Last week I made a quick trip up north to be with granddaughter Ivy on her eighth birthday. At first I thought I would be driving out of our newly cleared and clean spaces into the smoke again, but the skies turned blue there, too.
…Until the evening before I came home, when we went to a lake and it was a little smoky again. But we pretended it was from campfires.
I taught Jamie how to use a needle and thread, and Ivy the blanket stitch. They were very intent on their work and did not want to stop even when Grandma had to go on to other business. I can understand; it really is fun to make lines and designs in different pretty colors while you chat with fellow stitchers.
I gave Ivy her Aunt Kate’s childhood sewing basket which we sorted and organized together; from we don’t know where Kate had acquired many little wooden spools of bright silk thread, the colors of which Ivy began to name on the spot: Cold as Steel, Easter Egg, Pumpkin Pie, Red Osier (which I learned is a species of dogwood), Gold Mine… and many more. I didn’t want to stop sewing myself to write them down. Those silks turned out to be tangly and not very strong, so they were abandoned in favor of the modern spools and adequate colors.
The last morning, minutes before my departure, I visited Pippin’s always fascinating garden that is mostly behind a tall deer fence. The zinnias are outside, because the deer don’t always eat them. But the dahlias must be inside, because the deer would always eat them.
Tired of fighting aphids and rats who attack my vegetables, and inspired by this celebration of a showy species, I began to think of growing some in my planter boxes next spring. Keith H, above, and Nicholas, below, particularly captured my heart. I used to grow some gorgeous dahlias here, but didn’t really have adequate space in the previous setting, and eventually gave them away.
It only took a little bit of reading about dahlia culture to make me realize that I don’t need another project. No, a much nicer plan is to take the easy and fun route, which is Highway 5 all the way to Pippin’s every fall, where if I time it right I might take in a birthday or two and a dreamy visit with her beautiful garden.
“I wish you many years — but not for them to be too happy, because happiness in the world isn’t really so healthy. When a man is too happy inthis world, he forgets God and forgets death.”
— Elder Paisios
It is customary in the Orthodox Church to wish people “Many years!” or to sing the whole hymn, “God grant you many years…” (x3 of course) on any happy occasion such as an anniversary or birthday. Three birthdays of my children and grandchildren are coming up this week and next, so the quote is timely.
In the last ten days Soldier’s family and I did not think much about death, we were so happy together. Still, we didn’t forget God for long periods, because we know to Whom to be thankful. The children and their liveliness was the focus of our attention. When fear grips our hearts over what deathliness they will have to encounter in the future, we try to pray….
They departed yesterday, and I don’t know when I’ll see them again. Kate and Tom are in Panama, very securely quarantined there for their jobs, I’m afraid. I see their family on FaceTime. I don’t plan to visit Pearl in Wisconsin in the next months, because I already went there in fall and winter, and would like to experience that part of the country in a different season next time.
Pathfinder is in the middle of smoke; no one would want to go there unnecessarily. It’s kinda smoky where Pippin is, too, but I hope to go next week anyway, to be with Ivy for her birthday; I missed it last year.
Pippin brought her three down last weekend to see their cousins.
The kids gathered around the Lego bin right away.
We went to the beach again,
a different one with lots of marine plants to identify.
The sky was not orange that time.
One of those nights at bedtime Ivy asked me to fasten her nightgown in the back — the one I originally made for Aunt Kate decades ago — but only one of the three buttons could reach its buttonhole. Next morning we agreed that I would sew her a new nightgown, and we sat browsing flannel prints at my desktop; she started with the idea of a pink flowered nightie, but when she saw the cats, she changed her mind. I ordered the cat fabric.
“The Socialist saw plainly the rights of the Society; the Anarchist saw the rights of the Individual. How therefore were these
— Robert Hugh Benson
Liam found a California Sister butterfly (some might know it as “Arizona Sister”!) and when Ivy said, “Can I have it?” he let it crawl onto her hand.
“One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the marketplace. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happytoo, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.”
— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Also while six grandchildren were on the premises, four of them helped Soldier to stack a cord of oak firewood. I had on hand children’s gloves for such a time as this. Even four-year-old Brodie was a willing worker who did not tire easily; he lugged logs for quite a while before he even interrupted his flow to put shoes on.
My son shopped all over town with me, considering which wood stove I should buy to replace my current one that is dying. It was so helpful to have help in choosing such a big item. It’s scheduled to be installed before winter.
“The family is the test of freedom;
because the family is the only thing that the free man makes
for himself and by himself.”
— G.K. Chesterton
Recently I got the bright idea to do as my grandfather had done when I was in my teens: Once when we were visiting him he told us four children, of whom I was the oldest, that we might take home and keep any four books from his vast shelves. I still own my four books. My own shelves are loaded with titles that I know my grandchildren of various ages would enjoy, but they aren’t ever around long enough to think of perusing the shelves.
So I told them the same this week, Please take as many as four books home with you. Two immediately wanted Socks for Supper.
The younger children who aren’t fluent readers needed some help to choose books that they didn’t already have at home, but in the end everyone took at least one. No one took four, which was interesting; maybe they aren’t developing their grandmother’s book gluttony. Does it surprise you that I just ordered replacements for two of the books they took?
Scout carried off dog stories by Albert Payson Terhune, and a cookbook. Liam took Finn Family Moomintroll, Rockinghorse Secret, and The Five Sisters, which I recently bought but hadn’t read. Laddie settled on The Pig in the Spigot, even though the illustrations are weird, we all agree.
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” -C.S. Lewis
One of the last jobs we worked on together was dehydrating a few of the apples that we’d bought at the farm. I cored them, two boys sliced, and one arranged the slices on the trays. The fruit dried all through the night and the rings were packed into bags to take on their journey home. Good-bye! Good-bye! and Godspeed!
“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye
and put miles between you,
but at the same time you carry them with you
in your heart, your mind, your stomach,
because you do not just live in a world
but a world lives in you.”
Soldier’s family and I are having such a good time, I think most of us forget for long periods about the pervasive fires and the smoky skies. My dear people arrived four days ago, and we’ve been as busy as beavers ever since. The boys are much louder than beavers. There’s something about three boys arriving in a family in less than six years that creates a force field of extra decibels and energy output. I have no doubt that in the balance the constructive energies are increasing!
The first day we did the creek walk, and tasted fennel in all stages of its growth, from the newest fronds to the early seeds. The boys learned about Queen Anne’s spot of blood, and how horsetails break so satisfyingly clean at their joints. I learned the name of a new plant, White Sweetclover.
For two days we did lots of chores in the garden and around the house.
My playhouse has been lovingly fortified by Soldier since I got it used five years ago; back then he put a floor on it and placed it on a foundation he’d made. He sealed it against the rain, and repaired the door when it was falling apart. This week he recreated the little decoration above the door, that used to have red plastic matching the roof. Now it has red wood shingles matching the new roof, and I don’t think there is any remaining plastic that can peel and get brittle and break. If ashes weren’t falling in the back yard I’m sure little Clara would be playing house.
Liam picked many figs that were hard for me to get to, because it’s easy for him to wriggle among the hedges of yarrow and oregano, into the tangle of fig branches, to find the fruits that are drooping and black. Often they have a bird peck taken out of them, so we cut that part off and eat the rest. He and Laddie helped me deadhead the echinacea and one remaining lavender.
The third day, off to the beach! It was an exploratory mission; we couldn’t know for sure from the air quality apps if it would be worse than inland, but we hoped not, and when we got out of the car it was comfortable enough to breathe, so we stayed all afternoon. It was Clara’s first beach experience. She was game for everything.
The boys used all their mental and physical powers in sport with the surf. I who was never much am an athlete am awed by the quick reflexes of one, and the way another takes on the waves as a sort of whole-body interactive science project, learning how to work with the crashing and pushing and keep his balance.
Joy found a sea plant washed up and called to Brodie, “Here’s a rope!” He came running and gathered it up, flung it out, dragged it all over.
Soldier made a castle and hours later we waited for the waves to slowly encroach. The shorebirds entertained us, digging with their bills that were nearly as long as their stilty legs. At home later, Soldier and I with the help of Cornell’s allaboutbirds.com identified them as Marbled Godwits.
Two things hard to understand: How late it was, when we started home. Maybe the sunlight’s never changing all day confused our inner clocks. The other strange thing was the color of our pictures when we looked at them later.
I’m reading to the boys Along Came a Dog by Meindert DeJong. It has ten chapters, so I told them that we should try to read two chapters at each sitting, so as to guarantee that we finish in the nine days they will be here, since we can’t read every day. Today we finished the sixth chapter, and in the middle of the session they started playing with Legos while they listened, and building figures to represent the main characters in the story.
The story starts with the man, a flock of white chickens, and the little red hen. He drives off to work every day. And then, along comes a big black dog — that he doesn’t want. I would like to give you more of a review of the book and tell you about our intense engagement with the story, and the things we talk about. But I am way too tired to do that right now, and I must rest and store up strength, and be ready to meet the force field tomorrow morning. Good night!
Above is a photo I found online, taken by a passenger on his flight over the Sierra Nevada, and showing a smoke cloud billowed up from the Big Creek Incident in the Sierra National Forest, which as I write is not two days old, and is 0% contained. Yesterday it grew from 5,000 to 36,000 acres, and necessitated the airlifting of more than 200 campers by the National Guard. Many campgrounds, lakes and residences in these mountains have only one real road going in, and if fire blocks that, you are stuck.
None of these photos are my own, of course. In the satellite images below, you can see San Francisco Bay on the left, and the smoke spreading across the state line into Nevada. The lower photo shows more fires over more of the state. (Let me draw your attention also, again, to how much of the state lies north of San Francisco.)
I might not have paid much attention to this particular fire except that it has abruptly changed my plans for this week. The fire itself isn’t threatening the area where my family’s high mountain cabin is, but the road we take branches off another road that has been closed by the highway department, several miles below our road in. So… we won’t be going up after all. But God willing, I will still be seeing Soldier’s family down here, and it will be good.
The indecision of yesterday has left me mentally and emotionally exhausted all out of proportion to my own situation, so that I can hardly compose a thought or a sentence, but I wanted to give an update. ❤