On June 26, 2016 the Cypress String Quartet presented its celebratory Farewell Concert in its hometown of San Francisco in front of an audience of about 250 friends and family who had traveled from all over the country to attend as a final show of the same sort of support they had bestowed upon the group throughout its 20 year career.
I was the CSQ's violist for the last 15 years, until our disbanding following that Farewell Concert. My first rehearsal with them was in the afternoon on June 10, 2001. I had left New England Conservatory in Boston after one year of a Master's Degree program and drove my little red Toyota Tercel across the country to move back to the SF Bay Area to begin working with the Quartet. We had a lot of ground to cover in preparation for our first concerts of the coming season - at Scripps College in Los Angeles, scheduled for the second week of September.
We spent the summer rehearsing quartets by Haydn, Debussy, Ravel, Schulhoff, and other composers whose music the CSQ had committed to perform during the 2001-02 season. September 11 was a day off from rehearsal, but my mother interrupted my attempt to sleep in so that I could watch what was happening on television that horrible morning.
We ended up driving instead of flying to LA from SF for that first tour, because of all the airport closures and flight cancellations going on throughout the country. The concerts went well; the presenter appreciated that we had found a way to make it in time. On the return drive to SF we stopped along the way at a kitschy tourist trap novelty store and for some reason I bought myself a tiny little baby cactus in a ridiculously cute little planter pot. It was barely more than a spiky green bubble sticking out of the dirt. But I think it reminded me of my recently deceased paternal grandmother whose apartment used to be filled with variously scraggly, tall and skinny cacti that had been around for what seemed like - literally - forever. Somewhere in the back of my mind I imagined caring for that little thing and watching it grow to immense heights over the next several years.
It didn't grow very quickly.
I kept it on my desk near my computer, and tried to remember to water it regularly, but often forgot to do so for long periods of time. It never died, though, and I eventually came to enjoy observing its little pink flowers come and go within the few days following each occasional watering.
It actually didn't grow much at all for nearly 10 years.
When my family moved in 2008 into a house in San Francisco's 'outer parkside' district - a couple of blocks east from Ocean Beach, a couple of blocks north from the Zoo - I still kept the cactus on my desk but there was something different about being out there near the sea, with more moisture in the air, the cactus, now a couple of inches taller than when I first got it, began to sprout limbs.
I noticed the odd new tumors sticking out from the sides of the cactus and began to water it a little more regularly in earnest. At some point during a redesign of our backyard I decided to relocate the cactus - now transplanted into a slightly larger pot - outside. I didn't put it directly in the ground, but I figured it would appreciate the increased exposure to both sun and moisture, and I thought perhaps it would finally start to take off growing more dramatically.
In 2015 we moved out of our house to prepare for the end of my time with the Quartet and of my time in San Francisco - we were heading to Canada! - and found renters to take over our little house by the beach. We spent weeks, months, trying to minimize the...stuff we would be taking with us, some items identified as worth the hassle of bringing along, others labeled not important to hold onto forever.
I decided to leave the cactus there. Clearly I don't need it nearby to remember it and what it signifies. Like growing up with a pet, I grew up with that cactus. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it is meaningful to me, in some small way.
So I'm living full time in Kitchener Ontario now, enjoying spending more time with my wife and children, learning the lay of the land up here, preparing for a new career performing and teaching as a solo artist rather than as a part of the Quartet. Prospects are good but it's scary all the same - and I haven't found a baby cactus yet for this new phase of my life and career, but I'm searching. I'll let you know when I find one.