Home for the Holidays

For the last six years Jan and I have flown to Idaho on December 25 in order to celebrate the holiday with both the San Luis Obispo branch of the family on Christmas Eve and with the Ketchum children and grandchildren on Christmas Day.  This year, back in September, we decided not to make the trip until after the first week in January, to allow ourselves some down-time at home and save money on air fare.  This meant that both of us would be absent when our colleagues were getting back to work.  I had to schedule the first meeting of the Sustainability Faculty Colloquium at Cal Poly the Friday before the first meeting of classes, and Jan has to miss a community workshop on budget priorities”though no City Council meetings.

I felt a duty to use the time as intended–for contact with friends and family”but neglected to plan for that. Nevertheless it so happened. Claire started a full-time job at the beginning of December and I became the primary daycare provider for twenty month old Lucas.

We went on hikes along up Stenner road to gather rocks for the border of a new vegetable bed and pine cones for the fireplace. We went to see the calves at the Dairy and the aqueduct excavations and the sheep at Cheda Ranch. We took a birding expedition with Johanna at Oso Flaco lake.  His long midday naps and the morning hours before his arrival gave me time for work. Even up and around in the house he made few demands.



Jan and I spent a chilly Christmas Eve alone in front of the fire reading letters we had each written my parents during the first two years we were together, 1966 and 1967. They had been left to us in a big box by my father, along with hundreds of later letters we sent from the farm in Lund, from Vancouver, Palo Alto, Claremont and San Luis Obispo.  One written a few days after we met described her as a person whose values coincided with mine, who was as smart as I was, and whom I knew could be trusted.

Instead of her usual big party, Teresa had nothing planned for Christmas Day, and Dennis was off the previous night’s graveyard shift at the nuclear power plant.  The two of them brought Ian, and Claire brought Lucas, and the six of us exchanged presents and shared turkey dinner that Jan cooked set on the table set with ancestral china and silverware.


Next day, Canadian Boxing Day, I took Ian and Lucas for a playdate with Patch, friend and former student whom I hadn’t seen in six months.  We converged at the Dinosaur Caves Park for a sun-drenched picnic, game of hide and seek, scooter-ride, cliff walk and beach combing expedition.







Next day, Kevin M. arrived from Santa Monica, where he’s found a tenure track job in the City College ten years after finishing his M.A. in English at Poly.  He’d been out of touch for about five years and checked back in a week earlier.  We’d agreed to go backbacking, and Salmon Creek trail at Big Sur was the closest place I knew of where it would be legal to make a fire in the woods.  We hardly noticed the scenery on the drive up, so intent was the news exchange, but the two mile hike up the steep canyon above the ocean drew our full attention to landform and vegetation freshened by recent rains.


We arrived at a campsite near the convergence of two rushing creeks, gathered wood in the dark, munched snacks, polished off a couple of bottles of wine, etc.  and awakened with time to explore the creeks, head back down to the Coast, explore remote San Carpoforo beach, and eat a great lunch at Taco Temple in Morro Bay.







A couple of weeks before, I’d received a visit from Joe R., another ex-Poly student who now lives in London working as the chief archivist for the National Portrait Gallery.  Along with Patch and Kevin he had been one of the fellowship that staged our 1992 production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale in the Mission Church of San Luis Obispo.  When I came home that night after the camping trip I found Joe’s first published article through a link he had sent with a Christmas card. It was titled, “Middle America meets Middle Earth.”

The next couple of days were devoted to preparing for the Faculty Colloquium, Sierra Club treasury work, and organizing a panel about “The Culture of Sustainability” coming up as part of Focus the Nation on February 5. On the afternoon of the 31st, since Claire was off work and I didn’t have Lucas, I biked down Grand Avenue and wandered upstream in the dramatic winter light to explore a section of San Luis Creek where I hadn’t been before.


There was no trail and sometimes I had to get feet wet to stay out of the poison oak or cross to the less vertical bank.


I passed impressive terraces and staircases descending from expensive houses on the top end of San Luis Drive.


The residents here probably kept the city from making it more accessible to hikers or  squatters.  The immense sycamores and eucalyptus sucking up the year-round water supply roofed a cathedral-shaped hollow filled with colored light passing through autumn leaves like stained glass.



A flock of monarch butterflies fluttered in the beams and landed on the warmed leaves of a pittosporum.


A huge wind chime hanging from an arched limb trembled in the intermittent breeze, emitting creamy bass tones imperceptibly precipitated from the silence.



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