Archives for category: Nature

Lucky me! I got a break from my regular life at a time when it was much appreciated and went south to Florida with friends for a few days. For something different, we left the beauty of St. Petersburg and traveled north to Crystal Springs on the Gulf Coast.

Amazingly, it was predicted to hit a low of 30 degrees the morning we wanted to dive with the manatees in the only place you can do so by law, when they head from the colder Gulf waters into the springs with a constant temperature of around 70 degrees. We almost chickened out, discouraged by reports of visitors only lasting a few minutes before leaving with chattering teeth. At 70 years old, you think you’ve learned to be smart enough to know when it’s not going to work out. We considered a kayak to see them from the surface, but that was a 45 minute paddle, which sounded worse. My friend and I are nothing but game when it comes to a fun experience, so we prepped ourselves by worrying about the cold all night, packing up all kinds of non-Florida like things to keep warm.

It was 30 degrees when we walked to the boat at 7:15 am. I’ll be really honest – I was more worried about squeezing into a wet suit than the cold. Not pretty. I wasn’t shivering and I somehow got into the wet suit as several of us helped each other. Our boat was enclosed which helped.
IMG_9664Their slogan was promising a lot of fun ahead.IMG_9665It was the middle of the week, cold, and we lucked out with the last boat, so there were only 6 of us, my friend and me, two older ladies (maybe our age, but who knows) who are sisters-in-law, and a couple in their 50s celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. He didn’t end up going in but a few minutes at the end because of heart issues. This was on his wife’s bucket list and he was making sure she got to check it off. Captain Ed has been doing this for 27 years, being a guide for 6. We had an extra photographer and another helper, who stayed on the boat and later served us coffee, hot chocolate or Manatee Mocha (a mix of the two). It was looking good.

We watched a video of rules for approaching manatees before we left and Captain Ed gave us more pointers on how to use the snorkel equipment as our boat approached the location. Everyone had their own dive shoes but us, so the worst cold I felt was taking my shoes and socks off on the boat. The water felt warm, there was no wind, and I climbed down the ladder to be met by a curious manatee.

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This was a great start. I’ve been on whale watching trips in Alaska and Oregon and swam with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, but this was different. For one thing, manatees are so cute. When the first one you ever see swims over and rubs against you as you tickle its back, you fall in love instantly. They’re called sea cows, but a cow could rush you. There is absolutely nothing to fear with a manatee. Nothing! They eat plants and their only teeth are at the back of their mouth. We didn’t want to disturb them, not for fear of them frightening us but because we didn’t want to bother this endangered species whose greatest enemy is man. One had great slashes along his body from the blades of boats, even though their skin is tough.

Manatees can be as large as 13 feet long and 1300 pounds, but those were mostly sleeping. Ducking under water in my snorkel and mask, I quickly came face to face with some smaller ones. Oh, those faces.

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We had seen manatees mating, thrashing around near us, as we approached our site. As the captain said, they’re trying to keep from becoming extinct. We also were so thrilled to see a baby nursing at its mother’s side below us.

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In the springs we visited, there were homes around and the waterway was only 8 feet deep at the deepest. Most of the time, I could stand up if I wanted to stop my floating. We were there almost two hours, petting the cuties we met, watching them roll over in delight with our tickles.

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There were some areas we couldn’t enter, full of large manatees resting.DSC_0081

I can’t exaggerate how very peaceful these funny creatures are.

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When you have a chance to spend time with creatures who are so innocent and passive, you have to compare them to every other person or animal you’ve encountered in your life. I don’t know what their purpose is in our ecological system, but maybe it’s to remind us that it’s sometimes enough to get along with everyone, accepting them without qualm. These aren’t stupid beasts as they are compared to the very intelligent dolphin in many ways. They are gentle in the best kind of way. I felt so special to be in their presence.

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At the end of the trip, I knew I’d had a unique experience. Captain Ed said you’re never going to get as much love as we did that cold January morning in the warm Florida spring water. In the end, we never were cold and had almost missed the adventure of a lifetime over nothing. A friend looked at this picture of me and said my expression was different, the glow of the morning showing in my smile. I know the magic of the manatees had rubbed off on me. I’m very lucky!

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I’m a picture taker. I hesitate to call myself a photographer because I don’t really take the time to use all the stops and lens and filters I could use. It’s been something I’ve done since I got my first Kodak Brownie camera when I was 12. I took a class when my kids were little and learned to use the darkroom, which I never used again. I took away from that class an understanding of the way you can manipulate photos to make them better after you’ve snapped the shot, an appreciation of light. Today, I do that with a computer, cropping and fixing as I go.

Mostly, I’m capturing my memories, the pictures of my mind. Maybe I think I’ll lose them otherwise, but I do go through my photos all the time, just as I went through my  grandparents’ photos when I was a little girl. Both my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandparents kept all their photos in the top drawer of a dresser. I guess that’s what people did if they didn’t put them in an album. I should have asked them more questions about the people in the pictures. I definitely should have.

Maybe it’s my impatience or my lack of discipline or my trust of the wonder of modern cameras, even on our phones, but I seldom spend too much time using all that I’ve learned in the photography classes I’ve taken. Usually, I have a camera with me and take what I see. And I see pictures all around me. I can’t drive down a street or walk a block without seeing a picture in my mind. I compose all the time, trying to capture the essence of what I’m seeing. That’s impossible sometimes, such as clouds or sunsets, but I can get a little of the wonder of it.

Yesterday, I stepped out my door and was struck by the beauty of the fall leaves in the rain. So, of course, I grabbed my camera and took pictures. For me. Here are a couple so you can see what I’m talking about.DSC_0005DSC_0014I couldn’t let the moment pass. It’s my own memory of that day I walked out my door and saw something so beautiful.

When I travel, I take photos to use in my blog or to remember my trip or to remember where I was. I now take pictures of the restaurants where I eat so I can remember when someone asks me because I would surely forget. I take a lot of photos from the car and it’s amazing what you can get, even through the windshield. It is definitely a problem when I’m the driver because I pull over a lot. A lot. Here’s a photo from Chinatown in San Francisco. I looked up and realized that there were people living lives above the tourists populating their streets. They must be immune to our presence by now.DSC_0508My favorite subjects are the people I love. I’m okay with posed pictures, but I love the candid shots that show me something you can’t see with a pose. My friends are caught in an impromptu dance. She was recently diagnosed with ALS, yet they are marching forward, surrounded by the love of their family and friends. This moment will stay with me for a long time.DSC_1052Here’s a long ago photo of my Daddy, relaxing with his paper on a Sunday morning. Most people knew him as elegant, athletic, handsome and he was. He was also Daddy with his tan line from his golf shoes, his rumpled curly hair, and his daily paper. Scan 32My youngest granddaughter is in love with all animals and not afraid to get up close. This bird was so patient to let her see how his feathers work.DSC_0161Last summer, my family got together for a swim party and I watched my grandsons play like little kids. The oldest one was leaving for college in a month and I caught him enjoying his cousins. How many more times will I get to see them all together playing?DSC_0163The boys made up game after game in the water in total joy with the familiarity of brothers and cousins.DSC_0187The boys are all athletic and I caught one of the younger ones (at 15 and 6’5″) showing his intensity in a ball game. He is a pitcher and first baseman, by the way.DSC_0145I catch my youngest granddaughter all the time in moments that remind me she is still a little one, our last for awhile. Oh, the sweetness of a sleeping child. IMG_7637Here’s another older one that I caught on the Christmas before my oldest grandson was born. All my children are gathered together in that moment before the grandchildren began to arrive. By the end of the following year, we would have three boys…but we didn’t know that at this moment. So much happened after this. So much.photoHere’s a picture I took at the OSU Homecoming Parade a few weeks ago, intending to use it in my blog. Little did I know that a horrible tragedy was about to happen about a mile down the street. Little did I know that this would capture the essence of the parade’s innocence and delight before the horror happened.DSC_0082Years ago, I was volunteering with the local domestic violence shelter. We gave a Halloween party for the women and children and I was taking Polaroid pictures for them. We didn’t use film because we wanted to respect their privacy. That event taught me so much about my camera and myself. One woman held a one year old in a body cast, wanting a photo for the father who had caused this pain. I had to stop myself. I lifted the camera to take a photo of one woman and seeing her eyes through a lens made me put the camera down for a moment. There was too much there, too much of her I was seeing. I lifted it back and took the shot, but I’ve never forgotten the power of what you see through a lens, what focusing on something teaches you in that moment.

So I’ll go on taking my camera with me, stopping to capture my family and friends, everything beautiful, interesting, funny or memorable around me. I sometimes feel artsy, as anyone can with the sophisticated equipment we have today, but mostly I do it because I can’t help myself.

You get the picture.

Wherever you live, there is beauty all around you, history to learn, and good food to eat. To a traveler, ordinary things seem exotic or, at the very least, different from what you see at home. The comparisons are good and the differences delight. When I go to Oregon, I absolutely immerse myself in everything that is coastal and part of Oregon so I can take that back to Oklahoma to absorb into my existence there, enriching my life with the comparisons and the vast diversity of our country.

More reflections on my latest visit to the Pacific Northwest…

They have signs we don’t have or need…DSC_0409 DSC_0693 DSC_0510This one made me wince. Isn’t that common sense? I guess not since I’ve seen people do crazy things to get a photo or to see a view. I’m overly cautious myself and that toddler would be on a leash.
DSC_0406And there are the people who disregard the signs – same as everywhere. Really! You think your climb for the view is more important than the wildlife?DSC_0682When I’m on the coast, I can’t get enough seafood because, well because it’s right there and it’s delicious. This is a trash can in downtown Astoria.DSC_0058

This is Mo’s where the clam chowder and garlic bread are delicious and they still have film?IMG_8152

And Fresh means Fresh. This fishing family brings in their own.IMG_8354

And you can watch them steam your crab while you wait. Again – right from the crabbers.IMG_8460In Oregon, I can watch the ships come in, wondering what wondrous cargo they contain.DSC_0047

These boxes are in Newport and I love the colors. I have no idea what they’re for. DSC_0393I don’t have to worry about tsunamis in Oklahoma. In Oregon, I stay on a tsunami evacuation route and have a tsunami alarm right outside the condo. DSC_0648This sign is down the street and kind of sums of my plan.DSC_0755The wildlife is definitely different in Oregon. They have whales that I can watch from my window…DSC_0523DSC_0555
Harbor seals down the street…DSC_0351and loud California sea lions I can watch while I eat in Newport.DSC_0371This year, the sea lions frolicked in the port, doing some kind of synchronized swimming and leaping in the air for fun.DSC_0389When you live in a comparatively new state like Oklahoma, the history of the coasts puts time in a better perspective. This trip, I visited the Maritime Museum in Garibaldi, where I learned about Robert Gray, who discovered the Columbia River from the Pacific side, making it easier for the United States to stake a claim after Lewis & Clark made their reports. DSC_0241In Garibaldi, I also got up close and personal with the Oregon lumber industry. Here’s an old smokestack which kept the smoke from the townspeople in its day.DSC_0297DSC_0287DSC_0288Reminded me of the pines in southeast Oklahoma. Bet some of you didn’t know we have pine forests, too.  We don’t have the lush ferns and moss in our woods that I enjoy in Oregon.IMG_8052DSC_0896The crops in Oregon are bountiful with fruits and vegetables and grapes for wine…DSC_0758 and hazelnuts (filberts)…DSC_0839DSC_0823There were seagulls on oysters shell hills that I don’t see at home…DSC_0303And lighthouses up and down the coast. IMG_8255On a glorious day at Yaquina Head, I went down (and back up – pant, pant) these steps to the cobble beach (rough walking) and the tidal pools.DSC_0426DSC_0429
DSC_0431I can never get enough ocean sunsets..    DSC_0439

And I can never ever ever get enough pounding waves. My place in the universe is put into perspective with the power and beauty.DSC_0600 DSC_0717 DSC_0272 DSC_0626 DSC_0702 DSC_0728 DSC_0591 DSC_0178 DSC_0697 DSC_0717 DSC_0103 IMG_8410

My visits to the coast always restore my soul, widen my perspective and bring me pride in this great land. I’m excited to go and excited to be back home. Isn’t that always the way?DSC_0264

As I very rapidly approach 70 in the next few months, I can’t help but be aware that this age seems really really old to most of the world. What kicks me about it is the fact that you can’t ignore you have more years behind you than ahead of you. But that’s been true for a long time, so this is awareness that I have even less time today than I did yesterday. There are things that scare me to varying degrees as I approach yet another milestone, so I’ve narrowed it down to five. These are kind of in order and I know they’re pretty universal from conversations I have with friends.

5. Fear of the earth not lasting. This is a new one but I sometimes wonder if any of us will survive as our planet goes through its own aging process, exacerbated by our own mishandling of our natural resources. Will the west coast fall off into the sea, will a giant split drop middle America into the earth, will global warming burn us all up, will the toxic pit in Butte, Montana, pollute the waters of the west? This one goes on and on and there’s not much I can do. My fear here is more for future generations because I’ve been able to enjoy earth’s beauty in my lifetime. I guess dying in some kind of global shift won’t be any worse at my age than dying in a hospital bed. I’d probably be smarter to be afraid of being shot since that seems to be just as likely in our country these days.

4. Fear of outliving my money. I’m ok, thanks to Social Security, investments and a part time job. I own my home and am relatively healthy, so how long will what I have last and will I still have some to leave to my kids? I have Medicare and supplemental insurance to help with health costs. But still, how much is enough? You can read all the charts and listen to the experts and you’re still not sure.

3. Fear of either my mind going before my body or my body going before my mind. Nobody wants either of these and it’s not a random thing to wonder about. Even if you exercise your body and your mind, you’re still wearing out. Which part will go first – or next? I find myself walking much more carefully to avoid injuries to bones and parts that many of my friends are having replaced. We’re a generation of bionic elderlies, thanks to modern medicine. Our minds are full, overflowing, with information, so full it takes longer to access those mental files. The wear and tear on our bodies is inevitable. We work with what we’ve got.

2. Fear of not getting everything done. Sigh. There are so so very many things I want to do. Places to go, people to see, books to read, things to organize for my children. Some days I seem to be on frenzy trying to finish all that I’ve planned. As long as I can still go and do and move, I can work on this, but the list is endless. So many beautiful places to visit, so many people I want to see. The Bucket List only seems to get longer. And my checklists are never-ending. Moving along…

1. Fear of losing those I love. I’ve lost my parents, my husband and my son. I’ve lost other family and friends. I can’t control this, but I don’t want to lose any more. I’m pretty stoic about it most of the time, but there are times this becomes the most palpable fear I have. I don’t want to lose any more family or close friends. That’s it. Damn it! And I know this is unrealistic, but it’s there for me to worry about.

Whew! OK, I got those out there in public for all to see. That always makes it easier, especially since I know that others share these same concerns and we can even laugh about it when we’re together. When we’re alone, these thoughts creep in. My cure for the worries to remember how much time I’ve had, how many wonderful memories of places I’ve been and people I’ve known and loved. Most of these worries are because my life is good and I want it to continue. I’m grateful that I have a past worth remembering. I’m grateful for every day I have with my family and friends on this beautiful planet. That’s not a worry. That’s something to smile about.DSC_0639

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay area is rich with adventures, so each day of my recent trip was spent exploring something new, including revisiting San Francisco to see the things missed on previous trips. We passed the incredibly ornate City Hall (those city fathers wanted to make a statement) and buildings with the old state seal.  DSC_0393

DSC_0300There were the obvious places, such as Fisherman’s Wharf, which was so crowded with tourists (not that we weren’t) that we skipped stopping there.DSC_0328We did join the crowd at Lombard Street, only because I hadn’t seen it and felt I must.  Driving the crazy curves in the line of cars and standing for the obvious pictures was actually pretty charming, only because it is what is is. DSC_0322We drove through the business district with the imposing iconic TransAmerica building…DSC_0351And this delightful lady reaching between tall buildings…DSC_0387Streetcars are as delightful as ever…DSC_0329And we visited the waterfront, enjoying the sailboats and fishermen…DSC_0339DSC_0342Leaving the city, we passed this delightful mural…DSC_0536before reaching the Golden Gate Bridge, which never fails to delight…DSC_0540On this day, we headed towards Sausalito, changed our minds and I suggested the beach, which looked pretty close on the map. Of course, I forgot that this is the coast and that short road was crooked and narrow and the trip to Stinson Beach took way too long for what we were planning. But we got there and dipped our feet in the ocean and enjoyed the views and people watching…

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DSC_0544…before heading back along the same long, curvy road…IMG_7353On other days, we headed into Berkeley, driving through the campus of UC Berkeley, intrigued with its ties to the incredible Phoebe Hearst and her son, William Randolph Hearst, along with buildings of every architectural style.  A hodgepodge of buildings strung through the hills.DSC_0230

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DSC_0412with the classic Clock Tower at the center…DSC_0242Looking for a late lunch, we found the Gourmet Ghetto district…DSC_0251opting for Oscar’s, a classic burger place, over the fancier trendy restaurants nearby. The selling point was that Oscar’s had been there since 1950 and was destined to close in a few weeks to be replaced by yet another salad restaurant. We wanted to experience the history not the health. IMG_7250That day, we drive north to the towns of Benicia and Martinez, the location of the historic home of one of our national heroes, John Muir. Entering Martinez, we were struck with the irony of the oil refineries in the home of the man who protected our wilderness areas. DSC_0260We found his home on a major thoroughfare, back by an interstate highway. You have to wince, but the site at least has preserved enough to let you envision the way it used to be. Looking at old photos of the rich orchards that covered the hills, you look out at the modern mess of franchises, motels, and fast food that have replaced the fruit and trees. But, if you look the other way, it’s the way it was, somewhat. You get the idea. This is the home where Muir took over his father-in-law’s orchards very successfully and began his writings that so enlightened the world. I had read much about him, but had forgotten how painful it was for him to write since his words are so lovely. DSC_0262

DSC_0264I should have realized when I saw the mess of his office with papers strewn around the floor as he did. It was nice to pay tribute to this genius of a man.DSC_0267On another day, we drove to Palo Alto to see the Stanford campus, probably the most beautiful campus I’ve seen. In contrast to the variety of building styles at Berkeley, from classic to contemporary, Stanford has consistency (like my own Oklahoma State University), which gives it much beauty.  This 8,000+ acre campus is casual and elegant and impressive as we entered through an avenue of magnolias and beautiful homes, followed by streets lined with oaks and shops and restaurants and then through the campus gate and an avenue of palms leading to the heart of the campus. DSC_0592

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DSC_0614The Stanford Memorial Church has a simple name that belies its grandeur. Having toured many cathedrals and historic churches, I have to admit that this lovely sanctuary reached me with its beautiful warm details. The incredible mosaic murals on the outside stand over the central quad of the university. IMG_7373

DSC_0611and the interior somehow comforts the worshipper.IMG_7375Across the campus, there are architectural details and fountains that delight. Students walked through them casually in their shorts and tanks. A group played in the elegant fountains, a perfect example of the atmosphere. I reminded myself that these are the brightest of the bright, playing and not studying at the moment.DSC_0644

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IMG_7402 - Version 2On our final morning in the Oakland area, we visited a beautiful botanic garden, the plants displayed by the region of California in which they grew.

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DSC_0722Around another curvy road (that’s all they have – I’m sure of it), we delighted in an old fashioned carousel with its colorful, fanciful animals and lovely paintings of California history.  Built in 1911, one of the last original merry go rounds in the country, it has been in this location since 1948, hidden away in the California hills.DSC_0735

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DSC_0726And so ends my tour of the areas around Oakland, an area of history, natural beauty, and absolute delights wherever you go on your adventures. Put it on your bucket list again and again because there is always something new to see.

On a Saturday in June, we traveled through the valleys of Sonoma and Napa with little intention of tasting the wines.  I’m sure that’s heresy, especially for someone like me who works with vintners and wines, but it wasn’t that kind of day.  We drove from Oakland, crossing the bridge that takes you by San Quentin prison, where the fog was rolling over the hills.DSC_0414We saw the missions bells along the way, one of my favorite things to spot in California. They mark the trail of Spanish missions in the state.DSC_0418We turned at the Sonoma Raceway to head up towards the Sonoma Valley and our first destination…

DSC_0417Passing the beginnings of the farmlands and vineyards, where a flag flew from a tree in the glory of the day.DSC_0421Our actual destination was Glen Ellen, home of Jack London, and we cruised through the small town which had changed since my friend had last been there and had met London’s daughter in a small bookstore. Neither remains. We headed to the park, touring the museum and then heading down the trail to Wolf House, the incredible 15,000 square foot dream house that London and his wife, Charmian, built. It burned to the ground days before they moved in.  I can only imagine their complete devastation at seeing the charred ruins.DSC_0424The trail was lovely, although it got hot quickly that day.  Thank goodness for the drinking fountains and benches along the way.  It’s not that far in, but can be a trek in the heat. DSC_0429The signs along the way tell you that you’re in a wilderness area. There were also signs to watch for a mountain lion that had been spotted in the area.DSC_0467DSC_0470Wolf House was spectacular, even in ruins.  No wonder it burned to the ground before help could arrive.  It’s deep in the woods, surrounded by trees.  But, you can envision their dream. Here’s the entrance.DSC_0440And a couple of other views.  Looking down into the house, you see the place it would have been, a house to entertain and enjoy. DSC_0444DSC_0448As an English major, I hate to admit that I didn’t know that much about London.  I’d read a little back in high school, but he wasn’t one that I explored.  After seeing the place and hearing his story, I ended up reading “The Call of the Wild” on the plane going home.  I get him now.  And his wife, Charmian.  Quite a story.  I walked up to their cottage, where he wrote and experimented with pigs and crops, becoming quite the farmer on his land. DSC_0474DSC_0479There were vineyards and cactus without stickers (not very technical) he grew to see if they could feed the cattle.DSC_0475DSC_0483Leaving the ranch, we spotted a fruit stand.  I love fruit stands, an homage to my mother who never passed one without stopping. We filled the car with the smells of the last of the cherry crop and apricots and sampled the juicy fruits as we drove.IMG_7316

IMG_7317Up Sonoma we headed, watching for Francis Ford Coppola’s winery, which I had visited several years ago and thought my movie loving friend might enjoy.  After passing it several times (no sign on the highway and my maps weren’t giving us time to exit), we found it in all it’s glory.  I’d been here about 8 years ago and the place looked like it had doubled in size, including adding a resort pool for families, which is unique since it’s not a resort.  It was packed, so I guess people stop for a swim.  It was lovely, just interesting since it’s in the middle of just about nowhere.  DSC_0485Lunch was great, overlooking the vineyards.  IMG_7329They had added more movie props along with the Oscars and other awards.  This is the desk from “The Godfather” – so they say.  There was also a Tucker automobile from the movie, “Tucker.”DSC_0489It was late afternoon when we left and the wineries were closing for the weekend.  We traveled through the Alexander Valley to cross over to the Napa Valley.  Some of the best wineries are in this area, marked with signs going every direction. A gorgeous drive along curvy roads through the hills, lovely on a Saturday afternoon.DSC_0493We headed south through the Napa Valley, passing through Napa as the Wine Auction was taking place, one of the top fundraisers in the country and probably the most profitable charity wine auction. Since I’ve worked with wine auctions over the last ten years, it was fun to even breathe the air of this giant event. DSC_0495Other than wine with late lunch, we didn’t sample the wines, but it was a delightful trip through the valleys that have changed this country’s wine industry. It’s always lovely. We circled back to our base in Oakland, ready to find another adventure the next day.

 

The National Park Service may be my favorite government agency because I know if I see that name attached to a location, it’s not going to disappoint me. I’m going to see something beautiful and interesting, even if it’s not what I thought it would be, which has happened several times. I was looking for new places to go in the Oakland, California area and saw Point Reyes National Seashore on the map. When I enlarged it, I was fascinated. It didn’t look like anywhere else I’d been and it had that National Parks seal of approval, so we planned a visit, a day trip from where we were staying. Of course, I always have to remind myself when on the coast that places on the map that look close together take a lot longer to drive due to narrow, very winding roads, up and down the coastal areas. We drove by this place on a curve and turned back. From the road, I thought the figures were Eskimos, but they were kind of buddhas, much more likely in northern California.  Interesting to guess why they were there…IMG_7231
IMG_7232We stopped in Point Reyes Station for a quick walk up and down the street, peeking into shops and a wonderful market, gallery, gift shop. DSC_0060 IMG_7245Besides the old buildings, including the western bar above, there were interesting signs in odd places…the oyster farm wasn’t saved, by the way, but the signs remain around the area…IMG_7247 IMG_7234 IMG_7233We wound our way to the park, which is not at all what you expect from a seashore.  It looks more like the Scottish Highlands, with cattle ranches all around.  I didn’t take pictures of the veal pens, but know that I’m not sure I can ever eat it again.  Enough said…we passed ranch after ranch with all kinds of cattle to greet us on the way.DSC_0144DSC_0142DSC_0129DSC_0062I have no idea how long we drove through these farmlands, seemed like an hour, but there was finally a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.DSC_0139When we arrived at our stop, there was the shock of getting out of the car to a fierce wind which caused us to layer up to stop the cold.  An information sign informed us that this is the windiest place on the west coast of the United States, not hard to believe that day. We watched the birds in the sky trying to fly against the wind, looking like they were hovering instead of flying. Later, I caught a shot of this guy trying to stay on a post.  DSC_0138We headed down to the famous lighthouse at the end, which was very fortunately closed, giving us an excuse to skip the 300 steps down (and back up). With the wind and the cold, we were having all the fun we could.DSC_0103 DSC_0105The sun came out briefly and then the clouds rolled back, leaving us to spot a ship in the cloudy distance.  A ghost ship on the horizon.DSC_0117The rock formations were fascinating and the wind shaped trees provided some shelter on the walk up and back.DSC_0120DSC_0094I caught the Rattlesnake Grass blowing in the wind.  As it dries out, the plant shakes and rattles like its namesake reptile.  DSC_0099The views of the seashore that stretched below us were the closest we got to the beach.  Our host said she had picnicked there in December in shorts – such is the northern U. S. coast.  You never know, so you take lots of layers, even in June.  Needless to say, we skipped the other beaches, although we caught a glimpse of Drake’s Beach.DSC_0092Our carefully made sandwiches with a dessert of gingersnaps from Trader Joe’s and apple slices were eaten in the warmth of the car, a casual picnic before we started back home. Back through the miles of ranches and fields and cows and flowers.  Back along the curvy roads, past the turnoff to Muir Woods, back through the Cypress forests, back to Oakland.  Another wonderfully interesting national wilderness that surprised us with its ruggedness and beauty.

 

 

This month, I returned to Oakland, California, to visit an elderly aunt and cousins of a friend of mine.  As an Okie, California is the land where people from my state went in hopes of a better life when the seemingly never-ending days of dust storms and depression wore them down.  Today, I survey the crazy state of California with love and wonder and, always, a shake of my head.  What a place of natural wonders, bountiful harvests, oceans, mountains, deserts and total craziness.  That’s just the Okie in me speaking, of course.

Oakland is across the bay from San Francisco and my friends live high above the city, up curvy, narrow streets, in the Piedmont Hills area, maybe beyond that.  These Okies moved here after the war, World War II, and purchased the place for $15,000.  They also purchased the lot next door and planted the giant redwoods that tower above them today.  The lots seem to go straight down.  I guess all the coastal people who live on the sides of hills want to be there, even though it’s a long drive up, not to mention bike ride or hike, to the nearest store or, coming up the hills, for help to arrive in case of emergency.  But Californians are outdoors people.  They ride horses, bikes and hike everywhere.  I’m digressing because I really want to share this fun trip with you.  I got to do so many interesting things that it will take a few blogs to do it justice, things that aren’t always on the top of the tourist list.  This was more about exploring.

First, I want to share the beauty of the home we stayed in.  When you drive up, all you see is the garage.  When you look out the front door, here is the view…where is the street?  Just keep going up the stairs…maybe 30 of them.  Imagine getting your groceries down there – or furniture or anything else.  IMG_7283The other side of the house shows the three levels.  There is an apartment 10 steps down and then the main level another 15 steps down.  You can get to the bedroom level down another staircase and then to the rest of the yard, which then goes down, down, down into thick growth.  Here are the stairs that I walked up over and over in the dark and rain from the main level to the apartment to the street.  You do adjust…DSC_0276You know what?  It’s a magical place.  The trees alone are incredible, planted by arborists when these hills were first populated.  Before then, the hills, these steep hills were clear.  I can tell you that planning a house on a steep hill is something that doesn’t appeal to me, no matter how many beautiful homes I’ve seen in the Hollywood Hills, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Oregon.  I’m not enough of a mountain goat.  But, then there are these signs we passed every day, curving up the road to the house…DSC_0273 DSC_0272 DSC_0409And the wonder of hearing a rustle beside you as a mother and fawn wander into the patch of yard…DSC_0161And, the best part of this place is the incredible view, the view that mesmerizes you every minute of the day as it changes and changes and changes.  I couldn’t walk anywhere without my camera, trying to capture any of its beauty.  My hostess said she has never tired of this view she grew up with.  You look over Oakland, over to San Francisco, with Oakland Bay bridge and the Golden Gate bridge in the distance.  DSC_0566DSC_0574DSC_0566DSC_0672And, sometimes, this was the view…IMG_7331I’ve been to Muir Woods and heard my hosts talk of the big Redwoods right up the hill from their home.  For some reason, we didn’t realize that there is a park, a beautiful regional park, a few blocks from this home where these now middle aged Californians, born of Oklahoma parents, grew up, riding their horses and hiking all the day long.  In this park are the remnants of some of the largest California Redwoods, once so tall that they were seen from the sea and used by the sailors to navigate the area.  The trees were logged after the San Francisco fire and after the quakes, but are now protected.  This was a hidden gem during our stay, a place to walk where the big trees once stood and where their offspring shoot up around the former stumps, forming circles of trees, called “Fairy Rings.”  Once you understand why the trees are in circles, you can stand inside the ring and envision the size of these giants.  You can look up to see the light and stand in the forest, imagining the forest as it once was.  DSC_0165DSC_0167
DSC_0193DSC_0178DSC_0167And so the latest California adventure began…with the view and in the trees.  Hope you’ll share the rest of the trip with me.

 

In 1963, the year I graduated from high school and left for college, Alfred Hitchcock scared us all to pieces when he released the now classic film, “The Birds.”  If you saw it back then, you remember.  At the Delman Theatre in Tulsa, birds (parakeets) were released in the balcony while we watched, adding to the horror.  I’ve seen it since and it makes me flinch, even when I see the special effects.

Several years later, I was home with a toddler, pregnant again, when two Chimney Swifts flew down our chimney, landing in our family room.  All I could think to do was call my husband home from work to get them out of there.  Remember that scene with the birds coming down the chimney?

I’m a big fan of birds and still have the bird handbook I had as a kid.  The back pages are full of the birds I spotted, listed in my precise printing.  I like birds.  Really.

Last year, I wrote a blog on the baby Mockingbirds who were flopping around my yard.  I actually formed kind of a bond with the parents, standing in the yard and talking to them while they watched over their babies.  I kept the cats away as much as I could and the babies flourished.  I also wrote a blog on the eagles nest this year – more proof that I really do like birds.

This year, the Mockingbirds were out again.  I never saw the babies, but the parents were out there watching the cats every time they left the house.  I think those birds were fine with me.  They were soon replaced with another set of Mockingbirds.  I’m assuming this is a different couple because  too much time had passed for the first couple to still be worrying about their babies.

The current couple is loud and aggressive, possessing a lot of attitude.  I can hear them outside, see them conferring while they sit on the telephone lines.  It started with one of my cats trying to nap on the glider on the deck.  I give him credit for not backing down.  He is determined to have his naps despite the harassment.  The birds wait for him to come through the door and immediately begin.  It doesn’t matter what time I let him out or how dark it gets, I see or hear them out there.  They take turns.  You can see them changing positions. Sometimes the bird on duty swoops down and follows the cat so closely that I have to slam the door so the bird doesn’t come in the house.  Yikes!

I walked outside the other day to take pictures…notice the bird squawking above and the cat’s ears down.  The bird has actually flown down to sit within a foot of the cat.  Gutsy.

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I didn’t think the cat was reacting until I took photos and noticed he was hissing, mostly in annoyance.DSC_0784My other, bigger cat, the brother of this one, won’t even go out the back door.  He shrinks and looks around for the birds.  The other day, I returned from errands and pulled into my driveway.  As I was getting out of the car, the bird was in the tree, watching me.  Really creepy.  A couple of days later, I was at the kitchen sink and the bird flew towards the window at me, swooping up as it realized there was glass there.

I wonder if this would be as creepy if I hadn’t seen that movie?  Dang you, Alfred Hitchcock!  I’m ready for this little drama to be over! DSC_0795

Winter evolves into Spring with the most dramatic and the most hopeful of changes.  In the city, there are beautiful flowers and trees, but most of them have been specifically planted for the effect.  Not that I don’t love seeing the gorgeous azaleas and flowering trees and popping flowers.  I love them!

I’ve been through some long sad winters in my life, life changing seasons when I had to trudge through loss and hope I could make it into the next phase.  But Spring always comes along to brighten my outlook.  Always.

This year, I’ve had the lovely experience of driving a state highway at least once a week, making the changes in the countryside even more dramatic.  One week there was snow, the first week in March.  A couple of weeks later, I noticed the trees were fuzzy, small leaves pushing their way out.  By the end of the month, we were having warm days, punctuated with the kind of clouds we watch explode in the sky, the ones that show the atmosphere is in turmoil and we have to watch carefully.  The beauty of the massive clouds can easily turn into dark skies with swirling tornadoes dropping towards earth.  DSC_0344A week after I see the leaves pushing at the ends of branches, I’m overwhelmed by the sense of the baby green colors of the trees around me as plant after plant shows its new colors.

Then the redbuds bloom in the forests, our state tree showing its colors, fuchsia and white, wild along the roadways.

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The ground is turning from brown to green for the babies, calves and colts, that arrive.  I drive into a mass of young green…the lacy profile of the branches from winter is filling in…

DSC_0255We still have wild skies and are enjoying a rainy season, needed for all that grows from the earth…DSC_0333The Cimarron River is filling and the trees along its bluffs are softer…DSC_0256I call this the “Sky Barn,” a place I see from the road at a country intersection.

DSC_0254And then, there was color along the roadsides, Indian Paintbrush starting to bloom.

DSC_0160DSC_0164Over the past two weeks, the flowers are spreading and growing brighter as I suddenly see fields of the wildflowers…

DSC_0162 IMG_6943And other flowers are coming, purples and whites and yellows along the way.

DSC_0168The baby greens of early spring are now lush shades of deep green, the trees full.  And my heart is full of hopeful new feelings.  Welcome Spring!

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