Thursday, December 31, 2009

Post-Christmas Elliott Clan Gathering in Murray Creek

Entry for 27 December 2009:

Boxing Day isn’t celebrated in the US, but the Day After Christmas is typically one of the busiest shopping days of the year, as people return gifts they don’t want, spend their gift cards, and buy the things they wanted but didn’t get for Christmas. I like to shop, but … would rather see family, so instead, Kenneth, Diane and I headed up to Murray Creek in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been able to get together with all my siblings at one time, perhaps since my dad died almost 4 years ago. The other five get together a couple times a year, most often for my mom’s birthday in April and for Dam Building (to create a swimming hole on the Murray Creek) in May, and then for significant birthdays involving multiples of 10. Over the years, the significant birthdays have developed a theme concept, like Lord of the Rings, the 1950’s etc. My youngest sister Louisa is really into this and is currently redecorating her house as a Wild West saloon/brothel in preparation for a Wild West-themed celebration for her partner in the Spring of 2010. Some of us think that this is getting a bit carried away, but it is hard to deny the energy behind it.

It was a lovely, sunny December day as we drove over Altamont Pass and down into the Central Valley, crossed the Valley, and continued on up into the Mother Lode Country. We arrived about noon. My siblings and their partners and children were scattered here and there: We’d passed Ebru (Joseph’s partner) and her mom Guler, out for a walk, on our way up the Murray Creek Road; Willy and Jim (Anna’s partner) were cutting firewood, chainsaw making a growly roar in the distance; Anna was up the hill in my mom’s house checking her email; Louisa and Steve, and Joseph and his baby Ayla were out for separate walks somewhere (Murray Creek Valley is great for walks); my mom, Conal and Holly, Katie (Willy's partner) and my nephews Aidan and Luke were hanging out in the lower, guest house, where Holly (Conal’s partner) and Joe (Louisa’s lodger) were working on their parts of dinner. (I’ve probably got this wrong; it’s really hard to keep track of them all, and they kept moving around!)

The big family dinner had been planned for 1pm; however, things are generally fairly fluid with my family, and Joseph and Ebru were having trouble getting Ayla to take a nap, so the plan kept changing. Instead of dinner we eventually all (except Willy, who came tailing in partway through) collected ourselves in the upper house to unwrap presents. Over the years, my siblings have mostly settled into sensible, reliable modest forms of gift giving, emphasizing do-it-yourself handicraft: Joseph makes a quite a professional-looking family calendar; Conal and Holly give baskets of honey, soap etc; Anna makes her famous almond roca and spicy pistachios; Willy makes a big square of shortbread; Louisa often makes scarves or something similar but this year surprised us with olive oil and balsamic vinegar from her partner Steve’s sister’s ranch. My mom gives everyone whatever cutting edge interesting thing she is into on a given year, always a surprise: This year it was a container of hemp seed, the latest nutritional wonder food (guaranteed THC-free!) and copies of Daniel Quinn's Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure, her latest fave thinker. Diane and I don’t do so well, not being so handy and also being stuck in a more commercial/conventional Christmas present cultural scheme; since moving to Scotland we have been able to rely on Scottish Tourist Stuff: quaichs, whiskey, celtic pewter pieces, Elliott tartan stuff etc. This year it was a mixture of stuff, such as Scottish artisanal chocolates, celtic music, tartan tights… and a kilt towel for Willy, who showed it off in great style.

The Red Book. The high point, however, was presenting our mom with a copy of Carl Jung’s long-suppressed, just-published The Red Book, produced by Jung during his time of difficult and occasionally psychotic self exploration 1914-1930. My mom is a devoted Jungian; I can remember from my childhood how excited my mom and grandmother were when Jung published his paper on the archetypical significance of flying saucers. Over the years, my mom worked her way through most of Jung’s later work, and has been especially keen on his work on alchemy. Holly (Conal’s partner) had spotted news of The Red Book’s imminent publication last September and we had jumped at the chance to get this for our mom.

I’d read about Jung’s notebooks, but had no idea that they were so powerful and beautiful: This facsimile edition of The Red Book is physically quite large and imposing, with reproductions of Jung’s gorgeous, colourful symbolic paintings of mandalas and other archetypes and dream images, together with his elegant calligraphy in German, Latin and Greek, with translations in the back. This work is the legendary source of everything that Jung did for the remainder of his life. Our mom was indeed surprised, overwhelmed and pleased. She put it in a place of honor on a low chest in her sun porch, windows on three sides, overlooking Murray Creek. I can now imagine the sun porch as a kind of chapel, with The Red Book as a kind of sacred scripture, illuminated, timeless like the Book of Kells.

After gifts, we eventually did get dinner, a hectic, somewhat chaotic affair, with 15 or so different dishes, many of us squeezed in around the big table in the porch, the rest spilling over into the living room. After that, people began to leave, to go home or on to other commitments. We’d gradually collected here in Murray Creek, then we had a few hours all together, and now we began to leave again, starting with Joseph and his family, Louisa and her entourage that evening. There is a rhythm to these gatherings, which I like to watch, like the tide coming in and going out. When will we all be together again? Perhaps next August: At dinner, we agreed to a date for my 60th birthday party in early August. The theme? Scotland, of course! That will also give me an excuse to wear my kilt; let’s hope for cool weather!

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