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A clamoring circle
Making traditions for yourself and the league's mid-season fallback to familiarity.
The first day, in the way I spend all my first days here, climbing the street at the end of Shanon’s until the angle of it rises up to meet me. I have to lean forward, tilt from the waist, to gain ground in my steps. It’s so steep I could put an arm out and touch the pavement without bending much beyond the shoulders. A few lunging strides of this and then the plateau’s there at an intersection marked by a stop sign embraced almost completely in the arms of a giant pachycereus cactus. From here, a winding road that opens to a grassy slope banking down into the undulating residential blocks below but beyond them, from this vantage point, Temescal Peak, plus all the hills and canyons that stay nameless to you as an outsider.
I follow the curve of the road winding around houses perched here at the top into another climb, this one softer, until it loops and snakes down the other side of the hill. On the face of the hill tiered above me, silvery blue willows and carpets of jade plants peppered with white blooms and bright with sun, yellow asters and tangles of prickly pears, wild red geranium in giant clumps. The smell is a soft riot.
Hit the bottom and spill out into tidy, rising blocks of California bungalows in white, pale yellows and blues, sage. Stop to take photos of all the wild desert plants springing from the boulevards and lawns, the citrus trees heavy with lemons, key limes and oranges. Make it to the main street and stop for coffee, a green smoothie. Sit out on a bench and watch the beautiful, old pickups in perfect condition roll by. Write a little. Close my eyes into the sun.
My routine varies in the stores I stop into, the way the strip has changed, noticing which houses have lost certain features — like this time, a freestanding driveway hoop that used to be backdropped by two listing palms is gone — but the rhythm of it is what matters. That I can remember the same walk four, five, six and more years ago, even if this is the first time I’ve been back to visit since the pandemic, tethers me in the present along with all its concerns while underscoring what I’ve moved on from, what’s changed, what’s been lost. It’s a trip I’ve done for myself as annually as I can because the first time it felt so good just to be here and visit and idle and take in the sun and air and gawp at the plants and do nothing. It’s a trip that made me realize traditions don’t have to be steeped in anything deeper. They’re the things you choose to return to because the meaning in them is the action that you root yourself in, and the value that familiarity brings.
What stuck out most to me about the trade deadline, once the dust settled and some of the buyouts did too, was a return to some previous form for most teams that made moves. The Raptors, Rockets, Golden State, the Lakers, they drew on the past, distant or still visceral. Is the best move a familiar one when the alternative is no move at all?
When I think of my friends out here it’s in a soft light shot through with morning mist before it burns off or road grit or the red and yellow dust of the canyons and hills coming down on them. They’re squinting through it, maybe a hand up to shield their eyes. They’re smiling.
I always picture them at a distance from me — hard to say if it’s opening or closing. Something of the frontier in that. In them. Remnants of their history, growing up for so many generations in a state that holds range as central to identity.
John Wall in Houston (if he stays), D’Angelo Russell in L.A., these feel like trying the same thing with your eyes closed to change the scenery. Jakob Poeltl in Toronto, Gary Payton (if he is healthy enough to go) on the Warriors, Spencer Dinwiddie to Brooklyn, and while the rest of the superstars went west, Russell Westbrook was sent back east. Moves that pick up on tapered lines. Moves that move, mostly, memory.
It’s made me think that so often when the league is in a state of flux, or suspension, like this season awash in its new shades of parity and so many franchises with no place to go, front offices will look backward into what worked before. Even if what worked before was just certain people on certain rosters. Maybe the maturation of these players, the time spent in other formations on the floor and learning the rhythms of a different locker room, will come to complement the systems they’re returning to. To have them back in some cases serving more like a ballast, a steadying memory, than a big shove forward into the unknown. This especially for franchises that have been stuttering, that hadn’t made themselves out into the projected versions they seemed so sure they’d grow into back in October.
I think the big craving of the deadline is movement. To have plenty of it instead of a couple direct, well thought out transits. A flurry of trades to track that people will forget the tangling details of until they see someone involved on the floor in a different city, in another jersey, a few nights later. But so much of the movement that happened as the week’s time ticked down were circles being drawn out in full. Movement for the sake of picking up where things left off. Movement — a circuit, a hoop, a lap, a small and individual orbit — backwards.
What sounds like a pack of dogs running down from the canyon road up the hill. All the dogs in the neighborhood start up, riled, the noise carries, ricocheting up and down the block. Two guys chainsawing low branches down from one of the giant pines in the backyard two houses over stop what they’re doing to listen. The noise becomes otherworldly in its intonation. It seems to roll by, or else lifts from where I picture it on the road as a blurry cartoon tangle of fur and teeth. The chainsaws start back up. Between revs a mourning dove sighs on a power line.
That night, waking at 3am, I hear the same etherial commotion. This time, not sitting out in the yard with a mug of coffee and eyeing the lemons hanging in heavy bright globes from Shanon’s tree in morning sun, but deep down under the comforter in the dark, I know it for what it is: coyotes. Their call and return a clamoring, rapturous circle.
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