Over the meadow and through the woods

In this story I am the grandmother and it’s my house that’s in the woods.  But that wasn’t where I headed for Thanksgiving.  I drove away from my northern California redwood forest, as I often do, to spend Thanksgiving in the city with my daughter and granddaughter.

 

Los Angeles was warm, leaning toward hot, the whole time I was there. It’s 400 miles from here to there on Interstate 5, which runs the length of California and then some.  On my drive south, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The sun was shining and everyone I encountered along the way was feeling festive.

 

During my visit, my granddaughter asked why I can’t live closer to her.  I said I wish that was possible, but I like cooler weather. In fact I love my Marin County fog belt. 

 

Two days after Thanksgiving it was time to come home and since it had been around 80 degrees the day before, it didn’t occur to me to check the weather before leaving. I don’t like to drive in the dark, but once in a while in the pre-dawn, when traffic is light, it’s nice to get an early start.

 

About 5 A.M. I headed north, leaving the lights of Los Angeles behind as I slowly climbed the mountain toward Fort Tejon. (For non-Californians, that’s where Christo installed his giant yellow umbrellas.)  Rain began to fall almost immediately. The side window felt icy-cold. I left the Valley floor wearing a tee shirt and I didn’t want to steam up the windows with the heater and besides, I thought, teeth chattering will help me stay clear-headed.

 

The Grapevine – the part of I-5 that goes over the summit and then drops you down close to Bakersfield – is generally picturesque.  This time I couldn’t see a thing because the rain quickly turned to snow.

 

It came on so fast, it was a shock. Gusts of wind made driving a struggle.  The lack of traffic was a liability because there were few taillights to follow.  The town of Gorman at the top is about 4100 feet and I don’t remember a Thanksgiving storm before that powdered the junction white in minutes.   

   

Snow piled up so the lane markers were no longer visible. Everything was fuzzy. I drove as slowly as possible, trying to get behind some big trucks in the right lane so they’d make a path I could follow.

 

Stopping wasn’t an option. Had I pulled over at the top, I’d have been snowed in and without chains, it could have taken hours to get out.  I said a prayer, fought the wind for control of my car, and drove on.

 

I sang loud to keep from getting dizzy and counted the minutes ’til the road begins the descent into the next Valley and there, at the truck stop where I like to refill my coffee, just minutes from the blinding storm, was the bright sunshine again.

 

The rest of the trip was uneventful and I looked forward to doing some Christmas decorating at home – stringing tiny lights that glow like a fairy tale in the northern fog.  Except when I got home there was no fog.  Only sunshine.  And no fog this morning either. And today is warmer than normal with a prediction of sun all week long. 

 

I want my seasonal weather back. I need to get in touch with Al Gore and see if he can do something about this.  

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Grandparent Geography

My only grandchild lives in Los Angeles.  I live near San Francisco.  It’s a 400 mile trip.  I’ve checked flights and with travel to and from airports and renting a car when I get there, it’s easier to drive.  I love this place where I live but I also love that little girl, so I drive a lot.

From the time Caedan Ray was born, her mommy always said the same thing at the start of each visit.  As I scooped up the baby, she’d ask, “You got your Hammy?”  After Caedan learned to talk, when her mother asked the question, she answered with a big loud “Yes!”

During my drive south on I-5, her parents and I stay in phone contact and they tell her, “Hammy’s almost here.”  When I pull up in front, Caedan is waiting at the front door or outside, standing with a parent by my parking spot.  As soon as I’m out of the car, I hold out my arms.  So far she chooses to jump up.

At the end of each visit, after a sad goodbye, I head north toward home, already missing the little family.  At my halfway point, Harris Ranch, I feel a hint of “almost home.” The horizon shifts on the last hour of the drive.  Northern California skies always hold a promise for me.  That’s what I see when I look ahead.  

I live in Marin County, in the redwoods.  This is a place where the ratio of open space to developed land is astonishing and astonishingly beautiful.  Is it foolish to love and need specific surroundings so much?  Or is it something we’ve earned at this time of life?

During the last hour of my drive, traffic picks up considerably as I merge with drivers heading home from San Francisco, coming off the Bay Bridge and through several interchanges.  The skies shift again.  It’s usually late afternoon when I make this part of the trip, and fog rolls in.  I love fog.  It’s one of the reasons I live here.

From the top of the Richmond Bridge, I see ships alongside the dock. Welcome home.  The city shimmers in the distance.  Welcome home.  Here’s the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.  A commuter ferry coasts to a stop as I pass.  Welcome home. I approach my exit and see redwoods in the distance.  It’s familiar and beautiful and it’s blue and green and peaceful here.

But this homecoming is also teary.  As I arrive at home, I’m thinking of the greeting I received from my granddaughter when I reached her door a few days ago.  This time, she controlled everything.  She didn’t wait for me to hold out my arms.  Instead, as soon as I was out of the car, she leaped up and hugged me.  She didn’t wait for her mommy to ask the usual question.  Instead, she announced by herself for the first time, “I got my Hammy!”

It’s good to be home and it’s sad to be home.  This commute certainly isn’t getting any easier.

Ó By Anita Garner