new years fireworks!When I was a child, my family spent many Fourth of July celebrations on the banks of Atascadero Lake, watching fireworks shot over the water. One of these nights, exhausted from a day of sun and water, I thought I saw the fireworks form a smiley face and than an American flag. Later though I wasn’t sure if I’d really seen these formations; maybe I had been dreaming them. Decades went by and I did not see another smiley face or flag. I didn’t see much more than fountains and blossoms and shooting stars.

But recently I saw several sideways smiles, a few Saturns, and hearts going every direction. Alert, in the cold night air, I am certain these fiery configurations exist. I wasn’t dreaming.

new years fireworks



I say to mom, who lives nine hours away, “Let’s meet in the middle and have Christmas and celebrate the not-so-little-anymore-boy’s birthday.”

I drive six hours and mom and the boy and his mother, my sister, meet me at a hotel lobby that has a seven-foot tree with presents underneath.

I drive six hours, gassing up at the most expensive spot—the base of the Grapevine (Tejon Pass)—in winds that make my teeth clatter. I drive as fast as I can to get to Christmas, hardly noticing the landscape, forgetting that sometimes weather can shift quickly in Gorman.

The woman I grew up alongside and her youngest son (on the eve of nine) and the woman who grew us and I stand in the lobby at the end of a year where we have met on three occasions, but we easily pick up the conversations we’ve been having along the way. We eat three meals together, exchange laughter and wisdom, gifts and kisses, and then we set off our separate ways.

There is more to think about on the return side of the journey.

The first couple of miles of the Grapevine are, as the day before, unremarkable. Then, there are flecks of snow on the ground: a herd of bay ponies dappled in white. I wonder if I am driving into a Christmas card.

Someone shakes the snow globe and what were rain drops become flakes. Falling faster flakes. And, the people all around me press their brakes as they speed their way down the freezing pass before it is closed.Gorman2 Gorman3

Apple Hill

Apple Hill

If I had to write a composition about what I did on my winter break, I would first lament the speeding finale that prohibits any graceful dismount and makes me think for a moment: I did nothing. And, for the first few days I did nothing but grade as quickly as I could, promising to post final scores rapidly. Thus, when it was finally time for adventure, I joyfully drove my friend L–’s four girls and our friend C– packed her car full of girls (and one poor little man) to Apple Hill to get apple cider and unexpected sunshine in the foothills three days before Christmas. The girls in my vehicle range in age from four to sixteen and all were excited for Santa or presents or the upcoming feast or all of the above. In fact, as I arrived at the door, there was a sidewalk chalk dear Santa Letter scrawled inside a large arrow, showing him the way.

Yes, cider and samples of more than a half dozen apples and olives and sauces and oranges is enough to inspire me to make the drive, but my real incentive is the apple wood smoke fire and its sweet smoke that fills my hair, my coat, my scarf, all of the layers of me—and the promise of a whiff of this calming scent days later.

But the just-under-an-hour drive was not calm. The girls were filled with Christmas songs, and they sang in funny voices, in solemn voices, bumbling some words, blaring others all of the way.

Novice tourists to this attraction, they’d hyped it up in their minds, wondered where the roller coasters and other rides were. I worried for a moment that where we had been jingling all the way there’d be disappointment, but there were free fruit samples and this fantastic machine to peel and core apples.

Apple Hill2

Blue Butterflies

bluebutterfliesImagine that it is a hot afternoon, the type of weather that almost automatically makes you want to throw yourself down on the shady bank of a small creek, under the bridge your lover is measuring for a client.  But before you find a shady spot to laze in and listen to the near stillness of your surroundings, you notice that, with almost every step you take, a cloud of light blue butterflies is stirred into commotion at your feet.  This constellation of blue is no higher than your shins and moves frantically so you do not crush the entire colony.  Suddenly, there is no safe place to sit.  Even more, you cannot resist the urge to disturb these otherwise (practically) invisible creatures.  So, you find yourself, despite the temperature, pacing the bank, crossing one side of the creek to the other: butterflies.  Crossing back: butterflies. Pacing, sweating: butterflies!