Saturday, July 05, 2008

Maíz, Leña, Agua y Memorias

I should have learned to speak Spanish. I wish I were fluent. My mother insisted it would benefit me. My tias and tios implored me to learn Spanish, and mocked me too. I absorbed enough to ache for more. I learned enough to know that I am missing entire stories and insights. I understand enough to feel a profound connection to phrases and concepts, to emotions and spiritual convictions that I am powerless to explain en español or English.

I believe I am as much a part of Mexico and my family, the piedras del campo, as I am a part of my own children, my life in a suburban home with suburban experiences, but I do not know it.. I have always wanted to write about Mexico, El Valle, about border crossings and crossing cultural borders, about tortillas de harina, Seris, Opata, iglesia, and being an outsider here and there. I never have, not significantly, because I was afraid of messing it up, getting it wrong, missing important details, overstating insignificant bits. My story might be false memory and lies. My story might not ring true, or it could be too true.

I used to dream of knowing enough Spanish to glean the truth, the whole story, and I knew my abuelo was the source I needed to visit for those stories, for the genealogy, the adventures and history of a family and region, for a time rich in intrigue and improbable truths. I used to dream of writing all of it down and knowing the stories so well, that no one could doubt that I belonged too. No border or barriers, no lack of knowledge or cultural missteps would deny me access to that elusive feeling of belonging.

When I was a very little girl I was taken to El Valle de Tacupeto, 2 or 3 times. I don't know. I remember eating oranges and my first recollection of the smell of a cut orange is standing at La Mesita, with my Mom, waiting to board a small plane. I was there for my 5th birthday and received a harmonica. What happened to my harmonica? My brother Bill was a baby, we went to church, there was a wedding and a death. The river was flooding the dirt roads that cold winter. It seems like the river has always been flooding the roads.

I went 3 more times when I was a bit older... 11, 12, then 14 years old. By this time my parents were divorced, and I was traveling with my abuelo, then my tia Magali, then my tio Elias took us. Those first times were by bus. From Tijuana we traveled through the night for 12 hours to Hermosillo. It was hard to wake-up for the check-stops. I was always fearful of the bus leaving without us. We would be alone in the Sonoran desert, which wasn't really any less familiar than that bus. In Hermosillo we would wait to board another bus. The first bus was like a tired, old Greyhound. The next bus was like a tired, old, dangerous school bus. Not yellow and swept, but blue and red and yellow, dusty, crowded. We sat on fruit crates in the back. Were there live chickens on the bus? Is that my memory or something lingering from an old movie? I think there were live chickens. There were twine wrapped boxes, which served as luggage and there were stops in the middle of nowhere, so we could pee in the bushes. There were hours of narrow dirt roads, and river crossings. The entire journey was at least 20 hours long. One trip finished in the bed of a large truck, when the bus came to one river it could not cross.

On our last visit to El Valle we drove to Nogales, Arizona, crossed and continued to Hermosillo. No more bus rides. No more Sonoran summers and Sonoran heat. We went in November. Where is the bridge, the one over the river? Is it Rebeico? Is that where we cross, where the bridge is like a passage back in time and memory?

The new roads cut the travel time down to 16 hours. It's such a luxury traveling in our own car. This long ride is one that my abuelo made by horseback. There were no roads then. There were Yaqui to hide from. On this trip to El Valle we faced nothing more daunting than cattle in the road.

My grandfather was a musician and he travelled with a band, playing from pueblo to pueblo. Music for dances. Music in the placitas, for weddings and festivals. His father had traveled too and came home with a Bible. My bisbuelo Gabriel gave his land for the church. The church that shares the backyard of my grandparent's home today. And when my abuelo Ismael gave up being a musician, he came home to herd cattle, to milk vacas and to plant the mule-plowed fields. I remember shelling peanuts for planting, eating watermelon from the field, washing potatoes, picking chiles. I remember chewing on stringy, sweet cuts of sugar cane and watching my grandmother grind corn for tortillas.

When I see cows, I see vacas and I hear a guitarra. I see the nata scooped from the top of a pail of fresh milk... fresh, sweet cream. I can taste the cheese my abuela makes. The white rounds of cheese, the salty cheese crumbled over a bowl of beans. When I see vacas I think of my abuelo walking to the family ranch, El Ojo de Agua, early in the morning, returning with a pail of milk for our breakfast. It's a song, words I cannot speak, but the tune is in my soul.

We ride through many towns to reach home. Bacanora, the town, not the drink... though they are synonymous. Sahuaripa. And Arivechi. We get closer and closer. We see the Cerro Cabezón.

After Bamori comes El Valle de Tacupeto, and abuela and abuelo. There will be hugs and kisses and welcome. It is a comfort to find a familiar door and familiar faces, the same walls and trees, the sound of coros coming from the church, the certainty of a place that comes to me in my dreams.

November 2003. Alex in his abuelo's embrace. Home in Mexico, where we will cook by fire, and sleep on burlap cots. Where the doors are unlocked and every neighbor is familia or at least knows who I am related to... hija de... nieta de... sobrina de... Everyone knows the relations and connections. Home in Tacupeto.

They were married for 70 years. They have 8 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. I have never said it, but I feel a kind of pride and specialness, because I am the first grandchild. It doesn't matter, not really, but when I was a child it gave me tremendous pleasure to think of it. I held to a secret belief, unfounded by anything but my romantic imagination, that being first entitled me to something good, to a promise and security. Maybe someday I too would have a rancho and vacas, grind, corn, keep chickens, make tortillas. The clouded line between beliefs and knowledge can be untested, and now that I think on the truth, and not my childhood fantasies, I am amused and saddened. I am not sure why.

Catre. I wasn't sure I was saying this right... catre... cot. We slept on them for weeks at a time when we were children, spending summers in Tacupeto. My brothers and I each had a burlap cot to sleep on in the open patio. I remember we would pull thin sheets over our bodies, then turn on our flashlights to see what might be crawling across the ceiling. Think of the suspense and squeals as we lit a creepy crawly scene of overhead cockroaches, mosquitos, scorpions and beetles. We'd scream and pull our sheets over our heads! I do not miss the anxiety, the fear of something falling in the dark night, but I miss catres. I miss sleeping on the porch, hearing burros bray and abuelo snore. I miss waking in the morning to the music of crowing gallos, more donkeys, cows calling to be milked, and the beautiful rhythm of my abuela's hands making tortillas. There is more love, beauty and will, in the sound of my abuela's hands clapping masa for her wonderful tortillas, than in any symphony.

Her tortillas were never rolled out, but were formed between her soft, capable hands. My grandfather kept an ample wood supply available for cooking and baking, for heating water. And my abuela kept the fires burning so she could feed us tortillas, beans, enchiladas, gallina pinta, pozole, atole, empanadas. Food is more plentiful now, than it was in those summers when my brothers and I sustained ourselves with tortillas, beans, beans and tortillas, and either watermelon, or chiles or potatoes... whatever was being harvested at the time. And leche and leche con Nesquik. Markets and pantries are not what we are accustomed to here.

It is a strange gift to know hunger, or at least to know longing for something more. Now, when I cannot decide what to eat or what to buy, I can appreciate how ridiculous my quandary really is.

The summer that my tio Memo was growing chiles, chiles was all we heard about, saw or ate... besides the usual staples, and chiles were everywhere. We even tried our hands at picking chiles, a job whose appeal was lost very quickly. My cousin, RosaMaria and I were passing the hot, humid afternoon together, looking for places to be, for diversions. Times like these often found us down at the river, wading, or up to La Mesita just for the stroll, but on this particular day we were hungry. Having had fried chiles, roasted chiles, chiles con huevos, chiles con frijoles and every other kind of chile dish, we thought, "Why not raw? Crudos."

It was a good question, but not a good idea to execute. These chiles, mild, almost sweet when cooked, proved to be so painfully, fiercely hot when we bit into them, that we were overcome with the pain. It began on the tongue, a burning, like embers. Then we quickly realized that the sensation was moving to our throats, to our noses and up to our cheeks, so that our heads were blazing with cactus pricks, with fiery torture. Water only spread the fuel. We ran to the little store, and we stared at each another in painful sympathy when we came up to the shut doors... shut for siesta meant no chicle to cool our torment. I wonder if we told anyone. Our agony would have been a great amusement for everyone else.

My abuelos have a home in town. It is made of adobe, like all (most) buildings, and it has a walled yard. In this picture Geoff is walking toward the river, away from my tia Armida's home and towards my abuelo's home. This is the way RosaMaria and I travelled back and forth between our houses. With summer rain, the road can become a river itself, emptying out down the way, passed Ma' Juana and Pa' Chico's little house... where their little house once stood.

My great-grandparents, the ones that raised my abuela when she was orphaned as a baby, lived in a small adobe facing the church. I used to sit with Ma' Juana, in her cool, thick walled home. With a gourd she would draw cold water from a clay pot and serve it to me in a tin cup. The room where she cooked was dark from smoke, from years of fire cooking. In the corner was dry corn, and stalks of cane. I remember when she butchered a hog and was in the yard mixing soap. Soap that smelled of pork rinds and felt as greasy... eeew! I was so enchanted with her. She was small, her hair was long and still mostly black. She slept on a cot too, and had no more than 2 or 3 chairs, a small table. I promised her the moon and the stars. I wanted to bring her a prism, so she could have rainbows dancing on her bare walls. Pa' Chico was almost as small, but no less strong. He walked to his rancho too, every morning and it was further than Ojo de Agua.

In the walled garden of my abuelo's home is an orno, a clay oven, flowers, trees, and the pila where abuela used to wash clothes. I washed clothes there too. One side was filled with water and the other side had the lava rock that was there to beat the clothes upon, and water drained into the garden from the little hole at the end. Everything was hung in the sun and brought in before the monsoonal rains in the afternoon. My great-grandmother's soap was famous for getting clothes very clean, but with hunks of pork in it, one had to guard it from hungry dogs. It was poisonous of course. I like bacon, but I can honestly say I was never tempted to sample the soap.

When I was 11 years old, and my abuela did all of the washing, I loved to be by her side and watch her bale water over the sudsy clothes. It smelled good near the lime tree, and felt cool with the water splashing. She washed and hung all of our garments and they dried quickly in the sun. They came very clean with her vigorous scrubbing on the worn stone of the pila. How many times had my dresses and p@nties been dashed and wrung by hand?

My abuelo brought us home on the 2 same busses we had ridden to El Valle, and we arrived in Tijuana so early in the morning that the sun was only beginning to show. We each had our own duffel to carry from the bus to the street, where we would await a ride from my tio. It took both hands to manage my duffel and besides this heavy load, I was really not all together awake. That may account for the fact that it took me a moment to realize that my p@nties were around my ankles, having slipped down. I hauled them up in a flash. I was confused and embarrassed, the bus terminal was mostly empty and I consoled myself that no one witnessed. And I resumed the task of dragging my bag, trying to keep up with my brothers and abuelo, and my undergarments slipped again. I caught them between my knees, shimmied them up, and shuffled carefully, keeping my legs locked together. Mine was a slow, awkward and mortifying gait, that I could not properly explain to anyone. It seems that 5 weeks of thrashing my underwe@r clean on a stone made of lava had completely undone the elastic in them.

Returning to El Valle with my own children, my husband, was one of the best times of my life. I happily found that very little had changed... some of the few changes were sad, like not being able to sit with Ma' Juana and Pa' Chico, or to chat with my tia Ventura... she and I liked to read Reader's Digest en español together. And it would have been a great privilege to visit Maria del Guero... she was one of the oldest women I think I ever met and she sewed my clothes on a pedal machine. Her patterns for my dresses, skirts and blouses were in her head, she measured me with her fingers. I was keenly aware of the blessing that I could return to this place and still find both of my grandparents... still healthy, still smiling and eager to shower us with their prayers and affection.

I looked on this visit as a tremendous gift, for myself and for the boys. It was their second time in El Valle, and I loved that they were so receptive and enthused about all of the things and sights, the people and experiences that I held dear. We did and saw and treasured as much as we could.

We explored and hiked. We filled our pockets with flint and other pretty stones, crystals and pottery shards. Bits of our past.

We used to hike to this place, to swim. Oh my. The water was just as muddy and uncertain, but it was so hot and the walk home so far we drank this water too. It was delicious. I love how thinking about an event or place can lead to more curiosity. As much as I remember, I am aware of how little I know. How far is this place and how do I spell the name of it?

We sat together. We remembered other days, other nights, other faces and their laughter. I remembered how wonderful it is to sit together... just talking, just sharing each other's company.

I just got a call... everyone is back from Tacupeto, abuelo's funeral. There are many more memories I plan to write about, many more pictures I want to share, but right now I am going to my tia's house, where my abuela is.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Post So Happy, It Bears Repeating!

Pulled from the archives and presented again in all it's glory, I offer you:

From Sea to Shining Sea: California

Happy Fourth of July and Welcome to California!
This is a post about California, in conjunction with the "Pikes Peak Promise Project."

Pike’s Peak Project 2007 Logo

California is big. This isn't bragging or merely stating the obvious. This is a disclaimer, because I can hardly hope to write a post that represents or summarizes an entire state as large and varied as this state. If you need a history refresher, I offer this Wikipedia link for a California overview. My post is personal and reflective, a pictorial tour of places I've seen and people I have met in California.

California A-Z

A is for Apples

There are apple orchards in California. I've been to several in Julian, where we picked our own apples, and where they are famous for their apple pies. Last year we discovered Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, where we saw apple trees and ate Olallieberries. While in Watsonville you may want to "Drink Your Apple a Day... Watsonville is home to world famous Martinelli's Sparkling Cider. I still enjoy drinking their apple juice and remembering how much I loved having it as a treat when I was growing up. Wherever you live, it's a treat to eat locally and discover what's growing in your state and community.

B is for Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a cultural haven located in San Diego. It's home to the San Diego Zoo, museums and theaters. It's the kind of place you can go and find something to do or see, something to appreciate, no matter the time of year, no matter your budget. I used to volunteer at the Old Globe Theater, where I could see live theater and enjoy evenings with my boyfriend. We were married in Balboa Park. Now we take our children to the museums, the gardens, the playgrounds and to this reflection pond. Walking alone can fill an entire day.

C is for Cannery Row
For me, John Steinbeck's writing evokes California, the beauty and the darkness, the promise of its fertile valleys and bounty of the rich coastal waters. I learned about my home state from his tide pool descriptions and my compassion for men and women deepened from reading his stories about Cannery Row. True, Cannery Row today is a tourist destination and souvenir shop-riddled-jumble, that Steinbeck would have scorned, but if you've read his books, if you've pictured the places he painted in words, you can still find his Cannery Row. I still find it worthwhile to visit.

D is for Daniel
Daniel cuts our hair, and he has been cutting our hair for 8 years. He knows our names and remembers our interests. He's one of those people that makes you feel at home, like a part of the community. I like to set aside time enough for haircuts and for visiting when I go to Daniel's. Someone always pops in and then we get to meet someone new from the neighborhood. There are cold sodas and water in his mini-fridge and he keeps a great selection of magazines next to the bench by the window. It's so nice to slow down and enjoy the company at Daniel's.

E is for Eureka
This quote is from the California State Library web page, where they describe all kinds of state symbols: "The Greek word "Eureka" has appeared on the state seal since 1849 and means "I have found it". The words were probably intended to refer to the discovery of gold in California. Archimedes, the famed Greek mathematician, is said to have exclaimed "Eureka!" when, after long study, he discovered a method of determining the purity of gold. In 1957, attempts were made to establish "In God We Trust" as the state motto, but "Eureka" was made the official state motto in 1963." I found our "Eureka" on the side of the San Diego Museum of Man building, in Balboa Park. I guess it's been there since the Panama-California Exposition of 1915.

F is for Flowers
There are a lot flower fields in California. These flowers are growing in Carlsbad. They're ranunculus, which bloom in the spring. It's amazing to be in the center of these fields, with acres of bold color all around. The California Poppy is the state flower. I can't think of a flower I haven't seen growing in California, from commercial grower's poinsettias and the beautiful floral bouquets that are grown organically to the backyard roses, zinnias, sunflowers and bouganvilla... I love the bounty and variety of flowers we get to enjoy.

G is for Guest
Maybe you have family or friends in California. It's so nice to be a welcome guest in someone's home. We've had the pleasure of being tourists in our own state and we once were overnight guests at the historic and beautiful Hotel Del Coronado. It was an anniversary celebration, and yes, we brought the children. The Del sits between the Pacific and the San Diego Harbor, and the sights are wonderful. We rented a boat and toured the harbor, where there are fishing boats and Navy ships. At Christmas the Del sets up a skating rink, so that it's possible to walk on the sand, then ice skate, then enjoy a sumptuous brunch in the Crown Room. Okay, so this isn't something to do every weekend, but as a special treat, it doesn't disappoint.

H is for Horse
How about "H is for Humor?" There's plenty of good humor in California, and I thought this was a particularly artful example. Last year the children and I were visiting the Central Coast and we stumbled on this horse on the porch. I never tire of the drive from Ventura County along the 1 or the 101, right up to San Francisco. In between the sight of small farms, the rugged coast, the majesty and serenity of Big Sur, the rolling hills dotted with oaks... it all inspires me. I marvel at the abundance and variety that is represented in this small section of California. I think how luxurious it would be to visit the entire state, driving and stopping as the mood hits... it would be a very long, very full road trip. It would take a good deal of humor to manage it with four children.

I is for India... The Star of India
The San Diego Maritime Museum is home to several historical ships, including Star of India, and from "Master and Commander," H.M.S. Surprise. We've toured these ships with the children... it makes for a fun explore. Grade school students sometimes have an opportunity to spend a working night aboard Star of India. I've heard it's quite an experience and one that teaches tough lessons in ship life. The times we've been aboard these ships we are always struck by the tight quarters and the challenging circumstances people must have endured during long sea voyages. After the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill thousands of people 'rushed' to California from all over the world on ships like these.

J is for Juggle
I guess California has a reputation for being hectic... it's true for the big cities where people are juggling a lot of things, and staying wired. Probably places like Santa Monica are most notorious for a rat race pace. Traffic, cell phones, agents, personal trainers, life coaches, nannies... it's all there. It's fun to visit. It's fun to see the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, the Beach and the Canyon. There is a strange buzz there, an expectancy. There are paparazzi lurking, waiting, and then there are homeless people lurking and waiting. And then there are the People Magazine cover people slipping past in fast cars, strolling in dark glasses. Seen and unseen. Societal extremes are existing in the same square blocks, together and yet far apart. I get the feeling that if you could package Hope, you could sell it in Santa Monica.

K is for King
My apologies. I haven't got a king. I offer you a Queen: Niki de Saint Phalle's "Queen Califia's Magic Circle." We discovered this and more sculpture in a neighborhood park with winding trails, that went on seemingly forever. Everything was still under construction and we felt like we had discovered a magical land. They were building a fantasy of shapes and colors, all from the imagination of Niki de Saint Phalle. We haven't been back to see the finished park. I kind of enjoy remembering it in the twilight, when it was emerging and we were alone to unravel it's magic.

L is for La Jolla
The Jewel. Joya is spanish for jewel and this coastal community is quite lovely, especially from the water. We used to snorkel and dive here. Jumping from the cliffs was strongly discouraged then and it's illegal now. For a small fee you can climb the stairs from the Shell Shop that lead down into the cliff where you can look out the cave and to the sandstone cliffs of Torrey Pines and Scripps Institute of Oceanography. It's a marine sanctuary and still a wonderful place to snorkel and swim.

M is for Mariachi
California was once a part of Mexico, and it wasn't so long ago either, so the music of the mariachi is very much at home here. We like Mariachi Divas. The day we saw them performing our daughter, Maria, stood up and danced to every song. She was in love with their powerful voices, the rich music from the violins, guitars and trumpets. She danced and they played for her. Because children can be so enthusiastic, sincere and expressive, it became one of those unique experiences that is emotionally moving and happy.

N is for November
This is the sunset from last Thanksgiving. I can enjoy Thanksgiving anytime, anywhere. Like the 4th of July, it's one of those holidays that most of us, as Americans, can enjoy and appreciate together. We have our individual traditions and expectations, but for the most part the rituals are universal. For Thanksgiving it's all about the shared work of preparing a feast and then sharing our gratitude for all we are blessed with. Thanksgiving in California has all the usual trimmings. I know it's just as special in Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada, Oregon and Hawaii.

O is for Oaks
A few years ago I bought a book all about oak trees in California, and as soon as we unpack it, I want to read it and finally learn all about one of my all time favorite trees. I feel like I am not doing the tree justice by merely stating that I really, really love oak trees. I do really, really love them though. They strike me as wise and weathered, enduring. They are not smooth and welcoming, in a "climb me" sense, but I do feel invited to sit beneath their broad and shady canopy. In noon day sun or in morning mist, they stir my soul with romantic notions of Old California, pioneers, and ranchitos. If I could fly, I would be over the rolling hills and visiting the oak trees.

P is for Pipes
If you come to California, make your way to the coast and when you get hungry talk to the surfers. The surfers know where to find affordable, tasty food served by people who understand Aloha. Surfers work up an appetite, they live to surf, so money can be tight and the aloha? Well surfing is Hawaiian, so I guess they just pick it up along with the waves. We like to go to Pipes. Everyone likes to go to Pipes. The service is always with a smile and sometimes with music too, and the food is tasty.

Q is for Quiet
Mountain quiet. Idyllwild is a place with mountain views and quiet forests. We like to go there in hopes of finding snow. When we haven't found snow, we've still enjoyed hikes, playing games in front of a cabin fireplace and walking in to town for dinner. We like to meet friends there and enjoy a long weekend of breathing pine scented air and wearing wool socks. It's nice to find a place different home, and yet not so far away from home. California offers plenty of choices when you want to enjoy something different.

R is Rocks
We take them for granite! All over California, there are a lot of big granite rocks. No, I don't really take them for granted. I love them. I love the bold boulderness of them and how much fun they are to climb, cross, jump, and sit on. When our youngest son remembers this county park, he always mentions the huge rock he climbed, without any help. I hope he always enjoys that sense of power and pride that comes from climbing something that seemed insurmountable.

S is for Swami's
Dude. All long the California coast are hot little surf spots, where the locals chill and the surf is superfine. Check the surf report before grabbing your board, but you don't need to surf to enjoy the view. When the tide is low, you can visit the tidal pools. Animals are protected here, so no souvenirs, but take plenty of pictures. Watch for dolphins, and in winter, gray whales migrating south.

T is for Tall Trees
These are the big trees of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. California is blessed with big trees and big, tall trees. On the Northern California coast are the world's tallest trees: The Coast Redwoods. They have been verified to be as old as 2,200 years old, and are as tall as 350 feet. Inland, around the Sierra Nevada Mountains are the big trees, where one tree, the Discovery Tree, was measured to be 24' in diameter! We walked across the stump of the Discovery Tree, where many years ago they used it as a dance floor. We hope these trees can be left to grow, protected and appreciated.

U and V for Unbelievable Views
There is a great little mountain I know of where the views are big. It's called Stonewall Peak and if you're lucky enough to know some climbers, or you are one yourself, then you can enjoy the added bonus of doing some rappelling. My brother has taken me twice, and though I have no natural inclination to drop from great heights, I have to say rapelling is an awesome way to spend the day. Not far from Stonewall is a place where you can stand on the mountain and look straight to the desert floor below. The views from there are quite dramatic.

W is for Wild Sage
If I closed my eyes I might still know I was in California, if I could smell the sage. It grows wild and the fragrance of it is spicy, herbal, almost pungent. It is a sacred plant and used in healing and cleansing rituals... I thought I'd include a link here, but all the sites I found were supposedly spiritual and yet they all too anxiously rushed the customer to the Paypal button. My mother taught me how to gather small, personal bundles of sage, not harvest it for commercial profit, and to keep it handy, for use like incense.

X,Y and Z are for California
This van was parked in Santa Barbara, and I dare say it must have an X, Y and Z on it somewhere. It had something all over it. California... I've heard we're like granola, a bunch of flakes, fruits and nuts! That's cool. I love it here. I love the people and the optimism. I love the creativity. I love that we are home to research centers, technology and development, that we make movies and music, and waves and we ride out the storms, earthquakes and fires. It's not just for this state that my heart feels a kindred tug. All these 50 states, each blessed with strengths and grace, are good and beautiful and home. We like to feel a sense of pride for where we live and grow, and I like to remember that our greatest blessing is our union, as a country, as a society. We are more capable and more beautiful when we unite... "America, America. God shed his grace on thee. And crowned thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!"

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Longest Day

Alex sitting cool, Summer Equinox, Fortuna, California. 7:19 p.m.

While I have managed to unpack the car and even finish washing, drying, folding and putting away the road trip laundry, I have not finished my travelogue... my snapshot-memory book of our travels to and from Oregon. The last days of our drive home got a bit dramatic, because of the California fires. Then we had a very short time with Geoff before he had to leave for Chicago. Events and passages, daily duties and life, have been swirling and bouncing, and I have not quite managed to catch-up. Catch-up?! Seriously, have I ever been "caught-up," organized, with it, on top of things, in control?

Max teaches Maria how to throw a shoe. June 20, 2008. 7:39 p.m.

About those fires... I should have calculated how far I would drive from Fortuna, the second day of our drive home. I should have decided on a reasonable stopping place and called ahead for a room.

We spent the night in Fortuna, and had a relaxing dinner and evening at Eel River Brewing Company, a place making my list of awesome road trip stops. And later that night William, Alex and I squealed and shuddered witnessing the sky cracking thunder storm and rain, seeing the lightning. It turns out this was the same storm that began all of the lightning strike fires California is suffering.

7:40 p.m.

The next day we were seeing CDF vehicles and personnel everywhere. Fire fighting crews from all over California and other western states were on the move, and it was disturbingly reminiscent of way too many fires and evacuations from our past.

Closure of highway 1 in Watsonville from one fire, rerouted me away from Bill and Alison's place, so I continued down the 101 through San Jose, and as we approached the east side of Watsonville we could see flames in the hills. Further south we began to consider stopping for the night, and we pulled over in King City, where we discovered every room was booked... just as it had been in Santa Cruz and Monterey. The parking lots were full of CDF crews and evacuated families.

7:42 p.m.

We called Geoff. We had already been driving about 10 hours and between the fire and the heat wave, I could tell we would need help booking a room. So, I kept driving south, while Geoff called every hotel/motel between Greenfield and Pismo Beach. By now we were witnessing the fires burning on the eastern slopes of the Big Sur coast, and Geoff was having no luck finding us a place to stop for the night. Everything was booked due to the fires, summer events and an inland heat wave.

The Eel River, Phillipsville, California. June 21, 2008. 10:19 a.m. For hundreds and hundreds of miles I would think to myself: "This is beautiful. This place, this sight, this moment, those flowers, the light, the water, the air. I should take a picture."

Maria needed facilities and I stopped in Phillipsville... a small, remote place in the middle of the Redwoods and we found a camp store. I helped Maria, and I gave the children a $20 bill and instructions: Buy something. A treat. Anything you want." Maria and I joined them in the store, where they were still pacing up and down the 3 or 4 aisles of the little provisions shop.

Max asked, "Anything? Even soda?
I was tickled with what was becoming a happy diversion, "Yes, anything."
Max again, because he has to be certain of all the rules: "Even ice cream?"
We had already done 2 full tours of the entire shop, carefully weighing the options. Maria was embracing a snack package of Oreos. 6 cookies awaited her rapt attention and grateful nibbles. William pulled a grape soda from the cooler. Alex was peering into the ice-cream freezer. My satisfaction and pleasure was in watching my children revel in the bliss of choices, freedom and the anticipation of a camp-store treat. Max and Alex chose Tollhouse ice-cream sandwiches, William savored his grape flavored soda and Maria's 6 cookies lasted a sweet hour or more.

Strawberry fields and road side stand. North of Hopland, California. The Redwood Highway. June 21, 2008. 1:06 p.m.

Our next stop, our lunch, came from this strawberry field...

1:08 p.m.
This would have been a good time to call ahead and book a room... maybe in San Jose or even San Francisco, so I would not have the crisis that awaited us later.

We pulled under a huge oak tree, rinsed the sun warmed berries and began our picnic. The berries were sweet. the day was hot. I gave the chicas more water.

I sort of get the saying "Money can't buy happiness, but I have never believed it. I understand it, but that's not the same as believing it. Money does not guarantee happiness, and having money does not prevent unhappiness. Money gives opportunity, security, options and freedom. It can save us from hunger and strife, from limitations and hardships. I think it helps to know life with money and without money, to deeply appreciate the difference. This is a topic that I appreciate merits more than a paragraph, but I am going to keep this simple: I am so grateful to have options and freedom, to be blessed with a reliable vehicle and gas money, to have cash on hand for a box of berries.

Cameras, cell phones, fabric for homemade dresses, chickens as pets, Oreo snack packs, tickets to see "Wall-E," clean water and time are wonderful luxuries. Strawberries, sweet and fresh, eaten in the shade of an ancient oak tree are happiness in fruit form.

Golden Gate Bridge trail-head parking lot. 4:12 p.m.

Hours before I knew how long the day would be, before finding booked motels, I stopped here. I gave the chicas more water, and called Ron and Delia. I tried to nap a bit, but couldn't.

Later that night, armed with the Internet and phones, Geoff finally did manage to find us a hotel room. I had to backtrack 10 miles, and by 11:30 p.m. we were in a safe, comfortable room, and pulling covers over ourselves. 13 hours of driving were over, and we were, finally, free to rest.

Did you read all the way through? Long day = long In years to come, I think it will be nice to recall this challenging, fun, beautiful, long day. Our adventures and trials, the way we see the world, makes our lives worthwhile and meaningful. And our friends and family do too, so thank you. Thank you for your emails and comments, for sharing our deep thoughts and other musings. While I have not managed to catch-up, I am sustained and motivated by your thoughtfulness and kindness.