On Sunday afternoon, once the girls are both down for their naps, I steal away. Steal, I say, for it feels like I am, indeed, stealing time, feels as though these few hours on my own are an extravagance taken from other, more pressing concerns.
I sit in my own corner of the coffee shop, my laptop open in front of me. My fingers lay idle on the keys. Instead of writing, I watch those around me. This only adds to my sense of theft – if I am going to sneak away, out of the house, I should at least use it to write or to journal, those reasons for which I came – but the malaise which has plagued me the past few weeks lingers. The people here with me are far more arresting than the words that will not come.
The line snakes nearly to the door. Apparently, this unseasonably chilly day sparks a desire for overpriced hot drinks; as I sip my latte, I hear others called to the bar. A mocha for John. A double espresso for Marianne. A macchiato for Yolanda. It’s June, but people wear sweaters and jackets, and their drinks steam.
It’s a strange conglomeration of humanity, here in this small room with its curved wooden chairs and modern caged lighting, far more diverse than the population of our rural county. We’re right off the highway, a good stopover point between the teeming cities in the valley and the fresh air of the mountains. A gray-bearded man in a cowboy hat and a shirt that proclaims “NOT OF THIS WORLD” waits between a hulking tattooed teen in a football jersey and a compact woman in cycling shorts. Across the way from me, a chubby-cheeked baby, about the same age as Abby, smiles and babbles as he blinks his wide blue eyes at a stranger. She looks up from her phone long enough to grin in return, to tell his mom how cute he is, then drops her attention back to the screen.
A couple that is, perhaps, just settling into retirement takes the table right next to mine. The husband smiles at me, raising his eyebrows a bit as though asking for permission as he slides the chair across from me out of his way. He sinks down into his seat and accepts the paper-wrapped slice of coffee cake held out to him by his wife.
Unlike me, they direct their gaze outward as they sip their coffee. She points to something over his shoulder and he turns to glance out the window. So do I. The view is familiar to me: through the ropes of the power lines, I see the grocery store, the laundromat, the McDonald’s, buildings dated but not historic. The chain link fence at the edge of the parking lot sags, threatening to drag itself down the hill to the street. In the near distance, a field of weeds, and beyond that, the familiarity of a pine-covered hill. I can’t see what has captured their attention. I shrug, and return to my people watching.
The noise volume swells and fades, a varying ocean of sound. I overhear snippets of the conversation from the couple next to me, enough to confirm my suspicion that they are most likely international tourists, but not enough to identify the language they’re speaking. Italian, perhaps, or Spanish.
I’m reminded of my own brief travels abroad. Switzerland, the Cinque Terre, Barcelona, Madrid, London. Destinations with incredible scenery, breathtaking beauty. Places which put this tiny town on Highway 80 to shame. Sights this couple has likely seen. And yet, they continue to watch the world outside the window.
What captures their attention? Intrigued, I turn again to look. This time, I see.
I see the scattered cloud cover, the depth and nuance in the way it blankets the sky. I see the way the varying light accentuates the dark green of the pines and firs and the brighter hues of the oaks. I see in the weeds the famed golden hue of the hills of California.
I see beauty.
It isn’t the jaw-dropping awe of the Swiss Alps or the exotic sights and sounds of the Mediterranean. It doesn’t boast the history of London or the culture of Barcelona. To me, it’s familiar. Normal. Home. And yet, there is beauty to be found here, in the place where I live, in the mess of my day-to-day – and in yours, too – if only I open my eyes to see.