Saturday, June 21, 2008

Counterpoint and Bookeneds

A week ago today, on June 14th, I married the love of my life. A week from today, on June 28th, I will be standing atop a hillock, in the middle of a wheat field, overlooking the small Spanish town of Ambrona, about two hours’ drive from Madrid. I will be one of about thirty Americans there. An untold number of Spaniards and at least one Frenchman will be there as well. The wedding was four months in planning. Planning for this event, though much more informal, began more than twice as many months ago.

I have not been to Ambrona since I was eighteen, a newly–minted high school graduate. I spent much of that summer there. At the time, there were numerous pits in the ground, sectioned off by pegs and long white strings, and filled with lots of older folks, covered with sweat and clay dust and, as a consequence, a rather viscous mud. (Those ‘older folks’ were principally Cal upper-division and graduate anthropology students. If conditions were similar today, their peers would all seem quite young to me by comparison, such are the many years that have passed.)

We are meeting there to remember my dad, who passed away fifteen months ago. The location is one of the four big archeological sites he excavated. (The others are in the Omo river basin in southern Ethiopia, Isimila in Tanzania and Yarimburgaz in Turkey.) It is my expectation that people will be gathering in those places as well (two of the three other sites are being actively excavated).

My mother will be by my side. My sister, who could not join us will be with us in spirit. My wife, who is still recovering from our wedding, is staying home by choice; she is right that the event will be no honeymoon. The one day recuperating and three days we spent in Monterey following our joining was far from sufficient for either of us. We will be going to Hawai’i for ten days for our ‘official honeymoon’ on the Monday following the events in Spain. (I will be recording the entire affair so that both my sister and wife will be able to see what will have transpired.)

This is my trip. I knew last summer, just a few months after my dad died, that I would have to go. I need the closure. When I mentioned my intent to my mother, she thought it to be a wonderful idea and wanted to accompany me. We set a date. It was at which point I reached out to my dad’s friends and colleagues to see if any of them would like to join us... There will probably be at least sixty joining my mother and me on that little grassy hilltop. We are stunned and gratified. Many more who cannot join us have sent us brief remembrances and thoughts of my father to read aloud. I know there will be tears.

The site has long been quiet. No stakes nor pegs remain. The pits have long since silted up in the winter rains. Wheat grows over the shallow depressions that remain, all but hiding them. There is little evidence of what took place for all those years my father worked there save for a bumpy gravel road up to the site and a one room ‘museum’ that is as much a storehouse for some of the bigger fossils that were found there well more than two decades ago. Every once in a while, somebody comes by to check on it.

For me the trip will be frantic: I leave for Madrid Thursday morning, arriving Friday morning and drive to Siguenza, about twenty minutes from Ambrona, where I will stay for two nights. The memorial is on Saturday morning. On Sunday morning, I drive to Madrid and catch a flight back to the states. I arrive into San Francisco at 11PM. I then continue on to Hawai’i at 4PM the next day, Monday. Then I will relax. But the effort will be worth it. It will be a closure, a bookend, for myself, my mother and many of my dad‘s friends. My mother and many other people are more sanely going to stay and enjoy more of Spain, as well as England, France and Morocco, and other destinations.

And so the joy of my marriage is counter-pointed by the memories that are being evinced as a pack and prepare. I find myself at perhaps the most profound moment in my life, looking back with tears while looking ahead with smiles. Life is complicated.