We awoke to a thick, cool marine layer today. This is our favorite kind of San Pedro morning. The front windows of the apartment are wide open facing out to a misty, dreamlike harbor, only four shadowy palms visible at what I know is Fort MacArthur. Behind the fog, the harbor sounds continue, muffled, a murmuring chant, soothing after last night's annoying bursts of cherry bombs. The marine layer is a local wonder.
The phrase emerges because on the flight out here, I finished reading a book about a life about as far from LA as you can get -- Ted Kooser's Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps. The "Alps" he writes about are a series of low hills in Eastern Nebraska settled by Czech and German immigrants in the 1870s. Writing one chapter for each of the seasons, he ruminates about his outhouse, church dinners, the rarity of curved roads in the Midwest, his dog Alice, tombstones, mice families, herbicide sprayers, his Uncle Tubby, Mennonite women in their sixties at the Etcetera Thrift and Gift Shop in Seward, Nebraska: "They handle every article with reverence, as if it had personality and character; they have a winning way of looking upon a homely paint-by-number picture or a tweed sports coat that's a little bit stinky under the arms. You can tell that though they'll be happy to see it go, they wish it a happy future."
I imagine some "sophisticated" people find Kooser's writing dismissable -- his writing is quietly observant and his topics totally unpretentious. I seem to recall a few sneers when he was named the 13th U.S. Poet Laureate. (Jim Harrison, a dyed-in-the-wool Michigander who, let's face it, hangs out with pretty rarefied company from time to time, and who's a friend of Kooser's, says Local Wonders is "The quietest magnificent book I've ever read." So there.)
As a Midwesterner to my marrow, I think Kooser gets it -- the weather, the heart of life in the lands of four seasons. He makes me want to buy a chunk of land and raise goats -- a ridiculous notion for ME. But still. His similes and metaphors are wonderful. Here's one of my favorites: "The sky is like old blue denim just before dawn, with one round hole worn through, exposing the cold bony knee of the moon." I've been thinking about that image ever since -- how it perfectly captures something both weary and resilient about certain Midwestern nights.
Now off to walk to the Korean Bell in the fog, before it burns off.