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.
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.
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
in the sheaves of pain
caught up aloft:
the sheaves of dead
men that are slain
now winnowed soft
on the floor of heaven;
of all the pain
here to us given;
falling as rain.
The highlight of our Thanksgiving season was a visit from Kate and family, including that baby I met back in January, who came from India this month for various family get-togethers and his baptism. Glory to God!
He and Kate and Tom did land first in Colorado to meet our newly relocated clan family, a few days after I’d come back here. So I wasn’t present when Raj encountered snow.
Two days after my return, my part of the state was inundated with smoke and ash from the Butte County Camp Fire far to the north, and the day of Raj’s baptism far to the south I was not physically present. My friend and I were here in what looked for a few days like a thrift store, organizing donations to the fire victims. Myriah did not lose her house, but she did certainly lose her home.
As soon as Myriah drove on to the disaster area with lots of sweaters and socks and new coats, the Glad Group began trickling in, starting with Pearl’s family from Wisconsin and San Diego, and continuing with Raj and his parents, then Pippin’s people from northern California. Everyone wanted to meet Raj! And of course, to see his parents whom they’d been missing for a year and a half.
Until Wednesday, the smoky and cold air had continued to hang over our county oppressively. Then RAIN, glorious and cleansing, fell from the skies, and overnight the Air Quality Index fell from the 160’s (similar to what I experienced in Mumbai last winter) to below 20. All day Pearl and I baked pies, and yams in orange sauce, and prepped the turkey dressing. With the rain came milder temperatures overall, so we had to leave the door and windows open at times to vent all the oven and stovetop heat, and for two days we had the comforting background music of steady pattering and drumming. Pearl took lambs’ ears and dodonea from my garden to add to spider mums from Costco and created table decorations for the feast.
I had braved the smoke one day, wanting so much to get Pippin apples for pies, and drove a half hour to our favorite apple ranch where they still had stock of four varieties. I brought home Pippins, Romes, and Pink Ladies. It is still a sadly nostalgic thing for me to go there alone, but I am trying to embrace the joy of having such a rare and wonderful farm to go to, where I can find two or three dozen different varieties of apples over the course of the season. It makes me want to embrace and cherish apples more actively, too!
I looked and looked online to find a recipe for pumpkin-chocolate-chip muffins, the hankering for which had come over me when thinking of how to get ready for my crowd. I discovered just in time that I had my own “best” recipe right here on my blog. It made a generous batch, enough for everyone to enjoy while waiting for the primary offerings of the feast.
When the rain stopped briefly we looked at the newly-washed and radiant garden, and breathed in those scents that are like an autumn feast in themselves. A whole flock of bluebirds visited the fountain for baths and we wondered if they were washing off soot. My fava beans that sprouted when I was in Colorado are doing great. I cut a butternut squash down from the trellis to roast for soup, and Ivy found giant fruits on the arbutus (Strawberry Tree).
After everyone had arrived, the “usual” fun began. This time, I think the unique circumstances of my recent sojourn in Colorado, followed by the fire and smoke, followed by the rain that kept me from walking, all contributed to lack of sleep, so that I felt alternately flat and in a hole — maybe in a flat-bottomed hole? — for days. But I did manage to take a few pictures, so now in recovery I have the vision to see them as a cohesive expression of a moment in our Glad cultural history.
The Usual included wrestling and snuggling and staying-up-too-late-talking with brothers, daughters, aunts and uncles, and all the assorted kinfolk that one only sees once or twice a year anymore. Oh, it is hard being scattered over the continent and globe!
I didn’t have it in me to go with everyone to San Francisco, the aquarium etc. at the Academy of Sciences on Saturday, and to Fort Point, so the smiling picture of Raj I also stole. But Sunday after church Kate’s and Pippin’s families and I did go to the redwoods! It was a dreamy time to go, almost winter and after several steady downpours had removed every trace of dust from the big trees, and both Pippin and the Professor helped me in my ongoing botanical studies.
I learned that the lichens that hang from the trees like tresses are lichen fruticose, and that the needles in the tops of the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) resemble those of their cousins the giant redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that grow naturally in the Sierra Nevada. Big leaf maple and hazelnut trees made splashes of light and color in the groves that were dark in midday, the close canopy blocking the light from way up there. We made little impact on the deep quiet of the woods, strolling on the duffy paths — but that atmosphere was broken by a big crash and boom, the sound of a tree falling somewhere in the park. If everything hadn’t been thoroughly wet, we’d surely have seen some dust raised by that event.
When Raj was carried into my house last week and met the third or fourth new crowd of relatives in a fortnight, he did respond to my face and voice with a sweet smile. Perhaps the FaceTime sessions truly did help him to remember my voice, adding to whatever deeper memories were embedded from those newborn lullaby sessions with me nine months ago.
Now Pearl’s and Pippin’s families have departed, but Tom, Kate, and Baby Raj will be with me for a few more special days. A good rest and a forest walk have perked me up quite a bit, so I have hope of making the most of the rest of this week and entering into the joyful work and celebrations ahead.
I will close with a few lines [surprised to see that out of all the many stanzas we used, I chose the same lines three years ago to share here] from the “Akathist of Thanksgiving” that we read together on Thanksgiving evening, and which express my mood right now:
I was born a weak, defenseless child,
but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me.
From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path,
and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity;
from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence
have been marvelously showered upon me.
I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee,
who call upon Thy name.
Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise.
We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue,
where in the azure heights the birds are singing.
We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest
and the melodious music of the streams.
We have tasted fruit of vine and the sweet-scented honey.
We can live very well on Thine earth.
It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.
I’m home again! I was so busy the last week of my stay with Soldier and Joy’s family, I didn’t finish my story of the Most Fun Day in Colorado: It was the snowy weather I’d mentioned was on the forecast, and I didn’t expect the quantity of snow that fell in the night. In the morning before the children were up I went out and took some pictures of the wonderland.
When the boys got on their unfamiliar jackets, snow boots and gloves, they began their happy discoveries. Brodie is only 2 1/2 and he was cautious. His brothers were kind and patient introducing them to the white stuff that they had just begun to explore themselves.
I went out to play with them, and it was such a joy. I also had my waterproof boots, and my down jacket. My gloves seemed to be waterproof. I showed them how to make snowballs and gave them permission to throw them at me! That they loved most to do, all three of the little cubs whom I’d been telling for two weeks that I so appreciated their affection, but they should not show it by pushing, pinching, or whacking Grandma as they passed by (their natural way with each other). Their parents and I tried to teach them to be gentle. Suddenly it was okay to pelt me with balls of cold fluff. We laughed and ran around and eventually built a snowman, and when I went indoors the older boys made a snow house.
A few of us went on another walk in Fox Run Regional Park and came across two teepees made of logs. Another group drove all the way to Boulder to the Celestial Seasonings factory and headquarters but that outing didn’t turn out quite as expected and I only got one picture, of the little room modeled after the Sleepytime tea box, featuring two of the boys instead of the sleepy bear.
One of the things I loved about being in Colorado Springs was attending Sts. Constantine and Helen/Holy Theophany Church. It felt a lot like home. The walls are crowded with icon murals, making it ideal for walking around and greeting all the many saints who are surrounding the worshipers like a cloud of witnesses. The first week I attended I went back into the building after the agape meal to take pictures. I look forward to visiting again whenever I travel to see my family who are hoping to settle there for a good while, God willing.
Today I flew home. It is such a short “hop” compared to what I’ve been doing the last many years; I arrived at midday, when the house was cold and the garden warm. I’d been thinking of my garden the last three weeks, when checking the weather report, and even into November there have been days over 80 degrees. I wondered if the pineapple guavas might even ripen this year — and they did!! At least, ten of them had doubled in size since I left, and dropped on the ground, and I ate one. It was ripe indeed, and scrumptious.
Lots of the dwarf pomegranate fruits have grown to be larger and redder, but still their dwarfish selves. The figs have continued to ripen, and olives to get color. The sunflowers finished drying up, but the irises and abutilon have not slowed down one bit! I turned on the fountain and marveled at my space. I am as happy as a hummingbird whose feeder has just been filled to the brim.