The wind chill factor in Riyadh, currently, is 34 degrees Fahrenheit, the actual temperature being 41-F. There’s 100% humidity, and drizzle is falling from a charcoal grey sky as I write this. If I was home in Oregon, I’d be convinced snow would fall tonight. Given the first snowfall in Baghdad in 100 years only day before yesterday, I am not ruling out anything. Snow or no snow – this is truly a winter day in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
I saw snow in Oregon last month. Snow fell two days prior to Christmas Day and fell again the day following. Christmas Day at home was as dark and grey as today is here in Riyadh. Large raindrops fell as showers leisurely waltzed through the Coastal Range and made their way across the road to the Cascades, where they would dump several feet of snow before gliding over the flat, high desert area of eastern Oregon. The temperatures were too warm for snow to fall in the Willamette Valley.
Cristina cooked a turkey in her mother’s oven, forced to make stuffing with the barest dusting of sage – a near calamity in any house where I eat stuffing. Still, we suffered through our deprivation, and enjoyed a wonderful day surrounded by Cristina’s parents, our son, his fiancee, Ringo – their chihuahua/Jack Russell mix (a breeding mix that should send shivers down your spine), our granddaughter, and Skye (our Cairn Terrier). After spending last Christmas deep in the desert sands of KSA, this was like finding myself awakening in the Elysian Fields.
France’s President Sarkozy arrives in Riyadh this evening. On my way back to the compound, I saw maybe fifty police cars racing along East Ring Road, lights flashing but no sirens, peeling off two at a time to cover the exit or entry ramps. Once deployed, soldiers in their beige and brown desert fatigues took their posts and hefted their machine guns and waved the remaining traffic on down the road so they could close and clear this major freeway that runs alongside the airport where dignitaries arrive and are ferried to the Diplomatic Quarter. Today’s uniform enjoyed winter accessories – warm wool caps and thick scarves of the same material, thrown stylishly around their necks and across their shoulders. The forecast for tomorrow says that President Bush’s arrival in the capitol will be greeted with the same weather, the same traffic and security precautions, and the same attire on the soldiers.
The first day of December found me on a Lufthansa flight from Riyadh to Frankfurt (6.5 hours), a five hour layover, then a 10.5 hour flight from Frankfurt directly to Portland International. I caught a turbo-prop from Portland to Eugene and landed to find the air chill and damp. I’d worn a flannel shirt, jeans, and hiking boots home; so I was not only warm, but my garb blended so well with the local raiment that no one could have guessed I had just been in the deserts of Arabia. Cristina wrapped me in a hug so warm I found little need for a coat.
This is where blur begins. I had a solid month at home. The deep greens and faded yellows of Oregon’s forests provided the comforting backdrop for a jam-packed schedule of tasks, events, and meetings chaired by Cristina as part of the fight to prevent the Bush Administration from opening up over one million acres of public forest land to clear-cutting. There were few moments that didn’t require the accomplishment of something from a list of Christmas tasks, social requirements, or ticking off the list for our son’s and fiancee’s wedding scheduled for the 27th – only two days after Christmas. Yet, Cristina and I did manage a relaxing drive down Highway 101, skirting the frigid Oregon coast, even stopping to say, Hello, to her father, whose ashes were scattered just off Winchester Bay over twenty years ago.
Our granddaughter arrived on the 19th, and an already full calendar became even fuller. Ten-year-old girls require a lot of attention, and Julie is no exception. Despite a couple of days of sunshine, most of the days were cold and wet. A veteran of Utah winters, she simply tossed on her coat and accompanied us on our rounds. If for nothing else, her presence added some playful companionship for the two cats (Bear and Beatrice) and especially for Skye. She seemed especially to enjoy going with me to pick out the Christmas tree – a perfectly formed Noble Pine that stood about seven-feet tall.
James and Alisa arrived the weekend prior to Christmas, and it became necessary to coordinate conflicting schedules, resulting in more of a mix of Christmas with wedding, necessitating solo adventures by each of us, occasionally belying the concept of family togetherness at Holiday time. On the other hand, it felt good to venture forth alone, steering the pick-up along winding mountain roads slicked by rain and requiring me to do drive slower than normal. After nearly a year away, the beauty of the drive between town and our place reintroduced itself to me. A blend of mountains and narrow valleys, thick variegated forests and clear expanses of meadows, horses and donkeys and goats and llamas – I felt at home once again.
Christmas came and went. Cristina cooked her turkey and dressing at her parent’s, and I cooked in our huge kitchen, which I had come to miss intensely during my time away. Gifts were opened and thank yous were expressed and then it was the day after Christmas. Seemingly, just that fast.
All eyes and manner turned toward the wedding. Weddings are stressful. Anyone who has ever been involved with the planning and execution of one will attest to that fact. Couple that stress with the stress of the Holidays, and the potential for a perfect storm manifests itself. We made it through, though, mostly unscathed. A tiny, beautiful country church with clapboard siding surrounded by a stand of Douglas fir against a backdrop of a huge meadow provided the setting. Friends and family from San Diego, Arizona, Texas, and our little part of Oregon comprised the guest list. A gathering of maybe 20-25 in our forest protected home served as a warm haven for the reception. Hats off to Cristina for a magnificent job of planning and execution. I doubt she wants to do it again.
The next five days went by way too fast. Family left. Friends went home. Grandkids and kids returned from whence they came. Still Cristina and I had to fight for precious moments alone. They were difficult to find. Before we knew it, New Years Day arrived, and I had to leave. Thick, pea-soup fog enveloped us from home to the airport, almost as if I was being discouraged from boarding the plane and leaving. Unfortunately, modern technology allows for take-offs even when the visual range is nearly non-existent. So, I left the cold and wet of Oregon and returned to the cold and dry of Saudi Arabia – where the wind chill factor tonight makes me bundle up just like at home.
I sure the miss the warmth of Cristina’s embrace.
Copyright 2008 by Greg Hubbard
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