The River House—a Chronicle 

 

The house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.

                                                                                                Gaston Bachelard

From the time we began the River House in Fall 2006, I was telling everyone I’d have my 50th birthday there, November 2009.  That naïve optimism sounds ridiculous now, since we moved in in April 2012.  There were some extraordinary patience-cultivating delays, and that birthday did eventually mark the groundbreaking. With the permit down, we had a party to throw.  Since Greg turned 50 a few months after I did, and since 50+50=100, we organized a Century Party to be held in the skeleton of the River House January 2010 for 100 friends, family, and neighbors.

 

We had planned ahead (because planning way ahead is typical in education), that by 2010 the house would be done, we’d both be turning 50, I’d have a sabbatical, and Greg could take off the two-week “intersession” elective session at University High School. The time off and the golden birthday happened on time, but the revised plan sited the party near the newly broken ground.  We sent our Holiday Greetings with a photo of us and the dogs perched on the bucket of a backhoe which had leveled the site:

CIMG0145

Cheers to you! 

We’re sending our holiday greetings early because this year is momentous: 

Both Greg and Deb are turning 50…Add 50 to 50 and we’re a CENTURY! 

So we’re throwing a party at the river (at the River House-in-progress)…

As you can see from the photo we have—finally—broken ground.

Love, Deb and Greg

We expected 100 revelers, but invited twice that, expecting we’d net about 50 percent.  There was no structure to cover us, so it was clearly going to be outside in January, and we started calling about renting tents, heaters and tower lighting.  We’d planned to make pots of soup or chili, but the numbers swelled.  With over 200 people, we needed a caterer, three tents, five heaters, 22 tables—you never know.  Weather threatened, but held off for a day; one friend came in shorts.  We had clear skies and spectacular views, but the next six days straight, it rained.  My former dean wrote an op ed piece for the Bee.

“I took the liberty,” she wrote “(didn’t mention your or Greg’s names) to write an article about it for the op ed section of The Fresno Bee:

“Driving east on freeway 180, the majestic Sierras looked like someone had taken a spatula and spread them with white cream frosting. The snow was in contrast to the warm temperatures we were experiencing in the valley. Today was an unusually warm Saturday in January with the afternoon temperature reaching over 60 degrees…I was on my way to a birthday party for a friend and her husband.  It was being held in a barn somewhere toward Wonder Valley.  The anticipation of seeing several old colleagues and friends made me excited.  And, to be perfectly honest, a little anxious.  I hadn’t seen some of these people in years.  Would I have aged in their eyes?  Would we have anything to talk about?…Turning left on Piedra Road, the horse ranch with its white wood fencing came into view.  It brought back memories of springtimes past when the mares would drop their colts and you would see them frolicking and nursing.  I passed a few pickup trucks pulling fishing boats reminding me of when Don, my husband, enjoyed spending hours at the Pine Flat Lake “whether or not he caught any fish.”

“Onward.  I had forgotten that the foothills turn green so early in the spring.  The late afternoon shadows were dancing in and out of the hills as I kept driving north.  Right turn on Elwood and, after a couple of miles, there was the designated red barn on the left with a huge spotlight beckoning me to turn into the meadow and park.  But, the party wasn’t in the barn. There was a huge party tent erected on the bank of the Kings River.  Who would have thought.  A first class party in a tent by a river…

“We ate, drank, and the band began to play.  People were dancing in the sand.   A commitment early the next morning made me think that it was time to find my way back to Fresno.  Or, perhaps I just knew it was time for me to leave.   My heart was feeling very warm and full.  I had reconnected with so many good people.  It was such a compliment to be invited.  I also felt a bit melancholy knowing that this evening might never be replicated. As I walked to my car, I thought about how our lives are all about the relationships we develop and nourish as we travel this journey through life.

“The night sky was clear and the numerous stars shown through the moon roof of my car.  As I drove, I made a commitment to not let so much time lapse before I made this drive again.  With the recent rains, the wildflowers are going to be abundant this year.  I am looking forward to seeing the baby colts and my favorite wildflower, the lupines.

January 29, 2010

A week later, NPR said the night would be a full moon and the closest the moon would be to the Earth for years. It was cold, but driving east we were drawn straight into the insistent moon.  I said we had to go up to the river and see how it looked up there. So we bundled up, brought a bottle of Central Coast Syrah and some pistachios, and pulled lawn chairs out for a “moon tan.”  The sycamores shone white on the moon side and almost black on the other.

Behind us to the west, clouds loitered pointlessly, but the eastward sky was operatic.  Our chairs faced the row of lights across the edge Pine Flat Dam, and the elegant moon insinuated herself.  Layers of ultra-white clouds lay like twigs across the upriver horizon.  As a parade of cumulus clouds marched in from the south, the cloud-twigs compressed.  The gauzy panorama passed across the moon, the center shone a bluish white, then brief green, yellow, and an orangy-red ring, then white cloud beyond.  The clouds changed texture and consistency.  At one point gauze, they thickened into lardy trimmings.

In the brightness of 10PM, we talked about the advantage of timing gatherings to full moons, thus spawned a tradition of “full-moon Fridays” for the duration of construction:

FullMoonJan

FullMoonJune

Monthly, friends and architectural enthusiasts came out; and, monthly, magical events transpired.  It made time, which was passing slowly (2 1/2 years), pass more quickly.  One month a group brought drums, one muddy month, we huddled in the shell and sang with a guitarist friend-of-a-friend, one month a barbershop quartet sang extemporaneously.  We stopped once we moved in, but we’ve been living here a year–we need to reinstitute an annual Full Moon Friday.  Keep an eye open for details!

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