Category Archives: trees

Savoring the togetherness.

Deer on a coastal rock.

I hope you have people to love, and those who love you. Every conversation with a neighbor or hug from a grandchild feels more precious to me as the days go by; before November winds all the way down I want to share a few scenes and moments that have been to me infusions of grace and joy in the midst of “interesting times” in the world.

It was almost a month ago that my neighbor Kim had a dinner party for several couples and one widow (yours truly) on our block. It was a very restorative and healing time, I think for all of us. Several of these people I had hardly seen for two years, though they live just a few doors down. Half of them had known my late husband.

After we were seated around a long dining table, our host gave a surprising toast to “The first of many more post-covid neighborhood parties!” All cups were raised, and the general tone of the ensuing comments, and the whole evening, was of holding on to our humanity and neighborliness as much as possible, no matter what comes. No one went home early that night; we sat around the gas firepit, or stood in the kitchen, chatting and sipping and savoring the togetherness, acting out the toast for a few blessed hours.

Closer to Thanksgiving, I returned to the beach with a former housemate who accompanied me three years ago just before she moved to New York. Our time there was refreshing and sweet; instead of the scores of seals we’d seen that time, gulls by the hundreds were swooping and gliding back and forth where a river empties into the sea.

We watched them, and the waves, while sitting on a log. When it was time to go, we climbed up a sand dune and tromped back to the parking lot, weaving through clumps of grass in our bare feet.

A few days later, who should arrive but my dear daughter Pippin and her family. They came in stages; when only three of them had got here, we went for a walk in the hills. It was the first time I’d been with Pippin in that particular park since the day Jamie was born, lo these many years ago, the  day after my husband’s funeral. So Jamie had been along, too, and maybe the jostling of that walk in springtime had prompted him to start his journey into the outer world.

This day, he was climbing trees with Ivy. First they climbed a Valley Oak, then a Buckeye (horse chestnut), and finally a Bay (Laurel) tree. Pippin joined them up in the bay.

We noticed many little trees and shrubs that were fenced in by wire cylinders, presumably against nibbling by deer. From a sign, here is a list of species that have been planted in the last ten years:

Later we worked on pies for our feast, and the children had the idea of making gluten-free pie-crust cookies for Uncle Steve, for whose sake Pippin was making such a dough for a pumpkin pie. I assembled the fourth version of my famous Grapefruit Gelatin Salad, which after ten years I am still refining to accommodate the changing ingredients available in the stores, and the loss of my favorite, odd-sized dish I always used for it. I’ll pass the recipe along when I fix it so that it fits in one 9×12 pan.

Our long weekend was very full, starting with Divine Liturgy on Thanksgiving morning, and including two (food) feasts, the little hike; and a busy afternoon, when Pippin and the Professor helped me to sort through old camping equipment, put hardware cloth over my planter boxes where the birds have been pecking, and hang fairy lights in the living room.

This little report covers only a small fraction of the loving friends and family who have made me feel the solace of God and the blessedness of the world. I reconnected with old friends and drank tea with many others. It has been a good month in important ways. May God keep our hearts during the next one and bring us with joy to the Feast of the Nativity of Christ.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” I John 4

It is hard to hear.

THE REGION NOVEMBER

It is hard to hear the north wind again,
And to watch the treetops, as they sway.

They sway, deeply and loudly, in an effort,
So much less than feeling, so much less than speech,

Saying and saying, the way things say
On the level of that which is not yet knowledge:

A revelation not yet intended.
It is like a critic of God, the world

And human nature, pensively seated
On the waste throne of his own wilderness.

Deeplier, deeplier, loudlier, loudlier,
The trees are swaying, swaying, swaying.

-Wallace Stevens

Dome, stars and fire.

As a group, we are trying to do All The Mountain Things.

The brothers have fished in the lake several times, off the shore and from the canoe, which my sister and her husband had been kind enough to take down to the lake for us before we arrived. “To the lake,” in a drought year like this, means that one has to unlock the canoe from a tree at the level of the lake at its fullest, and carry it about 75 yards across the lake bed to a place where you can put it in the water. They paddled a total of five miles one afternoon and evening in the process and caught two little trout, which they shared at breakfast the next morning.

All the kids swam in the lake, and the girls floated around in tubes. All five young people slept on the deck one or two nights, and looked at the stars, and woke  to the hummingbirds’ loud zipping overhead.

Our first morning here, people immediately began discussing the granite domes we can see from the cabin, ringing the lake. Which one should they climb first? Where was the trailhead? I told them they must do the quick and easy Gumdrop Dome right behind the cabin, too close to see. Yesterday morning the five young hikers and I started off together in that direction, so I could show them the usual route up. I haven’t tackled it myself in at least ten years, but I like to walk around its base, which is high enough to give a good view.

The little clump of trees just to the right of center of the photo below is what becomes Ant Island when the water level is higher.

This was my first time to see a backpackers’ campsite. That was a cheery sight, unlike the more numerous saddening ones: the many trees up there that have been familiar features of my previous visits and have appeared in my photos over and over, now dead. One of them was what I sketched, that one time I exhausted my mind trying that art form.

In that post I also mentioned the little bent-over tree that I loved. It, too, is dead now:

Normally when I’m framing photos in the Sierras, I try to exclude dead trees, but that is no longer possible. I’m sure Mrs. Bread will recall our philosophical discussion while sitting on the deck one summer, as to the value and possible beauty of creation in the process of decomposition. At the time I think I was unwilling to exert myself in that mental exercise. Even now I am having a hard time with it!

After dinner last night, which four young people cooked — barbecued tri-tip, fried potatoes, sauteed vegetables, baked beans and chocolate chip cookies — an even larger group of us carted  supplies down to the dry lake bed to have a fire and make s’mores. Roger and Izzy did most of the work, and left Lora with her Granddad back at the cabin. Pearl and I came last to the scene, tromping through the bushes and gravel straight down the hill instead of by the road, when Roger was just setting a match to the kindling.

Venus was the first bright light in the sky. We all craned our necks searching the sky for constellations that were brighter every time we looked up. Philosopher made a s’more just for me, my first in decades, I’m sure.

Today Pearl went off in the canoe with Roger and Izzy to cross the lake and get nearer to the base of another dome, which they would climb. I’m eager for them to get back with pictures showing our Gumdrop Dome from that side of the lake. I feel richly blessed by every outing and conquest that each of my family has been making here, even the ones in which I personally am not directly participating. I guess it’s one of those benefits of producing and being with a large and busy family, that I can in this way continue to do (almost) All The Things.

The forests are apparently enjoying it.

“As for the fascination of rain for the water drinker, it is a fact the neglect of which I simply cannot comprehend. The enthusiastic water drinker must regard a rainstorm as a sort of universal banquet and debauch of his own favourite beverage.

“Think of the imaginative intoxication of the wine drinker if the crimson clouds sent down claret or the golden clouds hock. Paint upon primitive darkness some such scenes of apocalypse, towering and gorgeous skyscapes in which champagne falls like fire from heaven or the dark skies grow purple and tawny with the terrible colours of port.

“All this must the wild abstainer feel, as he rolls in the long soaking grass, kicks his ecstatic heels to heaven, and listens to the roaring rain. It is he, the water drinker, who ought to be the true bacchanal of the forests; for all the forests are drinking water. Moreover, the forests are apparently enjoying it: the trees rave and reel to and fro like drunken giants; they clash boughs as revellers clash cups; they roar undying thirst and howl the health of the world.”

-G.K. Chesterton, “The Romantic in the Rain,” from A Miscellany of Men