Shift West

Home Grown with Joan

11 months ago in Atascadero, CA

by Barron + Jacob

Soul; [sohl] noun

  1. the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body; the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part.
  2. the emotional part of human nature; the seat of the feelings or sentiments.
  3. the animating principle; the essential element or part of something.
  4. the essential part or fundamental nature of anything

Here is a definition to help me out. Some things are tough to describe. In times of hurry, my personality lends me to simply say a lot, streamline directly from the brain, and hope that what I mean comes through to whoever is listening and/or reading. Its a genuine approach that sometimes gets me into trouble. But if I waited for the perfect words before speaking, I would probably never say a word.

For weeks, Ive tried to formulate how to tell a story about our time in Atascadero. But its all so incredibly non-linear, much like grief. Some places, Jake and I just didnt have a great story to tell. We cant expect crazy things to happen every day. So, instead of telling a story about what happened, in those instances we just use that place as a platform to discuss our thoughts or topics surrounding our late-night conversations - theres always good content there.

But this isnt the case at all here.

You see, Atascadero was one of the most meaningful stays of our two-month journey. Jake and I agree - Shift West changed after our brief visit. We were really affected for the better. It wasnt our plan to spend much time in Atascadero, but before we knew it, four days had passed. And we really didnt do a whole lot. We werent bustling about, scratching things off a list. Nor were we having to improvise every move of our day. But under a canopy of comfort and peace we found ourselves open to what we have described as a depth of this life. There was some sort of exchange that took place between us and our host. Its mystery cant be measured or even fully identified, but everyone present agreed, it was shared.

Okay, let me restart. Two days before we departed in August, I got a text from my friend Marissa.

"If you and Jacob are passing through the Central Coast/need a place to stay/want to borrow a guitar for a few days, you are so welcome to stay at our house."

"Did I mention she is a great cook?"

"There are plenty of carpentry-related tasks my mom could use help with around the house / she would pay a fair wage IF you guys are interested."

Marissa followed up these texts with smooth lines about not pressuring us and understanding if we wanted to "rough it." I knew wed be headed up that way and her proposal was hard to reject. After receiving the texts, I said to Jake, "Looks like were going somewhere called Atascadero." He looked at me. "Attack-a-what?"

I hadnt realized how excited I was about the fall season until we rolled into Marissas home town. It was just like I had imagined - the ground was covered in huge, dried leaves that crunched under feet and filled the wind with smells that made me think of hoodies, cider, fireplaces, and family. October is my favorite month of the year. Its also my birth month. It seemed like the day we rolled in, the sun got a little more golden. I know the sun angle changes gradually throughout the year, but the light change is different from altitude and azimuth. I used to talk with one of my favorite professors from UT about falls golden light.. she knew what I meant. Its something special that takes place. Theres always one day when you realize its happened. If you dont pay attention, you could miss it altogether.

Jake and I had long anticipated meeting Joan. For some reason, Atascadero stood in our minds as a major milestone of the trip - we just decided it would be so. Our gracious host, whom I had only exchanged a few texts with at this point, seemed eager to meet us. We shared the sentiments.

We pull in the driveway and park the bikes. The house is surrounded with oak trees that bend and crane to defy gravity. You can hear the wind rustle through the trees. Leaves fall with grace and everything feels warm and cool at the same time. We hear a screen door shut and turn round to see Joan descending the steps from the back patio. She looks exactly like Marissa. Weird. We all walk up to each other grinning. Its funny meeting people in person that you know nothing about but have a sense of who they are.

We settled in seamlessly with a few rounds of ping pong, which reminded me of Collyn and intense matches at at The Tejas Club in college. We drank wine and ate food; Marissa wasnt kidding - Joans cooking is unbelievable. She took 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for best meals of the trip, hands down. We worked for cash, performing odd chores around the house; relocating plants, dusting windows, trimming hedges, and covering the pool for winter. We changed our oil and hung out with Joans neighbor, Dave - a studied Harley mechanic that spoke with a tone of knowingness and wisdom that only comes from a long, full life. (Im a little jealous that Jacob got to spend some one-on-one time with him while I finished his chores.)

One of our nights, Jacob and I played a little concert for Joan and her housemate, Lori. After an hour of rehearsing, "All These Things That Ive Done" down in the basement, we belted through our newest song, trying to sound like Brandon Flowers. We finished the set list while Joan recorded everything on her phone, like moms do. We finished with another round of ping pong, this time with Wimbledon intensity. That night, the basement rang with laughter.. the kind that reminds you of being a kid again. The kind of fun that you realize youve been away from for a while.

Jake and I found the house itself a topic of discussion. In some ways, it seemed well-preserved and full of treasures, like when you visit your grandparents house as a child, excited to explore and uncover. The basement was full of fishing gear and musical instruments to which Jacob wasted no time exploring. I pulled the skateboard off the wall of the garage, rode it, fell a few times, pumped up the BMX bike tires, did some bunny hops, and put it all away. The whole garage brimmed with toys and tools - so much fun to be had. Both of Joans children were off in college.. shes certainly not going to be the one to ride a dirt-bike, skateboard, and bang on the djembe. "Play with anything," Joan told us. "Except the motorcycle - youll have to call Elias about that."

Jake and I found the house itself a topic of discussion. In some ways, it seemed well-preserved and full of treasures, like when you visit your grandparents house as a child, excited to explore and uncover. The basement was full of fishing gear and musical instruments to which Jacob wasted no time exploring. I pulled the skateboard off the wall of the garage, rode it, fell a few times, pumped up the BMX bike tires, did some bunny hops, and put it all away. The whole garage brimmed with toys and tools - so much fun to be had. Both of Joans children were off in college.. shes certainly not going to be the one to ride a dirt-bike, skateboard, and bang on the djembe. "Play with anything," Joan told us. "Except the motorcycle - youll have to call Elias about that."

As we uncovered, discovered, explored, and examined, Joan would tell us stories. When the kids were growing up, the neighborhood friends would use Joans house as a homebase for hangouts and occasional, well-crafted pranks. With someone like Joan around for cooking and company and all the gear for adventure, I totally understood. With every item we touched, moved, and used, it felt we were creating movement.. which is hard to explain. Joan told us that shes in a place in life where minimizing makes sense. Everything there was tied to a greater story that we didnt fully understand, but that we felt.

Have you ever piled dry sand on the beach? You grasp and clench tightly, then slowly, you release your grip and let the grains fall down, forming a beautiful cone where they meeting the ground.

In the fragile structure of this system - grains piled on grains - it only takes one grain of sand to get hundreds moving. The slightest movement of air can send the grain downhill from the top, resulting in the agitation of thousands. What is known is that movement begets movement here, ultimately leading to a pause. In Atascadero, I felt like Jacob and I were part of that system of movement.. a subtle breeze shifted us, but in doing so, things were changing all around us. Our explorations in Joans home felt like movement towards something meaningful.

Life ties people together under strange circumstances. Jake and I both had a sense that wed been connected to Joan for a very long time, despite having only met. On our second day, I awoke before Jake and sat in the kitchen with Joan, sipping coffee and gazing out their yard towards a magnificent live oak covered in Spanish moss. Before my voice had even shaken off its creaky, sleepiness, the conversation turned to Mars. I spoke openly about him - how much I loved him and how striking the reality is of life being fragile.. of hearts being fragile. She looks at me with deep, knowing eyes. Gosh. The depth of her gaze was incredible - I imagine her children faced discipline by way of looks.

The truth is, I often change the topic before long when talking about Mars to people who didnt know him. The gist is: Im deeply sad, but not sure how to access it. But with Joan, I didnt feel any inclination to change topics or even to delve deeper into it. Her presence alone was meaningful and helpful for my heart and soul. Grievance is nonlinear and not something that one can prepare for. There was something in that depth of Joans eyes that let me know when she was in my corner, on my side, and there - present. After a few days of yard work and relaxation, Joan suggests, "Hey guys, what do you say we get out of the house and go to the ocean tomorrow?"

Amongst the rolling hills of Atascadero, we followed a trail through fields of high grass. The terrain swayed in the breeze and salt clung to the air. "Elias told me about this trail. Ive been meaning to come for a long time." Before we see the water, we can hear the waves crashing against rocks. Seagulls fly overhead, letting us know were close. We descend slowly and the ocean comes into view - pelicans flying in perfect formation, inches above the white caps that roll towards us. We got close to the water and watched the ocean breath in silence.

"Yall hungry yet?"

From there, we went south on the coast to Cayucos, a little beach town with a pier and kids running in the cold Pacific surf. We grab beers at a festival and enjoy local musicians and sunshine. Joan takes us into an amazing dive bar that has dollar bills pinned all over the ceiling and a topless woman in furry chaps painted on the wall. "This is where Tom and I met." From Cayucos, we continues south and stopped in Morro Bay for the most unbelievable fish and chips. Joan lost a fried shrimp to a courageous seagull and received sympathy from everyone around. An abundance of sympathy, but no one offered her a shrimp. Our last stop was Los Osos. We went to a golf course and sat in the grass, sipping coffee, and watching old men play music together while couples danced barefoot on the green.

One of the words that continues to pop into my head is "soul." Joan has soul. The definitions I found seemed to meet the mark. One reference said that the word "soul" originally meant "coming from or belong to the sea," which also seemed accurate. The most common word Jake and I used when talking about Joan was depth. There was so much to her and it is so difficult to explain.

Sometimes people show up in our lives just at the right time. Joan let us into her house and into her life. For an entire day, she led us on a journey through her past, introducing us to people and places of major significance in her life. Jake and I talked about it a lot after leaving. Were honored to be let into her story.

Theres no telling what our time in Atascadero did for Joan. For us, it was a home, a place to heal and to trust, and ultimately, to be ourselves. Perhaps Joans honest heart opened us to something beyond the whirlwind of goals, fears, desires, and issues that make up the majority of our ordinary thoughts and perceptions. Perhaps Joans receptiveness invited us to be present and acknowledge the faint but powerful mystery that resides in the eyes of us all.

Joan met us out on Highway 1 on the way out of town. She snapped one last photo, hugged us, and let us go. Jake and I rode away with lumps in our throats. Our stay left us filled with wonder.

And, truly, it was wonderful.

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink form the river of silence shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

On Death, The Prophet, Khalil Gibran