Christmas was never a big thing with me. More often than not, wrapping hand-me-down boots, and mended socks just seemed somehow wrong; So getting old enough to be on my own made it a lot better. In Southern California, I could be found waxing my board late on Christmas Eve after closing the shop, having a quiet dinner with my Jewish boss and going home. Sleep till almost dawn and head for the surf…. and be quietly in my own space, with others, on the water.
But if I was to choose the best “Christmas”, it would have to be the year that I had blown the motor in my motorcycle so was taking the bus everywhere. I had stopped surfing, so there was nothing to be looking forward to . . .
About 8pm, I was riding the bus past the Greyhound station….. and saw a bus sitting in the bay that said Reno. I got off the metro bus and bought a ticket home to Bishop.
The folks lived about eleven miles north of town…. and I talked the driver into dropping me at the bottom of the hill. He was a little sad, because there was only one other person going on farther that Christmas Eve. As the diesel fumes hung in the 3am air, I looked across the valley at the Sierra Mountains, and especially Mt. Tom.
The stars don’t “wheel” overhead; they just hang like a breath caught in surprise. The crisp night was probably turning my lips blue, my ears red and causing my nose to run, but I don’t remember or care. The moon was just up for about two or three hours, and flooded the valley floor and snow blanketed mountains with the soft brilliance that only comes from a quarter moon.
The road’s gravel crunched in frozen protest to my boots as I walked up the hill, it’s less than a half mile, but I always made the hike last. The desert calm on a windless night in the frozen winter is a vision of ghostly sound. You know there should be movement, or the sound of a far-off truck, but the only sound is your heart beating and the lighter greys on the darker blacks as its all waiting for you to pass on into the rest of the night.
As I got to the midpoint of the driveway and near the back gate, I stopped and turned to just rest and stare at the snow folded in the valleys of the mountains. The knees of the ridges cutting dark jagged knife tracks down slopes I had hiked and climbed as a kid. Now, they were bedded with the soft white of silence and night.
Behind me, I could hear Yankee nosing open the gate and my left hand withdrew from the pocket of the P-coat and dropped to my waist and onto his massive head. Through his head I could feel the gentle uncontrolled wag of a hind end that had almost no tail to wag.
A semi-delicate hand slid down into my right coat pocket as my mother leaned into my shoulder.
Quietly she whispered, “I felt you coming.”