Sunday, November 20, 2016

Weekend Exploration in Central & Northern California Part II

So many quotes that I can vaguely recall have been coming to me recently. In this time where many are seeking answers, I've found comfort in researching history, political action, social justice movements and great pieces of writing. I particularly love the quote below by Robert F. Kennedy speaking to young South Africans in 1966. It's a speech I quote often, the entirety of it touches upon so many topics I feel strongly about and believe are still relevant. I like to think too, that 50 years ago, men referred to all of humanity. 
"Hand in hand with freedom of speech goes the power to be heard, to share in the decisions of government which shape men's lives. Everything that makes man's life worthwhile-family, work, education, a place to rear one's children and a place to rest one's head -all this depends on decisions of government; all can be swept away by a government which does not heed the demands of its people. Therefore, the essential humanity of men can be protected and preserved only where government must answer-not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion, or a particular race, but to all its people." 

Back to California. My friend Allison and I had four fantastic days here recently when she visited and the first two, we touristed hard. The second two had a slower, more relaxed feel. 

In Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach, we noticed the waves were enormous! The largest either of us had ever seen.

In Santa Cruz, we saw (and smelled) this large gathering of sea lions. They were loud in their barking and restless in their movement to find a comfortable spot. They seemed to seek sun and rest.

To be among redwoods, we visited Henry Cowell state park and as it was a bit damp there, we were thrilled to see banana slugs. I'd heard so many describe them as "not really that yellow," but I suspect they were referring to a different species of yellow slug or ones that don't exist in California as the ones we saw roaming the forest were as bright and purely yellow as the UC Santa Cruz mascot! I was fascinated by how they slid along and used their tentacles. I restrained myself from bringing a family of banana slugs home.

The redwoods are wide, but mostly just tall. It's tricky to see the tops of the trees but being among a small forest of them feels so peaceful and quiet.

On our way to San Jose for Allison's flight, we stopped by Los Gatos, a town with a lovely and walkable downtown and a name that translates from Spanish as The Cats.

An art gallery and succulents. Two very welcome sights!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Weekend Exploration in Central & Northern California Part I

Many days later, with time to process and understand, there's more peace. A weekend behind us to reflect, rest and energize to continue speaking up for what's right. Perhaps if we all worked together for our best neighborhood or community through listening to one another's concerns, ideas, fears and hopes, all of our actions could roll together into an extraordinary place to live and be free. We already are free, we already have access to some of the most basic and best human rights in the world, we already are so privileged to live in a democracy, let's make it even better. We could show each other that we care about others, that we accept and listen to one another in our own nation and around the world, that we're willing to work together no matter our differences. Before beginning the post below about a recent weekend, a quote I've long loved and have had on my mind this week:

"One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple by the relief office I saw my people. As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if this land was made for you and me." 
-- Woody Guthrie

Two weekends ago, one of my best friends, Allison, who I met while we were both studying in Scotland four years ago, visited me in California. She flew down from Portland, Oregon and we had a marvelous four days of exploration and fun. In visuals and substance, it was beautiful. There were a few too many words and images to include it all in just one post, I'll split the adventure into two posts.

We began at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a favorite of many visitors. With my membership and the ability to grab a guest pass through my work, I'm always eager to experience it again with friends! These jellyfish, appropriately called "egg yolk jellyfish" were incredibly tangled.

This Indian Ocean octopus was also on a definite exercise break when we stopped by. It was extraordinary to see all of his or her tentacles moving at different speeds and how it seemed to float through the water. The photobomb by a shrimp in this image makes me laugh.

Big Sur is a destination I could travel to everyday. The full experience of the gorgeous views and landscape includes driving only an hour and a half or so round trip along the coast and it typically feels like ten minutes.

Even the smallest amount of rain and sea mist made the region look a bit more like Ireland than drought-stricken California!

The next day, we explored San Francisco. I've only been to the city two or three times and it was great to accomplish a few more tourist-y things in that fun city. We began at the Flower Conservatory, a beautiful building dating to the 1890s that survived the devastating 1906 earthquake. It looks like an enormous Victorian greenhouse, a blend of glass panes and wood painted white. There were so many orchids and tropical plants and a giant lily pond, but unfortunately the lighting on the images I captured just weren't great. Here's one close-up of an orchid in the conservatory that isn't too dark.

Afterwards, we explored the Ferry building near the piers and the long Bay Bridge which stretches to the East Bay where Oakland and Berkeley lie (along with the rest of the state and country if you continue traveling east). The outdoor Saturday farmers market was extremely busy and the specialty food and home goods shops indoors were just as bustling. It was wonderful to see the mixture of every type of cuisine possible, local food and farms represented and tourists and locals shopping. Lines for every type of food were long, but in splitting up and weighing the differences in line length, we both found something tasty. I loved the steamed pork bun and Italian nutella doughnut I tried.

Free museums are always welcome. If engineering or transportation interests you, I'd recommend the free cable car museum! 

I can't say On the Road grabbed me like other literature has, and I can't say I know a ton about the Beatniks, but I do love Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poetry. I knew so little about him that I was quite surprised when I learned he was a beatnik a little while ago. Around that same time, I was thrilled to  learn that at 97, he still owns San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore, an independent book store that has an excellent selection of poetry, novels, and everything you'd find in a book store. It was so exciting to be there and I particularly liked this door in the basement. 

My favorite Ferlinghetti poem is below. This trip to be continued in the next post!

Wild Dreams of a New Beginning

There's a breathless hush on the freeway tonight

Beyond the ledges of concrete

restaurants fall into dreams
with candlelight couples
Lost Alexandria still burns
in a billion lightbulbs
Lives cross lives
idling at stoplights
Beyond the cloverleaf turnoffs
'Souls eat souls in the general emptiness'
A piano concerto comes out a kitchen window
A yogi speaks at Ojai
'It's all taking pace in one mind'
On the lawn among the trees
lovers are listening
for the master to tell them they are one
with the universe
Eyes smell flowers and become them
There's a deathless hush
on the freeway tonight
as a Pacific tidal wave a mile high
sweeps in
Los Angeles breathes its last gas
and sinks into the sea like the Titanic all lights lit
Nine minutes later Willa Cather's Nebraska
sinks with it
The sea comes over in Utah
Mormon tabernacles washed away like barnacles
Coyotes are confounded & swim nowhere
An orchestra onstage in Omaha
keeps on playing Handel's Water Music
Horns fill with water
ans bass players float away on their instruments
clutching them like lovers horizontal
Chicago's Loop becomes a rollercoaster
Skyscrapers filled like water glasses
Great Lakes mixed with Buddhist brine
Great Books watered down in Evanston
Milwaukee beer topped with sea foam
Beau Fleuve of Buffalo suddenly become salt
Manhatten Island swept clean in sixteen seconds
buried masts of Amsterdam arise
as the great wave sweeps on Eastward
to wash away over-age Camembert Europe
manhatta steaming in sea-vines
the washed land awakes again to wilderness
the only sound a vast thrumming of crickets
a cry of seabirds high over
in empty eternity
as the Hudson retakes its thickets
and Indians reclaim their canoes 

Thursday, November 10, 2016


I just kept saying "No, no, no, no, no..." It had to be a bad dream or a terrible accident. It couldn't really be happening. Grief was present everywhere today. With my housemate this morning, on the faces of the commuters, including a young woman wearing a hijab. Among the high school students trying to process it and speaking to peers and adults. Among teachers and gardeners. With every diner and at every table in the crowded Mexican restaurant where a friend and I ate lunch. In choir tonight in the loft of a stone cathedral on the coast of California.

The sun rose this morning and the warmth returned. The temperature rose into the mid-70s. This afternoon, sounds of lawn mowers interrupted the conversations and the scent of cut grass blended with meat being grilled outdoors. But there was no celebration. There were official conversations on how to speak to students ranging from pre-school to 12th grade. There were emails and conversation times set aside. There were spaces for all employees to gather and be with one another.

Throughout this election I've been fearful to say much, thinking of the people in my life who feel differently or vote differently. I avoid conflict. But silence accomplishes nothing. I will respect the next president. I will not dismiss him nor his administration before it begins. I'll continue to believe in this country and respect the rule of law, the electoral college and our democracy. But I'm fearful. I'm saddened that we've chosen a leader who has not provided a detailed plan, who relies on slogans, repetition and boastful statements better suited to elementary school playgrounds to fill time in interviews and debates. He lacks critical experience, thought development, self-control, respect for anyone other than himself. He's bragged about committing sexual assault.

Beyond this new reality, beyond the disbelief and the acceptance that this is the path forward, I'm left trying to understand how words don't matter. That one man, our next president can say anything. That he can later deny his words, or be defended by others that they're meaningless, just words. That he tells it like it is, and we shouldn't be offended. That he didn't mean it. I've never been in a space, a family, a friendship, where my words didn't matter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

October Observations

Somehow, October has slipped away. It rained for four or five days this month and the region has become greener. The rain was welcome and in a strange way, made California feel real and complete to me, a place with both sunshine and rain.

The harvest moon was golden and prominent for a few days in the middle of the month and appeared so familiar in the sky. I realized then how often I'd been forgetting that it was October. Even now, late in the month, it doesn't feel at all like the autumns I've known before. It's darker now, but without a chill in the air. It's still warm and sunny most days and there's little foliage or fallen leaves. New England in October always felt so defined and natural for Halloween. The thick forests and heavy tree cover at night (and during the day) felt mysterious and the transition to frosts and bare branches felt extra spooky. The ocean, fewer trees and dense forests here allow nature to feel more open and inviting.

The waves are largest on windy days, I love seeing them crash into the rocks and shore.

Near my home a couple of days ago, it looks like foliage!

Today on Halloween, I worked at an outdoor carnival at the lower school in the afternoon. The sun was strong and many of us were sweating. I was working closely with two moms, one commented to the other how hot it was that day, the other said that was always Halloween's downside each year. I laughed to myself, realizing I'd never been warm on halloween. I felt sympathetic towards the children with puffy or furry costumes.

I take so many images along the coast, and have found coastal walks like these are not only good exercise, but incredibly soothing for my mind. This scene jumped out to me this evening with the sky's colors, the tiny birds along the horizon, the empty bench and the path towards it. At the moment it was captured, I was thinking about our time on earth, about the changes we're capable of making, of the people we meet and lose along the way, of those who have left and how we can live our own lives, and the lives they weren't able to lead as best we can.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Visiting Morro Bay

I used my saved Labor Day holiday from work two days ago to take a solo road trip three hours south along highway 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway, to Morro Bay, California. Morro Bay was a randomly chosen destination based on its distance, and while it provided a great beach to read and nap on for an afternoon and some good Mexican food, the highlight of the trip was driving through Big Sur -- how clear of a day it was, how few people were there, the incredibly beauty of the entire region, and the enjoyment of taking an adventure on my own and the time to think, absorb the quiet, and admire the views it brought. 

Big Sur is one of the most undeveloped and rugged stretches of coastline in the world, and is described as the longest, most uninhabited, and scenic in the U.S. The Santa Lucia mountains are in such close proximity to the coast, or rise up from the ocean. It occurred to me while driving how I'd never seen so much empty ocean, there was never a boat or person in the water. It was the largest stretch of sea I can ever recall seeing that appears so natural and empty. The shades of blue stretched on forever. 

The golden cattails lined both sides of the highway and when hit by the sun, they were so, so gorgeous. 

I'd seen parts of Big Sur before, but there was always a bit of wildfire smoke or fog in the evening, and I'd never gone very far south in the region. 

A hummingbird and gecko were spotted.

A little over halfway through the journey was a spot called Ragged Point. An inn, outdoor restaurant, gas station and shop seemed to make it a common tourist stop. In the gorgeous garden and unexpected lawn, I noticed a dozen or so monarch butterflies. A hummingbird (more challenging to photograph well!) was also there.

Two and a half hours south of Monterey Bay where the trip began, the scenery flattened. It still looked like California, but the mountains and dramatic coastal landscape disappeared. In the small coastal town of Cayucos, one town north of Morro Bay, I found a beach with a few sunbathers. Forgetting my own sunscreen, I pulled on a long sleeve shirt and read until my eyes grew heavy and I fell asleep.

Cayucos and Morro Bay, California

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Reading & Missing the Rain, Just a Little

Despite the busy-ness of a new job and a natural inclination to be really social -- to learn names and meet people and pursue volunteer opportunities and endless hobbies (Badminton! Singing! Yoga! Art! Writing! Jogging!), I’m trying to be realistic. That includes taking things down a notch. Enjoying the solitude. In life thus far, there’s felt like there’s been too much of it, now I’m realizing not to take it (or any amount of time for that matter) for granted. Daily or weekly quiet time on my own seems to be the recharge that I need for life and work right now. I’ll never say no to spending time with a friend, but one or two of those hobbies sometimes need to take a back seat in favor of quieter more reflective time. Sometimes the hobbies themselves provide that. 

Besides walking along and gazing at the ocean, I’m trying to read more and as there’s always so much I want to read, I’m adopting a new approach to giving in to my interests at that moment. There’s always a laundry list of books I hope to read and nearly always I commit to finishing the one I’m on before starting a new one. But like food, I experience cravings for books, for authors or genres or locations or times in history to be immersed in. I’m trying to let those cravings speak more, to read a little bit of what I want at that moment. For me, so much of the attraction to reading and writing is thinking and learning. It’s what I miss most about being a full-time student and what I look for in a job. Reading is being somewhere else. And if there’s an inclination to read something specific, it feels right.

Not feeling right is adjusting to a rain-free environment. Similar to time, I’m reminding myself to not take the blue sky days (or any days here) for granted. They’re beautiful and I do really like the consistency in weather. Outdoor plans have yet to be cancelled or rearranged, occasionally the fog or clouds intrude but every day is predictable and nothing more than a light jacket has ever been needed. Every few weeks though, a strange expectation for rain has arrived in my thoughts. I haven’t seen it since I arrived two and a half months ago and even locals have brought it up when they’ve asked how long I’ve been here; one responded with, “you haven’t seen rain yet then, we haven’t seen it since March.” The two umbrellas in my car are overlooked and my hoods haven’t seen much use. I suspect in time my mind will adjust, I won’t expect rainy or overcast days every few weeks like I’ve lived with. I never expected I’d miss them, but they do seem to become a part of the rhythm I know. Remaining indoors or sleeping late as rain falls outdoors feels so familiar, and so welcome.

In other news, I baked some of my favorite scones over the weekend with a friend and bought more than a few more succulents. I then promised myself that as irresistible as they are, my succulent purchasing was finished for 2016.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Visiting Big Sur

I visited Big Sur a couple of weeks ago with a friend who's also new to the area and it was as enchanting as I had imagined.  It was the first time I'd seen the region on a clear evening and the cliffs, ocean and sunset were remarkable. Described by some as "the greatest meeting of land and water in the world," the rugged central Californian coast line defining Big Sur certainly appeared to be the greatest I've seen. With a planned destination of Julia Pfeiffer state park to see the sunset, the road wound along the coast and I loved the frequent opportunities to explore each overlook. Someday I hope to pursue the multitude of hikes in Big Sur.

The winding roads made me pretty nauseous, and with time to spare before the sunset on the beach, I took a quick nap on the sand. The air was chilly, but with a towel and jacket, it was a peaceful place to sleep! Also remarkable, the purple and pink sand at the beach!

The sun disappeared quicker than I had expected and wasn't quite a clear break with the horizon, but a disappearance into the fog that was rolling in. 

Even more beautiful seemed to be after the sun had set and the pink glow of light framed the mountains.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Happiness and Clear Days

When I think about the differences I see each day in California, they're minor and include larger tortilla sections in grocery stores, more cars and people and fewer season changes. When I think about the differences I see in myself since moving here, they're more prominent. I'm much happier here than I was most recently in New Hampshire. Family and friends are missed and play no part in the measurement, but there's a life here that I feel I've chosen out of so many options of who I could be or where I could go. I've found a naturalness and joy between a job I love and take pride in, to ocean walks or tacos or coastal road trips with friends. There's energy and opportunity here that I love. The activities I've taken on by myself, like yoga, reading and coastal walks have been a place to breath and think and give myself time. But the new friends have given meaning to living here. There are so many more young people here, ideas, places and groups to join. There's an active lifestyle and diversity of cultures and people that's a breath of fresh air. It feels right.

Pebble Beach, CA

Fall here is just as described after a traditionally foggy and cold summer: clear, sunny and the warmest season. While it seems that shorts don't see much attention any time of year, the fall temperatures reach 75 during the day and clear skies usually stretch from morning to evening. 

My office in Pebble Beach doesn't get a ton of sun, but it seems to be enough for my desk succulents!

Pacific from Pebble Beach

My work recently instituted a weekly "Wellness Hour" where employees can take an hour to practice however they view wellness. Mine usually consists of a walk to the beach.  

I love the green and purple plants along the coast, there's so many and I love the color and texture they add to the landscape.

Carmel beach sunset. 

Overcast in Pacific Grove.

I have many nice neighbors, but this corgi puppy might be my favorite. He was also born the week I arrived in California. We can chart our growth together! :)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years Later

Marking September 11th each year reminds me of seeing and understanding the day as a child and remembering it as an adult. Working at a high school the last few years, there's been a marking or remembrance of the anniversary each year. Last year, a few of the youngest high school students had been born that week. This year, many of the youngest students were born the following year. I remember my own middle and high school marking the anniversaries, particularly the second and third anniversaries and the moments of silence that accompanied them. I remember the tenth at college in Vermont and the eleventh through the eyes of British friends in the U.K. I've written down much of what I remember from that day, knowing that among my generation, if we live long lives, someday we'll be among the few with memories of the day. My memories aren't particularly exciting, I had been learning math that morning, nothing seemed amiss or different, and I learned after school that afternoon. Like most students, I didn't take the school bus home and was unusually picked up instead. I wish I could recall how beautiful of a day it was along the east coast as so many remember it to be. There are blurs in my memory that it was, but I don't recall it being thought of or noticed and I might just be remembering another day that year. I remember the class-wide discussions in the following days and weeks in my fourth grade classroom, how at that age, everyone had a story, a fact, something to share about a friend of a friend their parents knew. I visited New York with my family for the first time two years later in late spring and through the rain, I remember seeing the site and the tall pile of rubble that was still being processed. When I've visited New York in the last few years, the new One World Trade center has been so prominent and beautiful and seemingly at home on the skyline.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nature & The Feeling of Being At Home

I continue to be amazed by the natural surroundings here. The birds are bigger and their wingspans wider than the birds I grew used to seeing (...and ignoring). Every few days a large bird takes my attention away by soaring low overhead. Hummingbirds are common as well and I seem to be the only person still enthralled by them. :) The ocean views, bright turquoise water and blue sky or sunsets over the Pacific continue to amaze. An abundance of seals and otters and cranes and seagulls (also, hundreds of deer. EVERYWHERE) who call this peninsula home continue to  make this area feel so full of life. Natural beauty is so undefinable as there are endless definitions of what we find beautiful in nature and I have my own list of un-rankable beautiful places I've seen, but when I lived on the east coast of Scotland four years ago and walked along the North Sea most days, I thought it was one of the most beautiful places I'd ever seen, and perhaps had ever lived. I have the same feeling here and many memories of the Scottish coast have returned. 

I visited my brother over the weekend and we enjoyed an afternoon in San Francisco. It was the clearest I'd ever seen it!

There have been days and moments recently of feeling like I'm still so new to life here. The small challenges seven weeks after arriving are centered around the hassle of not knowing where a particular street or location is that's referenced, how to pronounce a Spanish word, or what new friend might be interested in joining for an activity. But they're small challenges as I've been reminded of the one constant that is nearly everywhere and can bring so much happiness and reassurance of belonging: conversation. When I've moved anywhere new, great conversation seems to be the biggest comfort and familiarity. Maybe I just really like people and expressing and hearing ideas, but having an honest, compassionate, engaging discussion with anyone feels like home. It feels safe and rewarding being able to share experiences and ideas, laugh, trade thoughts and meaningfully discuss anything with another person. It isn't dependent upon length of friendship or how well you know the person, but can be born of any social situation. Recently there have been many conversations that have felt this way, rewarding and happy and interesting. It's one of the new-to-the-area practices I don't want to ever end. Continuing to seek out friendship and ideas and conversation even when settled might be a new goal of mine.