A Green wedding at the Donner Pass

by Jordan Green

Here in the highSierras just west of the Nevada state line, a place of almostunbearable beauty, the Callahan and Green clans finalized a familialmerger. The wedding site is not far from the place where theDonner party, European-American immigrants from the east, foundthemselves snow-bound and starved a century and a half ago, resortingto cannibalism to survive before the spring thaw, when they stumbledout, picked up the pieces, tried to forget the horror and remade theirlives as Californians. Jim, my brother-in-law’s father and a Navy manpossessed of a macabre sensibility, mentions it first, but several ofmy own kinfolk bring it up as well. It’s surreal to thinkabout that historical footnote, with traffic zooming past on Interstate80 from Reno to Sacramento, us campers settled into canvas-coveredcabins situated along the tumbling Yuba River accessed with the ease ofnew rental cars navigated down rutted dirt roads. My sister and her newhusband picked this spot because of their simple love of the outdoors,and the mutual trust and joy they’ve found together from rock-climbing,hiking and mountaineering. In this new century, it seems increasinglyappropriate as a gathering place for family and friends to witnessthese partners’ vows. My sister came west after a stint workingin Washington, DC following her graduation from Cornell University inNew York. She came to Davis to study for her doctorate in nutrition inCalifornia’s north-central valley, where she met Rob and began a newlife. A native San Diegan, Rob too is a product of restlessness andmigration. His mother, from an ethnic Chinese family in Indonesia, madeher way to Hong Kong, and then to southern California. So there isfamily from Indonesia here this weekend, along with a university friendfrom Spain. Our second cousin, Tracy, who is officiating the wedding,has an adopted daughter from China. There are many hues and culturesmelded in the circle of love that surrounds my sister and new husband. Fromour side of the family, there are Sawyers here from Illinois, friendsfrom Kentucky – where my parents went to pursue their Aquarianexperiment of voluntary peasantry – Greens from all points:Philadelphia, Florida, Los Angeles, Kentucky, again. The groomand the groomsmen are dressed in these Mexican-made suits – a darkbrown that is classy in a World War II-era way but earthy enough tocamouflage the dust – matched with white dress shirts, brown Oxfordsand ties of turquoise and blue. My sister is resplendent in her whitedress, and the bridesmaids wear blue. My sister has chosen an essay byWendell Berry, our distant neighbor in Kentucky, for me to read duringthe ceremony. I adopt my best Hebrew Scripture cadence to convey thesepassages about the way life does not conform to individual wills; atbest it’s an unpredictable result of collective efforts. Mostly though,like farming, you do not try to perfect what nature has alreadyproduced, but only to honor its integrity with your mutual care foreach other. But before we get to that point, one of thebridesmaids begins to lean against my sister’s childhood friend,Laurel, and then to wobble and sway under the bright sun. Christy’sknees buckle and she begins to slide to the earth, and three or fourpeople cradle her head to break the fall. The bridesmaid’s boyfriend,one of the groomsmen, breaks from the line with an expression of alarmand rushes to her side. Rob, who is a doctor, steps out from the brideand officiant, and hovers briefly over Christy. Another doctor and apre-med student materialize, and Rob lifts the swooning woman’s legs todrain the blood back to her head. A volunteer server is soon on thescene with a cup of ice water. One of the elderly guestssurrenders a wheelchair and Christy takes her place in the shade withthe groomsmen, while I switch out and join the bridesmaids. It’s thehigh altitude, the sun, the lack of food and maybe a touch of alcohol.In any case, Christy revives and stays through the reception. Suchis the unpredictability of life. In the moments we designate asspecial, life intervenes and binds us together in care. We improviseand carry on. All of us have a role. Rob’s cousin from the Bayarea, a food writer, serves whiskey punch made with Jim Beam, thevintage of Frankfort, Ky., where I graduated from high school. Mycousin DJs from a catalogue of songs on his laptop. I toast my sisterand her new husband, and they dance to Tom Waits’ “Alice.” To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at