The foggy, rainy prelude to an even bigger late-fall storm was brightened considerable on Friday when I received two unexpected packages in the mail.
One was a lovely Christmas card from dear long-time friends Rick and Michele of Vacaville, Calif. I have known the two since August 1990 when I joined the staff of The Daily Democrat in Woodland, Calif. Rick was the photo editor and Michele was a sales representative for the newspaper. I have spent holidays and vacations with them over the years, and I was the best man at their wedding.
The front of the Christmas card showed a lake with snowy mountains and snow-covered rock outcroppings and their reflection in the water. It is a lovely image. On the inside Michele had written “Recognize this lake?” and a smiley face.
Lake? What? I know this lake? What lake is this?
I had to look on the back of the card to learn that it was Mono Lake near Lee Vining, Calif. I had not recognized the lake even though I have been to its shores and visitor center countless times! What threw me off were the formations in the water; they looked like typical rocks, not the tufa formations for which the lake is known.
Mono Lakes does not have natural outlet and is two or three times saltier than the ocean. It is a natural nesting area for California’s seagulls. Brine shrimp, brine flies and tufa are pretty much all that grow there. The iconic tufa image – very similar to the wallpaper I have on my cell phone screen so I should have recognized the lake in the first place – are more like cylindrical shafts shooting out of the water. The lake was much deeper before Southern California water districts diverted water from the lake decades ago. The briny water caused each of the tufa formations to build onto itself until each reached the surface. The water diversions lowered the lake levels, exposing the tufa. They remain exposed even now even though the diversions have ceased.
In my defense, the photo, which was taken by Roy R. Goodall of Seattle, Wash., seems to have been taken along the east shore of the lake, a section I have not explored as much as the south and southeast shores. And it has been a while since I have seen Mono Lake in snow.
No matter what, it was still a very pleasant surprise. Rick and Michele, I thank you both.
The second package was a bit more of a surprise than the Christmas card. It was from a childhood acquaintance now living in Presque Isle, Maine. Penny is the daughter of pals of my parents and they owned the cottage next to the one where my mother lives now. Penny was a class or two before me in high school and I’m guessing every guy in my class had a crush on her – girl-next-door looks and long blond hair.
She and I reconnected over the summer via Facebook and not very long later she sent me an email that she had come across a few photos of my father, who died in July 1991. She offered to send the photos, but deep down I really did not think I would ever see them. Do not get me wrong – I’m sure Penny’s intensions then were to send them, but I also know the realities of life. We all are pulled in so many directions that it becomes difficult to find time for family and ourselves, let alone mailing photos to childhood acquaintances.
The second package I received was not just a photo or two of my father, but a stack more than an inch thick! Nearly none of the photos have dates on them, but I am guessing they have to be from the late-1970s to mid-1980s. They show my father, mother, Penny’s parents and others from my childhood. Nearly all of the photos were taken during “down-time” – weekends at the lake or at North Woods cabins, vacations to Florida, on camping trips, and even one taken of my father coming out of an establishment called “Dirty Old Man’s Shop” with additional signage of “Adults Only.” I’m guessing they were seeking out, um, a public restroom or directions. Yeah, that has to be it.
There are shots of my father paddling a canoe and poling a log raft that I have little doubt he probably nailed together on a whim shortly before the photos was taken. He is sitting on a folding lawn chair perched on the log raft, a boat seat pad/flotation device at his feet, and a plastic red cup balanced on the bow in which I’m assuming was a chilled adult beverage.
There are photos of my Dad and Mom together in happier times; they both are flashing genuine smiles. It is nice to see that just before Christmas.
There are other photos, too. There are a few photos of my sister – wearing glasses that are far too large for her face, but were the fashion at the time. One of my Mom in a Christmas sweater; I will not comment on the fashion sense involved. There is a photo of a childhood friend, Todd, and what I believe is the back of my head watching a small black-and-white television while on a camping trip, although I cannot recall the location. It might have been at a campsite near Sebago Lake. There is a photo of Penny standing next to my family’s Caprice Classic parked near the family’s tent camper during the same camping trip. And there are several of my Dad and Penny’s Dad, Dana.
It was heartwarming to see some of the photos from my youth. It was a reminder of much happier time.
It was very nice of Penny to send the photos. It was a nice early Christmas gift. Thank you, Penny, and Merry Christmas.