Christmas Week of 2018 was spent in the Sacramento area -- quite different from the place I now call home in the Rocky Mountains. Mike Brown and I both lived in Davis, a university town a few miles outside the California capital, for many years before selling off and moving to Colorado.
We went back for a few days and I particularly wanted to see how or if things had changed. Can you go home again?
The winter weather was the same, damp and cold. But everything looked very green even though all we had heard on the news throughout the fall was the threat and reality of forest fires.
We drove by the little house in the Core Area of Davis -- my former home -- where I had spent many years and put much work into my life there. It was quite different when we drove by. The new owners had evidently done serious foundation work which meant the tree in front was cut down, the house footings were replaced and not repainted, and, curiously, the side deck and sliding door leading out to it were both taken down. A small window replaced the slider. The yard was green but overgrown. What a disappointment. The entire street looked unkempt with no tidy yards that I thought I'd remembered. Perhaps my imagination had cast everything in a different light.
We met friends at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, where I used to be a docent, and found that experience much the same as it was in the past with a magnificent new wing and long-awaited cafeteria offering more for art-lovers to see and a relaxing place to talk. In this case, we saw the small exhibit of Raymond Dabb Yelland, a California landscape painter who was known for the glow of this paintings, the gentle radiance of late afternoon or evening, which showcased his ability to capture light.
I also made a hurried stop at the new art museum on the UC Davis campus which I hope very much I'll be able to visit again for a longer time.
We went to the ocean, too, arriving at the Sonoma coast in time to hike on the beach and watch the harbor seals gracefully swimming and clumsily climbing up and down the sandy inclines. As we walked along the Russian River where it empties into the ocean we almost trod upon a large bob of beached seals, camouflaged in the fading light. We hurriedly backed off. We spent the night at Jenner-by-the-Sea in a room overlooking the river.
Back in Sacramento, we saw the Capital Stage presentation of the Jane Austenesque "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley," which was a total escape into a genteel fictionalized world where all problems are solved and all endings are happy.
On Christmas Eve we went to the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament downtown. Emeritus Bishop Weigand presided over the bilingual Mass at 9 p.m. I said prayers for those who'd lost their homes in the fires, for the owners of my old house, for my family and friends. Why did I feel this vague sense of dread?
It was an unsettling visit, all told, but my feelings about Davis, this peaceful university town so liberal, family-oriented, and safe were soon to change. Through the years, my brother's family including all four of his children, spent many happy days with me on C Street. We walked the dog in the Arboretum, went to movies, restaurants, orchestras, took day trips to San Francisco, visited the campus and Central Park. It was idyllic.
But the kids grew up and I moved away. We remembered the many good times in this fictionalized world.
Shortly before Christmas, my youngest niece graduated from the police academy -- she walked away with the sharp-shooter award --- and became a peace officer in Jacksonville, Fla. I was worried when I learned that she would patrol the streets on her own with no seasoned partner by her side.
Shortly after our visit to Northern California, not even two weeks into the new year, a rookie cop in Davis, a young woman, was called to the scene of a car accident downtown. As she tried to sort out what happened in the three-car collision, she was shot and killed by a passing stranger. Unbelievable: a police officer was assassinated in Davis.
Times change, evil encroaches. The answer to my question became apparent: You can't go home again.
-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at firstname.lastname@example.org
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