I had the privilege of sailing on the San Francisco Bay with dear friends, John and Diane and their friend Bob, on their 41-foot sailboat, the Giselle, last week. I grew up in the Bay Area and had never gotten the opportunity before- in fact, I had never been sailing
We departed from the Brisbane Marina on a blistering hot 100-degree day with an audience of pelicans, cormorants, and gulls parked on the break of the marina as we left. The bay with its breezes offered welcome refuge from the heat, especially as we neared the Bay Bridge with its collision of currents and choppy waters. The Giselle tipped side to side from one 40-degree angle to the other as we tacked into the wind. This requires a lot of coordination and movement from the 3- person crew as the sail needs to be released and winched from side to side. I was merely ballast and shifted position from port to stern as the situation called. Oh yes, and I was the wench who held the wrench for the maneuvers.
We returned from four days at Paradise Campground, a favorite camping spot in old growth forest on the McKenzie River here in Oregon last week. It was our first visit since a devastating wildfire swept the area in the summer of 2020. This was one of our favorite camping and kayaking spots. We were devastated when it burned. The fire destroyed thousands of acres of forest taking a multitude of homes and businesses with it. Thankfully, the upper McKenzie where we would be camping was spared.
Heather collapsed face first on the gravel. Her purple-tinged hair spread out like the wind blew it wild, The tattoo of a Volkswagen bus over a lotus on her left arm faced the sky. Jerald, her husband heard her fall as she hit the side of the Volkswagen bus where they sleep while they build their house on the Big Island of Hawaii. He rushed her to the local hospital where they drained a quart of fluid from her heart before flying her to the hospital intensive care unit in Honolulu. If he had not heard her fall she would have died on the spot.
After two weeks in the ICU on high flow oxygen, a lung biopsy, and MRIs came the diagnosis, stage 4 cancer of the heart and lungs. They found after a barrage of tests, a tumor in her heart, cancerous polyps throughout her lungs, and cancerous lesions in her brain, and on her spine. Previously Heather had been complaining of difficulty breathing and was on her second course of antibiotics before collapsing. Her doctor wrongly assumed it was just severe bronchitis. With aggressive chemotherapy, oxygen support, and gamma knife radiation her outcome is uncertain- a few months or a year or two? There are no answers as this type of cancer is extremely rare, especially in a 38-year-old woman. This is my husband’s daughter- my stepdaughter. He was sitting 6 hours a day by her bedside in her hospital room.
(The following is a memoir piece I’ve been working on off and on for several years about my family’s annual camping trips to Yosemite in the late 1950s and 1960s)
In August, my middle class family packed up our ’56 Chevy Bel Air red and white station wagon and left our suburban L.A. home to camp among the cool pines of the Yosemite Valley. We left in the wee hours of the morning to avoid driving in the oppressive Central Valley heat. My older brother, Steve, and I would occupy the “way back,” converted into a bed with layers of soft quilts. This functioned as our sleeping and play area. Seat belts were not even thought of back then. There was no digital world in the late 1950s and early 1960s so upon awakening we would occupy ourselves by reading our stash of comic books and Mad Magazines. We would play endless card games of War. When we were tired of that we would sing folk songs in lively two-part harmony, our parents joining in on “I’ve been working on the Railroad, Suwanee River, Clementine, or our favorite, “the Titanic ”.
I came of age in the late 1960s/ early 1970s in the Bay Area of California. It was the age when women started to wake up from their subjugation in the so-called mans’ world. So began a rebellion of women demanding equal rights and opportunities that continues to this day.
In 1976 I headed up to Alaska for a summer job that morphed into a 10-year stay. Alaska was a perfect place for an independent, outdoorsy kind of woman to break down barriers. Nobody blinked an eye if you built a cabin, commercial fished, mushed dogs, hunted, and the like. Then in 1978, I met with my biggest obstacle- working in a sawmill as the only woman. This is my story…
On the first day of my new job, I drove the 6 ½ miles out the road with a lump in my stomach. My ’63 VW bug purred around the last bend and the sawmill came into view, a hulking, half- rusted sheet metal structure belching a billowing plume of steam from a tall stack. Shrieks and clanks of machinery inside clashed with the placid water of the canal and the misty islands beyond. This was not exactly in my life plan to work at a sawmill but there were no other options to be had in the small Southeastern Alaskan island town of Wrangell. It so happened when I needed a job, the 6 ½ mile mill needed an employee and a woman at that.
It is winter solstice today. This story came to mind of a much younger me living in Alaska…
In December, the sun dips low in the peach and lavender sky at 1 PM in Fairbanks, Alaska. Night begins to fall slowly at that latitude. When I lived there I learned to embrace the darkness lest I get claustrophobic in the small confines of our cabin. Dressed in layers of wool with a headlamp, I’d go chop firewood, shovel snow, or better yet, go out for a night ski. We lived on Yellow Snow Rd., aptly named for the many dog teams that lived on it so there were plenty of dog trails to ski on in the neighborhood.
Hoar frost was an event. At subfreezing temperatures, moisture present in the air would freeze in a crystalline structure and collect on the surfaces of branches eventually coating them in a sparking beard of white. At 10 below zero to 10 degrees above, a hoar frost provided the perfect conditions to ski.