Jan 232018

Dry Frog on the Accordion

Are we teetering into madness?

Has the television warped our better senses to such a degree that some among us are falling into an alternative reality based on what we’ve been watching?

In an age where complex technologically driven systems are driving our economies are we witnessing the division of society between those flexible enough for adaptability and those unable to shift paradigms?

We appear to be gyrating through a convulsion wrought out of a full on societal cultural shift that is happening so fast that a large part of our population is failing to negotiate the hard turn.

When fear of an uncertain future threatens traditions, customs, and the ways of life of the people feeling most effected by their perception of being the displaced, might they begin to wage war to push back upon those that are seen as the agents of change?

The solutions found in the compromises that end cultural conflicts are usually that the aggressor will be contained and marginalized, as in time they must cede control from the push of modernity and change. So what is the role of a populace to assuage the fears of those becoming irrelevant in order to avoid the transgressions of war?

The voices that appear and take a stance against those trying to exercise outdated power have traditionally been silenced through means of violence. How in an age of mass media dispersed as it is does the activist find a voice or platform that will ask that faction of humanity stuck in outmoded traditions and beliefs to understand the need to step down for the sake of our planet and future generations when they believe they are protecting an ideal?

Art has been used to seduce and to provoke. It works to educate and cast light onto issues. Art in its varied forms entertains us, tells us stories, shows us the world around us, makes us dance, informs us through the skillful verbal eloquence crafted by a masterful articulation brought by our varied languages. Art is at the core of the human experience. Ask any mathematician about the art of numbers or a physicist about the art of the universe. Inquire of a geologist if there is art to be found in the composition of our Earth. If art plays such a central but often invisible role in many of the facets of our daily lives, how do we negotiate and offer the message of change as a necessity that appeals to the consciousness of that person stuck in an age that is quickly passing?

Dec 292017

Starling murmuration in the Arizona desert

Caroline nor I had ever seen a starling murmuration in person before, that is before our otherwise uneventful drive home from Monterey, California. We were about 40 miles into Arizona when I spotted the moving dark cloud and lucky for us there was an off-ramp that allowed us to gain a better vantage point. We watched them for about 20 minutes until they began to settle down.

Starling murmuration in the Arizona desert

We’ve passed through this area of Interstate 10 maybe a hundred or more times and never in all of those travels had we seen such a sight. A perfect ending to a perfect week-long getaway.

Dec 282017

Sunrise from Pacific Grove, California

This is the first view in the morning that we are greeted with when leaving our motel at Lovers Point Inn. The colors may change but the ocean behind these coastal cypress is always glorious as is the rocky shore that is just out of sight. We’d dreamt of staying here for years but considering how close it is to the ocean we wrongly assumed it would be too expensive. Seeing that the price was in fact incredibly affordable we made this our base of operation for the six nights we’d planned to dwell on this part of the coast.

Sea otter at Monterey Bay Aquarium

While hundreds of us wait to enter the Monterey Bay Aquarium there are two sea otters that seem just as curious to see us as we are to see them. This is our first visit to the aquarium in five years and the 25th anniversary of our first visit – we still have the matching keychain trinkets we bought back then that we carry to this day.

The Variable Oystercatcher shore bird at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Our first stop took us through the Aviary on our way to the Sandy Shore exhibit. This is the variable oystercatcher that I can’t say I remember seeing at the sea. Maybe the loud squawking of the gulls demand too much of attention though the snowy plovers never fail to garner my interest as the flirt with lightning speed running to and from the rushing water brought ashore by the crashing surf. Over at the Sandy Shore exhibit we spent a good amount of time petting bat rays, a sea cucumber, and a rock hard chiton.

School of sardines at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Anchovies by the thousand. The silver shimmer of these little fish are mesmerizing as they move as a school through one of our favorite exhibits. During the previous 25 years visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium we at times been season pass members, did a behind the scenes tour, and went sailing on a research vessel sponsored by the aquarium. Caroline has often tuned into their live cams and goes to sleep frequently wearing her t-shirt “Whales are for lookin’, not for cookin’.” Monterey was Caroline’s first encounter with the Pacific 25 years ago on her first visit to the United States after we landed in San Francisco. It was also here in Monterey that 12 years ago on another December visit that we sent off our request to Hawaii for tickets to watch the 43rd Annual Merrie Monarch Festival; our request was granted on Valentines Day the following year. Then 20 years ago in 1997 my mother in-law on her first visit to the United States also visited Monterey with us. Lots of great memories exist here for Caroline and me, just as many as there are anchovies in this tank.

A Giant Sea Bass at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Speaking of my mother in-law this is a giant sea bass, just kidding. I truly do enjoy my mother-in-law’s company as her enthusiasm and ability to find true enjoyment in the little things makes her “mostly” a joy to be around. Her being German and having grown up during World War II made her nearly as serious and unflinching as this sea bass, but that’s where the similarities end. Jutta has visited us 10 times here in the states accumulating over 400 days seeing our country. There’s a good likelihood that this old fish (the one in the photo) has been hanging out here in the aquarium since my mother in-law’s first visit, but it appears that the first giant sea bass to join the program here was back in 1994 or two years after Caroline’s first visit.

Sardines at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sardines are found in a massive school at the Outer Bay exhibit where they share a tank with some blue fin tuna, dolphin fish, a couple of sea turtles, and a couple of sunfish. We had to be at this tank at 11:00 for the feeding as they tend to be thrilling examples of these fish doing things we don’t typically get to witness. When you visit the aquarium you are offered a schedule of events, I’d highly recommend you take a copy.

An Albatross at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

This is Makana the Laysan Albatross. She’s a permanently disabled bird from the Midway Atoll where she was rescued. At 1:30 she was on stage at the Kelp Forest exhibit (again there’s that schedule of events you don’t want to miss out on) with her handler and a docent who told us of Makana’s story and that of the albatross in general. While her handler was feeding her we got to hear the call of the Albatross which is a beautiful sound, though maybe a bit ear piercing. At the end of the presentation we were able to approach the albatross while remaining about 5 feet away from her, this was the closest encounter Caroline or I have ever had with this majestic bird. It’s difficult to not recognize that this bird has had an influence on airplane design, matter of fact I’ll use this space here to remind myself to someday read Janine Benyus’ book, “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.

Sand dollars at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

I just learned that the good old sand dollar is a type of sea urchin, who knew? While not my favorite display Caroline never fails to be enchanted by taking a long pause at this tank and watching these creatures as they move slower than sloths, but they do indeed move.

Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Jellyfish must have been the creation of a colorblind god on LSD, as their psychedelic characteristics likely plays a role in why the jellies’ exhibit is always packed. What would make jellyfish even more amazing would be if they were multi-hued, though visitors would never leave while tripping out staring at the gelatinous blobs of floaty strings, transparent flesh, and the neon bright glowing ripple-stuff. With California about to legalize recreational marijuana in the next week I wonder if this kind of exhibit will only grow in popularity?

The Cuttlefish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

This is a cuttlefish – NOT a cuddle fish! If the aquarium were to collect a dollar each time a visitor jokes about the cuddle fish they could probably stop demanding a paid entry. These psychedelic aliens are lumped into the same area as their hallucinogenic brethren, the jellyfish. Hmmm, I wonder if anyone has ever tried making a jellyfish salad with grilled butterfish and peanut worm fish for a kind of peanut butter and jellyfish meal? Great now I’m thinking about grilled cuttlefish while simultaneously being repulsed by the thought due to how pretty and cuddly looking these cuttlefish are.

Caroline Wise standing in front of a Jellyfish display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Caroline Wise standing in silhouette watching the jellyfish float through their liquidy space. I think she might be on drugs.

The Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Caroline pointed out that this jellyfish in particular had made telepathic connection to her and commanded her to call me out for the bullshit that I write on my blog and stop the nonsense. So the god of LSD stuff above was probably fake news and also my Charlton Heston references from the other blog entry. I call it creative license or “running out of meaningful stuff to write.”

Dinner at the Monterey Fish House

Seems almost ironic after all this fish appreciation that we’d go from ideas of conservation and protection to chowing down on their carcasses, huh? Well that’s the way it is. We tried getting a reservation at the Monterey Fish House for one of the days prior to our visit to the aquarium, but this place is super popular and was booked solid. Rightfully so too as the food is impeccable. Guy Fieri got this one right on his visit and with that come long waits, even with a reservation. We waited for about 45 minutes past our reservation for a table, but after tasting our dinner we knew why. I opted for the Sicilian Holiday Pasta which is effectively cioppino served atop pasta while Caroline ordered one of the specials constructed of seafood, grilled artichoke hearts, and pasta served on homemade linguine. Next time we make our reservation early for a dinner around 5:00 so we can get a table right when they open, though they are open for lunch too! It’s that good.

Dec 272017

The common sparrow

This is not a rare sight, on the contrary it is the common sparrow. So why post it? Because I don’t often see common sparrows next to the Pacific ocean with a perfect blue sky and red flowering torch aloe for a backdrop, so it’s kind of rare.

Two harbor seals in Monterey Bay, California

Two common harbor seals on a rock. Again, not something I’m likely to encounter in the desert of Arizona nor will the people of Minnesota around this time of year when they are hitting -37 degrees of coldness.

Caroline Wise buying yarn at Monarch Knitting in Pacific Grove, California

Okay, this is pretty common, as in way too common a sight for me. This is what every fiber artist MUST do on vacation: search and visit every yarn shop on your travel route! Today we made the pilgrimage to Monarch Knitting in Pacific Grove, but I should cut the wife some slack because the yarn she’s holding are the yarns I chose. When we walked in and were greeted by the staff I immediately asked for the fingering weight yarn (as I’m oft to do) so I could scope me some yarn suitable for socks. Those colors will end up as a pair on my feet sometime in 2018. They represent the sunset and color of the ocean for me. Caroline also picked up about $8000 in yarn for herself because that’s what these junkies do. Well, maybe it was only 4 or 5 skeins for about a hundred bucks; I’m getting old and my powers of observation have only become more refined in how self-serving they are. There, wife – you happy that I finally admitted it in print?

The Point Sur Light Station

This is not a rare sight, but the perspective is about to change to one that is rare. It just so happens that after 20 years of passing this rock in the distance we have arrived on the right day at the right time to be able to visit it. This is the Point Sur Light Station and is open for three scheduled visits per week: one on Saturday, one on Sunday and one at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesdays (check the hours as these are for Winter).

Point Sur Light Station welcome sign and meeting point

The three tours are only offered on a first-come first-serve basis. We arrived over an hour early but still there were two cars in front of us. By the time the gate was opened there were certainly more people wanting in than are allowed. The tours are limited to 40 visitors and there are NO reservations. After driving down the single lane road to the base of the volcanic rock we collect and divide into two groups that make the walk up the even narrower road without guard rails that fall off to a steep drop to the ocean where death awaits the person who steps in the wrong direction or driver whose brakes are less than stellar. My vertigo is about to go crazy.

Point Sur Naval Facility

This is the Point Sur Naval Facility which was once part of a worldwide network of defensive listening stations that tracked the movement of Soviet submarines. The Point Sur NAVFAC is one of the remaining Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) facilities, and the only one remaining on the West Coast (according to the California Parks website). It is rumored that the site will open to the public at some point in the future.

Walking up the paved trail to the Point Sur Light Station

Taking a pause as we climb the 371 foot tall rock to the lighthouse that was first lit on August 1, 1889 and finally automated in 1974 as it became too expensive to employ humans to guarantee the functionality of the light and horn that warned ships for almost 100 years. As we walked up the rock our docent Melissa shared stories about the facility and some history. Ricky was the other docent who was just behind us.

A bridge on the final leg to reach the Point Sur lighthouse

This little bridge nearly stopped me from seeing the lighthouse. You see the gap on the right side? That gap and the larger one on the ocean side drop into oblivion a.k.a. DEATH. My knees were wobbling and my lower intestines were knotting into vibrating wracked contortions of squeamishness, sending their horrific energy straight out my pooper; sorry, but that’s where the center of anxiety driven by vertigo dwells in my body. Knowing there were children in the group that had been walking near the edge of the trail and hadn’t shown a care in the world, there was no way the old dude was going to belly-crawl this bridge or turn around I mustered some strength and aimed for the third GAPING crack from the right (hoping it didn’t open as I passed) and tried to follow its line. Once on the other side the wood rail that was acting as a barrier ended and the asphalt gave way to sky and probably more death – oh how I hate that I have vertigo. On the other side of all of this Melissa assured me that we weren’t returning the same way. Hopefully this would be relief, but I still didn’t know if other hairy corners awaited me.

The Point Sur Lighthouse

The Point Sur Lighthouse in most of its glory. I say most because the original Fresnel lens was removed years ago though the preparations for its return are being made and maybe on a subsequent visit we’ll visit at night and be able to see the beam reaching out to sea. This is a milestone in our travel as we have looked out upon this rock and longed to visit but could never quite coordinate our time of arrival; today will be day to stand out. Not only have we finally made it out here, but according to Melissa we are extraordinarily lucky with the weather as it is a rare day in winter that blue skies and relatively warm temperatures greet visitors.

Inside the Point Sur Lighthouse

It’s a pretty tight fit for 20 people to stand in this room to listen to the docent tell of the history held in this facility, no wonder we breakup into two groups. Upstairs the squeeze is on until Melissa invites one of the other guests to open a side door so we can step outside.

Caroline Wise and John Wise atop the Point Sur Lighthouse on a windy day

Once outside things were wide open and cool compared to the stuffy little room under the glass enclosure of the lighthouse. Then we walked around the north-east corner where the wind was blowing so hard that Caroline and I removed our glasses for fear of having them blown off our faces as we turned around for a selfie. Other versions have Caroline’s hair standing almost straight up as while my short cropped helmet of brittle gray hair sits nearly shellacked to my big red head. In this photo my hump on my left shoulder can be seen, I’m usually pretty good about hiding that side of my anatomy as being a hunchback comes with some stigma. Being out here and having all of our senses stimulated is a win of epic proportions that tickle both of us to a delight that other mortals might only dream of experiencing. We attribute this sense of adventure to love, knowledge, and being nerds.

The Point Sur Lighthouse

This is the money shot for me. The path leads us up a steep stairway that climbs the rest of the distance to the top of the rock that is the Point Sur Light Station. It is from those stairs that I stopped to snap this photo. It sure would be amazing to return someday to see the Fresnel lens back in there.

The carpentry and blacksmith shop at Point Sur Light Station

This is the carpentry and blacksmith shop that sits in front of the lighthouse, behind me are the living quarters called the Triplex where the assistants to the lighthouse keeper lived. That facility is currently being renovated while this shop is freshly finished with a great display inside this still working building. Maybe you noticed from the photos that this has been a beautiful day so far?

A doll inside one of the renovated houses at Point Sur Light Station

Next door to the Triplex are the freshly renovated living quarters of the lighthouse keeper and his family. The decor is straight out of the late 1950’s Americana. There was no TV on display as back in the day there would not have been any signal that would reach out here. There was however an old-fashioned cabinet style record player with a 45rpm record on it: “Four Walls” by Jim Lowe which was made into a hit that same year by Jim Reeves – Click here to listen to the song.

There is a gift shop up here that is only accessible during these docent led tours so be sure to pick something up to commemorate your visit or enjoy a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, they accept credit cards and this is also where you’ll pay your $12 per person entry fee at the end of the tour.

The view on the walk down from the Point Sur Light Station

Our three-hour tour is over but we are still accompanied by our docent for the final descent down the 371-foot volcanic rock that holds this 100 year old relic that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

A seashell at Garrapata Beach

This seashell is about to return to the ocean. This shell along with a couple of hundred others collected over the years along the coast are being returned to the sea as we feel they belong there more than in our living room. Part of us feels guilty as to the casual observer there are two people here at Garrapata Beach throwing stuff wildly into the ocean. We’ve been meaning to do this for some time but have forgotten our bag of shells more times than we care to remember. It’s as though a circle has been closed.

Kelp from just off shore at Garrapata Beach

We are walking back to the stairway leaving up to a short path and roadside where we parked the car. It’s rare that we get to visit Garrapata Beach more than once on a trip up and down this part of the coast and no matter how many times we visit it’s always with a heavy feeling that we agree that it’s time to leave. We probably wouldn’t have stopped here again had we not remembered back on Christmas day to grab the bag of shells, but having this opportunity is a treasure and marks a perfect ending to another perfect day, which when we are traveling is seldom rare.

Sunset at Garrapata Beach

The sun is low in the sky as we bid the Big Sur coast farewell for another bit of time between visits. There are still a thousand things to see and do along this stretch of ocean and hopefully the next time we return it will feel as new and exciting as it has on this adventure.

Dec 262017

Somewhere on Highway 1 between Big Sur and Carmel, California

Over the years Caroline and I have made dozens of journeys up and down the California coast. Along the way we have tried to stop everywhere we encounter a sight we’d like to remember forever. After so many spots it starts to feel like we’ve seen it all and then we pull over and wonder if we’d ever stopped here before. Ten percent of our 150,000 digital photos we’ve shot since late 1999 are tagged “California”, though I don’t know if I’ve been completely thorough with that process. Maybe in the near future I’ll be able to run our entire catalog of images through an algorithm that will match my images with other peoples that did better tagging and we can find out where some of them were exactly taken. I cannot lament being in the moment and ignoring the mile marker or not having a camera with GPS as romance and happiness in these times takes precedence. I guess it’s only when drifting through memories and finding nostalgia that we want more details in order to enliven our previous experiences, making them more vivid. As we stood on this overlook we were enchanted by the layers in the rock and the contrasting colors of brown, tan, white, green, and blue. We likely kissed as we are apt to do when recognizing the beauty of a place and as slow as we were traveling we still couldn’t afford to just stay here all day watching the crashing surf, it was time to move further south.

The barn at Andrew Molera State Park

Today’s destination is the Andrew Molera State Park. Over in the shadows are a couple of deer, while I got a couple of photos they were quite unspectacular compared to the fall colors hugging this barn. Just around the corner from the barn was a small creek that required we take our shoes off and roll up our pants to cross as in some sections it was almost knee high. The trick to crossing the creek is stay to the right if you are on your way to the beach trail or ride piggy back with a good friend. Caroline had to walk in the cold water because that’s the way it is.

Coastal mountain view from Andrew Molera State Park

Walking to the beach trail we had about a mile walk that offered views that we never tire of.

A spotted towhee bird in the tree at Andrew Molera State Park

A huddling rather chunky male spotted towhee glanced at us as we walked by but couldn’t be bothered with flying off, not even as I approached to get a closeup of this bird from the sparrow family.

The Coast Live Oak in Andrew Molera State Park

It’s not just ocean vistas and wildlife that gains our attention but the plants, geology, and history too. The coast live oak is one of the trees found in California’s rolling hills that help define the character of the state along with with the coastal cypress and redwoods. If we were wealthy we’d have a geologist, botanist, historian, biologist, chemist, physicist, and astrophysicist traveling with us.

Looking south on Andrew Molera State Park beach

Out on the beach there are maybe 4 or 5 other people and three surfers out in the water; everyone is on the north end. We head south.

A cairn held high atop a piece of drift wood at Andrew Molera State Park

The wind is to our backs and the temperature is nice enough that we don’t need sweaters here at the end of December. The cliff on our left would require some serious hard work to make our way up one of the drainages and effectively locks us in between it and the ocean. And yet there is a cairn here sitting atop a piece of driftwood. As it’s hardly necessary here to show us the direction of the trail it must have been setup for its more aesthetic qualities. At about this point we run out of footprints in the sand and realize that we may be the first humans to ever walk this stretch of beach.

Andrew Molera State Park beach looking south

Into the unknown as we walk into an unexplored setting that could be right out of one of the Planet of the Apes sequels. Around anyone of these rocks at any moment I half expect Charlton Heston to come into view mounted on his horse sporting the beard he’d worn as Moses in the Ten Commandments. Then waving his NRA sanctioned rifle he has a million apes part the Pacific Ocean but the president learning of this treason threatens to build a wall so illegal immigrants don’t just walk into the U.S. to steal more jobs. In a plot twist Dick Cheney comes out of retirement to take the helm of SG Enterprises, a division of Haliburton that is making a protein based food supplement that some say is people. Our bearded hero (updated with a man-bun to make him more appealing to the younger generation) is given super powers to conquer this evil with an A.I. called the Benevolent Heuristic Machine or Ben Hur for short that allows the same machine that fixes global warming to close the gap made in the ocean though this in turn pisses off god who was actually behind the parting of the sea, but that’s another story to be continued in a sequel.

Caroline Wise in the cave she originally came from

This is Caroline Wise about to explore a rebirthing experience.

Looking north at Andrew Molera State Park

At the end of the trail near the mini-cave we look back to the north for our walk into the wind and the trail that will return us to our car. The sky should be the give away that this was a beautiful day.

Looking south on Highway 1 on the way through Big Sur

This looks familiar as though I’ve taken this photo before, but was it as sunny, was the ocean as blue, was it morning or late afternoon? Someday I might go through the nearly 20,000 photos I’ve taken of California and see which sights I’ve shot on more than one occasion, or maybe I’ll just keep returning so I can take the same old photo all over again. Prior to snapping this pic we had made a pit-stop at another favorite haunt; the Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant. Somehow I missed the opportunity to grab a selfie of Caroline and I enjoying yet another coffee sitting outside and in front of the bakery. We shared an amazing ginger scone that was the best scone ever (at least as far as scones go during 2017). While at the bakery I took some time to do some writing so not everything would be lost to forgotten memories as our vacation comes to a finish in a few days.

Looking north on Highway 1 on the way through Big Sur

This image I’m certain I’ve shot before just as 29 million others have who stop to photograph the famous bridges found along Highway 1. I’m pretty sure that I’ve never taken the picture before with the ocean this exact hue of turquoise though so there’s that.

Lucia, California

This cabin is on the grounds of Lucia Lodge and is our last stop on our southerly journey down Highway 1 today. The road continues for another 10 miles to Gorda but is closed after that while road repairs are completed on a severely damaged stretch of this iconic highway. We stopped at the Lucia gift shop as Caroline was hunting for some eucalyptus soap that she’d bought here on a previous trip, sadly they longer carried it. On the way back up north we stopped at the Nepenthe gift shop but they too were out of it though one of the sales people told us to try the Fernwood General Store and sure enough they had plenty of it. The soap brand is Big Sur Country Soap and scents we stocked up on are as follows; Eucalyptus (x3), Lavender, Eucalyptus Lime, Cedar Lemon, and Patchouli because we are hippies at heart.

Highway 1 travelling north from Lucia to Big Sur

You don’t need spectacular cliffs, iconic bridges, tremendous vistas, sunsets, or the parade of Teslas (wow, there were a lot of Teslas on this road today!) to find beauty around every corner. This is just one of many average bends in the road where gorgeousness leaps out of the landscape and clobbers your senses with awe.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean as seen from Highway 1 near Big Sur, California

And then just like that the sun says adios way too early on a winter day and you are left to drive back to your ocean front motel in the dark. On a scale of 1 to 10 regarding perfection found on this particular day, you can guess this was probably an 11.