Monday, August 13, 2007

Murray Creek, Summer 2007

Entry for 13 August 2007:

Return to Murray Creek. After a week in Toledo, we flew to San Francisco last Saturday, and drove up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, stopping for an hour or so in Pleasanton (a suburb in the East Bay Area) for a brief visit with Diane’s mom over lunch. We arrived in the late afternoon, following the winding Murray Creek road for the last three miles until we came to my mom’s place. There are two houses there, but after my dad’s death last year, my mom moved back to the upper house, even though it was still partly wrecked from the damage when a huge oak tree next to it uprooted last year and tore the sleeping porch off its foundation two weeks before my dad’s death. (My mom reports in a recent blog entry that when my dad saw the damage, he realized that the lung cancer was going to get him.)

Now, 17 months later, the repairs have been finished, and we were greeted by a renewed house, the old sleeping porch enlarged and opened up to create a light, airy space, with a brand new redwood deck just beyond, decorated with my grandmother’s cast iron patio furniture, which I recognized from my childhood 50 years ago.

Reconnecting with family. My mom, brothers Joseph and Conal and Conal’s partner Holly were there waiting for us, and we were very pleased to see them. Conal and I hadn’t spoken too much since our father’s death, when there had been a bit of tension between us over my being critical of Nonviolent Communication (one of those silly defensive academic petty things I sometimes fall into and now regret). However, last April he and Holly moved to Murray Creek and have been reconnecting with the family and the land. Then in May, there was a bad brush fire on their property (which is next to my mom’s), which was quite traumatic for them. Fortunately, their house survived without damage, and they have bounced back from the trauma and recovered from the fire-related PTSD; in fact, the fire appears to have even deepened their commitment to the valley. Meanwhile, my siblings and I pulled together to offer them emotional support. I am very grateful to them also for the support they have been able to provide to my mom.

My mom looked better than she had for a long while, getting around well with or without her walking sticks, and appears to have new energy and focus now that the house is fully repaired and renewed. After my dad died, it was really not clear what would happen next at Murray Creek. My mom took in a boarder, who has been living in the lower house, and my mom took to wandering among my siblings’ houses on a kind of hejira while her house was being repaired. Now, it seems, she is home again and to stay, and some kind of balance is being restored to the valley.

Climbing Mountains. So my brothers and I spent time catching up with each other. I heard about Joseph’s recent trip to Africa, and his and Ebru (my Turkish sister-in-law)’s trek up Mount Kllimanjaro, a 7-day journey from rain forest to glaciers that put Kenneth and my recent adventure climbing Wyndburgh Hill to shame. And we heard about Conal’s plans, his rediscovered love for the valley, how he and Holly are dealing with the aftermath of the fire, their plans for fixing up their house, and so on. Conal and Joseph plunged into the most obscure computer programming talk I have heard in a long time. It was wonderful! Then, yesterday, Kenneth and I got up and ran the Murray Creek Road, an annual ritual of ours, a demanding 10K course of steep up and down hills, first in the cool of the valley, then as we climbed the steep road out of the valley to the top of the ridge, warmer in the summer morning sun. At the end, we sprinted to make it in less than an hour.

Physical labor. Then, after breakfast, we tackled the large pile of chipped wood mulch in back of the house, left by the tree trimmers. Over the next two hours, as the day got progressively hotter, Joseph, Kenneth and I shifted a couple tons of wood chips, spreading them over the back garden, halfway up the hill to the water tank. Kenneth and I lasted about two hours at this back-breaking labor, so out of character for us that virtually the only place we engage in this level of physical labor is here, in Murray Creek. Finally, Joseph, who hadn’t been out running first thing in the morning, worked on for another half hour spreading the chips around, while Kenneth collapsed on his bed and I took a much needed shower.

Meteor Shower. There is something both deeply satisfying and cleansing about this level of physical labor, and so we lounged around for most of the rest of the day, talking among ourselves until it was time for Joseph to go back to San Francisco. Kenneth fell asleep about seven, I worked on my APA presentation for Friday. Finally, about 11 we went out to watch the Persiad meteor shower. One of my favorite things about Murray Creek is the stars. We went out onto my mom’s new deck, sat down on those wrought iron patio chairs, lay back, and watched the deep night sky. The Milky Way was emblazoned, north to south, across the sky. Watching for meteors is always a bit tedious, and some years it is totally fruitless, but this year we were lucky: Diane and I each saw three shooting stars in about twenty minutes. They weren’t the same three meteors, but it was enough to satisfy our desire for awe-inspiring but evanescent sights. We went inside and crashed.

Labyrinth Ritual. This morning, we got up and, after breakfast, walked down to the labyrinth, my mom moving right along with her trekking poles. She paused at the entrance to the labyrinth, and said, ”We have been saying a little something before entering the labyrinth; we said, “Go ahead.” She said, “O luminous spirits, who inhabit this place, watch over us here, and God bless you.” Then she paused, and said, “We usually say it three times.” We gestured, “Go ahead.” And she did.

Then she led the way into the labyrinth. Conal and Holly had recently run weed-eaters over the labyrinth, so it was better tended and neater than usual. The mention of luminous beings inhabiting the labyrinth made me think about all the other beings who inhabit it, mostly the gophers, the evidence of whose tunneling was everywhere along the way; I thought of dark beings and light ones; mundane and the numinous. Over the past year, my mom has come to understand the labyrinth as an entrance to the spirit world, a focus point for powers and energies or spirits to cross between our world and the other worlds posited in the shamanistic world view. I suppose the gopher holes could be thought of a symbolic entrances to the lower world.

My mom, me, Diane and Kenneth walked to the center of the labyrinth, faced the four cardinal directions, touched the Mother and Father Stones. There was a crystal resting on the Father Stone, very similar to the one that Kenneth and I had left on top of Wyndburgh Hill only two weeks before. I picked it up, looked at it, set it down. Then the four of us hugged, and we went back out.

Chinese Dam. After that, we walked up the road to Conal and Holly’s house, got the tour of their place and plans, then went down to the Chinese Dam. Sometime during the California Gold Rush (1848-), probably around 1863 (according to, this was the peak of Chinese mining efforts), some of the 25,000 Chinese gold miners in the California Mother Lode at the time, got together and built a 3 –5 meter high dam across Murray Creek, just below where Conal and Holly’s house is today. The remains of this dam are on their property, and in Scotland would be considered to be an historical site of archeological significance and listed in the national register. The dam appears to have been a dry stone structure, somehow sealed on the upriver side. The dam would have created an artificial lake extending several hundred meters up the valley. Water was then diverted into along ditch on the south side of the valley for use in fluming gold ore. We don’t know exactly where the many tons of stone used to construct the dam came from; undoubtedly much of it came from the river bed. After the gold ran out, the dam was opened to let the river flow through unimpeded; much of the stone appears to have been carried downstream, on my parents’ property. We don’t really know any more than that about the dam or the people that built it!

We left shortly after our visit to the Chinese Dam, a too-short visit, but satisfying on multiple levels. Onward to San Francisco & APA!

1 comment:

naomi said...

I love the descriptions of your family life and the connections with each other and with the land. I didn't have that and so it always moves me to read of your family, taking people in, loving each other, even when it is difficult and there are disagreements.