Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Critters in the Park

Our stop at Point Lobos near Carmel, California, was a rewarding one both photographically and in terms of getting some exercise. We walked around on three of the longer trails around the park and saw lots of wildlife. This shot above is of a very healthy squirrel who had absolutely no fear of humanoids!
In fact, he came up to me and was within a few feet of me for several minutes. I don't know what type of squirrel he/she is, but there were others like it and equally 'friendly' if coming up close to you is a determination of 'friendship' in the squirrel kingdom. It is a serious violation of park policy to feed them, and I don't espouse exposing nature's critters to our mostly unhealthy foodstuffs, so it wasn't even a thought for me to risk getting nabbed by a park official.
But perhaps this little guy has been able to put the touch on others and expected the same from me.
The picture on the right is of another one which Jey-hu caught eating some item found on the ground, not anything given to it by us. We must have spent almost half an hour watching and photographing them. What was most interesting overall however, was watching the numbers of other tourists passing by who didn't even STOP but rushed on past to get to the next outlook on the ocean, apparently never even seeing the wildlife in the bushes beyond the paths they were on.
There were also several small groupings of deer, mostly does and fawns, either grazing or taking a nap in a clearing, but surrounded by fallen trees. Jey-hu was able, with his telephoto lens, to get this shot of a young one relaxing.
I was walking ahead on a path and because I tend to go into 'quiet mode' in these settings, I can walk so that I make minimal noise. I startled a small rabbit who tried to hide in the grass...
"Look, I have a blade of grass in front of me; I cannot be seen." Jey-hu came up behind me without knowing why I was stopped and spoke to me, which caused Mr. (or Ms.) Cottontail to lippity-lop away back into the bushes.
And there were lots of wonderful views of the ocean in turmoil, with all the rich colors of the sea and rocks, which I will share in my next blog.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Observations along the way

As we were driving out of Santa Monica, CA, heading up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH to the locals), we noticed huge (really enormous) motor homes parked along the coastal road. To be sure, they were in designated parking slots - in fact, the state provides a sort of 'parking meter' for the weeks and months the leviathans on wheels sit there - but there were so many it was impossible for us to pull over to park even for a moment to take a picture. It was the beginning of my now-developed skill of shooting anything and everything through the sunroof. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see them stretching out along the entire beachfront. Further up the road, they park at an angle to allow more of them to fit in the alloted space - astonishing!
There were portions of the drive north that took us inland slightly where we saw lots of the commercial farms either being harvested or re-seeded for the next crop. It was a reminder of how dependent we are on the farmers and the workers to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to our tables. We often stopped at local farm stands to get fresh strawberries, raspberries or blueberries. And you could still taste the sunshine on some of those delicious fruits!!

One of our stops/rest breaks was at a long pier which was built in the 1870's and is still stretching out into the Pacific today. The planks are grey with age, but their 12-inch width and estimated 3-inch depth make for a sturdy walkway. It seemed like it was over 1000 feet long, but we didn't measure it. But when we got out to the very end, the heavy gusts of wind made the platform jiggle - somewhat unnerving.
We also saw hundreds of bikers, both motorcycle and pedal-type, navigating the twisty road even during the middle of the week. And some of the elevations of those narrow roadways must have made the rides pretty interesting for everyone. On our first day of driving we had the pleasure of warmth and sunshine, but as we inched our
way toward Big Sur, the air got cooler and of course the sun went down. Then it was really exciting trying to drive on an unfamiliar road without any lights (not even the moon!) knowing that on one side there was the potential for rockslides, and on the other side there was a chance to slide 200 feet down to the ocean! This was one of our last shots of the day.... and the one without the tree was truly the last one...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hard to keep up a blog without Wifi

Our reports on the journey from Los Angeles have been interrupted by the lack of WiFi signals at some of the very special little spots we have found along the way, driving up U.S. 1 along the California western coast and the Pacific Ocean. For tonight I will offer up a little teaser with some of the fabulous sites we have seen.
We left L.A. on Monday, June 22, about noon. As we were heading north, I realized that the Solstice had occurred and now every day from here on will be shorter. Yikes! But we made the most of the daylight hours and drove all the way to Big Sur, stopping for dinner at a restaurant that is still in business after 35 some years - the last time I was there - and the food was still fabulous! Nepenthe is still perched on the cliffs at Big Sur, just up the road from Eselen Institute, and we were given great advice about where to find a place to lay our heads for that night - and got the very last cabin at Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant.
More about that adventure later, but suffice it to say that at least we didn't have to drive any more... and the road was very windy, twisty, narrow and dark by the time we reached our stopping point - without much hope of it getting better before midnight. Below was one of our last coastal shots of the day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

My father is buried here in Santa Monica, California, and due to the seminar requirements we will not be able to visit his gravesite until tomorrow, but it is because of him that I am able to be here for this informative event. So once again, for him, I give thanks and acknowledge his place in my life.
The picture of the Santa Monica Pier was taken to honor his memory as that was one of the last places I visited with him - surprisingly unchanged since that last sunny trip. He would be approaching 100 years of age were he still around... and paraphrasing his words, "If I could not be traveling at 45 miles an hour, steady on, I would not wish to continue." So he went on another journey, and I still miss him.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More weekend ferry shots

   I'm still reflecting on the sunny weekend and all the ferry rides we took to British Columbia and back. Here are some of the best shots... This first one is of a German fellow who is traveling with his wife for six months across the continent in a camper they had sent over from their country. They were delightful to talk to and they kindly took a picture of Jey-hu and me for our historical records and we returned the favor.
   The second shot is one that Jey-hu took as we were approaching Orcas Island. This old building is one that goes back to the early settlers of the island, according to one traveler. Although it has been upgraded, it's been a landmark for many years.
   Friday Harbor is a popular spot for boaters of all kinds. It was 28 years ago that I made my first, and last, visit to this lovely locale. I spent Fourth of July weekend here with a fellow who had a power boat, which was considerably smaller than the one featured here. He used to say that the Golden Rule was "He who has the gold makes the rules." The truth in that remark irritated me, and that he had that belief structure along with his initials, B.S., caused me to look for a more idealistic partner. All these years later I realize that idealism has no place in a world of commerce, which is really what is going on and my long-ago host can be forgiven, if he's still on the planet.
   The hazy light made this shot look more artistic than it might have otherwise. Hope you are enjoying our collection of views of the San Juan Islands.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A year ago...

I didn't know what MM stood for.
I didn't know that Multiple Myeloma (MM) was a terminal illness.
Life is terminal, but this disease gives it a capital "T."
It was several weeks before I came to understand that this incurable affliction might have the possibility of  'management' to ameliorate the terminality of it... to find a way to arrest it for awhile... some even realize a remission. But that news was slow to come as the reality emerged of a disease that can be so individualized it can make all treatments seem like clinical trials.
I didn't comprehend that lots of individuals who are too "young" by the statistical models were being infiltrated by a cancer that used to be strictly in the elderly; cells that are so pervasive, so crafty, so capable of mutating and multiplying that this disease is significantly on the rise in younger men and women. Why? 
Can you catch it? Does it spread like a cold? According to the current statistical information, it is of unknown origin, but it gets into the blood plasma, changes the cell structure and starts destroying the organism (human being) from the inside (like termites attacking a frame house) by altering bone structure, creating lesions which weaken the bones. And the reason it's called "multiple" is that when it strikes, it doesn't just arrive in one place, but is often found in many places.
President Obama's directive on stem cell research may eventually help those who are diagnosed with this disease early enough to have more effective stem cell transplants, and other research is going on now to try and figure out how to stop those MM cells from proliferating, even after chemotherapy. And to try and develop a way to keep outwitting cells that can mutate so that, for some sufferers, there are no more chemical solutions.
How do you know if you've got it? The symptoms (and it is unusual for one to have all of them) are subtle. The individual who caused me to be suddenly aware of this invader had been really sick with various sinus infections all during the winter. Because of the small child in the family, it was thought that the new school environment was introducing all sorts of new germs. And a persistent back pain was attributed to over-exercising in order to 'get into better shape,' and thus better fight off the school germs. And fatigue.
Thus it was that finally (and I say finally in that way because the physician was derelict in this respect: the patient did not have a history of being this kind of sick and after the third round of antibiotics for a sinus infection in less than a year, it should have sent up some kind of alarm bells.) the individual received the in-depth analysis required to unearth the cause of the infections - but it was almost too late. Brought back from the brink of kidney failure,  sepsis, blood clots and other complications, treatment was initiated and continues today.
And today, right now, there are other precious men and women fighting their own MM battles across the US and in other countries. And no one really knows what causes it. Cigarettes cause lung cancer and perhaps some pancreatic cancers. Asbestos causes a variety of cancers. Chemicals such as those found in the Love Canal cause certain cancers. Why was MM primarily a disease of elderly men and is now surfacing in both sexes at younger and younger ages? Why do men of African descent tend to be even more vulnerable to it? What were elderly men exposed to 60 or 70 years ago that men and women in their 40s and 50s and even in their 20s are being 'contaminated' by today? How long does it take MM to imbed itself? New information suggests that MGUS may be a pre-cursor, a marker for potential MM sites.
These are some of the questions that the researchers must ask.
Since so many of those currently with MM come from so many different lifestyles, communities, educational backgrounds, social and cultural histories, this does not appear to be an environmental cancer like asbestos. And, for some reason, it appears that this kind of cancer has not received much publicity even though some well-known individuals have succumbed to it: actor Peter Boyle, WalMart founder Sam Walton, author John Ricco, and it is no secret (see link to MSNBC report) that Geraldine Ferraro has been living with it for at least a decade.
There are, now that summer is in full swing, a lot of sites where people are announcing fund-raising 'runs' for those with cancer. I am not here to tell you to donate, but think about a world without cancer... think about what it takes to find cures for any kind of disease and if you think your world is not going to be touched by the "C" word, think again. But think about what is the one chemical that everyone is exposed to now... flouride. In the water, in toothpaste, and where else? Is this the cause? I don't know, but it's caused me to wonder, because a year ago, I could never have imagined what cancer might do to our family.

Shipped Out...

    After the frustrations of trying to get to a seminar and being thwarted by weather and airline actions, Jey-hu and I decided to ship out on the first ferry to Canada - which meant getting up at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday to be in Anacortes, WA by 6:30 a.m. (groan!) The low-lying clouds of the morning lifted by mid-day and we had a sunny, albeit brisk passage to Sydney, BC on the island of Vancouver. The three-hour trip winds through the San Juan Islands, with the ferry making a couple of stops along the way.  Although there are 172 islands total, only three are really large enough for regular tourist travel - San Juan, Orcas and Lopez. Pets that travel are not allowed up on the passenger deck and the expression on this dog's face just caught at my heart. His mistress was sitting reading a book and I don't think she saw me taking his picture.
   Our initial plan was just to go and see where we ended up, knowing that we had an invitation to a picnic later in the afternoon near Elk/Beaver Lake south of Sydney. We had both heard about the Butchart Gardens, a Canadian National Heritage Site now, and made this our first stop of the day. What a great choice! So many flowers were in bloom, it was hard to decide whether to visit the Japanese Garden first or the Sunken Garden. But since we had to make our way through the Rose Garden, we really stopped and smelled the flowers there first.
   Over 150 acres of land were owned by the Butchart family when they operated a Portland cement plant on the property, and today approximately 55 acres is still available to walk through. Just this year an electric powered boat started offering 45 minute tours of the outer edges the property that borders on the Tod Inlet near Victoria on Vancouver Island and while the price was affordable, we didn't have the time this time to do that. We definitely plan to go back and include that tour on the next visit.
   I've heard people remark - before visiting this site - "Oh, it's just a bunch of flowers..."      Yes, it is. But it is the truly remarkable effect of color, scent and design that makes the whole walk around each of the themed gardens so impressive. I'm only including a few of the over 200 shots we both took trying to capture the feeling and immensity of years of creating by Jennie Butchart that went on to make this place worthy of a day's visit. Below you can see some of the hundreds of people who were making their way down steps into the Sunken Garden, which
was once used as a quarry. Be sure to go to the link I've provided to learn more about the history of this most unusual botanical adventure and perhaps make your own plans to go and visit it. I took lots of pictures of roses, thinking about my bestest friend in O'Brien, Florida, who loves
 roses, too. But this rose was one of the more colorful AND scented options - so sorry, I just don't remember the name of it. I am always on the search for "Sterling Silver," an old rose with a lavender hue and very strong scent. Amazingly, I didn't find one of those there, but some obvious crosses which must have included elements of my favorite because of the color and hint of smell that reminded me of it. I will report on the rest of the day in my next entry... glorious all in all!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The commercial game of "Travel"

    Today we played "Travel." This is a game where you make reservations ahead of time for an airline flight to a particular location. Then you roll the dice and see if you can overcome weather and other world events to get on the plane, fly to your destination and do whatever it was you wanted to do in that new place.

    Last night I looked on line to see how the weather was in Dallas, TX, and it looked fine. There were no delays. I didn't see anything coming either. But I was w-r-o-n-g. A frontal boundary of cold air hit the hot air coming off the Gulf and by 7 a.m. when we arrived at SEA-TAC (Seattle's international airport), we were told our 10:30 flight was delayed by thunderstorms. It was re-scheduled for 2 p.m. We checked our bag, walked to the gate and then we were told the flight was cancelled. So we went down to the baggage claim, picked up our bag and headed home.

    Once home, we got on the phone and computer and tried to call reservations to find another solution. After several hours, we were connected to the airline and told we could have a flight out at 5 p.m.

    Now it's 1:30 p.m. and we have barely enough time to drive back to SEA-TAK and make the pre-requisite 1.5 hour pre-boarding deadline. Rushing with bags and tickets, we drive during the pre-rush hour traffic back to the airport. Jey-hu decided it was best if I went in to confirm the seats while he parked the car. It was exactly 2:30 p.m. when I walked through the doors and up to the counter only to be told that the new flight we were confirmed on had been cancelled as well. Simultanously I received a call on my cell from the airline announcing we were now confirmed on a flight the next day - one that would take us from Seattle to Chicago to Dallas, and giving us a full tour of the midwest so that we could be flying all day, arriving after the seminar ended which we originally planned to attend. This was a roll of the dice that put us both in the loser's seat.

    Admitting the game was over, I cancelled all our reservations and called it quits. The airline won. Now I have to try and recoup our ticket costs... this will be a game I think I stand a better chance of winning.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Kidnapped for the afternoon...

    I had a few errands to run in the north part of Seattle, and about the time I was winding down from my appointment at the Apple store (to try and get a problem resolved with my MAC), I got a breathy call from the Mystery Man (Jey-hu actually) inviting me to meet him at the Northside Mall. His plan: to kidnap me and take me all around downtown Seattle to see, taste and experience some off-track places.

First Stop: The Hirum Crittenden Locks (and botanical garden) where we watched several ships and boats navigate the locks and where we had a picnic lunch, albeit a little later than usual, on the banks in the sunshine. What a treat! There were geese honking in formation overhead, a grey heron under attack by starlings, a man swimming his dog on a leash, a seal looking for his fish dinner and a man and his wife who fell for my "Do you know how to do a Dragon Bowline?" question as we watched the ship's crew quickly do a tugboat bowline for their lines as they entered the lock. I learned that about 7.5 million gallons of water are used each time the locks are filled up... that's a lotta loads of laundry!!!
   I think my granddaughter would find the activities very interesting, but the salmon are not going up the fish ladder until later in the year, so perhaps she will get a chance to visit this spot in the fall.

Second Stop: Jey-hu drove me to Pike Place Market on the waterfront and we watched the very entertaining fish mongers fly 8-10 pound fish through the air, bought some Market Spice iced tea to drink right then and some of their regular tea for our morning cuppa, found a place that sold local lime jelly and walked past beautiful pots of floral bouquets and lush fruits and vegetables.

Third Stop: It was on to Capitol Hill to a place called Dilettant's Chocolates and Mocha Bar where each piece of chocolate runs about $4 apiece, but it's the richest and most delectable flavor since apparently the originator of the recipes was the Confectionary to the Czar of Russia. Jey-hu bought me a couple of pieces and some awesome chocolate sauce for the vanilla ice cream we enjoy from time to time. Yum!
   It turns out that one can ship or order these special treats from the website, so I think I know what I will be sending out this next holiday season to my buddies...
   All in all, it was a glorious day walking all around some lovely locations, sampling jams and jellies, teas, and ending it up with chocolate!