Recently Jerry Brown, Governor of California announced he was looking forward to withdrawing quietly from public life when his current and last term ends this year. He is 79, and was first elected Governor more than forty years ago. He and his wife intend to spend lots more time on their small ranch north of San Francisco. I read a story about how the rancher next door had been asked by a reporter about having them as neighbours. He said ‘I don’t what they’re doing up there. Every time I see them they’re just sitting together on the front porch, talking or reading’.
What a deep, contented sigh that makes in me. Best company for favourite activities is hard to beat. Of course the Browns will be doing more than that. I imagine that brief breaks from the constant cacophony and polarities of American politics would be ideally spent in quiet contemplation, a time to do what the neighbour surely sees as wasting time. It might be different when the time between appointments stretches from minutes to weeks.
If it was me, I’d also be pottering around the house and yard on odd jobs within my own very limited scope of practice as a maker and fixer– projects with self-imposed schedules. Projects that caused occasional trips into a hardware store or a nursery. I’d be exploring the nearby countryside on my bicycle, discovering special places I can’t wait to share with Charmaine. Soon I’d start to plan longer trips with panniers for overnight stays. I might be wondering whether to treat myself to a mountain bike for the rougher roads. And of course, all these questions means visiting bike shops, which might require a longish trip in the car, and lunch somewhere with my partner.
I’d probably have settled on a few favourite morning walks, a few kilometres before breakfast where I never tire of familiar sights in different lights and seasons. I might even bump into my neighbour and seek his advice on my projects, easing his concerns about my productivity. Walking is so close to the immediate environment, even more so than cycling, where much of your attention is on keeping safe. A walker sees the detailed texture of the ground, the plants, the insects even; hears the smallest sounds, smells the leaves and blooms, touches the rocks and trees as they pass. I love to watch animals doing their thing, eating, flying, playing, sleeping. Last year in Bali Charmaine and I walked past a large spider in the centre of his/her web several days a week. We often stopped to watch the web being extended or repaired. It was a small sadness when the web and spider disappeared, never to return over the next few months. You’d miss all that cycling.
And would Governor Brown and his wife really be able to resist the urge to contribute to their community for long? I know my partner and I would get restless within weeks. We need something more than just blissful relaxing; in fact for us relaxing is blissful partly because it is not like other busier, more engaged activities—activities associated with responsibilities. Of course, it usually ends up being an academic point in any case—life is sure to serve up responsibilities we can’t turn our backs on. Misfortunes for family, friends, our personal health, money and more will all get in the way of smooth sailing.
But you can’t sit there waiting for the call. The balance we are looking for in our little ranch in Goodwood (all 464 square metres of it) certainly includes the porch with the newspapers, the radio on pleasing music, and a cup of tea to hand. I hope we can enjoy that every day, a special interlude for just the two of us, but as part of a rich variety of experiences that keep coming because we go out looking for them.