Tag Archives: Holidays

The New Year on Foot

We survived the holidays after all. There was family galore and friends and no end of gift giving or of food. The boy got the secondhand Italian accordion he desperately wanted. The girl got the metal detector she is sure will make her rich. Despite the cold snap of two weeks before, we had nothing over the holidays but clear skies and sunshine. It felt like a very early spring.

On New Year’s Eve my daughter wasn’t feeling well so we stayed home and played chess and read books and watched Jeremy Brett in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. On New Year’s Day we packed up the car and drove to the coast. As the bird flies our destination was maybe twenty miles away, directly west. But automobiles do not fly and the winding highway over the Santa Cruz Mountains runs to nearly fifty miles.

The coast at Pescadero is one of my favorite places. It’s never crowded, unless it’s crowded with birds. The warm sun and chilly Pacific welcomed us back without a second thought.

The beach at Pescadero, California.

The girl went to work with her metal detector but only found a few scraps of tin foil. Soon she and her brother were building driftwood forts instead. We had an outdoor lunch of bread and cheese, almonds, apples, and chocolate. Walking the shore, we found numbers of mussels and other shells, and the remains of innumerable crabs of all sizes that had washed up the beach with the tide.

Crab shell at Pescadero Beach, Northern California.

At Pescadero you get two days out for the price of one. When you’re tired of the gulls and shorebirds at the beach you can walk inland along sand trails to Pescadero Marsh, a state wildlife preserve. In order to get there you must first pass under the weathered concrete bridge where Highway 1 spans the lagoon.

Highway 1 bridge over Pescadero lagoon.

Hiking the marsh with a pair of binoculars you will spot all kinds of birds, waterfowl and shorebirds as well as passerines and raptors. Even in the supposed depth of winter here in Northern California, there are always birds singing.

You could almost imagine that the landscape is untouched, it feels so wild. But the massive grove of Australian eucalyptus on the north side of the marsh was planted there more than a hundred years ago. The South African ice plant (Hottentot fig), which turns orange this time of year, was probably introduced more recently, to keep the dunes in check. Both are considered “invasive species” and unwelcome now, but the birds and deer aren’t xenophobes, and neither am I.

Hiking the marsh at Pescadero, California.

The wind kicked up. It got cold and it was time to leave. The traffic through the town of Half Moon Bay and over the pass back into the more populous lowlands of San Francisco Bay was just horrible. The prospect of returning to work after a break of more than ten days was no less so.

“Just a shack on a hill nearby here, with a fireplace and a little garden,” I told my wife. “And room for plenty of books, of course. That’s all we need. We could retire and walk around every day and never have to see or talk to other people. I don’t think we’d ever get tired of it.”


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A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Antique stereocard image of Santa captured by children, 1897

The holidays are piled up at the end of the year like an obstacle course with a high potential for causing injury, and I approach them as such. When January 2 comes around and I discover that we’ve survived them all relatively intact, I cross myself and breathe the proverbial sigh.

Here in the United States, the whole mess begins with Halloween. This year, thankfully, no one was lost in the corn maze or sliced off a finger while carving pumpkins, and no one bit into a razor blade hidden within a looted chocolate. I remember how terrified I was of this happening to me circa 1979.

It wasn’t long after this past Halloween, however, that I was hit from behind while driving to work. I escaped injury and any liability for the accident but my little commuter-mobile went into the shop for more than a week and over $3,500 in repairs.

This year we celebrated Thanksgiving at our home with my parents and my sister and her family. It was crowded but warm. The bird was roasted to perfection and everything was going along like a holiday card until my daughter decided to chip her (permanent) front tooth on, of all things, a bongo drum. There were tears, tears, tears, but after a few days and a trip to the dentist all was well again.

During this quiet but vaguely threatening lull that separates Thanksgiving from Christmas, we’ve so far been spared any really horrible disasters. My son did frighten himself into a two-day bout of insomnia by reading Hound of the Baskervilles, and the cat has launched an encore performance of her role as vomit-artist. But we got the tree into the house and decorated it without incident.

If our luck holds, we’ll pass under the razor wire of Christmas Eve with nothing more than a few scratches and emerge a week later from New Year’s Day with little worse than a headache. At any rate, I’m signing off for the remainder of 2013. I’ll be back again in January, if I’m still living.

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays.

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Three Paragraphs of Nearly Christmas

Our friend the evolutionary biologist was visiting from New York this past weekend.  We met him in San Francisco on a rainy Saturday for a brunch of crab-meat benedicts and mimosas.  He’s a snazzy dresser (button-down shirt, sweater, slacks, glossy oxfords), heavily bearded, wears glasses; personal interests include weevils, pulp science-fiction novels, and espresso.

A couple days later: After a wait of forty minutes and a per-vehicle fee of $15, we cruise the park to admire the Christmas light displays.  The children sip hot cocoa in the back and we listen to The Chipmunks.  Elves peek from behind trees.  Santa, in a boat, whips a fish from the water straight into the mouth a waiting pelican.  A teddy bear rappels down a giant candy cane.  Around a corner we surprise a dozen dinosaurs of precarious holiday relevance.  T-rex screams. Brontosaurus only munches his electric salad leaves.

Our family cat is sixteen and has never received a letter.  I’m posting her one from the office today.  It comes, ostensibly, from another cat she knew years ago in Seattle, a full page of punctuated ‘meows’ with a paw-print for signature and photo attached.  Won’t she be surprised.  My five-year-old daughter collects the mail with me each evening.

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Three Paragraphs of Holiday Weekend

My wife’s cousin has a big house at the lake, a glass eye, a Great Dane, a tortoise, a pig, two hens, and a fainting goat tied to a post in the yard, the last miraculously spared (so far) by the mountain lions that come down from the hills. All patriotic food groups were duly represented: roast turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie – and we did our duty. Home again, we tucked in the children and put up our heels before the simulated fireplace looping on the television screen, brooding over mugs of smoky Russian tea.

The boy announced tonight that he was afraid of the Snark. Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up, I told him.  But then, on reflection, I’m not sure that people are really any more afraid of terrorists (or snarks) than they used to be; or of radiation, or being groped by strangers. If fear is gaining these days it’s primarily in two varieties: 1) the fear of litigation, and 2) the mongered sort of fear, traded like sturgeon or Persian rugs for cash or ‘political capital.’ It’s always an ‘adroit demonology’ (in Mencken’s phrase) that wins customers and votes.

With a surfeit of free time due to the holiday, I’m mastering ‘Yankee Doodle’ on the ukelele, not trimming my beard, and reading J.G. Farrell’s Troubles. Before bed I set the Farrell aside to read snippets of Vico instead, which is just dry and disorienting enough (‘…the Assyrian kingdom was born overnight, like frogs after a summer storm…’) to transport me direct to Surrealist dreamland. My wife, meanwhile, is in love with Flaubert and halfway through Bouvard and Pecuchet, which I’d been saving for a special occasion. She’s ruining it for me by reading so much of it aloud. You and your ‘Flobby,’ I say. I’m not sure which of you to be jealous of.

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On Holidays

Washed up again on the unknown shore of another January, another island year – the roar and crash of the holidays already receding, just so much stress and tinsel and fireworks. 

The holidays are for children, it seems; so we try to force on the too-small clothes, the half-remembered habits of anticipation and wonder, the lust for lights and bells.  But the year is old and we are too and it’s never quite successful.

Those holidays with most power to restore us to fresh senses are never marked on any calendar.  They are microscopic.  They drown between the hours and the half-hours.  They lurk in quiet corners and take us unprepared.

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