Category Archives: family

With the cows on a winter day.

A cup of tea with Farmer Betty, that was all that Pippin asked for. Instead, five of us drank cups of the freshest milk at the close of a dairy-rich afternoon.

Nearly twenty years ago (we all pinch ourselves here to be sure this is real) Pippin worked on this dairy for a summer, and the intimate and intense dailiness on her part joined with the great hearts of all three current generations of the farmers to create a bond with our whole family.

Betty gave us a very hands-on tour and let the children help bring the cows into the barn for milking, carry dry feed and milk to heifers and calves, pet the cows who were okay with that, and peer into the giant tank to watch milk come straight from the milking machines through a cooling device.

This farm is not too far from the ocean, and when rains are heavy the tides affect the creeks on the property. The pasture was flooded only a few days previous, so we definitely needed our mud boots. Everyone except me had rubber muck boots, but my solid Vasque hikers worked well, and were easily sprayed off before we entered the milking parlor. All the kids enjoyed testing the feel of their boots in the varying muckiness of the terrain.

I liked the cow dog Lady, who looked just like a pet we had when I was a teenager; she liked to snuggle up to me. We heard from the other family farmers that she is affectionate with them, but only responds to Farmer Betty’s commands as to herding the cows.

Unlike the milk that the calves drank from buckets and bottle, what we got in cups had already been brought to a cool temperature; it wouldn’t be further processed until it reached the creamery. I hadn’t drunk raw milk in many years and it tasted pure and wholesome. Betty asked the children if they could taste alfalfa, or clover maybe? Or floodwaters? 😉

These farmers can still remember the old days when the milk warm from the cows would flow over exposed metal pipes containing freon, for quick cooling. When everyone went to fully contained conduits for more sanitary transport, the taste of the milk changed because it was not ever allowed to “breathe.”

I was soaking up the whole delicious atmosphere of the place; it will likely be a long time before I experience a milking parlor, with its aromatic mix of disinfectant and sweet milk, or a pasture wet with spring grass and manure. The air was chill, and our feet numb in the wintry mud. As we were getting in the car to go home Lady was still at the ready, and over the cow barns a full moon was rising.

Bay views and scramblers.

When the fields and playgrounds are swampy from all the rain, what better place to go than up, up to the hills of North Berkeley where all those boulders are so perfectly and naturally arranged for scrambling fun?

Pippin’s family was down for the weekend, partly as a belated birthday getaway for her, an escape from the snow and cold to a slightly warmer part of the state. She suggested going to Indian Rock, which throughout her life she had heard about from me, but never visited.

It was the last day of showers for a while – only a few drops splashed on us midday, and we were able to explore three boulder-strewn parks in a three-block radius. We also looked at the house where the children’s great-great-grandmother had lived, in yesteryear when I used to play on these rocks, and take brisk walks through the neighborhoods with my Grandma. In those days I didn’t appreciate all the flowers and trees so much!

From two of those parks you can look west and see the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge at the same time. I’m only showing the Golden Gate in the photo below.

Here’s a map to help you get your bearings; Berkeley is in the “East Bay”:

In Mortar Rock Park we saw the evidence of primitive grinding — probably acorns — that gives it that name, and Ivy found the perfect tree for climbing when she plays her frequent leopard role. Not many other puddles were on the rocks, so we stayed nice and dry.

The family  had traveled most of the previous day just to get to my house, and this day we drove a lot more on our explorations. Near sunset we were passing by the uppermost link of the San Francisco Bay Trail; the Professor encouraged Pippin and me to get out while he waited in the car with the sleeping children. Scout woke up and joined us to walk at the top of San Pablo Bay. Along the bank orange flags marked a forestation project in process. We wondered what they have planted, but didn’t recognize the little seedlings. I held one as still as possible against the wind to take its picture in case I see that plant again.

The wind was fierce, and the waterfowl were mostly bedded down, but we liked getting the wide views, including a moon pretty much full round. We were pushed down the path by the wind at our backs, making it easy to walk almost too far that way. Returning against the current was more bracing, refreshing, exciting even — but invigorating is probably not the right word when you get back to the car as stiff as boards. We warmed up when we got home, and thought every part of the day had contributed to our contentment.

I reveal my best Christmas present ever.

My son “Pathfinder” was born very close to Christmas one year.

I don’t seem to have a photo of him on his first Christmas. Probably because he was crying most of the time. I didn’t have the good sense to stay home with a two-week-old baby; never thought twice about making our usual two-hour trip to the grandparents’ house to spend a couple of nights. He cried much through the days of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and his great-grandmother asked me again and again, “Why is he crying?” When I finally fell into the strange bed at night, I cried myself to sleep, too. Through the fault of no one, it was my Worst Christmas in the history of family celebrations.

Just two years later this boy can be seen enjoying the holiday with my father looking on, this time at his other great-grandmother’s house, and without a tear:

How few pictures I have of him as a baby, here on the computer. There was the crying, I suppose, which he did a lot of for six months, and then the fact that his older sister Pearl was still a baby herself, so we took many pictures of the two of them, as babies and always.

As a teen Pathfinder was a cyclist. For a while we let him park his bike right by the front door, I guess because the garage had no good leaning spot…? Anyway, I’m glad we did, because it became part of Christmas Past by being caught in this picture.

I’m sure I wouldn’t have featured him in a blog post if I weren’t thinking about anniversaries in December, like St. Nicholas last week. I don’t usually write about my children because their stories are their own now. But I surely like telling you about the gift of my firstborn son.

The seed of heaven on my face.

Having a baby in the house gets to feel perfectly, comfortingly normal after a week. Babies always keep me focused on the fundamental things, like laughing and kissing and playing lap games with a little person just starting out in the world.

The way they give their full attention to their work, whether it is a game of throwing a cork and chasing it, or eating breakfast, is inspiring. Their thoughts are not always wandering to the other work waiting to be done, or Does Johnny like me? and other such distractions.

Raj and his parents have returned to the other side of the globe. Our last few days, which were quieter after all the fun aunts and uncles and cousins had gone, provided more opportunity for the two of us to wander about the garden between showers, to examine sunflower seeds and olives and salvia flowers; and for Raj to eat peanut butter for the first and second times.

We all went to the coast and listened to the waves crashing on the sand, and felt the fresh and rain-softened air. This morning of Kate and Tom and Raj’s departure, I came to consciousness with the sound of rain lending an unusual clarity — and when it’s heavy enough to hear, that means it’s enough to really soak in and bless the earth. It’s the best way I know to wake up.

I’ve been wanting to post this poem, and now seems right, even though it is a somewhat melancholy reflection. The seeds of heaven the poet feels are a comforting connection to those he is separated from, and a distillation of pain into something so nourishing, only God could have accomplished it.

AUTUMN RAIN

The plane leaves
fall black and wet
on the lawn;

the cloud sheaves
in heaven’s fields set
droop and are drawn

in falling seeds of rain;
the seed of heaven
on my face

falling — I hear again
like echoes even
that softly pace

heaven’s muffled floor,
the winds that tread
out all the grain

of tears, the store
harvested
in the sheaves of pain

caught up aloft:
the sheaves of dead
men that are slain

now winnowed soft
on the floor of heaven;
manna invisible

of all the pain
here to us given;
finely divisible
falling as rain.

-D.H. Lawrence

Read about the poem here.