Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, San Luis Obispo, CA ,
for December 6, 2007
If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that would suffice
The kite fluttered over the marsh like a grey and silver handkerchief shivering in the chilly wind. It hovered over a patch of salt marsh, waiting for some small, furry bit of lunch to make a foolish move out of the protective cover of the dense vegetation. None did and soon the kite flew away, looking for more promising hunting grounds.
I used to know that winter had arrived when I saw dozens of these small raptors perching on the row of scraggly pine trees back behind the Los Osos middle school. Those trees are gone now, some of them knocked flat by a fierce winter storm years ago
The tall and short dogs are mumbling and milling in the back of my Tall Dog Car as I head east to Fresno. I have received a call-back notice requiring a return to do some additional x-rays in the mammogram department at Kaiser. With several friends in various stages of battling and recovering from breast cancer, a call-back notice, even a false alarm, always involves hearing the unwelcome sound of the Eternal Footman making soft throat-clearing noises as he hovers behind my chair. He’s always there, of course, but easily overlooked in the rush of blooming summer and the busyness of life. Except in winter when reminders of his presence are everywhere.
Heading into the thin, cold morning sun, the acres of once-green grape vines covering the hills east of Paso Robles are now gold and red, their dying leaves waiting for the winter winds, the vines drawing back for the hard pruning to come.
Blood Alley, the notorious Highway 41/46, is undergoing major changes as great earth moving machinery is adding lanes to the curves and rises through the hills that lie east of the Bakersfield/Fresno cut off. And outside the now closed Reef City gas station a whole new road is being laid down next to the old one.
Eventually, this all may end up a four lane divided highway, the only way to reduce the carnage on a road that seems to invite lethal hubristic folly or fatal inattention. The various roadside memorials located along its length may be dusty and faded, but for the families and friends that remain behind after such deadly catastrophes, nothing has faded at all.
The dogs are soon glad to be out of the car and into my sister’s back yard for a romp. Unlike my house, her neighborhood is dog heaven since it is filled with squirrels rustling up the huge trees to run along the phone wires in back of the houses, only pausing in the middle of the wire to tauntingly flick a tail at the excited dogs below.
Soon enough, the visit is ended and we are heading west this time, past the miles of harvested cotton fields, the stick-brown plants stripped naked except for wisps of cotton and the few remaining bolls bobbing loosely on the dead twigs. Beside the vast fields are boxcar-sized rectangles of baled cotton, capped and waiting for pick-up. They line the edge of the fields like an endless row of Conestoga wagons heading for distant weaving mills to be returned as jeans and tee shirts and tablecloths.
Then, astonishingly, in a sere landscape waiting for the dark and cold of winter’s sleep, I pass a still-green alfalfa field. In the middle of it is an enormous herd of grazing sheep . . . with lambs by their sides.
At the closing of the year, the dying of the season, it is a reminder yet again that life knows no calendars. The Eternal Footman is always there, but so is Life, renewing itself when and where it can. The elegant kites come with the cold, the fields die only to be reborn, Blood Alley claims its victims, but their families endure and remember, and lambs arrive to gambol their short lives in a green alfalfa field beside a busy highway in the cold winter’s light.
Turning off Highway 1 onto South Bay Boulevard, the dogs scramble to their feet and mill about, their noses pressed to the air vents. They smell the salt marsh, the scent of the chaparral and know, unerringly, that the journey is over and they will soon be . . . Home.