I MARRIED ADVENTURE
You can see from my falling-apart copy of Osa Johnson’s book that it was a special favorite in my youth. What a life she led with Martin Johnson, traversing the world at a time when Africa was still the “dark continent” and Borneo a near unknown, taking photographs of tribal chiefs and primeval beasts in the jungle. I dreamed to be her. I fantasized about the life she led and thought it the pinnacle of marvelous-ness. In the forward to this 1942 book, the president of the American Museum of Natural History says “Home was to be a schooner in the South Seas, a raft in Borneo, a tent on safari, a hut in the black Congo, sometimes a dash of Paris, interludes of an apartment on Fifth Avenue – but always a place to be going from.” What a blockbuster film it would have made. Especially because of the irony that after all the years traveling by safari and small boats and jungle aeroplanes, it ended suddenly on a lecture tour in the United States, in a small plane crash which killed Martin and injured Osa. And just after they had agreed to buy a little country place and have children and their own animals. Oh how I cried every time I got to the ending. But she was my heroine and I wanted to be just like her.
We have lived in many places and in a “past life” I even lived in Mexico City for a year, and if we did not actually explore in far-off places, we did traverse the entire west coast pretty much from top to bottom. And although we never went “global” we certainly did pull up stakes and move on to new horizons over the years, and while we have lived in some very nice houses here and there, we have also done time in miniscule Big Sur cabins without “amenities”.
This is not to suggest that we were merely itinerant wastrels, gypsying through life on a wish and a whim. There WAS the proverbial method to the sometimes seeming madness. When for instance, Robert announced one day that he had bought a deserted tattoo parlor on the last piece of the old Pike Amusement park, few would have thought that it would transform into the Mirage Café. And provide “Meat Salad” and Chicken Won Ton and Ploughman’s Lunch and even Aunt Verna’s Norwegian Cabbage Salad for grateful downtown lawyers and World Trade Center business people and other fans. Or that a trip to charming Ferndale would translate into a remodel of a deserted 1882 farmhouse, or that the local repertory theatre happened to need a small café which became The Stage Door. It was usually about finding the worst house in the best neighborhood and making it shine. Or building from the ground up in an awesome location. So yes, we moved about – buying, redesigning, building, gardening and selling. That was the “work” and the fun. On a bigger scale perhaps, Martin and Osa made their life’s work and their passion, traveling about capturing the wonders of the world.
Yet I must admit that these days I long for a home base far more than I would like to traipse about the globe. Just like Osa at a certain point. We felt we had that final home base at Castenada Lane for the first time in our own traipsing, but we now look forward to transposing all that that entails to Mt. Faith, and that’s a good thing – going back to familial roots.
But this time seems the most poignant. And difficult. And certainly that has much to do with being “of an age”. We’ve had the children and the grandchildren and now there’s only Cosmo. And he has made eight moves already in his advanced cat lifetime, so it seems reasonable that the ninth would encompass his ninth life, as in cat lore.
We haven’t accumulated as many possessions as many people I know, but still there are the special treasures. A few years ago we agreed to donate all our books to the library with the exception of “reference books” (this could be for instance, gardening, cooking, or in my case, mythology or what Robert calls “Arcania”) and volumes that we KNEW we would reread. (Osa qualifies as one of those.) This has primarily been my book packing day however, and I am amazed at the voluminous numbers of “reference” boxes we have accumulated. And they are HEAVY.
Beyond that, every box I pack seems to contain fragments of our past and that of course requires a bit of extra time for exclamations of surprise and the poignancy of remembrance, not to mention serious decisions regarding relevance and keep-ability. We ARE trying to hone down.
And when I just now packed the well-worn and beloved copy of “I Married Adventure”, I realized that I too, if on a smaller scale, got my girlhood wish when I married another Johnson.