There was a western-transplants family reunion at my Hesperia home last month. An opportunity to gather thirty-three southern California relatives together in one noisy group arose when Cousin Lee, a volunteer Fire Department Chaplin in his home town near Chicago arrived with his wife Vicki to attend a convention of the organization at Palm Springs. Vicki shares Lee's volunteer spirit. She started a helping hand project after she noticed that families who were waiting in line to receive support services after a local tragedy often had young children in tow. Vicki formed a support group to care for the kids that continues as part of their local response disaster team.

At family reunions we retell family history stories and discover what's going on currently in the lives of those with whom we share DNA traits. I advertise my interests on the family-room wall with a collage of photos of my High Desert life. Some folks recognized the Forever Wild Visitor's Center photo from the episode aired on Extreme Makeover. If they follow this column, they knew of my involvement when the Wild Animal Sanctuary had their dispute with San Bernardino County because the county was pressuring the non-profit or ABC television to construct a million dollar road to the property only because the county presumed the authority to require it. It was a pleasure to inform my guests that not only is the Sanctuary up and running with a well deserved permit hung proudly on the wall but because of their contribution as prime movers on the construction project and interior design phase, Tom and Sophie Steeno were honored in October with an Outstanding Community Service Award by the Baldy View Chapter of the Building Industry Association of So Cal.

Those of us who live on the High Desert know there is no one description of the desert that fits all; and the pictures in my family room attest to that. Sheep grazing peacefully above El Mirage Dry Lake contrast with the animation on the face of a granddaughter snowboarding near Wrightwood. Another granddaughter tenderly cradles a goose at Hesperia Lake in her arms. Near that is a photo of all four grandchildren riding on the rugged back seat of the ore train at Calico Ghost Town. Tulips brought from Holland Michigan sprouting in my front yard, poppy fields in Antelope Valley, the ecologically designed Cal Earth geodesic domes, and the stately walled mansion in Oak Hills reflect the desert that is cultivated, natural, and designed for practicality or opulence. The 2008 winter snow photo taken from my front door of the neighbor pulling his son on a sled with a tractor attests that at 4,000 foot elevation we really do occasionally get snowed in.

Because of reaction to my photos accompanied with my son's geological review, I believe some are encouraged to visit Red Rock Canyon, Rainbow Basin, and Joshua Tree National Park, or perhaps to just drive around and get an up-close-and-personal feeling for this place. This was not all new stimuli for my guests. Like me, most of my kinfolk have the wanderlust. Pre-teen John already planned to go to Calico for his next birthday celebration and the Anaheim cousins drive past Hesperia often to their favorite fishing spot at Bishop.

The reuniting was an opportunity to acknowledge the memory of the Aunts and Uncles who spearheaded our family's westward movement over sixty years ago while others who share our family name were heading out to cultivate the farmlands of northern Michigan. It was an opportunity to acknowledge the Uncle who was the first to move up the hill to retire to Hesperia in a self-constructed house following a tradition set by his father who personally built three consecutively larger homes in Chicago to accommodate his growing family.

Our Chicago guests heard many first-hand forest fire evacuation stories from California cousins. The Crestline, Big Bear, and Elsinore contingents had the closest calls. I wouldn't be surprised if Lee took the opportunity to share some of these tales at the PS convention. In his calling as a volunteer Chaplin, he hears many sad stories but he knows that, as with reunions, healing takes place when people talk them out.