Woman on Twenty-Second Eating Berries
By Stanley Plumly
She's not angry exactly but all business,
eating them right off the tree, with confidence,
the kind that lets her spit out the bad ones
clear of the sidewalk into the street. It's
sunny, though who can tell what she's tasting,
rowan or one of the serviceberries--
the animal at work, so everybody,
save the traffic, keeps a distance. She's picking
clean what the birds have left, and even,
in her hurry, a few dark leaves. In the air
the dusting of exhaust that still turns pennies
green, the way the cloudy surfaces
of things obscure their differences,
like the mock orange or the apple rose that
cracks the paving stone, rooted in the plaza.
No one will say your name, and when you come to
the door no one will know you, a parable
of the afterlife on earth. Poor grapes, poor crabs,
wild black cherry trees, on which some forty-six
or so species of birds have fed, some boy's dead
weight or the tragic summer lightning killing
the seed, how boyish now that hunger
to bring those branches down to scale,
to eat of that which otherwise was waste,
how natural this woman eating berries, how alone.
We woke up very early Friday morning so we would have time for a walk on the beach in San Simeon before our 9:20 a.m. tour of Hearst Castle. It was worth it: there were dolphins, a seal, shore birds and sand crabs just offshore and we were the only people around. We packed up and went to Hearst's ranch, accessible only by tour bus up the hills past his former private zoo (there are still zebras and other animals), which I last visited when I was in my early teens. The swimming pools were as spectacular as I had remembered, as were the tapestries and medieval art in the main house. We also saw the film, new since I was last there, where I learned a lot about Julia Morgan, who designed both the houses and the landscape.
We ate a picnic lunch at the state park on the beach across the highway, where there were dozens of elephant seals sunning themselves and playing in the surf. Then we drove to Solvang, the Danish town with windmills and a Hans Christian Andersen museum above a bookstore, where we bought pastries and presents for my cousins' children. We also stopped to see the Santa Ines Mission. In the car we watched the end of the Second Doctor "Mind Robber" episodes, which we started the night before -- Jasper Fforde definitely saw these!
The massive outdoor Neptune Pool, 104 feet long, surrounded by imported columns reset in concrete and steel to withstand earthquakes.
The main house, Casa Grande, in sunlight as the morning fog begins to burn off.
The assembly room, where guests had cocktails and waited to be invited in for meals...
...to the dining room, where we were amused to see ketchup and mustard left in their bottles among the silver and tapestries.
Hearst was fascinated by sarcophagi and collected many of them. Here is one incongruously placed beneath a statue of the Graces.
A large elephant seal colony lives in San Simeon on the beach just beyond the William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach, where we ate lunch.
Solvang, the Danish replica village in California wine country, has windmills, bakeries and vineyards as well as the early 19th century Santa Inés mission.
Tonight and tomorrow we're staying with my father's brother and his wife near L.A. They have a horse and a pool in addition to a son between my sons' ages, so the kids are quite pleased -- they went swimming this evening after dark in the lit pool and toasted marshmallows over the outdoor wood stove. We had a big spaghetti dinner and watched the hummingbirds and finches flit through the backyard. It's cool and gorgeous here right now!