I was feeling smug this morning about getting on the road by my target time (before 6am). I'd have lots of time in the coffee shop in Berkeley to compose this blog and maybe get some other things done as well before going to the office. And then I saw the big flashing freeway sign "West Hwy 24 accident all lanes blocked." They don't go to that extreme for a minor fender bender, so I quickly reviewed potential alternate routes and took off into the hills, detouring through Moraga, up Canyon Road, and winding through the east bay redwoods.
It was a glorious drive. There was a double rainbow hanging over the hills and a slight drizzle--a "misty moisty morning," as the song says. Everything was green, the little streams were running, the winding road was overhung with ferns as it dodged among the redwoods. You forget that these experiences are there, just a few minutes off the track. I don't know whether I saved any time over sitting in the freeway parking lot while they cleared the wrecks (by the time I came out onto Hwy 24 again the other side of the tunnel, the traffic seemed to be unblocked) but I definitely saved some sanity.
You never know when an unexpected opportunity will present itself--sometimes in the form of a disaster. But you can set yourself in the way of it. In my case, by being familiar with the back roads through the east bay hills, in Roz's case, by deciding she needed to make a positive effort to interact with the other household staff at Tiporsel House and engage more in the economy of traded favors that made your place more secure.
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The common room was one of the few rooms downstairs with lots of windows. It looked out over the upper edge of the garden and sunlight even made it into the kitchen where it opened off to one side. The year was turning toward spring and we were allowed to go into the garden as long as the family wasn’t using it. It was damp and gray now, but in summer I imagined taking my work out to the benches there. Not the bench by the dock right down at the edge of the river—everyone warned me that was the baroness’s and we weren’t to use it.
The garden sloped down from the back of the house to the river. You could enjoy watching the birds skim over the water and listening to the whistles and shouts of the rivermen. Sometimes one of the family would send word down to hail a riverman and then I could see them pass by in all their fine clothes to be handed into the boat and rowed off somewhere. Once Charsintek wanted me to bring a delivery back from the Nikuleplaiz and gave me a coin for a ride. But most times when a boat came to the dock, it was the kitchen delivery from the market out past the east gate. Every morning Cook or her assistant took a hired fiacre off to the market and sent the baskets back by the river. It was like a second set of roads. There’d be a sharp whistle up from the dock and Cook would send whoever was idling about down to fetch things up. Sometimes the riverman would help carry baskets too, just for the extra teneir, or to get the boat unloaded more quickly. That was how I met Liv.
It was a fine day and the door had been left open to the gardens, the easier to hear a halloo from the dock. I was keeping quiet because Cook was out of sorts and one of the kitchen maids was being scolded. Nothing to do with me, but best to lay low. We heard a sharp whistle from down by the water and then the yipping of a dog. Some of the rivermen kept a little dog trained to bark at doors if you didn’t hear the whistle. Lufise came out of the kitchen with a quick smile and wink to me as if to say, “There’s an excuse to get out of the kitchen for a few minutes.”
Just as she was coming back with the first basket—a wide awkward one that took both hands to carry—there was a crash and a shriek from the kitchen. It was easy enough to guess what had happened. The new girl that Cook had been scolding had dropped a bowl and spilled something all over the floor.. Lufise dropped the baskets in the doorway to go help clean up and threw me a pleading look. “Roz, could you go get the rest? I’ll make it up to you.”
It wasn’t my job, but it never hurt to be owed a favor so I folded my work away and walked down the path beside the garden wall, with the riverman’s little dog skipping around my feet. I must have stared a bit when I got to the water-steps. I’d never seen a girl in the boats before. She didn’t look much older than me. Her arms were all brown and thick with muscles—even more than I’d gotten wringing out laundry. I knew I’d been staring because she said, “Are you going to gape like a carp all day? I have other houses to do and I’m late already.”
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Not the most auspicious meeting! And it's about to get worse. But when Roz determines to make friends with someone, she's quite clever in finding a way, even past her own mis-steps. All it takes is watching for the right opportunity and seizing it when it comes. Like I seized the opportunity to turn a traffic jam into a scenic drive. If you let go of your plans and preconceptions, you just might find adventure!