Last Saturday, for the first time this season, I thought about the end of my kayak trip before I’d even started. The daylight hours are growing shorter, and whitewater kayaking requires that you allow time for the unexpected. I wanted to be sure we were done before dark.
A lot of things can slow you down. The river might be running higher or lower than anticipated. Other kayakers might arrive early or late. Someone might get into trouble and need a rescue.
Not long ago a man on another trip, an excellent boater, got caught in a sieve (boulders too close together to allow a boat or a person through) and fell way behind. People on his trip and mine waited downriver, growing more and more concerned.
He was able to extricate himself in about 30 minutes, but not before his buddies hiked almost half a mile upstream to find him. By the time everybody reached the end of the run, we were packing up our boats in growing darkness.
For me, this is a sign of fall. But not the only one.
Fall always begins for me on Oct. 9, the anniversary of my mother’s death, 23 years ago. I don’t always light a candle like I used to, but I never forget the day. Something shifts. I feel a tightness around my heart. I become more sensitive, more prone to tears, like a tree whose leaves fall when jostled.
Halloween marks the middle of fall. On Oct. 29, I found myself in downtown Davis and saw the little kids trick or treating from store to store. How I loved that tradition when my children were young. I remain forever grateful to the businesses that came up with candy for every goblin, witch and princess.
I’m Grandma now, but my grandchild lives 2,000 miles away.
On Halloween morning, I learned that imagination, so important in children, is even more important for a person of my age. My daughter e-mailed me that they had gone with my idea for a costume: My 16-month-old grandchild would be a tiger, because he likes to roar.
I pictured him all striped and orange and cute as he could be. My imagination was so vivid I could almost taste the Reese’s pieces I would have begged from him.
On Halloween evening, real photographs arrived. You’ll have to take my word for it that he was the cutest tiger you’ve ever seen. There was a picture of him on the driveway, all dressed up. Then a photo at the zoo, next to a real tiger, and a photo on the zoo merry-go-round where he rode, of course, on the tiger.
I know he may have fussed and cried before and after some of the photos — in fact, he looked a little blustery when his parents put his headpiece on — but I imagine the happy parts: his first glimpse of candy in his pumpkin or the dawning of recognition as he sees other kids dressed up.
With Halloween over, I feel as if I’m riding a rushing rapid toward the next holidays, the big ones that demand more of me, but my imagination helps me anticipate my favorite parts. I picture my son as he gets off his crowded pre-Thanksgiving flight. I picture the room where we’ll all sit, the food on the table, the noise, the laughter.
But this tightness around my heart hasn’t left me. I don’t know what it is exactly, perhaps an awareness that every joyous moment comes just once, and that I can’t remember all of them.
I love the holidays. I savor the holidays. But I feel something slipping away, something that relates to my mother’s absence, to the distance from my grandchild, to wondering how long I can kayak on whitewater, to my thinking about time and dates more than I used to.
This sounds trite, but these days time rushes by and no gain comes without loss. Perhaps it has always been that way, and I’ve simply forgotten. Or maybe time is different now.
Perhaps, as with kayaking, I need to plan for contingencies. I might get 30 more years with my grandchild, or I might not. What does that mean for how I live now?
My mother loved every moment with her grandchildren and often said so. She came to California as frequently as she could, traveling without my father for the first time in adulthood because she wanted to be here so badly. She died at 74, never seeing either grandchild past age 5. That fact makes me sad, but she always told us she felt lucky in life.
I’ve been lucky, too.
So I don’t know what’s going on in me right now. Maybe it’s just the seasons lined up, one after another, like a row of pumpkins on the doorsill or turkeys in the market or gingko trees on my street, their leaves fluttering to the ground. Maybe it’s the awareness of endings, the need to beach my kayak before it gets dark.
Even to our gentle and hospitable climate, winter comes.
Marion Franck is a part-time resident of El Dorado County with her primary residence in Davis. She is a weekly columnist for the Davis Enterprise. Her column appears occasionally in the Mountain Democrat.