For the last few months, my mother and I have been conniving a bit of a bombshell for my father’s 70th birthday. For us, it was a big risk, as we’re talking about a guy who absolutely, positively, is not into surprises. However we figured this plan might be well received, as my wife and I would be flying back to California, and we were to be the surprise.
We arrived at the front door of my parent’s home, loaded with cone-shaped party hats, “silly string,” four-foot tall balloons, festooned with happy birthday greetings, and massive “7” and “0” silver helium-filled blimps, just to make sure he forgot this numeric milestone. I rang the bell, and a familiar frame opened the door.

“SURPRISE,” we yelled, red silly string flying through the air like it was the millennium New Year. Party hats were snapped onto his head, and balloons placed in hand…

He stood in the doorway in utter shock.

After a moment of silence, he exclaimed, “What the heck are you doing here?!”

“Happy birthday, Dad,” I said. “There’s no way we’d miss this one!”

For the next 20-plus minutes, all he could say is, “I can’t believe you’re here!” Our plan had hatched perfectly: We surprised the man who could not be befuddled, and he was thrilled.

Although we live some 3,000 miles apart, and communicate with our family on a regular basis over the phone, there’s nothing like being with family. It had been a long time since I had seen my parents, my sister and her husband, plus my two nieces and a nephew. We had catching up to do, and as always, it’s great to learn about what was happening in their lives. Being back home also provided an opportunity to stroll down memory lane, and a bit of a photographic adventure.

As I write this, Southern California is seeing incredible clear weather, with nary a cloud in the sky. This usually translates into brisk days, and even brisker nights. But when you’re in the San Bernardino Mountains, and a mile up from the basin, the temperature can really drop, and sometimes significantly. In our case, highs in the low 30s and lows dropping into the single digits, which not only keeps the perfect-powder snow around, but ices up the walkways in that see the sun during the day.

Living on Maui for the past eight years, and used to wearing shorts, slippahs and a t-shirt on a daily basis, I was only familiar with the “cold” of Haleakala, and that’s only for a few hours at a shot. This was a whole new experience – a body and mind-numbing iciness that threatened to congeal the blood in my veins. I settled into the sofa in the living room, pulled the infrared space heater in close and huddled with a blanket.

“You cold?” My mother said with a smile.

“You bet I am,” I shivered. “I’ve never been here when it’s been so cold!”

The smile still on her face, my mom turned and walked towards the corner cabinet. She opened its oak doors, and pulled out an old photo album. She flipped through the pages, then handed me the book.

“Right now, it’s about 32-degrees,” she noted. When I took this picture of you, it was about 22-degrees.”

I looked at the photo, and the memories came flooding back: There I was, shoveling snow off the boat dock, and I’m wearing a Lake Arrowhead Water Ski Club t-shirt, a pair of OP shorts and… wait for it… Moon boots.

“I guess my blood has thinned a bit, hasn’t it?” I said.

“I’d say so,” she noted. “Thirty years ago, you’d be sweating in this house. I’m surprised you’re not outside with your camera.”

My camera.

Here I was, sitting in a warm home in the middle of the San Bernardino mountains, and my camera was untouched in the bag. I got up off my flattening back side, and started to layer-up.

Since I moved to Maui over eight years ago, I had primarily visited my home state in the spring and summer, taking advantage of the usual warm boating weather. This was my first time back in the winter months, in, well… I can’t remember. Donning my jacket and boots (hiking, not moon), I stepped out of the mud room.

As the cold, crisp air filled my lungs, I surveyed my surroundings: Fresh powdery snow blanketed the ground and covered the pine, oak and dogwood trees. It may have been the snow coveted by skiers, but I was wishing for lilikoi, guava and mango syrups so I could make a big bowl of shave ice. I started down the path to the lake, and walking past the old tack house, I pulled out my trusty Canon G10 to grab a few images of shadows in the snow.

A few yards down the path, I came to our old apple tree, still laden with frozen fruit. Most of the mountain apples had been partially consumed by the squirrels and blue jays. Years ago, there wouldn’t be an apple on the tree this time of year, as my mother would have picked them for her apple pies. Looking at the remaining fruit, my mind found composition after composition, and I eagerly snapped away.

Before long, I was standing on our family’s dock, admiring the calm waters, the silence only broken by a couple of ducks swimming out of Shelter Cove. I was taken in by winter’s beauty and calm, pointing my lens this way and that, image upon image, capturing scenes I took for granted growing up, but never recording on film or a memory card until now.

After a couple of hours of bliss, I headed back to the house with a full memory card and a drained battery. I stomped the snow from the treads of my boots, opened the front door and felt the warm, dry air from the gravity furnace envelop my face.

“Hey, did you get any good shots?” My mom called out from the kitchen.

I walked in, gave her a hug and said, “You bet. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here in winter.”

She jerked away when my ear touched her cheek. “Your face is frozen! I bet you’re dying to get warm.”

I winked at her, saying, “I really didn’t notice. Besides, I was having too much fun.”

“How you go from freezing indoors to warm and having fun outside, I’ll never know. “You’re just full of surprises.”

I chuckled, “Ah… That’s today. Just wait and see what tomorrow brings after I charge my camera!”