I love this gnarled, twisted tree trunk. It’s “growing” in the front yard of my friends, Dick and Kit Duane, in Berkeley. Dick and I were law school classmates there 57 years ago. They bought the house 47 years ago, raised their children there, played music, made plans, drank wine, cooked meals and read poetry there. The tree is old growth by any standard of time, just as we are old growth by the standards of the Social Security Life Expectancy chart.
Kit wants to have the tree taken out. She has a point; it could fall on the house when one of those fast-moving Pacific storms rips through the Golden Gate and blasts the Berkeley flats, but I’m betting on the tree. It’s seen a lot of those storms.
Dick and I can’t remember the specifics of how our friendship began. We were in the same law school section, one of three, in a class of 750. He was recently out of the Navy and I was fresh from the Marine Corps but early on we uncovered a mutual interest in swimming. I had no talent…still don’t…despite millions of laps in thousands of pools around the world. He, on the other hand, was a competitive swimmer at Cal… but everything about him was relaxed. He never minded doing 3 laps for every 1 of mine, and I was grateful he didn’t mention it. We both needed a release from those mind-numbing hours in the law library and found it in our noon workouts at the UC pool and browsing stops at Cody’s Books on Telegraph Avenue.
There is probably something deeply psychological about my affection for the Duane’s gnarly twisted tree. It’s like my gnarly wrinkled hand in some ways. Both show the effect of time in lumps, veins and scars on surfaces that were once smooth and elastic. When I suggested to Marilynn that we take a photo of our hands for this article she didn’t want any part of it. I love her hands, but she tells me that women are sensitive about their hands and rarely does a “woman of a certain age” allow her hands to be photographed. I love her vanity. It means she still cares about showing the world the best side of herself. Me? Not so much.
Nevertheless, last weekend M and I watched an interview with Angie Dickinson, a woman famous for her physical beauty who, at 87, was astonishingly unselfconscious about her gray hair, wrinkles, and hands. I found her confidence reassuring. After a lifetime of living shouldn’t we all be able to present ourselves proudly, and confidently “as is?”
Dick and I took much different paths after law school. Things have changed since we were there, but the curriculum and vector in those days was toward an elite private law practice. I followed the vector by way of Loeb & Loeb in Los Angeles and lasted nine months. Dick, who spent a law school summer in Georgia doing civil rights work before graduation, spent a couple of years doing poverty law in DC and San Francisco before returning to Berkeley to start his own small general practice. I remember Professor John Jackson, our Contracts teacher, taking time to extoll the virtues of small private community based practice. It seemed so contrary to Boalt’s big firm bias, but that’s what Dick chose and I know after all these years that he loved it and never thought of looking back.
Friendship, like love, is a mix of intangibles. Several of my most enduring friendships were formed in law school, though most of these were with classmates who didn’t follow traditional paths. Like friendships formed anywhere, law school was simply the nexus that brought together a cohort of people with similar characteristics, interests, and experience. We were all achievers in one way or another, competitive and curious in others. Some moved on according to someone else’s plan and some worked out their own.
The cement in my friendship with Dick is probably that we were slightly out of synch with the curriculum and our classmates. We maintained those friendships too, but ours didn’t depend on a shared professional experience. We were focused elsewhere. We both loved the outdoors. He was a serious rock climber (including El Capitan and some first ascents) and I spent most of my adult life skiing and living in ski areas. He’s an avid reader and lover of poetry. So am I, and we both play the guitar, though neither of us is very good. On top of that, Kit was a book editor and both couples have spent serious chunks of time traveling and living abroad. It’s all added up to a great recipe for friendship.
Steep rock faces and snowy steep chutes are behind the two of us now. His granddaughter is on her way to becoming a world-class rock climber and my grandsons are serious freestyle and backcountry skiers. We’ve had a hand in paying it forward for them and are enjoying the ride as they figure out their futures…but the best part for us now is our enduring friendship, memories of shared experience, and talk about what’s next. Neither of us is through…just adapting to changed circumstances.
Dick and Kit in Provence last year.