We were awakened Sunday night by the smell of smoke. We got up in the dark and tried to figure out where the smell was coming from. Maybe the neighbors left a fire burning in their fireplace overnight, and the slight breeze was blowing it into our house? When we got up on Monday morning, we read that thousands of acres were burning about 70 miles north of us; we had smelled the smoke from those fires.
The wind shifted yesterday and the air cleared, but today the smoke returned. It appeared to be an overcast day, but it was smoke, not clouds, blocking the sun. Over in the East Bay, Ms. M.’s spouse saw ash falling out of the sky in Oakland. I stayed indoors with the windows closed.
In the afternoon, Carol found an apartment for us to look at over in Half Moon Bay. We drove up Highway 92 into the hills west of San Mateo. The smoke reduced visibility so that from the flats where we started out, the tops of the hills looked blue and misty.
In Half Moon Bay the air smelled clean; the line of hills to the east, and an onshore breeze, kept the smoke away. But we could see the smoke above us, a wide plume about a thousand feet up. As the sun got low in the sky, the plume of smoke turned it into a lurid red glowing ball, like a huge red traffic light in the sky.
We had planned to leave San Mateo at noon. Now it is half past twelve, and we still haven’t finished loading the car with clothes, camping gear, ham radio gear, jars of plum jam, and Lord knows what else.
Even though we got up at 6:30 this morning, we just had too much to do. Carol and I spent the last two weeks running an ecology camp, and that left us little time to get ready for our trip.
So here we are, still in San Mateo. We hope to get on the road by one o’clock. We hope….
We obviously didn’t harvest all our potatoes last year, because potato plants started sprouting in the garden in February. Carol wanted to plant pole bean seedlings in that part of the garden, so she dug up the potatoes and got three or four pounds of lovely little Yukon Gold potatoes. We made coconut milk curry.
We decided to go for a hike up in the redwoods late this afternoon. As we drove up into the hills, we got closer and closer to the clouds, until finally we were in them. The trail started close to two thousand feet above sea level, then wound down the coast side of the hills. The clouds were blowing in from the ocean against the hills, so we were in the clouds all the way down to where we turned around, at about twelve hundred feet elevation. In fact, the clouds (or was if fog?) got thicker the lower we got.
It continues to amaze me that we can start driving from downtown San Mateo, in the city a mile from the bay at maybe twenty feet about sea level, and in twenty minutes we can be hiking in the mountains among Douglass fir and redwoods two thousand feet above sea level. This is one of the benefits of living in a seismically active region: mountains right next to the ocean.
At the corner of Third Ave. and El Camino Real.
The resident cat at Oceana Stained Glass in San Mateo looks out at the world.
It’s a warm day, the windows are open, and I heard some sort of chanting or singing somewhere outside. Some kind of religious chanting is what it sounded like, but I didn’t really pay any attention. It kept getting closer. I went to the front window. Several young people wearing blaze orange safety vests and carrying stop signs were standing at the crosswalks, ushering a long stream of people. The first people were singing something doleful. Then came — yes, it was a man dressed in an white ankle-length robe, with a big wooden cross on his shoulder. He was being escorted by a dozen or so angry-looking men in uniforms of short red robes and gold-colored helmets with plumes; one of these men periodically hit the man carrying the cross with a whip. It was a Good Friday procession passing right in front of our house.
At one level, I couldn’t help but see that this was just acting: the angry men were wearing Roman soldier costumes that I had purchased for Sunday school; the white robe worn by the one man was far too pristinely white and unwrinkled; the flogging was too gentle to be real. And not everyone was fully engaged: a happy toddler smiled and laughed in its stroller; a young woman seemed to be paying more attention to the sweet coffee drink she held; the priest in his Roman collar looked a little tired and distracted and I imagined that he was thinking ahead to what came next.
At a deeper level, this wasn’t acting at all. These people were serious enough about their religion to spend an evening re-enacting an important religious moment; perhaps they left work early to do so, certainly they were going to have a late dinner. They were serious enough to go to the trouble of purchasing costumes, organizing safety wardens, and showing up for the procession. A processional like this inhabits both the mundane and the sacred realms; and I was glad that these people brought something of the sacred to our busy street, sharing with their neighborhood a little bit of what’s important to them.
Yesterday Ned and Judy, who belong to a congregation I used to serve, were in town visiting relatives. I was supposed to meet them for lunch at the church down in Palo Alto. Bay Area traffic being what it is, I allowed an extra ten minutes beyond the usual twenty-five minutes driving time. But when I walked down from our apartment, I saw that someone had parked their car at the end of our driveway. I couldn’t get out.
I called the police. They wanted to know what kind of car it was, and I told them it was an older model Toyota Camry, dark green, and gave them the license plate number. I didn’t bother telling them about the statue of the Virgin Mary on the dashboard. They said they’d send someone right out.
I called the church, and Debra said she’d leave a note on my office door saying that I would be down as soon as I could get there. Then I stood there waiting, and hoping that whoever owned the car would come along right then, and I’d tell them that they really shouldn’t park in someone’s driveway, and they’d look embarrassed and drive away — that would be the fastest solution to my problem.
After about fifteen minutes, one of the city’s little three-wheeled traffic enforcement vehicles rolled around the corner. The traffic officer, a pleasant, soft-spoken young man, shook his head when he saw where the car had parked. He radioed for a tow truck. Continue reading
Carol and I went to Wisnom’s hardware store across the street. I had to get some supplies for this Sunday’s Judean Village project in the Sunday school, and she went just because it’s an interesting place.
One of the guys who works there who knows us asked if I was finding what I was looking for. I said I was, and then asked why there were so few people in the store.
“Maybe because Easter was Sunday,” he said. “Maybe because school vacation’s this week. Maybe because Chinese Memorial Day’s tomorrow.”
“Chinese Memorial Day?” I said.
“April 5,” he said, “solar holiday, so it’s the same day every year. On Chinese Memorial Day, everyone goes to family graves. I went yesterday.” He bowed to an imaginary grave. “There will be lots of people up at Skylawn cemetery tomorrow. Flowers everywhere.”
We started talking about visiting graves, from a New England and a Chinese perspective. I wanted to hear more about Chinese Memorial Day, but Carol had to get back to work, so we cut our conversation short.
Click the Chinese characters above for photos of this year’s Ching Ming Festival in Skylawn cemetery.