Happy New Year, a Little Late

I’m back and officially ready to start the new year. The head cold I mentioned turned nasty indeed. I spent most of last week in bed after my sister and nephews returned to California (on the 3rd). This week, my priorities include reacquainting myself with my writing routines.

In truth, I’m anxious because I haven’t written in a few weeks. This is my usual reaction when my routines crumble. Right now, the tension is helpful as an antidote against winter inertia. Weather-wise, January is my heart of darkness. Holiday socializing and errand-running and family stuff propel me through December. But now?

All I can say is that you can’t take the California out of the girl. Sunlight is good. January is a pain in the neck. Interestingly enough (at least to me), now that I live in the Pacific Northwest I find that my most vivid holiday memories are bathed in sunlight.

These memories begin with my childhood home, which was built into a steep hillside above Tennessee Valley, with my elementary school nestled on the valley floor and a quaint cemetary dotting the opposite hillside. The Kirkland family’s homestead with neat white fences and grazing horses also sat opposite. Beyond the school, the Godino family also owned land — and a Shetland pony that I adored. They were the last family along the valley floor before the horse stables and the anise-scented trail that led to Tennessee Valley Cove. The pebbly beach sat on the cusp between the San Francisco Bay and the vast Pacific. These days, the area is integrated into the Marin Headlands recreational area with trail signage and port-a-potties and hikers-bikers-runners in their yuppie gear. In those days, it was a wilderness that I roamed at will.

This was my little universe, a universe over which I often gazed from above a layer of fog that had seeped over the hillsides and pooled in the valley. I was in the same grade as a Kirkland daughter and a Godino son, and I could pick out the street halfway down my hilly neighborhood where several other schoolmates lived: Kathy, Nancy, Kim, Kristi, Robin, Melissa, Julie, Mike.

Best yet, the eastward view from my house led my eye past the old-fashioned grave markers toward receding layers of a larger world: Strawberry Point, the Bay, Angel Island, the Oakland and Berkeley hills on the opposite shore. I’m convinced that this perspective beyond my little universe — plus the freedom to wander hills with nothing but sea-salt laden wind, tall grass, and my dog for company — was pivotal to my development as a writer. I could imagine anything as I gazed past the edge of the continent. And I did.

But back to the holiday memories: On Christmas mornings, my sisters and I woke before dawn. From bed, I watched the horizon lighten over my world with purple shimmers. Soon enough, the fog layer turned into a vibrant canvas in pinks and oranges before the sun finally revealed itself and a frost-sparkling morning. By then, it was time to wake our parents. Our living room sported a wall of picture windows. The memories are as simple as this: Sunlight drenched us as we opened presents.

In the here and now, it’s only 2:00 p.m. and the rain puddles already reflect orange from the garage light across the street. It’s a still, gray day. The stream next to my building is more like a river, and water gurgles fountain-like over a portion of tree trunk that floated from who knows where. The sound is comforting.