Sunday morning instead of driving to church I packed my car and drove up into the Sierras, not to one of the familiar destinations but to a lake on the Sonora Pass where I’d only been once before. I was meeting my three cousins for a very brief reunion. It was only two years ago that I’d met them as though for the first time, for their mother’s memorial.
Maybe because it was Sunday morning, as I headed out along the most familiar roads I tried to listen to a sort of sermon in the form of Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward, in which he speaks (and reads his own book in a very pleasant voice) as a would-be life coach to those anticipating or making big transitions in life. I liked one line I heard in the introduction: “We are the clumsy caretakers of our own souls.” But the paradigm he presented, of a life span in two halves, The First Half of life and The Second Half, was not at all useful to me. In other ways as well I didn’t feel like a member of his intended audience, so I wasn’t sorry when I realized my listening set-up was not giving me enough volume and I had to give up on books for this trip.
I had been looking forward to crossing the valley, this farmland that feeds the whole nation its fruits and vegetables, and where alfalfa and sunflowers and more also grow in plots of hundreds of acres. Even though I’ve written about this aspect of the California landscape before, I was as excited to make this drive as I was to see my relatives at the end of it. It’s because I love California, I realized with joy, and not just the agricultural parts. Thanks to my late husband, I was introduced to pretty much every region of our vast state, and it’s Home. I’m so glad I can keep on living here, where My People have lived for six generations now.
My destination was Pinecrest Lake, where my father and his family, including my cousins’ mother, had often camped as children with their parents. They lived in Berkeley, and from there it was not too daunting an effort to get a carful of family up into the aromatic pines and cedars where the women and children might stay for the whole summer, while the menfolk would keep working down below and drive up most weekends. Eighty or a hundred years ago it probably took twice as long as my journey did, but it would have been easy to leave the city and cook dinner in camp on the same day.
I was only able to stay with my cousins one night and half a day, but during that time we took a boat out on the lake. I had a bum foot so it was just as well that they had hiked earlier while I was on the road. While we were on the water a bald eagle flew back and forth above us against the blue sky, which we took as friendly interest on his part, but he is just a speck on a cloud in the only photo I got of that encounter.
We went out to dinner and told stories about our ancestors, and kept straying from that obvious subject to many others. Maybe it was being in the outdoors that led our conversation to the topic of rats and mice, and to comparing tales of house or tent visits, or downright infestations, of undesirable critters. When cockroach stories entered the stream, we tried harder to talk instead about something more appealing before the food arrived. And then we went on laughing and being happy together until a late bedtime.
After my father died several years ago, I made a point of visiting his youngest sister, my aunt Bettie, trying to hold on to whatever thin conduit might remain in the world, that might still connect me to him and that part of my history. Her family had always lived so far away that we rarely saw them and I didn’t know my cousins growing up.
I found her to be much more than a fulfillment of my familial longings; she was a warm and gracious and funny person who was quite admirable in herself, and I soaked up as much love and kindred feeling as I could in a too-brief visit. I planned to come back soon and spend more time, but those many miles prevented me, and then she died too. I was so thankful that I was then able to connect with her daughters, and now we will be catching up until we die.
Of course I cherish my brother and sisters as a link to my father, and for themselves even more, but it helps me to have cousins in my life now, too. My father didn’t pass on family history to me until it was too late to imbibe very much, but my aunt was telling her daughters stories their whole life long, and from a woman’s perspective. They can help me to know my father and even my mother better, as she and my aunt were close friends when they were young, before ripples of effects of war and family changes put such a geographical distance between them.
On Monday the oldest of these cousins, Renée, came home with me for a couple of nights. We didn’t stop often on the way down, and the sun was too bright for taking pictures, but even so I had to note these trellised olive trees that intrigued us as we drove across the Central Valley.
Renée wanted to help me weed my garden or whatever else would ease my grief and weariness. So we spent the next morning on the front yard, and the afternoon on the back yard. She was amazed at the difficulty of digging the taproot of a weed out of our clay soil, and amazed too that anything grows in this kind of dirt. We filled up the yard waste with pine needles, rockrose trimmings, wisteria vines and spent calla lilies. And she told me that one of my most hated weeds is Jack-in-the-Pulpit — but I don’t think so. Compare these pictures:
My weed is on the right, and Jack on the left.
Does anyone know what “mine” is? It looks like a lily of some sort… [Update: see in comments below for the full answer to my question. It’s an Italian Arum Lily.]
My last several days have been incredibly full and rich. In the wee hours of yesterday I woke to hear rain falling — in June in California! A special gift. It continued all morning and maybe contributed to the horrible traffic on the way to the airport, which made Renée almost miss her plane. When I came home and was eating my lunch I was surprised to nearly fall asleep in my tea; until then I hadn’t realized that so much talking instead of sleeping had taken such a toll that I could actually — and must — take a nap.
So I slept for most of the afternoon, and got up late today, and I think I could nap again! When I’m this tired I’m very susceptible to the floods of emotion that show me I am always on the verge of being a bit depressed. The liberty I have to pace myself is a great blessing.
Before my nap yesterday I’d read Albert’s blog post where he shared a “bit” from another blog, and even though the rain we had just experienced on our way to the airport was not cold and hard, the basic idea seems to fit how I quoted from this blog post:
Do what you can – because sometimes it is going to rain on your life and then you can only do what you can. And sometimes it is Cold hard rain. And sometimes it is on the day you had pegged to cut hay. And that is what we had yesterday. Wet, cold, hard rain. But the work went on – just in a different direction. We don’t need to save the world every day. Some days we just do what we can then take to the swing chairs when enough is done.
I do have a bench swing on the patio and I may use that this afternoon, after my nap. See ya later!