Tuesday, September 1st
Woah. I’m alone at home, maybe for the first time since early March. It feels pretty good! Good enough that I’m tempted to nap here on our outdoor couch, in the shade under the walnut trees. Nap or write, write or nap…? Maybe write, then nap. There’s much to tell.
I last wrote in the Spring, as the kids and I were immersed in both the Humboldt fog and home-schooling. And now, Summer has ended, the kids are back in school, sort of, and the break was totally full of events and adventures and stories, despite the cancellation of absolutely everything.
The kids finished up school during the lockdown just fine, really. Tristan and Phoebe had lots of fun and creative take-home projects from school, and we organized many outdoor play dates, usually on the tarmac of our local tiny airport, to ensure that they didn’t suffer socially. Phoebe made her fourth grade honor roll for three trimesters of excellent work. Tomas went about his online schooling totally independently. Apparently his parents’ negligence in overseeing his work was no biggie – he was named salutatorian of his eight grade class. We attended a belated, mid-summer graduation at St Bernard’s, where the masked graduates sat far apart and the audience was seated in family clusters separated by lots of lawn. Tomas was presented awards for being one of the top students in four subjects. He, too, continued to see one of his best pals, Elisha, for regular biking and skateboarding dates up at the rarely-used Kneeland Airport. Only once, in all of these airport play dates, did the parents have to grab their lawn chairs, round up the kids, and sprint off the runway to allow a helicopter to land.
Summer was definitely not what we had planned, but…maybe it was even better? By early last Spring, the June-July-August calendar was chockablock with plans involving long drives all over California, different kids in different places for a week or two at a time, and even an international trip for Tomas. None of that happened, of course. Instead, the summer was filled with trips, dozens of them, once four days in a row, to our local swimming hole on the Mad River. It was delightful, and reminded me of all the summer days spent at Princeton’s Community Park Swimming Pool when I was a kid – but better, because it’s a river. We often met friends there, and usually took snacks or a lunch. Tristan and Phoebe became strong swimmers, paddling across the river or diving for toys that I’d toss into the water for them. Phoebe’s sweet little Quarter Horse filly came back from the trainer ready and willing and cooperative, and Phoebe, Tristan, and I did dozens of rides together, often with Tristan behind me on my mare. Phoebe and I signed up to ride a virtual Tevis cup, with the promise of t-shirts and stickers upon completion. The “real” Tevis cup is a 100-mile, one-day endurance race ridden every year in California. It won’t be run this year, thanks to corona, but has been replaced by the virtual one – 100 miles in 100 days. We’ve ridden about 30 so far, nice and slow, and it’s been a great way for both Phoebe and her young horse to gain experience.
Tomas often comes along on his mountain bike when we ride; he is not interested in horses at all, showing instead a growing interest in skateboards and bikes. He sometimes joined us at the river for our summer swims, but, in his new, teenage form, he seems to be suffering from the perception that his family is indescribably humiliating. He often declines to join, choosing instead to bike, or work on his bike trail, or train for soccer, or teach himself guitar and ukulele. He is incredibly self-driven. I definitely wasn’t like that at 14, and I’m sort of in awe of him.
Tomas’ summer also included some soccer in a surprise turn of events that really might have saved the vacation for him. Reflecting, I think, a general confusion about state mandates governing youth sports during the pandemic, while Tomas’ local soccer club was not practicing together all Spring and Summer, an elite competitive team in Santa Rosa got county-level permission to do so. Tomas tried out for the team (all in socially-distanced, no-contact tryouts), and was invited to join after just a couple of practices. Gary and I took turns driving him the four hours to practices; while Gary drove Tomas home late at night afterward, I took whichever kids I’d brought along to visit my parents for the night in San Francisco after each practice. The coach is truly excellent and Tomas loves the team. It’s not clear whether they will ever, any time soon, get permission to really play, but this is way better than nothing. Currently the practices in Santa Rosa are on hold while the air is choked with wildfire smoke, but by some stroke of luck Tomas’ local club is beginning socially-distanced practices in small cohorts today. So, we’ll patch things together and keep Tomas playing in one place or the other.
Summer also included a camping trip with two other families on the 6000-acre ranch of one of them. We slept in tents on the banks of the Van Duzen river, swam, drank delicious/deadly frozen margaritas, barbecued, and watched the gaggle of eight kids splash, look for marine fossils in the river bed, and build forts. On another weekend, I was invited to join the same ranching family in a round-up. They patiently tolerated my total lack of experience in Western riding (“Ya might want to use a longer rein on ‘er,” drawled my friend Lauren’s cowboy brother Jake), showed me how to tie a half hitch (“Let me show you how to do that right,” said Lauren’s mother as I sloppily wrapped the end of my lead rope around the saddle horn; we don’t even HAVE saddle horns in English riding and I don’t have the faintest idea how to tie anything to one of them!), and gave me simple jobs to do while they did the hard work of cutting calves out of the herd (“Toni,” they said, “why don’t you sit here on Princess Patches and make sure those cows don’t try to get back in through that gate to their calves” – the cowherding equivalent of playing right field). Despite my many deficiencies, which I attribute to having been raised on the East Coast, I had an absolute blast on the portly Princess Patches and am hoping I was useful enough to be invited back for another roundup. It was incredibly fun!
We had a series of visits over the summer, all involving tents and efforts to limit contact and shared air as much as possible. Chris and Agi brought the boys up in mid-June, after they were sufficiently nuts in their Ocean Beach apartment. Ori and Chris camped in our orchard while Agi and Felix slept in Tomas’ room. Tomas slept in another tent outside of the kitchen door. We ate, drank, caught up, and enjoyed seeing the kids play together. Felix, who is more or less a pandemic baby, was mildly horrified to learn that more people live on this planet than his parents, brother, American grandparents, and aunt. He seemed to adjust over the three days they were here.
In late July, my parents came, also for three days, also to sleep in a tent in the orchard. We, too, ate, drank, and chatted. We made a trip down to the river to swim together, and we had our first meal in a restaurant since March at Eureka’s Bayfront One, where hearty Humboldt County residents and their visitors can eat sushi (or pasta or burgers) on the waterfront in fog so thick you can slice it with a knife. Nagypapa did some electrical engineering with Tristan, Phoebe demonstrated her riding skills to her grandparents, and Tomas enjoyed their company in his quiet way.
Last week we had unexpected visitors. We had just returned from our camping trip on the Van Duzen when my friend Kinari called. [I’ve known Kinari for almost 20 years, overlapped with her in Indonesia for many years, and worked with her both in Indonesia and the US when I was associated with Health In Harmony. She is the doctor who founded the organization. Kinari now lives in the East Bay with her wife Stephanie and a young woman named Kahayag, who I knew as a child in Bogor. Kahayag’s parents worked with non-profits in Indonesia, and her mother had an office across the street from our house. Kahayag was stranded in the US when the pandemic began and thwarted her attempts to head to the Philippines, where she has family, and to Europe, where her parents now live. Kinari and Stephanie took her in.] Kinari was calling from Ukiah and sounded a bit desperate. She is pregnant, and four days earlier she, Stephanie, and Kahayag had fled the smoky East Bay for cleaner air when Kinari was having trouble breathing. The smoke, however, followed them to Ukiah, and they were looking for fresh air further north. “Come,” I said, and they showed up late that night. They, too, stayed in tents in the orchard. The weather was fabulous and we ate every meal outside. It was a wonderful time of catching up, getting to know Stephanie, and re-connecting with Kahayag. They weeded my garden, which I had all but abandoned to the monstrous pocket gophers that felled most of my vegetables, helped Gary buck hay (which means load it into a truck and bring it in from the field, for you deficient East Coasters out there), played with the kids, and generally gave us an absolutely fantastic close to our summer. Alas, we have our own fires burning nearby, and the smoke eventually settled on our mountain. After a week, our fire refugees moved on to camp on the farm of other friends in Corvallis, Oregon. They might be on the road a while, as the rains won’t really come until October. What incredibly crazy times. Over dinner one night with our evacuees, we began calling these times – times of pandemic, fire, racial unrest, election fears, climate crisis – the pre-apocalypse. Too over-the-top? I dunno.
Our pre-apocalyptic but very fun and full summer was punctuated by a sad, and also happy, and important event. About two weeks ago, Gary’s father passed away. He had become very ill, and there were many difficult weeks toward the end. But, the end itself was the best anyone could hope for, very peaceful and quiet and loving. Gary’s father spent his last few days in a hospice in Eureka, with French doors open to a beautiful, tall, shady redwood grove. He wasn’t in pain, and he was surrounded by family. Gary’s mom held his hand and talked to him about their marriage and their life together, and he smiled as she spoke. Gary, his sisters, and his mother were all with him when he passed. Gary has written a beautiful obituary that was published in our local Times Standard, our online Lost Coast Outpost, and Gary’s Facebook page.
The last month had some ups and downs for me. I both watched our local Covid counts carefully and waited anxiously for news from the kids’ schools. Would Eureka High, where Tomas is starting his Freshman year, open in person or go online? While I can’t imagine the disappointment of starting high school online, did I want Tomas mingling with 1200 other teenagers every day? Would the tiny Kneeland School, which stated from the get-go that they would be in-person, commit to teaching outdoors while the weather is still good? Although Tristan is strong and healthy now, I’ll never be totally at ease about what his immune system can handle. On top of his cancer history, he’s had pneumonia five or six times and always sounds scary-terrible when he has a cold. And nursing school – what would happen if the kids ended up at home mid-semester? After a lot of angst, I decided to defer nursing school for a year, which guarantees me a start in next Fall’s class (versus risking having to drop out mid-year this year, which would mean having to reapply and waiting another two or three years to start). I’ve been pretty sad about the delay, but I think it’s the right thing to do, and the decision to do so will ultimately mean that my stress level will be much lower during the upcoming months of uncertainty than otherwise.
Tomas’ high school ended up opting to start online. It’s unclear if that will change, as Humboldt’s corona numbers keep bopping up and down. Kneeland School is making an enormous effort to be outdoors as much as possible, and I’ve decided that Phoebe and Tristan can be there for all outdoor portions of the day. With nursing school set aside (and no job at Humboldt State, as I didn’t expect to be able to teach while in nursing school and didn’t put in for a lectureship), I’ll ferry the kids back and forth. Yesterday, the first day at Kneeland, was a big success: Phoebe got to stay all day, as her class never went indoors, and Tristan came home only for a short bit of the middle of the day. Both outdoor classrooms have shade canopies. Both dealt with new challenges, like papers blowing away in the wind and sun glare on computer screens…but honestly, these seem like small annoyances compared with the dangers of sharing air indoors. I’m so happy with and proud of our tiny school for making the effort. Who knows what the November rain and fog will mean, but, for now, we’re happy.
Shoot, I’m out of time for that nap!
More photos, of course…