This One Time

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We got back from a few family-only days at our little cabin in California’s Sierra earlier today. Time at the cabin is slow, quiet, restorative and purposefully unplugged. We don’t have TV, don’t play the radio, don’t read big-city newspapers.

Occasionally, we come home to discover significant things have happened in the world, like today, when I discovered, unhappily, that a friend and former colleague had lost his battle with cancer.

Anthony Turney packed several lives in his time on earth – soldier during the Suez Crisis, organizer of communities during periods of challenge and crisis, supporter of the arts, member of the clergy. He had a deep and affecting voice and he could tell a story like nobody’s business. He was gracious and generous.

When we worked together at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, cash-strapped as it was, Anthony found a way to host moving exhibitions of art that quite literally transformed the place, not to mention the people in it. He presided over prayers for California’s prisoners condemned to die and the annual war remembrance service that many of the other cathedral clergy found too schmaltzy for their tastes; as a combat veteran, I think Anthony found remembering wars an absolute necessity in a civil society.

Once, a young man came to the church, distraught and unbalanced. Anthony found some cake and the two sat together for tea and talked. As they parted, the young man promised to come back, then plunged to his death off a nearby roof that very afternoon. His parents expressed sincere gratitude their son had been given the human comfort and hospitality of the church in his final hours. Anthony was understandably upset but, typically, professional.

The last time I saw Anthony, he was walking his dog at the same preserve where I typically walked mine, at Fort Funston, on the bluffs overlooking the mighty Pacific. Anthony was characteristically warm and pleasant, although even then fighting against the cancer that would eventually kill him, happy as always to run into an old friend.

I am the better for having known him and we are the poorer for having lost him.

I hope he rests in the eternal peace he richly deserves.

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A lovely remembrance of Anthony is here.

 

Summer Dreaming

Frozen Chair

This chair’s metal frame is frozen, as it is now in the depth of a Sierra winter. Little icicles hang down from it toward the icy deck it sits on. Winter’s white blanket of snow piles high around, covering the nearby picnic tables.

Later in the year, we will sit at those tables with our guests and eat from the barbecued meats and sweet corn we will lovingly cook.

In the matter of a very few months, this chair will have its colorfully striped cushion and its laughing occupants restored. This very chair.

But not today. Today, the weather keeps us inside by the fire, warm and happy.

The chair waits patiently for its time.

One of Us Was Adopted

It was a cold rainy day in the Sierra Nevada foothills, somewhere just west of Sonora, where we first met a few years back. It all started as a lark, as these things often do. Just something to do because we were all damn tired of looking at each other in the closed confines of the dark cabin.

The four of us had taken quite a while before we were ready to even think about getting another dog after our beloved Buck passed. (Anyone who’s known me for any length of time might still remember dear Buck’s writing as my alter ego.) So, it was a genuine surprise that the kids asked to visit the humane society and look at the dogs they had for adoption.

Good to kill a couple of hours, I thought. I should have known better; we never stood a chance.

The moment we walked in, she sat attentively, leaning against the chain-link fencing that separated the dogs from the people. Her big brown eyes never left us. Not as we walked toward her. Not as we walked around to look at her kennel mates.

Looking back, I think she knew she had us from the first look.

We talked with her. Walked outside together. Tested our chemistry.

The kids loved her immediately. The staff told us, in a very serious whisper, that she’d not had a happy young life. She’d been abused. She had some behavioral issues. She was fearful and sometimes aggressive. We had to be ready for that, had to be in it with her for the long haul. She’d be a great dog, they said, with a real family.

And so, we adopted Dee Dee.

From the first day, we noticed the odd quirks (She barks fiercely at UPS trucks but is perfectly fine with FedEX.), the anger coming out of nowhere (Dee Dee reacts violently to Giggy’s former pre-school teacher because, we assume, he has a beard.), the piggishness around bed space (It’s okay because I’m flexible and, heck, I can always sleep in the shape of a pretzel if I have to.).

She’s been part of the family now for about five years. Her neuroses have, if not completely disappeared, moderated a lot. I can’t imagine walking at Fort Funston, or going up to the mountains, or even sitting down in the evening without her.

We may have given her a loving family, but she’s given us plenty in return. Which we knew from the day she adopted us.