Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Crime Scene

    He fell in.  Unpremeditated.  It was a matter of balance, a misunderstanding of gravity, the lack of comprehending the techniques of grace.  The ineptitude of the child, wishing to touch the flashing koi or dabble his pudgy fingers in the cool water, was not the crime.  The crime came shortly afterwards, when the teacher was fired for failing to supervise the child.  The child, that one who lost his balance by the shallow pond at Balboa Park on a sunny warm spring day.

     I taught at a private elementary school in San Diego.  I was one of many on the field trip that day.  I wasn’t the one fired, but I was the one saddened at the unjust outcome of the child’s splashing free fall into a pool.  I made a promise to myself that if I ever got to be an administrator, I would be more careful about justice.  That child didn’t drown, didn’t suffer any injury and didn’t freeze.  If there were emotional trauma, I fear it was from feeling guilty at causing such grief to his teacher. 

    Over the years, when I would be faced with similar situations, an image of this pond would float into my mind, a warning to be careful of shallow decisions.  Visiting in San Diego I came back to find this pond in Balboa Park, this unwavering companion of mine in decisions.  I was happy to find it so tranquil reflecting a bride and a groom posing for pictures, a cello musician entertaining strolling crowds and the koi lazily turning in circles.

    Pup and I walked Balboa for a couple of hours, napped and read near the pond.  The buildings at the park were built for the California Pacific Exposition of 1935.  My favorite structures were the tiny cottages in the international loop. 

      To the credit of San Diego the park’s trees and bushes are tended with care.  I stopped often to take photos.

    The return to the park was rewarding.  I found the pond.  The park felt full of promises of good outcomes.  No crimes.


The Vagaries of Travel

    I have been rereading “the Log from Sea of Cortez” by John Steinbeck.  Few people know that he wrote non-fiction.  His documentation of a scientific exploration to Baja is slivered with observations and philosophical ruminations.  The uncertainty in packing for this difficult expedition of collecting species in treacherous waters made Steinbeck observe, “ … we have concluded that all collecting trips to fairly unknown regions should be made twice; once to make mistakes and once to correct them.”

     I camped on Mt. Laguna in the hills just east of San Diego, glancing at a weather report and noting a welcoming cooler weather after the 90's in Tucson.  I managed though to miss the wind and sleet report. The first night was pleasant with a light cool breeze.  Early in the morning I hiked around a huge meadow and explored the edges of the woods.

    Later in the day I headed to the town of Julian past sections of burned woods and blossoming trees.

     My only memory from this town of Julian was the old hotel.  I recall wishing to return and spend a night.  I was pleased to see it looking like I remembered.  In hindsight, I should have stayed there. 

     Late afternoon the weather began to turn nasty with a stiff breeze and swift clouds scraping the treetops, I bought a cup of hot coffee knowing that my stove likely wouldn’t light in this wind.  Around the corner from the coffee shop pup knocked the coffee from my hands. I retrieved the cup in time to get two gulps.  This unfortunate accident foretold the unfortunate night to come.  The raucous wind rocked the car and the sleet tapped on the windows waking me over and over with a shudder.  The roar in the tall pines was unsettling.  Were I to repeat a trip like this one (as Steinbeck says), the second time I would correct the mistakes of the first.  I’d read weather reports in more detail.

      Ice framed the windows of the car and pup snuggled in deeper.  In the morning it was so cold and still blowing so hard that I drove to the campground restroom fifty yards away.  Then headed to a lodge for breakfast instead of cooking my own.

    I had passed a few cafes and stores serving the camping and hiking population.  I pulled into the first one with a bright “open” sign in the window. The cook was just unlocking the door, lights still off as a small handful of customers slipped through the door.  As I waited while the cook handed-out day passes for hiking to a young couple, the other customer and I struck-up a conversation and eventually we sat conversing over breakfast.  Art was hiking the first stretch of the Pacific Coast Trail.  He had come in out of the weather for breakfast hoping he could also get a cabin for the night.  He didn’t relish hiking in this unpleasant cold snap.  The waitress arrived shortly for her shift and told us that a car had flipped on the road just down the hill.  Weather for the hardy and cautious for sure. 

    I love camping, but even I use a single metal bowl and cup.  I rarely serve on toss-away paper or plastic.  Oddly, this cafe with its characteristic log benches and rustic charm served breakfast on styrofoam plates with flimsy plastic silverware.  Art whispered that down the hill there was a cafe with delicious food and he would walk there for his remaining meals.  Next time, I thought…     
The eggs were marginal and the bacon of the poorest quality.  The conversation was good.  The morning company made the breakfast feels less like a mistake.

    As I drove down towards San Diego I thought about my other travel mistakes.  I’ll pack lighter I thought.  Next time “I’ll get it right.”           

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Morning Breeze

Spider web strands and grass blowing in the breeze.
     Many years ago when I lived in San Diego and sailed, I learned of the sailor’s morning breeze.  The cool of the night over the ocean would greet the sun’s warmth and the two would mingle stirring up a morning breeze.  My friendship with Eleanor is like a sailor’s breeze.  So consistently stirring that the relationship resembles a law of nature.

    You can see a light silly breeze blowing through our eyes in these two photos.

The dishcloth was painted by three-year-old grand niece, Greta.

     We seem to share a quirky sense of humor.

    When we went to Madera Canyon to go birding, I am was the cool analytical one thinking of bird lists.  Eleanor, however, likely knows as many birds as I.  She showed me a couple of dozen tiles that she had painted with bird species.  She sees them in their tiniest of details; I see them in their flitting and in the stories that they generate.  We appreciate each other’s talents.  I paused to take this photo of a billboard in northern Arizona.  Eleanor gave pause to examine it closer.

       As I took photos in the canyon, Eleanor drew a tree trunk.

    Out for a drive, Eleanor pointed out her favorite cacti.  I went for a stroll the next day and took a photo of one of them in her neighborhood and then proceeded to capture house details.  She showed me how to make spiffier photos and I sent her house photos at her request.  Ideas and suggestions blow past each other without jealousy.  The relationship is a good one.

I could sit here for awhile.
     When I lived with Eleanor in college we had a little T.V.  She had painted over it entirely (screen and all) with stripes and polka dots.   This protest fit us both, as we were readers and doers.  The habits have not left us.  Eleanor’s house and patio are filled with evidence of a painter and sculpture’s life.  Moreover, she has cabinets filled with collections of feathers, shells, tiny antique toys, and pictures.  They resemble some of my shelves at home. 

     I love visiting Eleanor and seeing her work.  She took me to the local Y to see a large canvas on the lobby wall that she had done.  It is huge!  Here is a detail on one corner.

     Best of all she took me to see a baby shower gift.  Now you must be confused.  Why would I be mentioning a gift for a baby?  Her gift was precisely the kind that I can appreciate.  Not bought from a list at a store or purchased with the experience of babyhood.  Not one more shirt or too cute outfit.  Her gift was given in a tiny painted box on a tiny painted note that simply said “A mural".  Eleanor gifted this baby a wall mural in her garden.    

Really!  Can you imagine?  The child is now about two-years old.  Luckiest of babies.
     I left Eleanor’s knowing that we are more committed to seeing each other again.  Starting up a breeze, blowing across the land or sea.  I’ll be waiting for the morning.

One of Eleanor's statues waiting in stillness.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

You Know When You Are in Tucson…

    Some years ago I attended the University of Arizona in Tucson and returned once for a conference.  We did a silly skit about “You Know When You Are in Tucson...”  (My part in the skit was to hide peppers in my shirt after being served them for yet another meal.  "You know you are in Tucson when you are served peppers at every meal, until you can eat them no more...")

    North of Tucson near Oracle Junction, I passed by cacti and palo verde trees on a hot day with the air conditioner on the fritz. I was delighted to find a haven at a RV camp.  I rarely have stayed in RV parks and in fact the first one that I stopped at turned me away.  Rancho Villa was a gem.  I was tired when I arrived and sat for a while on the community house porch reading newspapers.  An annual visitor to the park, Sherri, spotted me and invited me to join her and her husband for a dinner of spaghetti.  We sat and talked into the cool of the evening, and the next day went swimming and took a stroll in the neighborhood.  I so appreciated the welcome.  Talking to Sherri it was easy to understand the appeal of a winter haven.   
Christmas Photo of Sherri and Don
     Winter visitors to the south find much to do in the Tucson-Oracle Junction area.  Don heads out most days to go jeeping.  Sherri reads, takes care of her many dogs, gardens their plot, cooks and rides her bike.  Their yard is filled with interesting “finds” of cholla cactus branches, bones and nests from saguaro cactus.   They both seem so happy.

      Sherri took me to gardens being designed by the St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery  You do know you are near Tucson in the spring when all the plants do their best to push out blooms after a good rain and the arrival of hotter temperatures.  This picture is of a new garden! 

      I headed out to Tucson to visit my college roommate, an artist who remained in Tucson after school.  Her stucco house with its walled garden and patio enchanted pup.  Lizzie had not ever seen lizards before, but she began sitting outside for hours watching the walls for lizards and noting birds. 

    Tucson is world renowned for it’s birding sites.  Eleanor took me to Madeira Canyon.  We arrived a little late in the day for the best birding time, but spotted numerous serious birders hauling scopes, water, packs and walking sticks.  The canyon has over 275 possible birds on its list.  Eleanor and I paused to take photos of trees and she drew one extraordinary tree trunk.  These are all photos taken by Eleanor.   

    I love this valley surrounded by familiar mountain shapes.  The colors are different.  Many warm oranges and turquoise.

Eleanor's art on her kitchen turquoise walls. 
    Eleanor lives in the Fort Lowell neighborhood with structures built a couple of hundred years ago.  I have always admired the pueblo design with interior courtyards to make the most of light.

View from my room.
      I love being back in Tucson.  Even with the enormous population boost, there are pockets of quiet.  I know that I am in Tucson when I am smiling.