Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in the Mountains

At a Christmas fund-raiser in the state park

Camp Connell, CA - The sky is almost crystal blue today, not a cloud in sight and only a slight haze (from the wood-burning stove that keeps us warm) between us and a screen of bright green conifers.

Pat is somewhere in the back of the cabin, I suspect in a cleaning frenzy, and I am sitting by the picture windows doing as little as possible.
Christmas music is filling the room and the dog is carrying a tennis ball around out on the deck, dropping it into the snow then pouncing on it, perfectly happy to entertain himself. I could spend an hour watching him watching the ball, listening to a great version of "Silent Night" that includes the story of how it was written for a church service.
After a big snow the barbecue grill is hard to find!

The Advent season always seems like positive anticipation for us, and a time for looking back across the year and years to memories of friends and places and family.

Forty years ago we were living in Florida, and daughter Ruth was a tow-headed baby with a perpetual smile. I was reporting on the manned space program for Gannett Newspapers, and there was one year when we were so busy that we never finished decorating the tree. Just a few balls and no tinsel, and off to work.

We took a scuba diving course and I talked my way into writing assignments in the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas. Life was good then.

Friends from those years remain in our hearts today: Benton and Sandy Bingham, our first close neighbors and friends with whom we shared dogs, children, cars, hikes and joys and a few sorrows; Bob Bentley, my editor and friend through great newspaper opportunities, and battles; Burke and Beth Edwards, 20 years older than us but a couple that knew no barriers to friendship and who took us on our first sailing voyage to the Bahamas, and Pat's parents Bob and Florence Taylor, parents, friends and great grandparents.

Thirty years ago we moved to California, with Ruth and Zack and an old dog named Fang, finding a new life and new friends that blessed up for another twenty years. We were welcomed to the neighborhood, work, and church as if we belonged. And we did.
The Coley and Christie families brought us into their homes for holidays and shared
food and friendship. Zack grew up through baseball and soccer and Ruth went off to college.
C.K. McClatchy and Frank McCulloch and Erwin Potts treated me as a colleague at McClatchy Newspapers, gave me unstinting support, and were mentors and good examples of what a journalist could be. How many people can claim to have great honest bosses for a 20-year span?
Mark Vasche', Dave Cummerow, Ray Nish, Dick LeGrand, Rich Petersen, Susan Windemuth and many others at The Modesto Bee made coming to work a daily joy.
The people at Centenary United Methodist Church, particularly the Nelson family, helped us learn and grow and share, and provided a place or worship and celebration, and even backpacking.
We discovered Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, and began coming to Calaveras County to camp and ski and hike, finding a beautiful place that later became our home.
Life was good then.

Ten years ago we moved again, that time to Sacramento as empty-nesters, and a whole new world and group of colleagues and neighbors. I learned to spell "ombudsman," and even how to define it, had a chance to write again, and we learned the joys of living in a big city.
Our friends Michael and Sylvia rekindled our love for sailing and re-introduced us to the beautiful people of Mexico.
When I retired early we spent two years in Florida with Pat's dad, then came back to California to live in our mountains. Renewed friendships with the Grassmyers, new friends like Jeri and Gary, and the bonus that both our grown children and their children live with 20 miles.

We are surrounded by forests, which is a good reason for me to oppose clear-cutting, and the state park is a short distance away with roaring rivers, giant trees, wonderful employees and terrific volunteers.
Life is good now.
The dog, Rusty, loves the snow

Christmas Eve 2010 was a day between storms, snow is due Christmas day and a good time for quiet pondering. I had good intentions of going skiing today, but a good book trapped me late last night and I decided to sleep in and hang out instead. Maybe later we will go walk in the state park just down the road.

For now I just want to remember good friends, good times, and the blessings of Christmas.

So dear friends, named or not, you are all in my thoughts on this lovely Christmas Eve.

Alleluia indeed!Okay everybody sing real pretty!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Okay, we have had enough rain for a while

The "seasonal creek" runs through our property, but rarely this fast!

Camp Connell, Ca -- We were pretty happy when we had a long cool Spring, a mild summer and no forest fires within miles of where we live during the driest months of the year.
After several years of near-drought conditions it was a relief.
Fall was brief.
Snow started falling before Thanksgiving, and seemed as if it would not stop. We had six feet or so within two weeks, the ski resort opened early, and I managed two ski days without injury before Turkey Day.
Then the snow stopped at our elevation, we had a brief thaw, and then the rains came.
We lived a part of our lives in Florida so we are familiar with real rain, as opposed to what we normally get here in the mountains. Summer and Fall are dry here, while in Florida we could get four inches in an hour or so from one good summer thunderstorm. I think we lived here for several years before we even heard thunder.
In Florida you just pull off to the side of the road until it stops.
In California you wonder what the heck is going on.
The Winter of 2010-2011 is shaping up to be different in our mountains. It has been raining, really raining, for several days. Or weeks. I think I heard one of the TV guys say we are running about 150% of normal for snow pack before the normal heavy snow season begins. The rain must be three or four times normal for this time of year.
When you drive the roads of the Mother Lode country it looks like the Smokey Mountains, mist and fog and everything dripping wet. Beautiful, but very different from what we are used to.
We went by our daughter's home near Murphys today after church and Coyote Creek was out of its banks and into the road in large areas, around eight inches deep and getting deeper. All the gopher holes on their property were spouting water turned red by the mud. The gophers, presumably, have headed for higher ground.
My son Zack works at a ski resort at 7,000 feet and they have been shoveling for days to keep the place going. At that altitude it is almost all snow. They expect six to eight feet from this storm.
Here at our home at 5,000 feet it has rained and rained and rained. We've had 4 inches in the last two days, maybe a record. I suspect it will be ten inches or more from this storm by the end of the week.
The bridge to our neighbor's house is still above water, proof that FEMA was wrong and we are NOT in a flood zone.

The seasonal creek has gone ballistic, ripping down the hill below the house like white water rapids people pay to visit.
The wind has kicked up enough to bring down lots of limbs, and a tree or two We heard a big "boom" earlier but can't find out where it came from.
The latest series of storms to roar in off the Pacific came just as son Zack and Granddaughter Katie left to drive to Spokane Washington. At last report they are safe, but the first day of the trip was in pouring rain, and the last 300 miles or so have been in snow. They should arrive at Spokane tonight, where only two or three inches and cold temps are forecast.
They are fine, but as Zack said on the phone a while ago:"Thank God we are in the Subaru with snow tires." Lots of cars and trucks off on the side. (This is not a product placement advertisement: everyone here loves Subarus.)
Here the rain is still coming down as of 6 p.m. Sunday, but the temperature is dropping steadily. The expectation is that by 10 p.m. it will change to snow.
That figures, since I need to drive to the marina at San Francisco Bay to check on the boat, and it looks like a long day.
Pat will stay home and keep the fire going, take care of the nervous dog, and make soup. She will have the old pickup truck if she needs to escape. She will have quiet and beautiful snow for company.
And I will be driving in the rain.

The forecast is for rain and/or snow for the next five to seven days.

Santa better have his radar turned on.

This Christmas event Saturday was hoped-for as a sleigh ride, but the rain made it a covered carriage ride.

Note: I used to chuckle when Pat's dad included a detailed weather report in every letter and phone call from his Florida home. Now, I understand.