Gary and I arrived at Chimney Rock in Eagle Point, Oregon, about ten weeks ago. Our setting is a beautiful oak savannah interspersed with pine, madrone and manzanita on a land of springs, seasonal creeks and ponds. Several horses and a mule or two graze contentedly. These horses aren’t ours: a neighbor has surreptitiously let them in to graze our still-green pastureland, and we pretend not to notice. They ignored us until I began feeding them carrots; now the small herd races the car to the carport when we return home, and even the shyest approach for a treat. Ella stands aside, nervously eyeing the mules, who have it in for her.
Snow has paid a brief visit. We’re hoping for a few inches so we can use our sled to collect firewood to replenish the supply. Hiking the hills and fields here, I feel as though time has stood still since early October, when we were getting our first snows in Alaska. Our lows are in the 30’s; there the lows are in the -30’s. I close my eyes to picture it: our cozy cabin, sunset pinks on the mountaintops, frost blossoms on the ice, moose browsing the riverbank.
The chance to live that life, even if just for a year, was the gift of a lifetime. As we enjoy our quiet celebration here, I realize the gifts we share today are sweet tokens, but nothing compared to the gifts that came to us through the year, through the years.
I think first of my Aunt Vee, who has given me so much. If it weren’t for her, I never would have met Gary. Vee moved to Alaska as a young woman, and I didn’t come to know her and my Uncle Keith until about ten years ago. They welcomed me here at Chimney Rock with open arms when I wanted to visit not long after my parents died. When they invited me to join them at their summer cabin in Alaska, I used my six-week sabbatical from work to make my first trip to Alaska in 2004. When Uncle Keith rang the breakfast bell that first morning, Gary walked into my life.
Now we’re living at Vee and Keith’s beloved Chimney Rock, in the beautiful home they built to take in the glorious views and the southern sun. Gary tries to keep a fire going in the wood-burning hot tub, and nights often find us there under the stars. We go on long hikes without ever leaving the property and watch deer, turkeys, the ponies and all manner of birds from our windows.
Gary and I spent last Thanksgiving with his sister Karen and her husband Scott and daughter Kristen. Little did I know how important they would become to me. Whenever we needed a home away from home, a shoulder to cry on or a movie to laugh at, I couldn’t have felt more like part of the family. I stayed with them when Gary was in the hospital in May, and that is where he started his recuperation. Their son, Eric, wrote Gary one of the nicest letters I think I’ve ever read; it makes me cry just to think of it. I miss the cinnamon rolls he and Kristen made, but even more I miss watching them clown around the kitchen together making them.
Gary’s sister Tina and brother-in-law Craig put us up and put up with us plenty, too; so did their daughters Selena and Dolly. Craig made great meals, helped us sell the stuff we couldn’t bring with us, fixed Gary’s truck, and is a wealth of practical information. Tina took me aurora-hunting, and Selena even cut my hair. They had me folded over laughing with stories and pranks I can’t begin to do justice to here, and I am always grateful for a good laugh! Whenever they came to see us they came bearing huge quantities of wonderful organic produce. Karen did too, but I’m every bit as grateful to her for taking all the pantry items we couldn’t use as we emptied the cabin. She didn’t flinch at taking Rice-a-Roni bearing a suspiciously antique-looking $.36 price tag. Gary’s sister Sonia and her husband, Turi, visited from Memphis; they, too, brought an abundance of organic produce for us. We carefully packed Turi’s sculptures to come with us wherever we call home.
My cousin Glenn and his wife Terri came as often as they could to their summer cabin next door to our place. Terri learned how to cook vegan just for Gary! She’s a wonderful cook, and there were always copious leftovers for us to enjoy when they headed back to Anchorage. Her Springer Spaniel puppy, Mercedes, kept Ella amused and well-exercised. Glenn always made sure my wine glass was full, and left me that final gift of non-alcoholic beer, which I dutifully consumed those last thirsty days of our stay.
Diane and her daughter Danae let us park my car and plug it in at their place all winter. They were always ready with a cup of tea, some warm flatbread if we timed it right, and good conversation. Both are talented artists; Danae made a beautiful pastel of Ella based on photos I took. As we were leaving, Diane gave us two wonderfully helpful books on healing.
Brenda and Harold always warmed us with coffee and often with lunch when we got to town. Brenda made me my favorite winter hat, a beaver-lined periwinkle blue knit cap, and as tiny as she is helped me carry over 20 heavy boxes from my car to the Post Office when we moved. Harold helped me get a tire for my car when I had a flat, just when we were supposed to be moving, and put the thing on for me! And I’ll never forget the beautiful, ripe tomatoes from New Jersey Brenda gave me that late September day.
Jayne, Ella’s vet, and her husband Bob gave me a thrill of a lifetime when they took me out with a dog team last fall. They were practically our only winter visitors, coming with their dogs and snowmachine to our little part of the world, bearing gifts of Jayne’s homemade bread and Bob’s smoked salmon. It was Jayne who encouraged me to make bread atop the woodstove, something I came to love doing when it was really cold outside.
Gary’s brother Ken and my cousin Joan’s husband Ed have kept our freezer full with salmon and halibut. We nursed the salmon all the way down from Alaska, and did the same with an ice chest full of halibut Ed gave us when we visited him, Joan and Aunt Vee in Montana. We’re grateful several days a week!
I will always be indebted to my own brother, Richard, for driving me up to Alaska when I was moving from San Francisco. I owe his bride, Gloria, big time, for lending him. What a great road trip – it was a chance of a lifetime. My friends Annette and Terry have done too much to describe: let me stay with them for longer than was polite on my part, helped me, listened, advised, took me on hikes and generally distracted and cared for me when I needed it most. They still do. My dear friend Jackie has offered much wisdom and support.
Roger Lee and Marcia, longtime friends of Gary, babysat Ella when we were traveling to meet with specialists. Mark bought the truck part Gary needed when we were getting ready to move; rather than letting Gary pay for it Mark suggested he pay it forward, buying coffee and lending an ear to those we meet in clinics and hospitals. Alida’s cousin Ann visited Gary, a perfect stranger, in the hospital. Linda, a childhood friend of mine, and her family opened their home to me and Richard as we drove up, and they’ve offered to do the same when Gary and I travel to Seattle to see his doctors. And I shouldn’t forget Steve and Paul of Tew’s Tire Service in Wasilla, who stopped and took care of my flat tire on the lonely Denali highway that evening just a few days before our big move; they wouldn’t take anything from me but thanks.
Jim, the wildlife trooper, came regularly to check on us when we were isolated by the winter season. Jim and Bona, the campground hosts, were always happy to pick up groceries or mail for us when they went to town, and were good summertime friends. Marcia at the BLM brought back the pump handle to the well when we were so very short of good water after the flooding when we were preparing to move.
So many of you wrote us words of encouragement, inspiring tales of victory over cancer, prayed for us, sent resources for physical and spiritual health, made us laugh, or just made a special effort to stay in touch. I could never have written my blog without the encouragement of my readers, and it wouldn’t be what it is without Erin, who set up the visual graphics and template for me.
Here at Chimney Rock, our neighbor Harmon has paid us a hundred kindnesses. The folks whose horses we think we have brought a huge forklift and eased Gary’s horse trailer back onto the driveway the day we arrived here, keeping it from tipping into the abyss.
These kindnesses and more are our Christmas gifts, and they remind us that what we do throughout the year is more important than any gift we can buy.
This might explain why you haven’t received a package from us!
Truly, we can’t thank you enough. May 2013 find you continuing to give and receive with joy and grace.
Sunrise:10:39 a.m. (Alaska); 7:39 a.m. (Oregon)
Sunset: 3:12 p.m. (Alaska); 4:43 p.m. (Oregon)
Weather: High 20, low 0 (Alaska); High 40, low 32 (Oregon)