If you think the world is hopelessly messed up, please turn off the TV and all your other screens and go for a walk. Put that crap in a box. It is true that we humans have been screwing up a lot lately and the situation is dire, but the world is still a wonderful and surprising place in uncountable ways. You might not get this message from your glowing blue screen, but in 2018, Tania and I saw it almost everywhere else we looked.
Our most joyful news is the addition of a new family member. Emma was engaged to Ayyappan Venktraman (who goes by “Pan”) at a gala nichayathartham, or Hindu engagement ceremony, thrown by his parents for 150 guests at a temple in Washington DC on December 8. Love won again, and all bowed down before the new king and queen of our hearts.
[As you read, you can click on the photos to make them larger]
Over the last two and a half years, Pan courted Emma and all the other Edmondsons while balancing a tough residency in psychiatry with a girlfriend who was going through an even tougher residency in pediatrics and internal medicine. Sometimes Emma and Pan didn’t see each other for several days in a row, even though they lived in the same apartment. There were times when America’s upside-down medical system ground them both down to the nub. Yet they still threw great parties. When Emma turned 30 on January 28, for example, all the young doctors went bowling and the old folks (in back) made a lot of new friends.
We saw many good friends this year, and we have lots of grainy snapshots of smiling people, but you probably don’t want to hear about all of them (if you do, click on the link above). Still, I can’t resist this shot of our friends David Wax and Suz Slezak, who perform and tour as The David Wax Museum and definitely deserve your attention, playing at a house concert we threw two days after the bowling party. Thanks to Peter Carroll for the photo. As I said, it was a very good year.
We were also fortunate to have another visit with Ellison and Escher, offspring of niece Lindsay and her husband Luis, in Austin, Texas. They are the first two entrants in our family’s grandchild derby, and it will be very hard to beat them for pure delight.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention 106 Short Street’s Man Of The Year, John Crutchfield, who demolished our old kitchen, built us a beautiful new one from scratch, and then came over to eat from that kitchen and tell funny stories. If you’re looking for a good Ithaca Fixer, you won’t do any better than this guy.
The nichayathartham was one of two events that blew our minds last year. The other was our second noncommercial rowing trip through the Grand Canyon, 225 miles from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek. We were unbelievably lucky to get the National Park Service’s permit and assemble eight highly skilled teammates, including three jolly geologists, who got us through without a hitch. Once again, we were allowed to spend 16 days and nights in probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. The trip was also a long stretch of extremely hot, sandy, and wet 12-hour work days, with scorpions lurking.
The Canyon beat us up and bestowed its grace upon us relentlessly. After three weeks outdoors in an Arizona summer (and only one scorpion bite, which Rod said was painful but not serious), we returned home dehydrated, disoriented, and full of wonder. We took hundreds of jaw-dropping photos and will be happy to share on request (or you can see my report on the 2014 trip here). This shot shows us touching The Great Unconformity, a huge gap in the geologic record. The Precambrian rocks below the Unconformity are up to 1.75 billion years old. The Tapeats Sandstone, directly on top, is only 500 million years old. Who knows where the time goes?
Speaking of relentless, one can’t ignore the wildfires, wars, famines, dying reefs, and the sociopath-in-chief who manages to make even George W. Bush look good. It’s awful and depressing. We can suggest three coping strategies. One is to think of news as nutrition. Try to consume news only from high-quality sources, and don’t eat too much. Another strategy is to get a daily dose of exercise, a powerful antidepressant.
The best exercise for us happened outdoors on sunny days on cross-country skis or bicycles. And the best of the best happened when we discovered something surprising and wonderful during the trip, like this statue of Luther Burbank on Bodega Avenue in Sebastapol, California. We did not know that Burbank, the world-renowned agronomist who lived in Sonoma County 100 years ago, was also described in a contemporary newspaper account as “notorious” and “a terror on two wheels.” The statue stands outside of his Experiment Farm, where he spent decades developing plants that everyone still uses, including the Shasta Daisy and a strain of potato that is probably in your crisper drawer right now.
The third coping strategy is activism. We wrote checks, mailed postcards, and marched in the streets. We also went door-to-door for my friend Tracy Mitrano, who mounted an unexpectedly strong challenge to our disappointing four-term incumbent, Tom Reed. Tracy took no money from corporate political action committees, marshalled an army of 2,000 volunteers, came within a few points of winning, and immediately announced her candidacy for 2020. She proved to be a happy warrior – she made a herculean effort, discovered that it was just the first round, and decided to stay in the game. That’s how you win, friends.
Our year ended with a memorable celebration. We visited my mom in Florida, who made one of her famous bourbon cakes for her beloved brother Michael and sister-in-law Marilla in Boulder, Colorado. The cake was so nice that we delivered it to Boulder in person, where Michael, 84, delighted us all by temporarily turning back into a little boy on Christmas morning. There was love and good cheer everywhere.
But really, nothing else in our momentous year compared with our pride in Will, Zoe, Emma, and Pan, who looks a little tired here after pulling off a flawless nichayathartham. I didn’t even mention the apartment Will and Zoe bought in Manhattan, or their fascinating jobs and fabulous trips, or Pan’s rapport with the residents of Philadelphia’s psych wards, or the day Emma performed CPR on a stranger who was having a heart attack at a gate in O’Hare Airport. We are truly blessed to know them, and we are also truly grateful for your friendship and attention. Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous New Year!