dragonlaire: (Default)
We left Heathrow, London, early that morning for New York, an intermediate destination where we managed to stagger on board a connecting flight to Oakland International. After too many hours of airline snacks, bad movies, boring magazines and cramped seats, we arrived at the terminal in California where an intimidating mound of luggage awaited us at the baggage carousel. A brief estimate of the additional space needed for Abby's car seat convinced us that the modest trunk space in Bev's Mercedes would not do; renting a larger vehicle was the only solution. Within an hour, Bev and I had boarded an SUV from Avis, retrieved Abby from the family that had provided foster care during our absence and were proceeding toward our next destination, a pet friendly motel in Winnemucka, Nevada.

The next morning we surveyed our surroundings. We were in high desert country, the landscape dry and brown, a monotony broken only occasionally by stunted vegetation and spare foliage. In the clear blue sky, the sun was hot and intense; all traces of morning drew had evaporated. The motel consisted of modestly furnished rooms, but our choices were limited when traveling with Abby. Adjoining the building was a Mexican restaurant and, since this was Nevada, a small casino filled with slot machines. We took advantage of the complimentary breakfast, filled the gas tank, expressed our shock at the soaring prices and resumed our journey. But we had many miles to go; Winnemucka is less than halfway to Jackson and our planned visit with Mair and Sior, in all a drive of fourteen hours.

Leaving Idaho Falls, State Highway 22 turns toward the southeast and enters Wyoming through Teton Pass, a narrow river gorge bordered by steep mountains and evergreen forests. At the end of the rugged canyon, it emerges into the panorama of Jackson Hole, an enormous depression framed on the west by the glaciated Teton Range and on the east by the Bridger-Teton National Forest; further to the north lies the southern boundary of Yellowstone National Park.The valley is bisected on a north-south axis by the meandering Snake River, an historic waterway of contrasting environments, from quiet flows past wildlife views to daunting class three and four rapids amid shear cliffs.

Dominating the landscape from every turn is the Tetons, a mountainous chain containing some of the most beautiful peaks in North America. Above the fixed glacier fields, snow often remains throughout the summer on the higher summits of Teewinot, Owen, South Teton, on the massive face of Mount Moran. But rising above its neighbors stands the jagged pinnacle of the Grand Teton, probably the most challenging climb south of the Canadian Rockies. At 13,770 feet, the Grand is lower than Ranier, Shasta and Whitney; lower than many summits in the Cascades, Sierra Nevada and Colorado Rockies, but an ascent up the steep cone can require technical expertise; it's physically demanding and always dangerous Indeed, prudence dictates that the mountain be descended by several aerial repels, each exceeding a hundred feet in length; the upper slopes are simply too precipitous to down-climb safely carrying heavy loads.

Jackson Hole was once home to bison and Native American, but more recently it's become a center of recreational facilities and vacation lodges spread over the long valley. Teton National Park with an extensive system of hiking trails provides access to the higher peaks and backcountry; Jackson Lake at the northern reaches of the Snake is a boater's destination; Teton Village is a popular ski resort. Many celebrities maintain vacation homes in the vicinity. Its most famous permanent resident is Vice President Cheney. But the principal settlement in the area is the town of Jackson itself, situated near the southern end of the valley, next to the National Elk Reserve.

With a population of only 9,000, Jackson has limited diversity, but the community struggles with self discovery. Is it ski resort, outdoors portal, an intellectual oasis or a western theme park? On downtown streets, backpacking and winter sport outfitters compete for attention with tourist souvenir shops; the community hosts local theater and symphony while a replica stagecoach conveys sightseers through the commercial district; a mock cowboy gunfight is staged every evening at 6:00 in the town center for those preferring fantasy rather than visits to a superb wildlife museum. At night, vacationers pack music and dance clubs as others browse bookstores and galleries or view the latest offerings at local art houses. Expensive trendy restaurants are plentiful and crowded with diners in sandals and hiking shorts, but they serve standard American food; the closest Indian or Mediterranean menus can be found only on the West Coast. Yes, Jackson is a mosaic of contrasting images, a tossed salad of divergent ingredients.

Mair and Sior Bythell settled here permanently several years ago by choice after following a succession of employment transfers from New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, Newport Beach and finally Chicago. Originally, Sior was trained as a chemist but eventually became the manager of a processing plant for a food conglomerate, a well-paid career that permitted early retirement; Mair continued to work as a staff nurse for a time but decided to retire as well during the past year. They have three children: Kevyn, the oldest, is an officer in the Sheriff's Department in Albuquerque; young Mair is a nurse in the Jackson Hospital and lives only a short distance from her parents; Mihangel is a physical therapist with a practice in Driggs, Idaho, only forty minutes away. All three have married; Kevyn and Mihangel have children of their own.

Bev and Mair worked together at Bayshore Hospital in New Jersey, a professional relationship that grew into real friendship despite the differences in their status and ages. I knew the Bythells less well when I first arrived alone in San Francisco, but they welcomed me warmly into the local Welsh community and represented the familiar in a strange place. Our friendship hasn't been based on common beliefs; both Mair and Sior are staunch Catholics and attend mass daily. They vote Republican and profess conservative values. Usually, but not always, we avoid conflict by excluding religion and politics from our conversations. But our differences are balanced by other qualities: Mair, beneath her gruff exterior, has a generous heart; Sior loves the outdoors and has always been eager for physical challenges. While younger, he ran marathons, competed in triathlons, rode a bike up Mount Diablo, and skied on the most demanding slopes. The intervening years have brought additional interests. He's become an enthusiastic hiker, golfer, cross country skier, more graceful on snow shoes than the dance floor--in other words, Sior remains a fitness fanatic, a conclusion that renders his acrophobia even more incongruous; it's a mild condition, but one that has limited his mountaineering experiences.

We drove through Jackson slowly, enjoying the grandeur of the scenery. It was easy to understand why Mair and Sior had chosen this location. Residents are surrounded by a canvas of unsurpassed natural beauty. Both of us love the purity of the mountains, the quiet mornings along a forest trail, but our choices would have been different, for we have always been drawn to the sea. Between mountain, forest and ocean the choice is difficult, but not one over which we would long hesitate. Nor would we be entirely comfortable at an altitude of 6,000 feet. The air is thin and dries both mouth and skin. No, we much prefer moist coastal air, cool ocean breezes, the richness of air at sea level; but most of all, we prefer the city. Our lives began in Brooklyn, and we've planted roots in San Francisco; a city will always be our home.

After an animated exchange of greetings and hugs, Sior and I carried our luggage into the basement apartment while Mair ushered Bev into the upstairs kitchen for wine and cheese. Much later, after dinner, Bev and I flipped for the bed; she won and I was relegated to the futon in the living room; her smug smile of victory, however, soon faded. The futon was lumpy and hard, but the mattress was soft and mushy. Naturally, I ignored her entreaties and refused to switch. Neither of us slept very well during our visit, although Abby never stirred at night whether buried beneath Bev's covers or my comforter. We had scheduled a visit of six or seven days; the usual crowd of guests were expected at Sea Ranch during the Labor Day weekend. But by week's end, we had called Megan and Patty to organize things until we returned and had extended our stay an additional five days to accommodate all the activities that had been planned for us.
dragonlaire: (Default)

California dreamin'...We're home. San Francisco: city of lights, city of fantasies, city of dreams. We've been here nearly ten years, but I still get a chill whenever I first glimpse the skyline from the Golden Gate Bridge after being away. Of all the cities I've visited, it's the only one that looks completely different in daylight or at night, and each separate image evokes a particular mood or emotion.

During the last week, some 'Christian' gentleman on Live Journal included San Francisco in a list of American cities that had embraced sinful life styles. As I recall, the others were New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and, of course, New Orleans, which, according to his self righteous and pompous declaration, had shared the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes, New Orleans, just what her suffering and displaced population needs: instead of a prompt federal response to save lives and provide adequate hurricane relief, a demented prophet arises from the fetid flood waters bringing the gift of scripture. Three places of personal residence, and presumably, by extension, my lifestyle as well, have been insulted by this intellectually challenged person, but I won't develop this rant any further. I'll comment in an expanded fashion on his mean spirited remarks and the crippled mind that produced them on another, more suitable occasion. 

Bev and Megan arrived in Wales on schedule, but both girls decided to cancel the planned auto trip to the North once they saw how much work had yet to be completed on Gareth's house. And so our construction crew of four (Brynn, Gareth, Patty, myself) was expanded to six. Predictably, I suppose, we didn't quite finish everything: Both bathrooms were installed and tiled but still require taping and painting; the laundry has been enclosed and wired but awaits washer, dryer and more taping and painting. Bev, Megan and Brynn worked on the lawn and perimeter shrubbery, but the paving of the driveway will require another lifetime, unfortunately. Even so, all of us are proud of our accomplishment; Gar should be able to supply the finishing touches on his own; as they say, arduous effort builds character...or something similar.

On the afternoon before our departure, Bev and I drove north of Mythyr and entered one of the picturesque valleys in the district. We parked and walked across a shimmering field of tall golden grass, a tranquil meadow surrounded by craggy peaks. We're used to the majesty of the American West: snow capped mountains, deep forests, raging rivers. But there's a quiet beauty here that I've never encountered before. Neither of us spoke as we gazed across the wind rippled valley; later we learned that we shared similar thoughts. Origins. Our people came from here; we'll be back. 

Reluctantly, we said our goodbyes the next morning to Brynn, Gar and the kids. Patty and Megan will follow in another week. We've known Gareth almost as long as we've known his dad Patty, but we became especially close to Brynn during this visit. I'll miss our trips together to London for yoga class; I'll miss her kindness and easy laughter. They promised to try to vacation in San Francisco next summer, but Thomas and David are still very young, and travel arrangements for four people would be expensive. We had so many plans, and so little time to complete them. Bev wanted to visit North Wales and search for relatives; I anticipated climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland. Now both activities will have to await another visit, another day, one without competing obligations.

An Update!

Aug. 3rd, 2005 03:50 pm
dragonlaire: (Watching)

An update, of sorts: Appearances not withstanding, I haven't wandered into another dimension, nor renounced online life forever, but I have been without reliable computer access since the beginning of July. I'm writing this entry in Mythyr Tydfil, South Wales, and sending a written copy to Bev in San Francisco. I've asked her to paste the text into my Live Journal account, so if anyone can read these words, the effort was successful.

Even without a European sojourn, my posting had become erratic and unpredictable. This journal was begun last October with ambitious objectives to record my experiences during the previous three years and to describe some of the amazing people who have influenced my life over a long period of time. I had consciously followed a person to Live Journal, a person who had once been very important to me, and my earliest entries were clearly, though surreptitiously, addressed to her. Within a short while, though, I began to feel that my narrative held the germ of a new novel, and so therapeutic writing metamorphosed into creative endeavor.

Progress came to an abrupt halt, however, when I found myself unexpectedly involved in an online affair whose intensity was matched only by the brevity of its duration. I can blame only myself; I certainly received an abundance of advice urging me to end the relationship at its inception, advice I naturally and stubbornly chose to ignore. If my intentions glowed, perhaps for the first time in my life, with a sweet innocence, they were also directed toward the wrong person. I hasten to temper these remarks, for I carry no malice. She followed her self interest and abandoned the relationship, presumably minimizing emotional damage. Whether the forebodings that led her to that decision were real or imaginary is no longer of any importance. At this late date, it seems sufficient to recognize that we were both completely unsuited for each other, although our reasons for arriving at that conclusion may have been different. She reached that destination first, but eventually during the following months I gradually, if following a more circuitous route, came to arrive at the wisdom of that decision. I wish her well. Angels may be gifts from God, but not all angels are equal and not every gift should be accepted. I held an angel once, but all too soon she was taken from me; occasionally I attempt to fill the void her absence has created, thus far unsuccessfully, perhaps always so.

As the promise of April grew bitterly into the disappointment of May, I put aside Live Journal and buried myself within my teaching. I needed to clear my head and still the raging emotions I still carried. The end of the school year was rapidly approaching, and a demanding spiral of achievement testing and final reports required my undivided attention. By the third week of June, classes were finished and all formal assessments had been presented and filed. Gratefully, Abby and I rode the Harley up to Sea Ranch for an extended holiday.

Our usual crowd gathered for the 4th of July celebration, but the overflow had to be accommodated in two additional rented houses. This year, festivities had been expanded. In addition to the Point Arena fireworks, parade and picnic, the town of Gualala  imported a group of Revolutionary War enactors from Southern California. Both Americans and Redcoats encamped at the edge of town. We visited the encampment, toured the tented community, and watched exhibitions of colonial craftsmanship. Other events included a fashion show, lectures, an evening ball and dinner. Demonstrations of artillery fire and simulated combat occurred throughout the weekend. The British seized the Gualala Hotel and established loyalist headquarters, arresting suspected rebel sympathizers. The struggle reached its climax on Sunday afternoon when the Redcoats were defeated by the Americans in the Battle of Gualala, an engagement held in a meadow near the firehouse. A fun time for all.

The following Tuesday, Patty Evans and I left for Wales with only a day's advance notice. The airline tickets had been obtained by Patty's father-in-law under special arrangements and sent by express mail. I tried to notify people online but missed nearly everyone. We've been here since.

Patty and I have been working on his son Gareth's home for the past three weeks, desperately trying to complete a project we began nearly four years ago. We've made reasonable progress; the garage was finished this week, but we still have a formidable list of outstanding items:two bathrooms, a laundry room, a mosaic of electrical wiring, a driveway and perimeter landscaping; a demanding schedule, no doubt, but with good weather and a bit of luck, we hope to finish all the remaining work before the end of August when both of us have commitments elsewhere. It's been an interesting and educational experience for the three of us. We've had to learn new skills never before encountered: We've installed slate and thatched roofs and built a random stone foundation. The results have been satisfying, but over this length of time, the project has outworn its novelty; all of us are looking forward to its completion.

Bev and Megan will join us by the second week in August. The girls plan to visit relatives in North Wales before Bev and I fly to Jackson, Wyoming for a week. We'll visit with Michelle and Jeff who recently relocated from Seattle but probably stay with Mair and Sior, Bev's friends from New Jersey. Then it's home to California, at least for a while.

What else is new? Well, I've been reading quite a lot. Currently: "The Da Vinci Code." Brynn Evans, Gar's wife, prodded me into trying Bikram Yoga. I've always thought yoga was physically a gentle activity, stressing meditation and stretching, but this variety has established the inaccuracy of my original assessment: ninety intense minutes, 26 painful poses or postures, all conducted in 104 degree heat. A Bikram studio is located in our San Francisco neighborhood, so I may set aside martial arts for a while and continue yoga classes once we return home. Patty just shakes his head and mutters, "It'll ruin your rugby game, mate."

I've also taken a new job; I enjoyed teaching community college for a year, but I missed working with younger students. In September, I'll be joining the high school math faculty at the residential school for the Deaf in Fremont. I student taught there several years ago and have always wanted to return. The residential school system is really the heart and foundation of the Deaf community.

My embryonic novel is in suspension, perhaps permanently. Ideas that seemed fresh and exciting in December seem less so now. Whether I can sustain any interest and resume work is an open question. I haven't really given writing a fair chance, but I must also face the reality that writers write and don't waste time speculating on whether they so desire. It's been a while since I've written anything. So, we'll see...

I hope everyone is enjoying the summer and look forward to renewing acquaintances in September.

January 2012

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