Category Archives: friends

Cinders, saints, and a pillow.

Before I returned home from my travels,
a little rain had washed the ashes off much of my garden.

lemon balm with echeveria (hens & chicks)

I had turned off the fountain before my departure, and the rainwater that was left in the bowl had cinders at the bottom. It occurred to me that they might be bits of my goddaughter’s house that burned to the ground and released some of itself into the wind during the incineration.

Thank God, almost all of the northern California fires are contained. We no longer have smoke burning our eyes and lungs, and roads and neighborhoods have opened up daily, but thousands of people lost their homes and/or jobs and businesses and many are still looking for a place to live.

When we talk to our friends or even strangers, we start by finding out how they were affected. Everyone has stories of that morning of October 9th, and every day still I think of someone new that I need to check on with an email or text message.

 

dwarf pomegranate fruit

 

 

In the whole of California, a thousand firefighters are still on task, and at the peak of the season 11,000 were fighting. They came from as far away as New York, Florida and Australia, bless their souls. We’ve had 6400 fires in the state this season, which burned 556,000 acres, much more than last year.

But my neighborhood did not burn, and I haven’t seen the destruction close-up yet. I’m walking my creek paths as before.

I’ve also jumped back into parish life:

Last weekend I cooked our Sunday Agape Meal for 100 people. You might remember that I did this twice before as a memorial for my husband; this time it was not for any special occasion. It consisted of 10 gallons of meaty chili with lots of vegetables, served over squares of creamy polenta, with tossed green salad on the side; sour cream and fresh cilantro for garnish.

I had a few helpers to do prep work for me on Saturday, and a few others to help me serve Sunday after the service. This combination was a hit, so maybe I will do it again. Each time I’ve cooked like this has been a little easier, so maybe I can start doing it more often.

Sunday evening we held a Celebration of the Saints party for which children could dress up and tell the stories of the saint they were representing. We had crafts and a soup dinner and it was so low-key and relaxing, with none of the hype and over-stimulation that always makes me wince on behalf of the little ones. I was privileged to help a little boy named Marcus work out his idea for a needle-felted pumpkin with fried-egg eyes that morphed into even thicker stars.

When we communion bread bakers showed up for duty on Tuesday morning we soon realized it was the feast day of our patron saints! Saints Spryidon and Nikodim are communion bread bakers from way back who watch over our baking from their icon each week, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the honor of baking prosphora, the bread of offering, on their day. It was very special, and we arranged an informal photo-shoot for the occasion.

Icons and saints graced my day today, also, thanks to my housemate Kit. I think I told you she is moving back to Oregon from where she came two years ago to live with me and be a blessing. Before she takes her final load of stuff north in a few days she wanted to visit San Francisco once more, and invited me.

St. John

We visited Holy Virgin Cathedral and the relics of St. John Maximovitch, and also walked to the chapel and house where he lived, where one can sit in a little room with the icons and desk and chair that were his own, where he prayed. That my young friend and I could share this last holy experience together is just one more cord that binds us in the Holy Spirit.

We enjoyed just being in the city and not trying to accomplish too much. Visited the Wells Fargo History Museum which is wonderfully free and fascinating. Craned our necks to see the sky when walking downtown; and ate dim sum for the first time, with exquisite fried mochi sesame buns.

Driving in traffic to and in San Francisco is normally a trial, but today’s outing was relaxing and soul-nourishing. I drove and Kit navigated, and we were compatible sight-seers in every way. The next week will be just as busy as the last one has been, so I’ll be glad to sleep soon on the pillow of peace.

I eat bread and take naps.

Last week I took a nap three days in a row, something I’m sure I hadn’t done since I was three years old! What it was about my condition or the environment that facilitated that, I am still pondering….

I’d flown from my daughter’s new home in Wisconsin to Tucson, Arizona, to visit friends Martin and Mabel. Those are nicknames, of course. If I didn’t care about preserving their privacy I’d use their real names, which are more beautiful and carry for me some of the flavor of who they are. These people are dear to me because of what we have shared over several decades: joys and sorrows and homeschooling, food and gardens, chickens and laughing and lots of babies. And over all and in all, the love of God.

Mabel confessed to me once that she just wanted “to make bread and babies,” and I always wished I had thought to say that first. But no one could hope to match her turns of phrase, songs that spring up from her good heart ready to bless and teach, and her amazing metaphors. On this visit she described Martin and herself as being a heavy stone on the end of a string, keeping a helium balloon with a happy face on it from floating away. I don’t remember who was symbolized by the balloon (It wasn’t me!)

The temperature was mostly in the 80’s while I was there, maybe the low 90’s, but as their house is about 2500′ elevation and the desert air is so dry, I never felt uncomfortably warm. Their spirit was peaceful, no air conditioning spoiled the mild October atmosphere, Mabel and Martin both cooked healthy food for me, and the bed was firm. I took the cure.

We talked and talked, drank tea, and walked a little  –  then I strolled alone Sunday morning in the cool air, and admired the mesquite trees, ocotillos, purple cactuses and palo verde trees. I attended Divine Liturgy at the elegant and evidently new Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church.

Mabel has not stopped making bread, and she fed me two kinds — first a hearty no-knead oatmeal stout bread baked during my visit. Then sourdough rye from a Tassajara Bread Book recipe; she sliced a good portion of that loaf into a ziploc for me to take on my journey home. I can’t remember ever eating anything like that bread, each fat slice sustaining enough to the body and soul that a single one would have done for a meal — but orange zest, caraway and other seeds combined in a flavor whirl that made me unwilling to wait for the next meal to have that experience again.

I think God knew that it would be hard to come back home where the fires were still burning, to a ravaged land full of sad stories, so He provided these friends to remind me of and lavish on me His everlasting Love, to shore me up beforehand. And He surprised me with naps!

I hadn’t cracked open my own copy of the Tassajara Bread Book in a very long time — my book that I bought because of Mabel in the first place. But I came home determined to revive once again my old sourdough habits, at least long enough to bake up a batch of that Sourdough Rye. It’s not as easy to turn out a homey metaphor or proverb that pleases, or to make pizza dough like Martin does, but I guess that just means I’ll have to visit again soon.

 

 

From the disaster zone…

Smoke thickened after I took this photo and is worse today.

I live in the area where high winds whipped up 60 different fires in a few hours early Monday (yesterday) morning. My neighborhood was on alert to evacuate, but that never became necessary. In this part of Northern California just north of San Francisco Bay, scores of my friends are among the 20,000 people who have been evacuated, and the homes of at least two families dear to me have burned to the ground.

Many hundreds of structures were destroyed yesterday, but fires are still burning and uncontained and it’s impossible to know at this point what the full extent of the damage will be, or how many lives will have been lost. Though we are all in shock at the speed and extent of this destruction all around us, everyone I know is thankful for the love and support, and continued existence, of their friends and family. I wanted you all to know that I am okay.

experiences of sand

A couple of weeks before my birthday, which is today, Mrs. C proposed a trip to the North Coast for a walk on the beach, which we planned to do yesterday. A week ago we noticed that rain was on the forecast all the way to the coast, so we thought we might end up taking a sedentary drive, and eat crab on the way.

We met at her house, where across the road I found sourgrass – Oxalis pes-caprae – in abundance. I didn’t know until I looked up the botanical name just now that it is considered a noxious weed around here. Its bright color drenched with rain made it reflect all the midday light.

 

Mrs. C has peach blossoms by her deck. I’m glad she is the kind of friend who doesn’t mind slowing down while I take pictures of everything. Well, not quite everything.

You can see from these photos how the sky was white or gray with clouds. We had our umbrellas with us when we set out.

After we enjoyed our little lunch, sitting in her truck on a bluff overlooking the ocean, we walked down to Schoolhouse Beach, not even bringing our umbrellas, because there was no sign of rain. I know God held the rain off because He wanted me to have a birthday walk on the sand. 🙂

 

And not just a walk, but a look at the sand. We sat on rocks and sifted through the sand that on this particular beach is very gravelly. No grain of sand was too small to hold separately in our fingers. Here is a close-up:

Remember when last month I saw the sand display in Pacific Grove? Soon afterward I did buy some small bottles in hopes of filling them with sand from my explorations. I managed to have two with me, and I collected the first sample at this beach. It even contained a piece of beach glass.

You might notice in that photo above the blue sky in the background. For much of the afternoon we were under a clear and blue ceiling, though we could see fog banks and clouds moving in on three sides of us.

Mrs. C didn’t bring a camera or a bottle, but she made her own collection of some of the larger pebbles.

This beach is dangerous for swimming, as are many on California’s North Coast. It has a sharp drop-off that I think is somehow connected to the frequency of “sleeper” or rogue waves, plus undercurrents that are hard to escape from.  Just last month a woman was swept off a rock here and drowned.

After a while we drove five minutes south to Salmon Creek Beach where the sand was more like sand. The fog and clouds had covered the sun, and the sea gulls were lined up facing the wind. Those birds must have known that we had no food, because they ignored us on both beaches.

We walked even more along here, after I scooped up “plain” sand into my second bottle. Iceplant and sourgrass and other flowers I don’t know are starting to bloom. This one I haven’t been able to identify so far:

It was growing on the edges of a lagoon that has been receding. Salmon  Creek flows through the lagoon on its way to the sea, making always-new carvings through the sand. This was our last view as we reluctantly made our way up the cliff and left the wide views behind us.

It had been a lovely gift of a day. Within a minute of my leaving Mrs.  C’s house, thundershowers began, and I drove through ten or fifteen of them before I got home.

 

I need to put a couple of empty bottles in my bags right now while I’m thinking of it, and start planning my next adventure so as to include sand. 🙂