Unicorns, Bears, Sugar Pine Trees and old Russian proverbs.

This weekend the Russian part of my family took over. Half of my husband’s Russian family lives in L.A.(his dad, stepmom, aunt, grandma and cousin) so once a year I make the trek and we do something special in the LA area.

Last year we skipped the LA trip and went far east to Moscow to see the other side of his family (his mom and step dad)  in 2007.  Highlights from that trip included agreeing to be interviewed for the International NTV channel (in Russian) and taking his parents to the Le Meridien in Moscow for a few days, which is a very nice hotel, especially for his mom and dad who don’t do fancy things. We bought his mom a swimsuit and it was actually the first time she’d swam in a pool in twenty years! Can you imagine? This made me very happy. I enjoyed watching from the sidelines  in between reading my amazing book: Suite Francaise.

This year, we decided to travel on the cheap (sort of).  We just did a two-day backpacking trip to Sequoia National Park, which is about two and a half hours from Los Angeles. I didn’t really want to go, but now that it’s over, I must say, I had a great time, and I felt extremely present, which isn’t always the case. We are an interesting little family unit when we all get together. We are all funny. The Paperny family is one of the funniest and interesting groups of people that I have ever met, so coming from an equally goofy family (but in a different way) I think our families mix well together — or, I think I mix well with them.

Dmitry, my husband is the funny one, who really keeps the group together. He’s the planner and has everything organized (he secretly bought me a new back pack for the trip by measuring me while I was asleep). Dmitry is truly one of the most darling people that I have ever met in my life. So I guess I am glad that he’s my husband. His sister Tanya is much younger than us, but she’s very mature and interesting to talk to, so it makes us almost even. At only 22 she’s working her first real job in youth advocacy in D.C. She is really into saving money and living on “what she has now” (I went through a phase like that too). She’s already volunteered in New Orleans twice! When she lost her cell phone, we gave her one of our old ones instead of her buying a new one. She’s forgetful, has a bad back and already “doesn’t want to talk about work.”

Dmity’s dad, Vadik, a true intellectual Russian. He’s been living in LA for the past 25 years and has a design studio there. Though, outside of his design work, he is an “intellectual” on many things. He has a PhD and has written a book in Russia about architecture that his made him sort of celebrity in Moscow. Vadik spent his time teaching me a Russian proverb about an old man who planted a turnip that grew too big. I turned it into a rap song. Since we ran out of wine, I only learned half the song, which in English just sounds ridiculous….

When we get together, it always makes for fun times.

So anyway, the four of us took off like a pack of turtles and drove up to the park. We got a campsite and pitched our tents. The next morning we took off for our 7 mile hike, 3.4 up and 3.4 down. It was a long day, and at some point while you are huffing and puffing you are wondering “why?” It’s in moment’s like these that you are already imagining the hot tub at home (Dmitry’s dad has one) and the massage you’ll get and the burger at “In and Out Burger.” But at present, all you can do is feel the pain and try to breathe.

That night, I couldn’t sleep at all. I heard that a mama bear and her cub wandered around the campsite at night (but were “harmless”)….whatever. I kept imagining that a bear snout was going to come popping into my tent at any moment. It never happened, but I did peak out to see the giant sequoias and the stars. The stars were some of the brightest I’ve seen. And in that moment, one fell from the sky and I made a wish. A moment later, a deer or perhaps some other great animal began to graze on the nearby grass and this kept me up all night. Who’s eating the grass? A deer, a bear, something else? We decided later, when we went on a walk to “learn about the trees” that what we heard was a Unicorn and the small stretch of grass must be magical.

Early the next day we were invited to take a tour to learn all about the trees in our area. While I was trying to decide the difference between a Ponderosa and a Jeffereson or a Sugar Pine, White Fir and a Giant Sequoia, I became aware, awake and alive. We then continued on our walk to a cabin in the middle of the woods, which we were told was Grace Allen’s cabin, a woman who spent many summers living in this area. On our way to the cabin we saw old junk, pots and pans from 1890 all covered in rust. When we arrived at the door, a nice old lady came out dressed in some vintage settler’s attire a la 1898. She introduced herself as Grace Allen and asked if we wanted a cool glass of lemonade. She then said her father had moved here in 1880 to run the mill, and she was born here in this cabin in 1887, which would make her about 141 years old, perhaps the oldest person in the world. Huh? My eyes popped out of my head. Huh? But she only looks about 80. What’s going on here? Is this place the fountain of youth? Am I just tired? No, perhaps I’m just waking up.

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