Yes, it snows in California.
Two hours north of San Francisco on highway one. Another two hours up a winding, two-lane highway that turns eastward and hugs the hills and follows a fork of the Eel River. This brings you to Covelo. Another forty-five minutes crawling along a dirt road through too many switchbacks to count, too many forks to remember. We are at The Land. It is maybe 1970 or 1971. I don’t know what year it is. I am two or three years old, in a deep California snow, the first snow of my life.
I’m seeing this snow in moonlight. My breath turns to vapor and the trail of vapor leaving my mouth mingles with the vapor of my father’s breath, as he carries me, wrapped in a blanket, to the battered panel truck we call the Grey beast. We’re leaving in the hours before dawn so we can get into San Francisco early. We’re going shopping. Christmas shopping. How do I remember this, so young? I don’t know. Maybe it was the sight of moonlight on snow, captivating. Maybe it was the way the moon followed the car as we drove down the mountain.
Are you Santa Claus? I groggily ask my father as he drives. I am wedged in the back seat beside a stack of milk cartons. No, he says. Santa Claus is an evil spying pederast with a workshop full of sweatshop workers. We’re the anti-Claus. We’re going to liberate the people’s property. We’re stealing Christmas back from the thieves.
In San Francisco I sit in the idling Grey Beast, double-parked as my mother and father rifle through sporting goods stores for wool socks, parkas, mittens, and down vests, which they steal quickly and surely, long-practiced, tough, merry.
We make stops at Digger food co-ops, where we trade the parkas for sacks of rice, beans, and wheat flour. We make stops to siphon gas out of cars in the Safeway parking lot, the Safeway a throng of harassed mothers pulling crying children, faces smeared with chocolate, lumbering shopping carts overflowing with doughnuts, eggnog, cases of Coke, jars of candy canes, mounds of white bread and steaks wrapped in plastic.
The city is awash in colored lights, stores decorated for the season in explosions of green and red and white. I’m agape at the tinsel angels that festoon the lampposts. Plastic, my mother sneers. That same landfill will be polluting the planet ten thousand years from now. Is that any way to honor the goddess? Is that any way to celebrate the season?
We drive back up the mountain, our milk crates now full of food and winter clothes, the Grey beast chugging through turns. Sunlight bounces of the snow, filling the air with jewel lights. We are the anti-Claus. We stole Christmas.