Friday, May 21, 2021

"Why I Never Fit in Anywhere and the One Realization That’s Changed Everything"

Does this lake feel unloved because it doesn't get as many visitors as Lake Tahoe?

 Morning email brought me the headline used for this post and I instantly reached toward that “one realization,” that answer that would make me feel connected, as if I had found my one place in the world, as if I had been gathered into the warm fold of my tribe, as if I mattered in the grand scheme of things. I rushed to the article that held the golden answer, only to find less than a Eureka! moment. The story didn’t fit, wasn’t mine. However, the metaphor sent my mind chasing down a rabbit hole.

Jigsaw puzzle. What if we’re all separate pieces in the grand jigsaw puzzle of life, trying to find our place? We interlock with some pieces but not others. We are part of patterns within patterns, and there’s always one piece that remains off to the side until it fills that last blank. Not last by design or by qualification, but simply by happenstance.

A friend, who also loves jigsaw puzzles, received one for Christmas, a beautiful 1,000-piece abstract of Frank Lloyd Wright art. It started out as gloriously difficult with colorful, repeating patterns resisting organization of any logical approach. We worked that puzzle off and on and, as far as I know, it still sits on the table with hundreds of orphan pieces waiting to be placed.

Does this snow plant feel like it's not a "real" flower?

Obviously, many of us (all of us?) feel like orphan pieces, so what’s the one realization that will change everything and make us feel part of the whole? Perhaps it’s an obvious cop-out but we’re here, we’re alive. We are, by definition, part of the whole of life.  

We’re not manufactured pieces in a pre-designed puzzle. We’re warty, misshapen lumps of humanity sniffing our way home, bumping into barriers, bouncing off side rails, clinging to warm spots of sunshine, before being tossed back into the shadows. Our knees get skinned and, if we’re lucky, a kind soul applies a soothing salve and a band-aid. If we’re not so lucky, we still go on, like Diogenes forever carrying his lamp, looking for an honest soul, we keep on bumping along, looking for love and connection…until we die.

That may sound fatalistic, but life for all humans is fatal. What could bring us the joy we’re seeking is truly understanding that we’re all in this together. Every human person*, regardless of age, gender, color, or capability is on the same path, trying to find our place, looking for warmth and love. The only real thing we have to offer each other is kindness and the respect due each remarkable piece of this ever-changing puzzle we call life. Each of us is a unique piece, without us, regardless of how long or short our lives, the puzzle would be incomplete, different. There are no bits and pieces; we are all one.

Should porcupines be banished because their winter feeding includes girdling beautiful pines?

*Since, at the present moment, only humans read, this article is written as if only they(we) were part of this great puzzle when, obviously, every sentient being is also a piece and deserves the respect of being included. (Yes, and rocks, too.)

BTW, if you want the story that actually went with the headline, click here.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Love Letters to My Life #35: What’s it all about, Alfie?

Forest Sanctuary
(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day: the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)     
The expedition is over. All the planning and imaginings have turned to photos and memories. Fifteen days of living in my car, visiting friends and family, seeing new places, and altering plans on the spur of the moment have changed, and continue to change, me. I am now here, when I was there. 
Alfie, a 1966 British movie, “tells the story of a young, womanizing man who leads a self-centered life, purely for his own enjoyment, until events force him to question his uncaring behaviour, his loneliness and his priorities” (Wikipedia) … all encapsulated into that one musical question which began to haunt my thoughts as I drove north. What’s it all about, Alfie? 
Awed by the big trees

 My planning process was seeded with a project possibility that had something to do with the journey through Northern California and what I might see along the way. I had been hoping that this trip might clarify the thoughts that have been simmering on the back burner for over a year. I like projects, actually need projects to ground me and give me direction and purpose. 
Separated from the big trees by a short walk and hundreds of thousands of years of soil time.
My reading of the past several months has followed some of the great scientific voyages as Von Humboldt, Darwin, Joseph Banks and others journeyed to other lands and made great discoveries. While my expectations were far more modest, I hoped that a kernel of a book or something would come out of my love for California and fascination with nature. 
Big, sun-loving flowers
Maybe it will still, the learning process continues; however, so far, I have not felt that golden call to something new. And, after 1,900 miles, I’m wondering whether it was worth the carbon I poured into our environment. 
Tiny, shade-loving flowers
The purpose of this letter is to express gratitude for my life and I am overwhelmingly grateful for my health and having the resources to make this excursion through new parts of California. I’ve basked in the joy of spending time with friends, seen beauty that took my breath away, driven through a timeless valley that made me yearn for its peace, watched myself try to flee when my comfort zone was poked, and learned more about the planet we live on. 
A new friend in the neighborhood.
I’m extremely grateful for this experience and have a ton of new material for the third volume of The Granary Tree. So what is the feeling of angst still churning through my system? I don’t know but I’m here in my little place on a beautiful lake. I have five months to contemplate the question that rode with me along the coast and through the mountains down to this peaceful spot. 
A tiny fisherman in a white cowboy hat in front of a sunlit rock gives scale.

 Immediately after posting this, a friend's Facebook post included this quote which gives me even more fodder for thought.

“ .... Paradoxical as it may seem, 
the purposeful life has no content, no point. 
It hurries on and on, and misses everything. 
Not hurrying, 
the purposeless life misses nothing, 
for it is only when there is no goal 
and no rush that the human senses 
are fully open to receive the world.” 
 ~Alan Watts.
What's it all about, Alfie? Lyrics

Song by Burt Bacharach

What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?

And if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it's wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie
I know there's something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in

I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you've missed you're nothing, Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you'll find love any day, Alfie
Alfie ...

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Day 10: How Are You Wonderful? Updating an old question

Scott Valley

Having a blog of many years is somewhat like having a friend who taps you on the shoulder and says, "Remember when ... " In this case, the friend is my own self from ten years ago ... a rather weird sensation.

Yesterday was the last full day of the ramble through Northern California and the song playing through my brain is, "What's it all about, Alfie?" ... one old enough that only a few of you will connect with it. Trying to make sense of the past ten days ... the what, the why, and the what might have been.

Yesterday morning found me driving through Scott Valley in Siskiyou County ... a movie-setting, placid, green valley surrounded by snow-tipped mountains which is also part of the proposed State of Jefferson (originally proposed in 1941, two months before Pearl Harbor). 

On an off-the-beaten path excursion, I passed two men standing in conversation in the driveway of an isolated ranch house surrounded by fields of green. Almost an hour later, after wandering through a bit of the deep peace of this valley, they were still there, still in conversation. I wondered who I would be if my life had dropped me into this utopian valley. I can almost understand the tendency to want to break away, protect the peaceful perfection, wall out the world.  Later, I stopped at a gas station and stepped into the midst of a conversation about Costco. When I asked about this bit of paradise, I heard about the isolation, the cost of living, the lack of meaningful work, and an admission that it was paradise ... but with a price.

On down the road, I stopped in the historic town of Etna where I found this mural.

Mural words:

The land of Siskiyou ... beaver valley ... "Rough and Ready" ... "Aetna Mills" ... "Etna" ... Many names but one land of majestic mountains, pristine rivers and lakes. Sparkling streams flow through meadows filled with life. Once abundant with beaver, this beautiful valley still inhabits bear, mountain lion, deer, spectacular bird life, and other wildlife native to this land. Let us embrace it's beauty. "Ayukii" & "Welcome" 

Ayukii means "hello" in the language of the Karuk tribe of Native Americans. Wikipedia: Since time immemorial, the Karuk resided in villages along the Klamath River, where they continue such cultural traditions as hunting, gathering, fishing, basketmaking and ceremonial dances.

In the blog post from 2011, I realized that I was head over heels in love with my life. A wonderful reminder at the end of this ten days of traveling through California to realize I am still in love with my life and immensely grateful to have the health and resources to make this journey.

The ending question is one I want to remember to ask every day: "How am I wonderful, joyful and grateful to be alive?" I hope you will also.

Victorian in Etna

"How are You Wonderful?" ... posted May 28, 2011

Yesterday was an anniversary, one of those calendar days laden with memories that pull us back into past times.  I wondered if it would be a melancholy day but it dawned one of those clear-blue-sky days with warm sunshine, cool breezes and promises of delight ... a perfect day.

Many years ago I read that women bond over our problems. And, it's true.  We spend long hours empathizing with each other over love gone wrong, bad bosses, our children's mishaps, health issues, financial reversals and the state of our psyches.  We share life's joys and wins also but not quite in the same way.  And, that makes me wonder why we are more comfortable talking about our problems than our joys?  Is it the fear of jinxing a good thing or not wanting to brag about our lives?  Or is it just that our problems demand our attention and we don't take the time to appreciate and talk about the parts of our lives that are wonderful?

Yesterday was a wonderful day  ... a search for mosaic materials at a peddlers' fair in the morning, lunch with an artist friend and an afternoon of working on my mosaics.  Even the mild melancholy that showed up in the late afternoon was tempered by the joy of a long walk through the trees with Missy.  At some point during the day I realized that I am head over heels in love with my life.  

There's probably a lot of us ... we just don't talk about it that much.  Maybe we should start a club ... the Head over Heels in Love with Our Lives Club ... and shout it from the roof tops.  Maybe we should start all our conversations by sharing the happiest things in our lives.  Maybe we should focus on the joy in our lives and let the problems sit in the backseat.  We often ask our friends, "How are you?"  Perhaps we should ask, "How are you wonderful, joyful and grateful to be alive?" Hmmmm???

About the Image:  War and Peace  (unfinished)

I decided to focus on lines and this is what showed up.  I know it's not finished but don't know where it wants to go so will let it sit for awhile.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Day 8: Wild and Scenic: the Smith River


If there is a paradise, I hope it looks a lot like the Smith River area of Northern California… green and wild. The Smith, the only undammed river in California, is home to Chinook salmon, Steelhead and friendly people. Finally, I found a rhythm that let me truly savor this day.

My day began early on the coast in Crescent City. By mid-afternoon, I had progressed 35 miles. A CalTrans guy mowing weeds with a weed-wacker talked about fears for the coming fire season and recommended a river road which sported a covered bridge and a tiny but charming waterfall. He mentioned Gasquet (locals say GASkey) and there I met a man who told me how to find Stoney Creek Trail, a short hike dotted with rhododendrons, sweet peas, and irises. 

Tiny waterfall with tiny flowers

A short video of the waterfall

One of my goals for the day was to find Darlingtonia Trail to see the pitcher plants. My GPS led me astray, but fortunately, more CalTrans guys helped me find it. These bog-loving plants have adapted to the serpentine soil and its lack of nutrients by foraging on insects. The fun find was an odd plant that turned out to be bear grass. Fortunately no bear. 

When I finally decided it was time to be on my way, I plotted a course for Happy Camp … seemed like a nice place to spend the night even if it did require a jaunt into Oregon. I love Oregon, my birth state, however there are parts of it that remind me of Deliverance. I was in that part of it when I got lost and GPS wasn’t helping. Fortunately a pretty young blond in a pickup truck told me that the road I was looking for was closed due to last year’s fires and that what I thought would be a 45 minute trip was going to take three hours. Plan changed ... decided to stay in Yreka.

The day ended on a beautiful note as I was coming down I-5 and saw this view of Mount Shasta. 


Friday, May 7, 2021

Day 7: Zooming and Demasiado

Yesterday began with losing something important and spending a couple of frantic hours trying to find it. Finally, I gave up and settled for a make-do replacement, only to then have the original lost item show up … exactly where I had put it. Life offered me a metaphorical lesson about slowing down, however, I opted to make up lost time and sped through a kaleidoscope of stunning sea scapes and a thousand-shades-of-green trees that deserved a life-time of appreciation.

Crab catcher at MacKerricher State Park 

And, one he didn't catch


My eyes are full of the incredible splendor of this part of the world, but I’m starting to wonder if I’ve zoomed past what I wanted. Zoom is the verb of our time. The short-cut, make-do, safe-way to meet, learn, share information, connect. And, it works. Tasks get done; ideas get shared; we go about our business. But something is lost in that efficient, streamlined, fluff-less engagement. 

I’m beginning to think that, in all this zooming, I’ve missed what I was actually yearning for ... a deeper understanding of and connection to nature. 

Pacific Trillium

Recently I’ve been reading about some of the great naturalist/scientists … Darwin, von Humboldt, Banks. They all made voyages of discovery: years-long, hazardous journeys of observing and experiencing the worlds they were exploring.  I'm reminded of one of my favorite words from Mexico: demasiado … too much. While I never heard it used, Google Translate says the words for too little are demasiado poco.

Clouds of insight are gathering on the horizon of my mind hinting that this trip of exploration has actually been a dance of demasiado and demasiado poco. Too many miles, too much beauty whizzing by at seventy miles per hour, too much data gathered from information road signs, too little understanding gained from direct contact, too much carbon poured into an exhausted environment, too many dollars spent on comfort, too little time spent observing and listening to nature. 

I’ve called this trip an “exploration” of Northern California when it could more rightly be called clean sheets and hot showers sight-seeing.  

The question now is, how will I slow down today? Perhaps this photo taken at a stop on the Avenue of the Giants offers a metaphor ...hopefully, not a reality.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Day 5: Bending to the elements: wind and sea

One of the challenges of living long is that we’ve seen and done so much that the thrill of finding new things happens less frequently. Yesterday though, it came at Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, named for a rock arch known as the Jughandle. 

This part of the world belongs to the elements. Wind and Sea are major characters in the story: uncontrolled, uncontrollable. My walk along the sea this morning reminded me of the shifting impermanence of the world. An old, wire fence blocked access to the fragile cliffs; however, a metal cable several feet further in revealed the creep of erosion, and an information sign spelled out the message: “In only 100 years, where you stand may have eroded to 100 feet behind you.”

At Jug Handle, my wanderings led me into a darkened grove where trees looked like they had been bulldozed into a pile. It took awhile to realize that these were living trees all in a tangle. It was disorienting confusion. Thankfully, another sign told the story:

Notice that most of the trees before you are sculpted by salt-laden north winds that dry and kill the tips of the branches. The bent and twisted quality of this tiny grove is called krummholz, from the German word meaning “bent wood.” These trees usually grow tall and straight. This grove creates a sheltered environment for many local species of birds, mammals and insects that otherwise could not live on this windswept bluff.

What a powerful reminder that life finds ways to live. It bends and adapts, creates communities for mutual benefit.

More from Jug Handle:


Natural reserves are part of the state park system and similar to parks in that they protect natural landscapes, but the emphasis is more on plants and animals, or specific geological features. They generally have fewer facilities and less development than state parks.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Day 4 of 15: Comfort zone freakout or where's my mettle? Updated)

Mount Diablo picnic site

The 4 am voice of reason woke me up with one word: mettle … a person's ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way.

Yesterday was a hard day, a disturbing day from the beginning. The plan was to drive 2 hours to the campsite at Mount Diablo. The first “demanding situation” was traffic. It’s obvious that the lessons offered to us by COVID are being forgotten. Smog is back in the LA basin and even non-rush-hour traffic here on the outskirts of the Golden City is horrendous. However, I made my way through the peach-colored hills and found a no-railings snake path up Mount Diablo. Fear woke up. 

As I inched my way to the campsite, resilience evaporated. On the single road to the summit, I missed my camp turnoff and found myself desperately trying to figure out where the hell I was. Help came in the form of a woman on a candy-apple red motorcycle looking out over the incredible view. She wasn’t much younger than I am and we chatted for a bit and she managed to figure out that I was about two miles off course. I back tracked and finally found my allotted campsite, which was wholly inadequate. In a basically empty campground, this spot wasn’t big enough for my tent and my car. And, while it was beautiful, live-oak studded country, fear was yelling in my ears that this wasn’t right, that I needed to flee. 
I decided to at least have lunch and found a lovely picnic spot under an huge oak, where I began to unravel my plans. I would go to the coast for a couple of days before picking up my planned route again. So back down the trail and into the river of traffic I went. 

I thought the traffic would lessen as soon as I was across the bay, but it continued. The 101 I remembered from a honeymoon bike trip some forty years ago was now a congested freeway all the way to Healdsburg (charming by the way) where I gave in to the call of sugar. 
My 2-hour drive had now become 7, but I decided to make it to Ft. Bragg, another 2 hours. When a road sign offered a different way to get there, I turned onto Hwy 128 and immediately fell in love with its mostly empty, stunning twists and turns. It quickly became one of my favorite roads although it was getting late so I didn’t stop for pictures. Big mistake.

Finally reaching Ft. Bragg, I turned into a motel, contemplating a day of beach combing and exploring before continuing on up the coast. The minute I stepped out of the car, frigid wind blasted my summer-clad body and reality struck: the next ten days could be more of the same. When I checked the weather app, it confirmed that reality and I went in to full body, comfort zone freak out. If I could have tele-transported myself to my little RV in Julian, I would have. Since I couldn’t, I began cancelling reservations, begging friends for a warm bed, and pulling into my turtle shell in every way possible.

Then came 4 am and I woke thinking: what kind of an explorer am I to quit so easily? I have base layers. I have a coat and gloves. So I get cold; so what? Where’s my spirit? Where’s my mettle?

(To be continued) 
Later. Yeehaw! Put on my base layers, jeans, gloves and fleece and headed to Glass Beach. Was it cold? Yes. Was it wonderful? Absolutely! Meltdown is over. The question that came to me is:

What would I miss if I didn't do this thing I intended to do?
Here are some photos from an exhilerating walk I would have missed this morning ... and my theme song for the day. Stay Alive!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Day 3 of 15: Mustard and Mystery

Driving north from Santa Barbara through yellow velvet hills rolling toward the moody blue Pacific. I’ve barely cleared the Goleta outskirts when I'm stunned by a yellow, bright and pure as sunlight, draping across the land and demanding one stop after another and a detour along an unexplored backroad through surprising orchards stretching inland and up the verdant valleys … El Refugio Ranch, Rancho Guacamole, Edens hidden from the noise and grind of the destination-determined 101 traffic. 

The beauty of the super bloom of common mustard (Brassica rapa, I presume) belies its non-native, invasive nature, a gift from Russian immigrants who inadvertently planted it here with their wheat. While wild mustard is a botanical outcast to most, some Napa vintners are deliberately planting it in their vineyards because it helps aerate and condition the soil. 

Pushing away from the seduction of yellow, I turn inland at San Luis Obispo to take the long route along the recently opened, repeatedly repaired coastal Highway 1. At an age when I can no longer count on “next time,” I long for one more trip along the endlessly heart-pounding joy of twisting turns and breath catching vistas with their vertical drops to the rocks below. As a kid from Kansas, I have to wonder if is my early, land-locked, flatlander years that makes this thrill ride so compelling.  
Love the water someone left for the critters.
Fortunately, it’s Sunday, with no road work delays and relatively light traffic allowing me to stop repeatedly. Not long after passing Gorda, one of the three small settlements along the Big Sur coast, an unexpected riot of orange and pink-violet stops cars in both directions.

The Mystery

It’s obviously a created display; however, the only semblance of a sign read: the flower trap. Googling that lead me to an instagram account where I’m trying to get more info. Who is doing this and why?