Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New Beginnings: Waking at Murray Creek

Entry for 27 December 2006 (Murray Creek):

About 6:30am, I open my eyes to the silhouette of an oak tree, framed by the large east window of my mom’s new sleeping porch in the upper house at Murray Creek. It has been raining all night, which is great, because Northern California is behind on its rainfall for the season. Today the creek will be running full again, and over the next weeks the green will deepen. It’s made for a peaceful night’s sleep, to the beat of rain on the new roof.

California live oaks are evergreen and have a marvellous irregular, spreading branch structure. Now, silhouetted against the gradually lighting eastern sky, almost 90 minutes ahead of sunrise this time of year in Glasgow, the branches form a pattern like the view from space of some great, richly brachiated river underneath clouds of leaves.

We’ve just initiated the new sleeping porch, which is not even fully finished. There are two houses on the property here at Murray Creek. For many years, the upper house, where we are now and where my mom lives now, was a guest house for visiting family, while my parents lived in the lower house.

Then, last March, while my father was in the terminal stages of the lung cancer that he would die from just a few weeks later, there was a freak 18-inch snowstorm here. The huge oak tree in front of the upper house went down under the weight of the wet snow. It didn’t hit anything, but the enormous root system underneath old sleeping porch came up out of the ground, pulling this part of the house off its foundation, ripping it loose from the rest of the house, and leaving a gaping chasm and exposing the house to the elements.

My brother-in-law Jim Madden is a building contractor, so over the past 5 months, with help from my brothers Willy and Joseph and various subcontractors, he has demolished the old porch, laid new foundations, put in double glazed windows and doors, and framed, roofed, wired, and sheet-rocked (dry-walled) the new, larger porch. It still needs a few finishing touches, like lights and electrical outlets, but now, jutting out into the lower canopy of the surviving oaks, it feels like living in a childhood dream of a treehouse.

As the light grows, we see the grey green moss and lichen encrustations of the north side of the deciduous oaks, livid against the wet, dark bark. Like the Murray Creek Valley, we have been through a lot over the past year: birth and death, destruction and reconstruction, marriage and retirement, moving house (lower to upper houses, Toledo to Glasgow). Through the long night, we have been nourished and replenished by a healing rain. Now it feels like we have moved firmly and irreversibly into a time of new beginnings, with new spaces opening up in our lives, new possibilities emerging, rough-hewn or at least not fully finished, but with shapes clearly showing, like the silhouettes of the oaks against the lightening morning sky.

(Thanks to Diane and my mom for help with this entry. For more about Murray Creek and its Cretan Labyrinth, go to

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