Fifteen Years and Fifteen Days. (a celebration and lament)

“It’s only temporary.”

In my lifetime, how often have I heard those words? Hundreds? Thousands? I can’t say how many times. But I hear them now, rattling around, muffled and tinny, like in a crumpled and rusted can half covered in ash.

The phrase is meant as a balm to help take some of the sting out of an unpleasant situation that is not expected to last very long. But how long? How long is “Temporary”?

Fifteen years and fifteen days. That is how long we lived on my Aunt, Yana and Uncle Bob’s land in Bonny Doon. We built a yurt and had a separate bath house for the four of us, my wife Cecile, our two children, Tatiana and Oliver, who were five and two years old at the time, and myself. We moved in August 3, 2005. It was our ninth anniversary.

It’s all gone now. The wildfires wiped it away. Dust and cinders. The last time we had our home was August 18, 2020.

I remember it was hot when we moved in. The yurt got direct Sun from late morning until about 6:00 in the evening when it would begin to be filtered by the tall redwoods and firs on the other side of the meadow and across the creek where the land started to rise. That’s where Yana and Bob’s house sits. It was over 100 degrees and dry inside that yurt when I was putting in the wide plank pine floor. You can ask PA Paul who helped me with that job. We laughed a lot as we suffered and sweated inside that empty shell that acted like a solar oven. Paul would ask himself which was the better job, laying a wood floor in stifling heat or digging the pier holes by hand as we had done. All eight of them had filled with ground water at about two feet in depth, where the decomposed granite intermingled with clay and the shallow water table resided. The earth had been so heavy and sticky all the way down to six feet which was their final depth. I think the digging had been the slightly preferred job. Because the floor had to fit the circular shape of the yurt, each line of planks had to be cut at an angle to match the outer circumference, but also had to be notched to fit around the upright wall studs already in place, fifty of them. It wasn’t hard, just absurdly time consuming, especially in the delirium from excessive heat.

How does the saying go? “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun”? Only them and PA Paul and me. I could just call him Paul. But I never have and now it just wouldn’t feel right. He is a Physician Assistant and we worked together in the ER at the time I was building the yurt. I don’t know how it began, the calling him PA Paul. Rightly it should have been PA Lewandowski for that’s his last name. Even when we run into each other in the world it’s still PA Paul. He calls me Nurse Miguel to keep things even.

The first party we ever had there was for my Dad’s sixty-sixth birthday. The first of many parties to be enjoyed in that space. It was July fourteenth. Before we moved in. We hadn’t finished the floor yet so there were stacks of planking up against the walls. It smelled like sawdust. There was no furniture. We had cake and ice cream and we danced around the wide open space… 706 square feet of uninterrupted circular floor space with the ceiling peaking at 15 feet and nothing to run into but each other. What a joyful way to christen the Roundhouse as it later became known. Years later,in 2019 we had two huge parties on consecutive days: The annual Pie Party (more on this later) on July 13 and my Dad’s 80th birthday the following day. That was a colossal double header! A little bit insane, but in the context of what has transpired since with Covid and the Wildfires I am eternally grateful we pushed ourselves over the edge those two remarkable days.

Tatiana had her first day of kindergarten at Santa Cruz Waldorf School that first Fall. She was already so bright and radiant then, with a clarity and confidence you could see in her eyes. Since the children didn’t read, their teacher meditated on each child and drew from their natures a symbol to be used as a marker for their things, their work, their cubby, anything. Tatiana’s symbol was the angel. I felt it was right. Her sixth birthday, in February was blessed with the warmth of a spring day and we had live fiddle music played by Ami and Sumaya, two older girls at the Waldorf School. Tati had fallen in love with Celtic music when we had lived next to the covered bridge in Felton. There was a very accomplished player named Tim who would practice on the bridge, making the most of its acoustics. We would hear the music and two year old Tatiana would grab my hand and we would run over and listen and dance. And she would charm Fiddler Tim with her smile and precocious ease with talking to adults. That February birthday was just sweet and special.

One month later, to the day, we celebrated Ollie’s third birthday. Who could have predicted that the sunny warmth we enjoyed for our February birthday would be replaced by SNOW? We invited friends and family up and sledded in the meadow. We had snowball fights. Grandpa Dan got hit in the face from point blank range by 3 year old Rio and just laughed it off. I will never forget Olivers rosy cheeks and gigantic smile… those big round eyes as he played in the snow for the first time and slid down the gentle slope from the base of the persimmon trees towards the the big walnut that stands above the creek. We came inside and stood warming ourselves ’round the J√łtul wood stove and drinking hot cider full of joy .

In 2011when we were expecting our third child, we built another structure next to the yurt and connected by a deck to provide two bedrooms, so everyone could get a little privacy. The two bigger kids would share one room and Seal and I would have the baby in the other with us. It felt like staying in a hotel at first… or maybe one of the creekside rooms at Tassajara. There was a clean sparseness to it. There wasn’t such a feeling of glorified camping, like you got when sleeping in the yurt. We couldn’t hear every animal noise as if were out in nature with them. But when the Tan- Oak acorns dropped onto the metal roof in the late Summer through Fall it sounded like machine gun fire! I think the squirrels up above got a kick out of the percussive staccato as they bombarded the place. It must have been the most noise they ever made or ever will. Our cars still display the peening on their hoods and roofs to tell the tale of Tan Oaks and their resident squirrels that are gone now.

Once when I got home from work one of those squirrels had gotten a finger stuck between two body panels on the Eurovan we had at the time. It must have been Summer because there was still plenty of light in the driveway at 8:00 pm.. That poor fellow was in a panic! I looked to see how it was trapped. One finger (or is it more properly toe?) on a front hand (or foot) had become wedged between the driver’s side fender and quarter panel. It was hanging from this one toe and trying to get free. It was (and this is the gruesome part) running in circles around that point of connection with the car… just twisting the lodged finger around. I tried to imagine a way of loosing that finger without hurting the squirrel any more or getting scratched up myself by the frightened animal. I couldn’t see any way to do it. I ended up donning my Carhartt jacket, our thick, gauntlet fireplace gloves, a chainsaw protective face shield/ hardhat and got ready. I draped a towel over the frantic squirrel and quickly snipped the toe where it was stuck, using garden shears. Instantly the squirrel dropped to the ground and shot off through the fence and into the woods above the driveway. I was shaky. I felt badly for the squirrel, but thought living minus the tip of one finger wouldn’t kill it. I neglected to divulge the remnant of that squirrel toe to the new owner when we sold the van later that year. That was my story. Not theirs.

Elciana was born in the yurt in April 2012. Somehow Seal knew it was the day. We kept Ollie home from school so we could enjoy his last bit of time as the baby of the family with him. He was nine. His hair was cut into a Mohawk then. It would be two years before he added color. We went to Davenport Landing and walked on the beach. That day remains in my memory as peaceful and timeless. Like a dream. I still have a beautifully serene clip of video, shot on my phone of Seal and Ollie on the bench swing by the ocean there. When we got home from the beach we walked across the meadow to where Bobaloo was working in the garden (always a safe bet you’d find him there). Seal told him the baby was coming that night and would he please tell Yana. He gave a little laugh as if to say, “Oh is that right? Tonight is it?” Of course Seal was right. She knows these things. Elciana was born at 8:53.. Yana and Bob were there to greet her as she emerged. Mimsey and Grandpa drove up the mountain an hour later to meet her.

People move to Bonny Doon for the space, the Nature and privacy of living on a wooded mountaintop. The roads are twisty and narrow. You need to know alternate routes off the mountain, because sometimes a fallen redwood or douglas fir will have your primary avenue closed. Maybe your secondary option is closed too, sometimes by a landslide. You may be re-routed ten or more miles out of your way just to get to work. You may have to pull a chainsaw out and clear the trees yourself if they’re small enough to wrestle out of the road on your own. The benefits of living in The Doon come with a cost.

You may not be able to see your nearest neighbor’s house but you will know their names. And their phone numbers. And e-mails. You will know most of the people on your road, at least a little. This despite the fact you live up here to get away from too many people. It’s a lovely irony that this choice to be further from people brings you closer to people as well. In town you may never know the person two doors down, or across the street. Never know what they do for work, what their dog is named or where their oldest goes to college.

When you live in Bonny Doon you learn that the knit is loose but strong here and you are gradually woven into the structure of the community. It started with families from school for us. Then Little League, and soccer. Your kids connect you to people and place. There’s the Coffee-House at the community church Thursday mornings where people meet over coffee and fresh baked goodies. Art and Wine fundraiser for Bonny Doon Union Elementary school brings people out of their homes to support our kids. There’s the Fire Department Dinner twice a year. The local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) maintains plans for local emergency infrastructure. RBDA (Rural Bonny Doon Association) who meets almost monthly. They discuss matters of importance to the community and publish “The Highlander”, a periodic newsletter that comes in your mailbox. Best of all though for me there’s the BDGLC…Ping Pong and gentlemanly camaraderie every Thursday night at rotating secret venues. Invitation Only. Rare and Exclusive (in a low key haphazard way). The group has marked its fifteenth year and going. I’m forbidden to say more and may already have said too much. Covid has taken a toll on attendance and now that I have relocated to town it’s harder for me to make it.

In Bonny Doon our house was round. What else is round? Pie. I am so thankful for the tradition our family started…The Pie Party. It’s something that keeps me grounded to the Magic of that place and time. And to the people. It became a rite of Summer for us. It was the brainchild of my wife Cecile. In July we would host a party on the land and invite pretty much everyone. We would set a date and invite people to bake a pie to be judged by a panel of volunteers (without conflicts of interest in the judging). We had categories for fruit pies, Savory pies and Chocolate/cream/Ice-Cream pies. People were asked to bring a dish to share in the big pot-luck and some talent to be performed at the talent show. Once invitations went out word would spread and it was (I hope) understood that if you heard about it you were invited. Luckily we have many musician friends who were happy to perform and set a mellow friendly vibe . Thanks to Steve Kraft, Michelle Yahn, Charlie Powell and Jessica Vaughan, Ivo Obregon, Walt and Nicole Anderson and everyone who played and sang and gave to make it special. Tyler Loftis Belched the ABC’s. We have one friend who sang opera, solo, unaccompanied in the bowl of the big conifers and he filled that space in a way that brought silence and stillness to the gathered crowd, none of whom I think ever expected to be party to that experience. All were amazed. I’m still amazed. Thank you for that Delmar.

I am still connected to my people…Dooners. I wear my “Bonny Doon Strong” sticker proudly but sadly on the back of my motorcycle helmet. But it is gone, it was only temporary what we had there. Where my children were small, joyful beings filling the woods with their shouts and laughter. Where my baby girl was born right in our yurt. Where our dog Freckles lies beneath the ground marked by a circlet of stones up by the Meyer Lemon tree. And now I live in Town in a house, surrounded by other houses. But it isn’t Home. Hopefully this exile is temporary too. Everything is.

We plan to have one more. A Pie Party to end all Pie Parties. Next Summer God willing. Have everyone back out to the land, changed as it is, to remind ourselves that it was real. It happened. To gather and bake. To sing and laugh and let go. To dance and have the Sun go down and be there. To celebrate that we can celebrate again. To see the Phoenix Rising!