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Recognizing the Arnold Drive Bridge elves

Magical bridge a season tradition

In a recent column, I thanked the crew who brightened our bridge with swags of evergreen, punctuated at each end with wreaths, all aglow with sparkling lights. I named that crew while far from home, celebrating Thanksgiving with a passel of relatives almost a week before the bridge was decorated. Post TG, passing by the bridge the evening of decorating, I saw a slightly different crew than I’d named. This column redresses that error. But first a word about the tradition.

The decorated Arnold Drive Bridge in the center of Glen Ellen guides me out of town and back home again with great pleasure. Given where I live, the departing direction south provides a peaceful view of the greenery. The return direction north shines a spotlight on the comical characters atop the Jack London Saloon and continues with the sparkling starry lights of the bridge. Both directions make me happy. It’s one of my winter delights, a simple gift that makes me glad I live in this town. But simple? That’s not entirely true. Yes, the effect is simple. Not so the task of creating that magic.

A decade of elfin effort

Mary Guerrazzi and her various family members and friends have been at this task for a very long time. When Mary and her crew first started bridge decorating, all their daughters were quite young. That’s not so any more. Shortly those first bridge-decorating kids will head off to college and then into the greater world. What lovely memories they’ll carry with them; what important lessons in community volunteering.

This year, 2013, marks a full decade that these elves have transformed the night for everyone. Some years they have rescheduled because of rain, other years they have persisted despite freezing temperatures numbing their hard-working fingers. And always, there have been the complications of calendars, schedules and Thanksgiving weekend, a busy time for everyone. This year, appreciation for our beautifully decorated bridge is due to Mary, along with her able assistants, daughters Siena and Gemma. Phil Eagles and his youngest daughter Isabel were there all afternoon, too, as was Sofia Falls.

Elaine Neally, from the Jack London Saloon, supplies the electricity to keep the lights burning through the night.

We doubly applaud all of these folks, for their efforts, and for continuing this community gift for a full decade. Mary and her helpers quietly go about adding goodness, light and beauty to our lives, never expecting recognition.

From the start, Mary has been modest about her efforts. Initially she told me the work was done by elves, no names in the news, please. I encouraged her to be recognized by name in this column. Mary finally agreed. She doesn’t brag, she just goes about doing the hard work that is a joy to all.

Christmas poetry

I’ve yet to witness the “animals all on their knees,” as described in Thomas Hardy’s 1915 poem “The Oxen.” Yet, it is possible to capture that feeling at our little historical church, a holy building that was thriving, and already well-established when Hardy penned those lines.

His poem was first published on Christmas Eve, and relates a childhood superstition common in Hardy’s rural Dorset, England, for centuries: Animals are so awed by the Christ Child’s birth that they bow down every midnight on Christmas Eve. Hardy’s poem was written in the midst of World War I, when hope was not easily found. Revisiting his childhood dreams of Christ’s miracle comforted Hardy, even when he’d abandoned formal religion.

Google Hardy’s poem, or Charles Wesley’s earlier hymn, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” to put you in the mood. And next week I hope to reacquaint you with yet another Christmas poet, a Glen Ellen neighbor of an earlier time.

Sonny and Willy come out to play

On Saturday, Dec. 21, from noon to 2 p.m., children from around the Valley are invited to ride a Christmas Wagon around Glen Ellen. Everyone gathers in the parking lot of the Jack London Lodge, awaiting their turn for a brief ride around our town. The wait feels short as friends and neighbors meet to gab and share holiday greetings. Sometimes I see folks there that I haven’t seen all year. These free wagon rides are an 11-year tradition featuring Jack London’s great-grand-nephew, dear Neil Shepard.

Mary Guerrazzi and her friend Kymm Falls are the team who do all the footwork and scheduling for Neil Shepard’s annual winter wagon rides with the noble Clydesdales, Sonny and Willy.

For the Christmas wagon rides, Neil employs a work-a-day, Christmas green wagon festooned with swags and bows created by Mary and Kymm. While his red swan wagon has elegant golden wheels, the Christmas wagon has sturdy tires to carry the loads on multiple trips. Like the church’s living nativity, it’s a simple, homespun event that epitomizes the Glen Ellen spirit.

And who better to lead such an event, but Neil, a homegrown fellow, quiet and thoughtful, yet given to joking and cowboy humor.

It’s hard work for Neil, but even more of a feat for Sonny and Willy, who carry the whole load in trip after trip. They begin the day with shiny, brushed, black and white coats, the gauzy feathers on their lower legs floating in the breeze. They look impressive. By the end of the day’s labors, Willy and Sonny are sweaty and seem tired. Neil comforts them after their labors, nuzzling up to them, talking so quietly it’s just between him and the horses. I imagine it’s all praise. All three of those fellows well deserve praise.

Everyone else holds up well, too, including Bob Gossett leading the passengers in song and Santa who hands out candy canes, supplied by the Glen Ellen Village Market.

When children finish their ride, they are invited into a corner of the saloon for hot chocolate and cookies provided by Elaine Neally.

The fine folks of our Glen Ellen Volunteer Fire Department control traffic, often using the beautiful Stacia D engine. We thank all involved and plan to see you there.

Candle lighting on Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, the Glen Ellen Community Church hosts a traditional candle light service at 4:30 p.m. with a retelling of the Christmas story and a singing of favorite, familiar Christmas carols. See you there for more peaceful contemplation in this season of love reborn.

Fond memories of Robert Greygrass

We send a fond farewell to Native American comedian and storyteller, Robert Greygrass. A few years back, he entertained folks in Glen Ellen at a house concert. His “NDN” approach was both humble and hilarious by turns. He provided an enlightening view of “growing up different.”

If Robert had a recent message for us, it might be caution on those icy curves.

Robert has many friends in Sonoma Valley including sweet “Janet from another planet.” That’s the endearing moniker that hard-working nurse Janet Rivlin was given when she and Robert worked together at Wavy Gravy’s Camp Win-A-Rainbow.

We now wish Robert a restful peace somewhere over the rainbow. What’s a school without a band? I hope you read Madeline Cline’s thoughtful essay in last Tuesday’s Sonoma Index-Tribune. If you didn’t, it’s well worth a visit to sonomanews.com, then click on Schools. She’s a senior at Sonoma Valley High who makes a clear and convincing case for music in the schools. A balanced curriculum is her vision. I concur. Her discussion about music director Emily Moore’s fundraising efforts is enlightening and frightening. That’s too much to expect of any teacher. Even one who clearly loves her job and her students as much as Emily does.

Many folks in Glen Ellen are familiar with Emily; she’s the one who wrangles the high schoolers who gather on a holiday weekend to perform in our Glen Ellen Village Fair. Her students also march in the Sonoma Developmental Center’s Halloween parade.

As Vicki Hill, an avid enthusiast for school music, once wrote to me, “What’s a parade without a band?” Indeed, what’s a high school without a band?

We love having the high school band march every year in our Glen Ellen Village Fair. Since Emily began teaching at the high school, her students have continued the tradition first initiated by her predecessor, Barbara McElroy. Both of these music teachers share their love of music in a way that is inspirational, both for the students and for their audiences.

Their performance is a thoughtful gift to all of us every autumn. Might you consider a return gift to the school’s music program this year? If everyone in Glen Ellen who has watched either parade over the years, contributed a couple of dollars, that would be a great help. Maybe a collection bucket for the band at next year’s fair? Just a thought.

Support for avian acrobats

Close to deadline, I received a call from a reader, who didn’t want her name in the news. Folks often do feel that way, and I’m grateful for their comments, advice, admonitions and good news. Do call, do email ... that’s how this column is created.

This particular reader offered a great suggestion about my little avian acrobatic crew of hummers and their frozen nectar. The advice from the anonymous reader: Keep two hummingbird feeders, one inside (filled and ready), one outside. If the outside feeder freezes, exchange the inside one for the frozen one as soon as you awake.

Good plan. That means only one early-morning trip outside clad in dowdy nightwear. Sweetie will appreciate that advice; it is he who completes that bone-chilling task. Bringing the frozen feeder inside to thaw under tepid running water and returning it outside is no fun.

We know that hummers can survive by going into torpor (Google it), but that makes them too vulnerable to hungry predators. Better to make sure their breakfast is ready and waiting.

Thanks for the good counsel dear reader; your practical, commonsense advice is welcomed.

• • •

Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me @ Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least two weeks prior to your desired publication date.