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The Chariot, from the Phantomwise Tarot © 2004-2013 Erin Morgenstern

I have just read The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern (no relation). Very few books have created a place that I longed to be able to go to in real life. I have wished Hogwarts were real, and that I could slip through the ivy-covered door into the Secret Garden; and now, oh how I wish the Cirque des Rêves were really touring around the world, bringing its exquisite magic to us. I would be a Rêveur, one of the people who follows it around, a beauty groupie. I would knit a Rêveur’s crimson scarf for me, and one for Joy, and we would go into the Cloud Maze tent, and the Ice Garden, and the Hall of Mirrors, and see the illusionist work impossibilities, and take in the intricacies of the clock, and wander through tents where everything is made of paper and covered in words. I don’t know if the Munchkin would need to come along (though she would enjoy Widget and Poppet’s acrobatic kittens). She already seems to live in a magical world.

But then, according to the author, we all do.

“Is magic not enough to live for?” Widget asks.

“Magic,” the man in the grey suit repeats, turning the word into a laugh. “This is not magic. This is the way the world is, only very few people take the time to stop and note it. Look around you,” he says, waving a hand at the surrounding tables. “Not a one of them even has an inkling of the things that are possible in this world, and what’s worse is that none of them would listen if you attempted to enlighten them. They want to believe that magic is nothing but clever deception, because to think it real would keep them up at night, afraid of their own existence.”

Or as Stan Shunpike, conductor of the Knight Bus, says when Harry Potter asks him why the Muggles don’t hear the bus,

“Them!” [said Stan contemptuously.] “Don’ listen properly, do they? Don’ look properly either. Never notice nuffink, they don’.”

“But,” Widget says, “some people can be enlightened.”

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Vermont Street (photo by Joshua Tiger)

Joy and I were driving home through the Potrero Hill section of San Francisco after a terrific sushi dinner the other night, when suddenly we were wending our way down a real slalom of a block, Vermont Street between 20th and 22nd
(click for map).  I thought it was as twisty as “most crooked” Lombard Street, and also prettier, since I’m partial to streets shaded by lots of trees.  This one reminded us both of a steep, winding street in San Miguel whose trees are host to hundreds of nesting egrets.  Driving it was a treat.

Lombard may pack an extra hairpin or two into a similar length of street
(you be the judge). In any case, I’m sure Vermont Street residents don’t want a flood of tourists driving down it on a daily basis, so why contest Lombard’s dominance?

Of course, the streets that really demonstrate the drama of San Francisco’s hills are the ones where the climb is too steep for a car. Today, after a very indulgent visit to ImagiKnit, knitter’s paradise (or, alternatively, the highway to hell, for those who already have a goodly stash of yarn and multiple projects underway, but walked out with a dozen and a half skeins for a new sweater anyway, ahem), I thought I’d take Sanchez back to my neighborhood, and had to laugh when I got to the top of the first block and the street dead-ended at a set of stairs. Rather than get out of my car and walk up to the next block, I detoured to a different street.

Bass Lake, California as photographed by Guy Welch

I’ve just come back from our church’s weekend at Bass Lake, at Skylake Yosemite Camp, which is, as you’d imagine, just outside Yosemite National Park, and is therefore, as you’d also imagine, breathtakingly beautiful. As torn as I was about being away from my family for two days (since Joy had to work, and being the munchkin’s sole parent for that long, in that setting, is not my idea of relaxation, they stayed home together), I was so happy to be there.

It had been too long. Our practice when I started at UUCPA was to alternate years with our Minister of Religious Education (MRE); as much as it would be nice for us both to go, mid-September is a busy time for UU ministers and we thought someone should keep the home fires burning. I went to Bass Lake in 2003 and 2005, but 2007 was our then-MRE’s last year, so she went, then the next year it seemed like such a good idea for our newly-arrived interim MRE to get to know families there that she went, another time the weekend (switched to June) coincided with our big family vacation . . . so, one way and another, I had not been for five years.

I won’t let that much time elapse again.  It is a really special way to connect with the congregation members who are there, and both the drive across the state and the campsite connect me again to some of California’s tremendous beauty.

In the days before I left, I was trying to think of an apt worship service for that place and time, since I always lead a short service there. The first thing that came to mind was a hymn I love, “There is a Balm in Gilead”–a simple and profound song, and very apropos for Yom Kippur, too (which Saturday was), in our UU, interfaith way–and as I made myself a sandwich for the drive, I came up with a new verse inspired by Bass Lake. I composed a second on the way. Details are here, under “Sermons etc.”

I know a great arrangement from Ysaye Maria Barnwell’s teaching tapes, Singing in the African American Tradition, so with the help of one of our fine singers, who kindly learned it in a hurry from me the day before, we sang it in two parts. I would like to abolish the rumor that UUs can’t sing. That little group made a spirit-filled sound, all right.

The weekend begins on Thursday afternoon, but I got there on Friday just before dinner. Here are some of the things I did in my less-than-48-hours:

  • looked through a telescope at an incredible view of Jupiter, one astronomers wait several years for: the shadow of its largest moon, Ganymede, on the planet’s surface. I wanted to stay up to see the Great Red spot come around again, but was too tired.  That happens every three days, so I’ll get another shot
  • saw the Milky Way. For that, you don’t need a telescope, just your own eyes–but you also need a dark sky that isn’t available here in my urban area
  • kayaked
  • laid on the dock listening to the lap of the water and the sounds of other people playing
  • drew, on my own and with others who wanted to do “nature drawing without fear”
  • toasted marshmallows and ate more s’mores than I intended
  • learned how to do paper embossing and stencilling and made some pretty cards for Christmastime
  • went out looking for scorpions with an ultraviolet light–in that light, plain black scorpions are a fluorescent green. I had no idea. I also had no idea that there were scorpions in the area, but I was relieved to see that even at night, their active time, they prefer to curl up under pine needles. (The man who led the scorpion walk said he looked all around and under his cabin and couldn’t find a one.)
  • stopped dead in wonder at the shape of the manzanita outside my cabin
  • read on a sunny deck, the lake in the distance, Ponderosa pines overhead
  • had a visit from a tiny lizard who froze on my cabin doorstep as I came outside
  • laughed until I cried at some of the talent show skits
  • found an oak leaf that bore the marks of an insect that had eaten its meandering way all across its landscape
  • got to know people from my congregation with whom I’d never had a conversation beyond a few minutes at coffee hour
  • heard a story read aloud to us by a wonderful reader (talent show again)
  • learned the Spanish ABC song from the mom of a child who goes to a Spanish- immersion school
  • talked, crafted with, carried children from the congregation (and their friends not from the congregation)
  • sang ridiculous camp songs
  • put together jigsaw puzzles
  • woke up in the woods.

Here are things I didn’t do that others enjoyed:

  • yoga
  • motorboating
  • tubing/waterskiing behind the boat
  • canoeing
  • swimming
  • horseback riding
  • tie-dyeing
  • playing cards
  • tetherball
  • ping-pong
  • seeing deer
  • hiking at Angel Falls.

Incredibly, the weekend almost didn’t come off for lack of sign-ups, but our feisty registrar persevered and made it happen.  My question is, why isn’t this fabulous trip oversubscribed every year? It can’t be because of the scorpions, because only a few people knew about them until I spilled the beans just now. (I swear, they are very shy! You will never see one unless you go peering into piles of pine needles at night with an UV flashlight!) At $200/person for three nights, meals and an astounding array of available (optional) activities, it’s not an expensive three-day weekend trip. The food is good and the staff are friendly, fun, and unobtrusive, stepping in when wanted and leaving us to enjoy the camp’s resources as we like.  It’s one of the best intergenerational activities of our church’s year, which is why I recommended to our interim that she be there instead of at church on that weekend of her first September with us.  It suits introverts and extroverts alike, and you can spend your time in rigorous outdoors activities like hiking and riding, or just sit on the deck knitting for three days.

We advertise it to the several dozen churches in the district, and it’s open to non-UUs as well.  I hope by the time the next Bass Lake weekend rolls around (maybe next September, or maybe next June), demand will be so high that the registrar’s job will be a breeze.

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