Thirty three years ago today I was presented with the most precious Christmas gift I’ve ever received…a healthy, dark-eyed little package called Alison Noel, who is now herself a mother of a Christmas baby. At the time her mom and I were living in a one-room apartment above the old Olema Store near Pt Reyes National Seashore, about 30 miles from the hospital in Santa Rosa. Jeanne went into labor right around rush hour and I drove like a madman around the curves and hills of Pt Reyes-Petaluma Road to get us to the delivery room on time. That part turned out quite well. But about two weeks later we became concerned when Ali got into a multi-day crying jag. On New Year’s Day we drove back over the hills to see the doctor and I penned the following little essay:
This is a quintessential Northern California New Year’s Day, shimmering under a cold sun through thin layers of haze, and wrapped in a palpable calm. We are driving the open road along the edges of swollen Nicasio Reservoir whose still, sepia waters like a rambling Rorschach ink blot, mirror every detail of its banks. From the evergreen forest of Point Reyes we have come, sliding through billowy treeless hills already decked in spring green amid serpentine crags whose gray walls stir my mind’s memory pool. Of younger times along coastal cliffs. Of day tripping over slickrock.
Beside me in the car is Alison Noel, tiny daughter of just two weeks whose hat-covered head bobs gingerly against her padded infant seat. Lulled by the engine’s hum and winding roadway, she is finally sleeping after a long evening of crying and colic. If she were awake, she would have little awareness of the pastoral scenes beyond the windshield. And she is too young to have memories or longings for other places, except perhaps that warm dark world of the womb she has so recently emerged from.
In the back seat is Jeanne who reaches forward with motherly concern to shield the baby’s eyes from occasional bursts of sunlight. She is exhausted from the previous night’s ministrations to Alison. But even in fatigue, she bears the calm radiance of new motherhood. We comment on the newborn calf by the roadway and the frozen stance of a great blue heron. A white-tailed kite hovers at the road junction where we turn away from bucolic vistas and begin the curvy course through redwoods and ranch-style homes in Lucas Valley.
At the doctor’s office in Terra Linda, we are reassured by the prognosis that Alison’s troubles are nothing more than normal infant behavior…a little stomach adjusting to a big world. And anyway, it appears as if the ride has calmed her down somewhat. I cannot speak for Jeanne, but I feel that perhaps the strands of memory weaving through my mind have infiltrated all of us, pulling us into that timeless web of familial unity. Today marks our first minor crisis as a family and my first strong awareness of us as a trio.
As we drive homeward through the long soft shadows of West Marin, I am at once protector, provider, parent and child, weaving through the primordial mist, confronting myself at every turn, and dividing by three into the light. Down the last hill we drive toward the muted sun, toward the dark spine of Inverness Ridge….toward home.