august in tennessee valley

This weekend my friend Chris held a memorial service for his son, August, at the Tennessee Valley Beach in Marin County, just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a favorite place my husband Michael and I have visited many times, making the four-mile trek from parking lot to beach and back along a narrow dirt trail which passes by fenced-in horses and grassy culverts. Wildflowers dot the mountainsides and the valley floor as the trail slowly descends to the Pacific, almost always under cloudless blue skies.

It has probably been fifteen years since I've been there, the last time being long before I got married though perhaps around the time I began seriously hoping to start a family with Michael. I think of our hikes in Marin often—Bootjack, Pantol, Steep Ravine, the Dipsea Trail which snakes up through Muir Woods to an open crest on Mt. Tamalpais before descending through a wooded glen into Stintson Beach—how the only thing I might've been burdened by on those excursions was my water bottle. I never liked carrying a backpack, preferred traveling as light as possible in sneakers, shorts and tank top with a camera slung over one shoulder.

Years later, to a fair degree, I find myself boxed in here in the Northeast with a severely disabled son who is difficult to travel with and, now that he is taking cannabis oil for his epilepsy, impossible to take out of the state legally. Sometimes I pine for the West, its big skies, breathtaking vistas, warm dry air, its vast public beach access that stretches for hundreds of miles, its carefree vibe.

I remember Chris, a professor of English whom I met through Facebook, once writing about how he and his family were pretty much incapable of traveling because of the difficulties of managing their disabled son, August, who died last year at the age of fourteen. Sadly, I'm not sure August was ever able to enjoy seeing Tennessee Valley, breathing its fresh air, dipping his toes into its waters, but now his ashes will forever mingle with its sands and sea.

This weekend I thought of Chris, August and family often as we spent three days, without a nurse to aid us, following Calvin around the house and yard, righting him when he tripped or stubbornly balked, shielding him from staring at the sun, chopping his food, spoon-feeding him his meals and meds, changing his diapers, attempting to comprehend what he was trying to express through his annoying, worrisome whining and coughing. I wondered if we'll ever take Calvin to Tennessee Valley, if one day he'll be able to walk even part of that distance with us, wondered if we'll ever be able to get on a plane with him and his cannabis oil without being arrested for possessing it, even though it is his essential medicine.

Though it is absolutely gorgeous here in Maine, and we have a beautiful house and garden and a wonderful community, the land is mostly flat, significantly limiting the sight lines, and in the summer the air is often humid and close. So, for now, I will muse on the image of the California Coast, its openness and its magnificent views to the rest of the world, hoping that someday soon, if just briefly, I'll pass August in Tennessee Valley.

Tennessee Valley Beach photo by

1 comment:

  1. My baby girl is 22 now. We didn't travel much with either, far too difficult. I often/always felt trapped. Not her fault but it was the same result.