Seasons Greetings

I don’t send greeting cards, haven’t in years. There are several reasons why I don’t, but maybe the main reason is because it seems so wasteful to throw away a card you look at, read, prop up on the bookcase for a week or two, and then, with great angst toss it in the recycle bin. I detest the waste and the impersonal nature of the canned greeting. Oh, occasionally I find an inexpensive card at Trader Joes that I think will be perfect for Barb’s birthday and I impulsively buy it. Her birthday comes and goes, the card long forgotten in my desk, so I vow to send it next year. Same thing happens for the next five years, by which time I’ve accumulated another half a dozen cards perfect for someone, but again, never sent.

My thing, and I know this comes as a complete surprise, is the dreaded Christmas letter. To my credit, I do keep it to one page, and that includes pictures of my girls (otherwise known as dogs). I doubt that anybody finds them as amusing as I do, the letters, not the dogs, but I’ve been known to read them year after year and laugh at the same parts every year. A glass of wine enhances the experience.

That is not to say that I don’t appreciate receiving cards. But, being a card snob, I’m hard to impress. My old friend Vickie, who is blessed with a generational sense of humor heads the list of people who are gifted card creators. Her kids and grandkids are co-conspirators in in her wacky Hallmark crew. Here is a sampling from Christmas past:

And this is so appropriate for Christmas 2020.

And here is one from my talented friend, Alice, that will never, in my lifetime, be tossed.

An old friend from Xanga, Cassie, has a artistic friend who creates her Christmas cards every year. They show Cassie with her dog, Lola Pawlana in an appropriate Christmas scene. I have saved every one of them and filed them in a safe place…which I can’t find at the moment.

Memory’s Journey by Rail

Across the street from my house there lies a strip of barren, rocky land, perhaps two hundred feet wide, still referred to as the railroad easement, though for over a decade now, it has only been sheltering a massive water line, fifteen feet below its surface. But when I moved into this semi-rural neighborhood of citrus groves, chicken farms, and mom & pop businesses, the train tracks still stretched west to Redlands and beyond; and disappeared towards the Santa Ana River wash and the ubiquitous, emerald groves of East Highland to the northwest. Spring rains would carpet the easement in waves of native grasses and California Poppies, knee high, where I could tether my horse to graze.

Originally, I assume, this line was built to serve the citrus packing houses that dotted the the area, but by the early 1970s, most of the old, oil-soaked packing houses had been sold to the insurance company. Torched in the dead of night, the flames of their destruction could be seen, like the pillar of fire leading the Israelites, from miles away. Little did we know they were leading us AWAY from the land of milk and honey, instead of towards the proverbial Canaan. King citrus was dying and Prince Strip Mall and Queen Housing Tract were already laying plans for the kingdom’s reformation.

There is no such thing as level ground in our valley and the tracks reached their apex at the point directly in front of my house. Occasionally, an engine would come by, sometimes detach a car or two to be retrieved at some later date, and move on. So, when I awoke one morning and noticed that the grain cars that had been parked the night before were gone, it made no impression. So accustomed were we to the regular huffing and chuffing of the engines, that they no longer registered in our consciousness, nor in our dreams.

That particular morning, my uncle Ted, who lived downhill from us in East Highland, called with barely concealed excitement to inform us that the missing rail cars had made their unchaperoned and reckless journey down to his house where, like teens joyriding in dad’s car, they had taken a curve too fast and piled into an innocent orange grove. Naturally, we all beat cheeks to go visit the scene of the impact.

The immensity of the impact was horrifying. Wheels and axles were strewn like massive tinker toys yards from the cars which were now half buried in the soft dirt of the grove. Their load of millet was spilled in mounds several feet high and scattered as far as one could see. “Manna from heaven!” I heard one bird exclaim. Miraculously, or perhaps testimony to the rural nature of the area at that time, no cars or structures were stuck as the runaway cars careened across three streets before coming to rest less than a mile from a small settlement of immigrant workers.

The trestle as it stood in the 1970s

Today, as I walk my dogs down the easement to the wash, I like to visualize the scene unfolding: a couple of neighborhood boys playing train engineer, discover the lever that locks the wheels and release the cars from their restraint; the cars begin rolling, so slowly at first that the boys can’t believe they are moving; but as the cars gain momentum, quietly creaking under their load, the kids realize there is no stopping what they have set into motion; they leap off the car and watch in amazed horror, tinged with delight, as the cars roll into the smoggy dusk and out of sight.

Rails to trails – the remains of the railroad easement

Now the cars have a life of their own as they pass under the streetlight at San Bernardino Avenue. Rolling sedately past the shuttered Universal Rundle Toilet factory, they approach the trestle that stands twenty-five feet above the trickle of Mill Creek. The groans of the wooden trestle, audible without the noise of the customary engine, attract the attention of a couple of young, coyotes who are just setting out to forage for the evening. The soft, evening air flows over the angular contours of the clumsy carriage, impotent to slow the ever increasing speed of the cars as they now descend into the wash bottom. Rattling over minor trestles that span runoff from unnamed tributaries, the wheels now sing with their newfound freedom. As the rails curve into the silent groves of East Highland the wheels howl at the strain of bearing the heavy load at such unaccustomed speed. Perhaps a grove worker, making his weary way home, hears the clatter as the cars fairly leap across Greenspot Road over the noise of his rattletrap pick-up truck, but his mind dismisses it as he returns to the anticipation of his waiting supper of beans and tortillas. Moments later, the cars hit the uneven tracks crossing Church Street and the wheels jump the tracks. Momentum carries the doomed cars parallel to the tracks for a hundred feet before the wheels are ripped off and the cars plow into the earth, tearing up rows of mature citrus trees as if they were fixtures in a model train diorama.

Uncle Ted, sitting alone at his dining room table, feels the earth tremble. Thinking it is an earthquake, he gets up and turns off his stereo record player to listen for aftershocks, but hears nothing. By morning, the news has traveled through his neighborhood and folks come to stand transfixed at the spectacle.

Today, a strip mall with a Stater Bros. supermarket anchor, covers the scars and the offspring of the millet-stuffed birds flit about in the manicured shrubbery.

Home – Where is That?

I drove my sister Babs to the airport this morning. Under two masks and a pair of glasses, I felt cocooned, just a little isolated from her though she sat beside me in the passenger seat, similarly muffled. Our conversation en route was necessarily superficial as I concentrated on my driving in the thick traffic. As we approached the airport, I admitted to secretly hoping her flight would be cancelled and reminded her to be careful . She speculated that by the time she’s ready to come home, in three weeks, flights may well be shut down. I allowed that I could live with her being 2,200 miles away as long as she was LIVING.

As I watched her walk into the terminal, her wheeled bag in tow, it struck me that there was a very real possibility I might never see her again. I immediately regretted nagging her and wished I’d bid her “bon voyage” and told her how much I loved her instead. But that’s not what we do in our stoic Dutch family.

Babs is paving the way to move permanently to Michigan to live with her second daughter. At this point, she’s traveling back and forth frequently, and availing herself of Southwest’s free checked luggage policy. Today she confided that she had packed a circular saw and a desk lamp in her checked luggage. That should give TSA something to think about. Last time she came home with an empty bag save for packaging materials. The baggage inspectors must have been frustrated after pawing through it and finding nothing of interest because they ruined the bag.

So as I adjust to the idea of my only sister moving far away, I’m forced to wonder exactly what makes home “home”. Is it the familiar place where you have spent the last sixty years of your life? Or is it where your family lives?

While I complain bitterly about the Southern California summers, I’m not at all confident that Michigan winters would be any more to my liking. There’s no doubt that Michigan has its charms beyond having extended family, but considering how seldom I actually visit my sister, niece, and great-nephew who live just four miles away, would I really see the Michigan family if it meant driving on icy roads?

And then there are the friends and acquaintances that surround me like ripples from a stone tossed into a tranquil pond. How my life would be diminished if I had to part with them!

So, for now, home is the familiar places, the trails I love, the friends and acquaintances of a lifetime, and an ever-shrinking family. My sister says I’m getting emotional in my old age; she’s right, of course.

TP Search

After reading an article that said all of the wonderfully plush toilet paper we had been enjoying was made from virgin Canadian forests, I have been on a mission to find an environmentally friendly tissue that won’t rip me a new a$$#@!!. Research suggested that Trader Joes recycled TP was one of the best but Mike complained that, with our vegetarian-diet-induced bowel movement frequency, his backside was getting rubbed raw by the tree-friendly product.

Imagine my delight when I found allegedly butt-friendly paper made from sustainably grown bamboo at Costco. Thinking of my unimaginably soft shirt made of bamboo, I brought a jumbo sized package home, at no small expense.

We have choices: bamboo TP or Pedi-egg.

I think maybe they used the thick stalks rather than the tender leaves to make this tissue. And, I can’t object if the panda bears are getting the tender parts, but my tender parts are not immediately thrilled with the leftovers. One side of the paper is reasonably smooth, but the other side resembles a cheese grater or maybe one of those things you use to remove calluses on your feet. Woe unto the half-asleep woman who stumbles into the bathroom and 4:00 A.M. and thoughtlessly applies the grater side to her moist parts!

I’m beginning to question how important virgin forests in Canada really are. Maybe we should leave the bamboo for pandas, sheets and tee-shirts.

It Really IS a Wonderful Life

Ah, rain, blessed rain, has finally come to these parts after 170 days of sunshine. Though 170 days without rain isn’t unusual, we always celebrate the true end of summer when the mountains get their first dusting of snow.

Sally and I took advantage of the holiday to enjoy the newly improved traction on the wash singletracks which we have been riding ever since the El Dorado wildfire closed our summertime trails in the mountains.

The watershed of Mill Creek offers a mountain biker’s paradise with natural features to challenge riders of almost any skill level. As the trails dry out over the summer, they get increasingly difficult as the sand gets deep and loose wherever it has been churned up by motorcycles, horses, and do-gooders who remove rocks to sanitize the trail. Today, we felt invincible as we carved turns with new-found confidence, our knobbed tires hooking up flawlessly in the moist dirt.

Sally had been experiencing mild symptoms of a cold all week so we rode in masks and kept a safe distance between us. Climbing while emaskulated can be a little uncomfortable as the heavy breathing tends to make the mask wet in a short time, but it was cool enough that we could ignore the mild discomfort. We decided to forego the pleasure of a post-ride lunch on the patio until she was symptom free.

There’s nothing like the first ride of the season to dispel any lingering depression. The challenges of Covid appear manageable and the post-election problems seem surmountable. Let’s get on with enjoying this wonderful life!