Sunday, February 3, 2008

Our dear ones: The Alexander Family

The evening of my visit with the Alexander family a blanket of fog covers the ocean, tucked neatly up against the cliffs. Cloud cover presses down along the horizon, making the sinking sun look like a scarlet eye of Horus.

Jeannie and Kevin Alexander form one of those couples that make it look “easy.” What this really means is that they work very, very hard at leading a beautiful life: raising their children, managing the property they care-take, contributing to their community, and generally being gracious, kind and fun-loving.

Kevin has lived in Big Sur since he was 4 years old. One of his first memories is walking with his brother and their big German shepherd dog on Palo Colorado road, when he was about five. At six he was caught hitchhiking down Highway One to a birthday party on Partington Ridge. He’s lived and worked on the De Angulo Ranch, (a spot which has its own unique history) with a couple of interruptions, for 28 years.

Jeannie’s first memory of Big Sur was also on Palo Colorado road. As a teenage follower of the Grateful Dead she took a side trip there. Looking up to see the coastal redwoods for the first time while lying in the bed of a pickup truck, she felt like she was flying through the forest. Her destination: a home that was a converted chicken coop.

Kiley and Ryan Alexander are true Big Sur natives, both of them born right here on Partington Ridge, with the help of a team of dedicated doulas and beloved midwife Leslie Drew.

Kiley's earliest memory was of learning how to horseback ride as a toddler. Horsy neighbor Sheila showed her how to saddle up a black pony named Portia. “We got Portia saddled up, and walked her to the top of the hill. I jumped on, but we had forgotten to tighten the saddle girth. Riding her down hill I slid up and over her head, still in the saddle!”

Ryan's first memory is this: “I remember Mom holding me on the quad, it was raining, I was wearing a little rain jacket, with my head hanging over the side.” Ryan was born just after the big El Nino storms of 1998, and his parents would transfer him from truck to all terrain vehicle to get up the ridge road and home. They nicknamed him “Buddy boost.”

For Jeannie, what has sustained her joy in Big Sur is “All of it: the community, a great family life close to nature, alternative education, and the fire brigade. I realize now I’ll always want to be involved in emergency services.” As a trained nurse she serves as medical team leader for the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade.

The BSVFB recognized Jeannie’s work with the Captain’s Award this year. At the awards dinner a small group of us, Kevin and I included, received the fire brigade widows’ prize, a traveling coffee cup with the BSVFB logo. We joked that this was for the massive quantities of coffee we have to drink after we’ve waited up all night for our spouses to come back from an incident.

The Big Sur Charter School supports the life they’ve chosen, providing them with both educational and cultural experiences in the world beyond Big Sur. Kevin chimes in that his education at Pacific Valley school in the 70’s consisted of listening to a teacher read Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” in the mornings, and playing at Sand Dollar Beach in the afternoons. “Not so good,” he says dryly.

Believing that conscious parenting can give them the best of both the alternative and mainstream worlds, Kevin and Jeannie helped start the Big Sur Charter School, which they regard as a satisfying venture. They choose their own curriculum and stay on track with their teacher of record. Currently Ryan and Kiley are studying science, history, and art.

They also incorporate lessons from well-traveled adults—learning about Gandhi from a visitor who lives in India, and about Wales from Toby Rowland-Jones down the road. They recently traveled to San Francisco, where they stayed in a youth hostel, attended a service at Glide Memorial Church and spent a day at the Exploratorium.

“We get to research every decision involving our kids’ educations, and can provide them with a variety of experiences, like showing them the arts scene and cultural diversity of San Francisco and Chicago, or through traveling to the Cayman Islands like we did last year,” Jeannie adds.

And what do you miss most living here? "Chinese take out food," Jeannie and Kiley cry out, Ryan nods in agreement and Kevin smiles from where’s he’s warming himself in front of the wood-burning stove. “But even pizza delivery would be ok,” laughs Jeannie. “Either that or an inexpensive restaurant, like a salad bar, somewhere local.”

I ask what they are most grateful for in Big Sur.
Jeannie responds, “Seeing, hearing, and smelling the ocean every day. We can hear the seals here too. I love the serenity of being in nature every day on my walks.”

Both Kiley and Ryan pause and think quietly before answering. Kiley smiles and says, “Seeing the stars, I miss that in the city,” while Ryan says emphatically, “The forest. And I like the seasons, especially Spring when the Lupin comes out, and sunsets.”

Kevin adds, “This is a totally safe, pristine little world within the world. Coming home after being away traveling really makes this clear to me. As I kid, we lived off the land, and if we had to, we could do it again. It’s hard to live here, but we can make it work.”

The conversation winds down with talk of UFOs (there were lots and lots of sightings here in the 70s’ and 80’s.) Kevin recalls watching one silently light up the entire bowl of the sky above the Partington watershed.

This inspires a ghost story that Ryan wants to share: they were all in their tub one night, shortly after Kevin’s dad, a character by all accounts, had passed away. Suddenly the lights went out, the main door opened and the candle by the bath blew out. We all croon in horror, then laugh at how Grandpa put one over on them, from the Beyond.

Leaving the Alexander family snug in their nest that evening, I admire a perfect ice crystal ring around the waxing moon. Yes, as long as we are willing to work hard, we can be close to the beauty and mystery of life on this ridge.
Mariah Green and Kylie, Kylie & Jeannie, Ryan finds an Easter egg. (Photo of Ryan & Kylie above by local photographer Tom Birmingham.)

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