Da Vinci Dreams :: the cradle of stories
“Men shall speak with and touch and embrace each other while standing in different hemispheres, and shall understand each other’s language.” ~ from “Prophecies” by Leonardo Da Vinci, The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, George Braziller.
Photograph Courtesy of Annika Ruohonen
All stories come from fog. That is what Noor Baba told me.
A few years ago, on my way to explore Point Reyes National Seashore Park, I met a man named Noor Baba; I never made it to Point Reyes National Seashore Park that day or ever since.
Point Reyes National Seashore Park is a 70,000-acre national reserve which offers several beach walks and hiking. Point Reyes is a cape on the Pacific Coast of Northern California, approximately 30 miles northwest of San Francisco.
I used to live in San Francisco.
That is where I was headed, Point Reyes National Seashore Park, because it would do me “good”, when I stopped to fill up gas in the town of Point Reyes Station.
The town of Point Reyes Station, although not actually located on the peninsula, nevertheless provides most services to the vast Seashore Park, though some services are also available at near by towns. The even smaller town of Olema, about 3 miles south of Point Reyes Station, serves as the standard starting point for a visit to the Point Reyes National Seashore Park.
Now I can’t recall if I met Noor Baba in Olema or Point Reyes Station or between the two small towns.
Maybe I think I met him at Point Reyes Station only because I was at a fuel station.
Point Reyes Station is located along State Route 1. It is a small town that is recognized only because it holds a small population, barely 300 people; it lacks a separate municipal government or legal incorporation under the laws of the state of California.
“They filmed a movie there at Point Reyes National Seashore Park back in the 1980’s—some stupid story because fog is supposed to scare you,” that is what Noor Baba said after I told him where I was headed.
Although the fog had not impeded visibility yet, it was slowly descending quicker than I had anticipated. Having lived in San Francisco Bay area I was used to fog but I had been warned that it gets ‘pretty bad’ around Point Reyes.
“I haven’t seen that movie,” I had replied.
Noor Baba’s skin was paler than mine and I know I am a very white guy. Close African-American friends even jokingly call me ‘whitey’, that is how white I am. But his paleness, unlike mine, was a patchwork of rosy cheeks and mountain wrinkles spread proportionately throughout his round face. He could suit up for Santa Clause and I would remain invisible, one of many. I don’t usually notice men’s eyes but I just couldn’t help staring at his. The soft pale blue shade was frosty and burst forth as if the horizon was staring across at you instead of you looking up at the sky.
I waited for the gas tank to fill up as Noor Baba decided to clean my car’s windshield. I noticed his dirty uniform and the oil underneath his nails. I didn’t ask him how long he had been working at this fuel station.
I felt bad that a man twice my age was cleaning the windshield on a car that was old enough to retire in a junk yard but I didn’t say anything, recalling my father’s voice when I would have to clean my father’s car as a young boy, “Everyone has a job to do.”
The bulls of memory are strong. I don’t know why I thought of my father that day given he had passed away over ten years ago.
“So you from here?” I asked him given the silence was as wet as the foggy air.
“Yes, some three towns down. Not a bad commute if there is no fog. But usually the hour I have to come in there is always fog.”
I detected a slight accent but didn’t inquire.
“It’s a lovely place to go explore if it doesn’t get too foggy. Some times it can get very foggy,” Noor Baba said. I appreciated his attempt at conversation. I wondered how desperate I looked.
“Yes, that is what I am doing. Came here because some colleagues said it would do me good. After they shared the news with me that I was just let go from my job.”
“Yes, as in fired, but not really. It’s a long story.”
Noor Baba nodded but I don’t think he understood anything other than I was fired.
Some lies are spontaneous; others are planned. I think the spontaneous lies are most adjacent to the truth. The truth was I had quit my job two years ago, same year after my ex-girlfriend left me because she couldn’t “handle” that I still wanted to be with her despite her being diagnosed with terminal cancer. She died a year later, now a year ago. Job or no job didn’t matter. I made ends meet going as far as my car could go around this great land that is apparently not enough for our government.
“So what are you going to do now?” Noor Baba asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, you have family to support?”
“No. No. Nothing of the sort. Luckily.”
“How is that lucky?”
“Well, I mean, I don’t have to worry about others you know?”
“It is lucky to worry about others,” Noor Baba replied.
I changed the subject. “Where are you from? You don’t sound like you are from here?”
“Oh. Originally originally? From Afghanistan,” he said and smiled at my surprise.
“The country with the war going on?”
“There are many countries with a war going on. I am from one such, yes.”
Noor Baba had been in northern California for the last seventeen years and had not returned to see his wife and children for the last eight years given the “war going on.”
“But I talk to my wife every day. Every day,” he said proudly. “After Obama gets elected I should be able to visit her again.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even believe Barak Obama would get elected.
“Well, that is good that you still talk to her. My girlfriend of four years left me given I couldn’t see her for two weeks.”
“Girlfriend? Four years and she wasn’t your wife?”
“Well, I mean that stuff takes some time you know,” I replied and decided he didn’t understand due to cultural differences. I was overcome by the fact that I was lying to this stranger, all the way from Afghanistan standing in front of me in the middle of a town recognized only for census, while there was a war going on.
“Well, women don’t come back. You want her you have to go back. Or maybe you will find a new one,” Noor Baba said jovially.
“I wanted to write a story or something like that about her now that I don’t have a job,” I said truthfully.
I quickly tried to dismiss the recollection that flashed unexpectedly, as it often did, of the day I found when Alina died.
I fell to my knees after my mother had called to tell me the news and couldn’t force any tears and felt angry for not being able to cry. It was then I realized praying would never be enough. And just like people have a moment where they can distinctly recall feeling “Grace” or “something” that changes them into a believer of “God,” that was my moment to stop believing.
I saw the sky in Noor Baba’s eyes stare at the volcano inside me.
“All stories come from the fog. But you can’t do much though if you are afraid of what you can’t see,” he finally said.
My gas tank had been filled for quite a few minutes.
I reached for my wallet without intending to go inside the station to pay.
“While fog is a type of a cloud, the term ‘fog’ is typically distinguished from the more generic term ‘cloud’ in that fog is low-lying, and the moisture in the fog is often generated locally such as from a nearby body of water, like a lake or the ocean, or from nearby moist ground,” Noor Baba said.
He continued, “Shadows are cast through fog in three dimensions. The fog is dense enough to be illuminated by light that passes through gaps in a structure or tree, but thin enough to let a large quantity of that light pass through to illuminate points further on.”
He paused to say hello to someone who passed by that I didn’t even notice and then he proceeded, “Fog can form in a number of ways and there are many types of fogs. Fog is a reflection of our hydrosphere, found on, under, and over the surface of this planet in many different forms before it actually becomes what we call fog. Stories, like fog are a continuum encircling this Earth.”
He told me it was probably not a good idea to drive to the Point Reyes National Seashore Park now.
“You should stay at some place around here because it will be too foggy to come back safely,” he said.
“Yes, I think so. Don’t want a foggy story,” I tried to joke.
He didn’t laugh.
“Men don’t lie about things they know little about,” Noor Baba said.
I wondered why I was unable to tell any truth to a stranger I was never going to see again.
“Stories are the saints of desperate cases and lost causes,” said Noor Baba.
I still don’t know whether I believe in saints, angels, or a God, but I believe in stories because I am a desperate case. And maybe not a lost cause just yet.