacy and I was becoming a good advocate. Gene Baur, the co-founder of FS, gave a talk. It was stuff that many of us there already understood and like-mindedly we all nodded at his points. He spoke of individual activism and I felt I am an activist through and through, a gentle one. I know that being kind and becoming a good cook are the strongest weapons I have personally. After the talk, tables were cleared and an Irish folk band set up and began to play. The strung lights lit lacing the barn and dusk fell as the longing whine of an Irish fiddle sounded. Mina asked me to dance for a slower song and I did not hesitate. She wrapped her legs around my waist and we danced cheek to cheek, in strong embrace. I looked to the hills beyond the barn that were turning dark rose. This moment, this life conjured gratefulness again. When the song ended, Maya came and hugged us both. The fiddle player leaned into her bent microphone and said, "Lovely dancing." The music turned lively then and the three of us jumped around and dosi-do'ed. I eventually sat and they went strong, skipping the entire perimeter of the dance floor, inspiring the staff to join them. Large, clasp-handed circles were made and dancers whooped out laughs. I watched the silhouettes of my girls against the royal blue evening sky as they danced open-armed and so free. I gushed that I was able to give them an experience of a life outside of their own. They got to see more of an interesting world and meet people that make a difference. They, from that, reinforced their own sense of compassion all on their own. The black of night fell fast and the stars emerged shining. I turned from the dance floor and could only watch the stars then, the whole splattering of them because this I don't see often. I would imagine that most feel the universe is endless when witnessing a sky full of stars, but I feel it's enclosing; they are mine only, a dome cap on my exact existence, which right then, only hours from Mother's Day, happened to be in the middle of a kind farm where brilliant and free girls danced behind me.

21 comments:

Melinda said...

Oh sweet Jesus, this is the best post ever.

Maven said...

THE. BOMB.

Jonathan K. Cohen said...

Sublime (figuratively).

acumamakiki said...

Amazing Madness. I loved every drop.

Wendell said...

Lovely! There's a tear in my eye as I have my morning coffee.

julie hasson said...

What a beautiful weekend! Your girls will always remember this trip.

girl least likely to said...

yay! i looved the farm sanctuary stories. i'm so glad you got to meet ramona, and thanks for passing my love along to kiwi as well. :) and yes! fergus is so cute! i tried to take a picture of his tail wagging, but since it wasn't a video camera, i'm sure you can imagine how that turned out.

Lisa Alvarez said...

What a grand mom you are. What grand gals you have. So much love. 'til the wheels fall off.

Nicole said...

sounds like a beautiful weekend, well spent with those you love.

abelle said...

Beautiful!

Smelly said...

Reading this made me so happy. The dance, the driving sunrise, the irreverance in the holy-of-holy co-op....
Was the wheat-meat like seitan? My hub recently perfected his recipe - YUM.
Umm, cows scare the crap outta me!

madness rivera said...

Thanks everybody . . .Smelly, the wheat meat was like rubber that faintly tasted like rubber chicken. Is this was your husband perfected? You know, the cows were huge, but goats and horses scare me more. Not sure why. But I want to snuggle with a pig!

Don't Get Mad Get Vegan! said...

i second acumamakiki.

i'll be in oakland tomorrow and plan to sleep in napa thursday, SF friday and sat and leave on sunday.

i need a cruise director! ;)
any suggestions? this fl girl is overwhelmed with the possibilities.

Don't Get Mad Get Vegan! said...

oh, and we want nature and driving and vegan everything 'n shit.

;)

madness rivera said...

OOo, I'd love to be your cruise director. On the east bay side (the Oakland/Berkeley side) I'd check out Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley (1730 Shattuck Ave) FOR SURE. It's gorgeous there. It's raw and simple and wonderful. I'm big on markets so I'd go to the Berkeley Bowl (http://www.berkeleybowl.com). It has the most amazing produce department though not as big on organic as could be. In Napa, I don't know, but in San Francisco, I'd save all your pennies and go to Millennium (http://www.millenniumrestaurant.com/)
It is worth it. Herbivore was pretty good (http://www.herbivorerestaurant.com/)
. And lastly, maybe check out Cha-Ya (762 Valencia St) for vegan sushi. I haven't been there yet, but I hear it's great. I'd also check out the Rainbow Coop in the city, if you're a market whore like me.

Have a great trip!

madness rivera said...

Oh and for nature and shit, I'd check on line for trail hiking above Berkeley. And in SF, good luck! Ha - or go check out Golden Gate Park and the de Young. Really gorgeous and worth it too. I just learned that the designer of the GGPark designed Central Park.

Don't Get Mad Get Vegan! said...

You're awesomeness knows no bounds. thank you!

this is a surprise last minute trip so i'm scrambling to plan but everything you've mentioned sounds perfect. we've already got resv's for Millenium. ;)

we have to be in Napa Friday night but plan to drive down to SF throughout the day Sat. 'm sad that there aren't a slew of vegan wineries along the way but will certainly enjoy the view regardless.

thanks so much! (sooooo excited!)

Emilie said...

Can't believe you fit that all into a weekend. Damn. Big love for the big pigs! Looks like fun and man, I miss Rainbow and its vegan baked good section. Sure, in general, they're not as good as homemade, but I love a place where its an option and you're not just scrounging around a bake case in Whole Foods looking for the last slightly stale vegan scone.

Also want to point out that the word verification thing for comments right now demands that I type in tingsq, which makes me want tings, which until this very moment I had done a very good job of weening myself off of. oh vell.

Rachel said...

This post unexpectedly made me teary. I love that you share your passions with your girls and the rest of us here, too. I saw the movie "Year of the Dog" last week. A trip to Farm Santuary or a place like it is in the film. The movie wasn't what I expected it to be but it made me think. You are feeding the conversation in my head.

Marigoldie said...

Next time I'm hidin' in the trunk.

SUEB0B said...

That is a beautiful story. I am so glad that you pay attention to what you have and who you are.