Monday, December 28, 2009

Getting ready for the new year....

Well! We had a holiday weekend a tad more eventful than expected. Christmas day, in the middle of rinsing off the 23-pound turkey (the last one at the grocery store!), the drains in this 100-plus-year-old house decided to stop draining.

Great. Juuuuuuust great.

We wrangled the turkey in to the oven and then spent the next 4 hours doing everything we could think of to clear the line... and doing a lot of cleaning up when nothing worked. The kitchen drain is on the same line with the upstairs bathroom and the laundry room... you can imagine the mess. Thankfully the downstairs bathroom is on a different line, so we weren't completely out of commission. And the turkey turned out great.

Saturday we called in the big guns... and got another mess for our efforts. It took a while to scrub everything down and wrestle everything back in to place, but I am pleased to report that we seem to be functional again.

So how did I celebrate the rest of the weekend? Gutting the file cabinets, of course! And taking a long-neglected walk along the river with my sweetie.

Sum total of studio closet space. It ain't pretty.

This week I'm focusing on making myself more efficient and productive in the new year. I'm lucky to have an entire room dedicated to work space, but in this same 100-plus-year-old house with the dicey plumbing there is a serious shortage of storage space. My tiny studio closet is stuffed to the brim, and every time I want to work on something new or move art around for an exhibition I have to practically empty the entire thing to get to what I need. I also have supplies and art in boxes and bins under tables and on top of tables and on top of cabinets all around the work space. NOT efficient.

It's not a space that leaves me a whole lot of options... it's a big room, but not very flexible. (One long wall is broken up by two doors and a wall heater, for example.) I'm not sure what the solution is, but this week I'm planning to take the time to at least try to reorganize. The hardest part for me about reorganizing is that I don't deal with clutter very well for very long, which is why I purged book cases last week and files this weekend. Make a mess, clean it up in the same day. The closet is a bigger (read: more than one day) matter... but I know I'll feel better when it's over.

I also know I'll feel better because in between the chaos I intend to keep space open to carve on new linocuts. It's been waaaay too long.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A little light on the longest night

It's my favorite night of the year.... the winter solstice. Not so much because I love winter, but because (as most of us, I expect) I don't so much like the dark. Many years ago I banished the whole "new year's resolution" fiasco and starting taking some quiet time on the solstice to review the past year and make goals for the one ahead. Often I shared this day with a friend, and we declared goals aloud over lunch or a fire or a soak in a hot spring.

It can be difficult to take time out for the solstice, coming as it does just a few days before Christmas, but it's time I take for me and that's important.

In recent years we've spent solstice eve in the happy chaos of a big party at the home of friends Susan and Richard. We eat, drink and make merry, and light over a hundred luminarias on the walkway around their house. It's always a festive occasion and Susan and Richard are generous and enthusiastic hosts. They take time for we... and that's important, too.

This year, however, Richard and Susan aren't home. They're up in Denver, where Richard is in the midst of radiation and chemotherapy treatments for brain cancer. Other friends are absent, too... sickness, loss... chronic pain... it's been quite an overwhelming year and a bit of a dark time.

But this is a town full of sparkling people... dark night or no. Earlier this week Susan sent a gentle request, asking readers of her blog to light the darkness wherever they are. A simple request that in the hands of this community spread... well... like wildfire. Those of us who have previously shared the yearly ritual met at Richard and Susan's home this afternoon. We set the luminarias, as always, along the sidewalk and up to their door.

And then.... groups broke off to set luminarias at other homes throughout our town where a little extra light might go a long way.

This evening David and I lit farolitas of our own, and then walked the few blocks back to Richard and Susan's. There we joined a circle of friends sending wishes for light and love and wholeness to friends and family and, indeed, all beings on earth.

The I Street luminarias with a bit of Christmas Mountain rising above.

In the days since David and I returned from our Big Adventure I've done nothing but run around like a crazy woman. I've had contract deadlines to meet and a Christmas Bird Count to organize and all the other madness that goes with this time of year. My friends are away and going through amazing challenges. Have I been cranky? More than a little. I've been caught inside my head and my obligations and my worries, barely even aware of the presence of the Darling Man. I'm sure you know what I mean.

Tonight our community took some time out for we. We filled bags with sand and candles, we laughed and joked and carried on. We thought of our friends. We held hands.

...and on our steps.

Lucky for me it's the longest night of the year. That means I still have time to sit down with David, to declare the goals we wrote while we were away. There's still time to put away the work and the worry and fill the dark night with light. There's still time to hold hands.

Better go get out some more candles.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is it over already?

One month ago today, we loaded up the Crusier and headed west. This morning I am back in front of my iMac, laughing as I fumble with actions that in November were mindless, but which now are a little stiff from want of practice. The sun is rising, and I am looking out the window at a pale blue sky and snow-covered ground. Toto, we are not on the coast anymore.

I had mixed feelings about coming home. Travel isn't just fun, it's imperative, I think. Different landscapes, different cultures.... getting a taste of what seems normal and natural for people in other places. Watching other people relate to their home places can be delightful and disillusioning, and it certainly made me think a lot about how I relate to mine. I thought often of how long it takes for people to become oblivious to their usual surroundings. When do people get "too busy" to hear the sound of waves, or note the rise and fall of a river? When do mountains and cliffs become just a backdrop or grasslands become just a surface? When does it all become just a playground or real estate?

And what if we never noticed any of it in the first place? I grew up in a suburb that was once shortgrass prairie, but never, in all my school years there, did anyone ever point that out to me. The prairie was just something early settlers crossed to get to the good stuff. (So despite groaning at school buses in the parking lot at Natural Bridges beach on our tidepool morning, I was pleased that kids were discovering the wonder of their home place.)

Definitely not the coast.

We discovered things about the Santa Cruz area that we loved, and things that made us feel so lucky to live in Salida. By covering the spaces in between by car, we have a stronger sense of what lies along one path between us and the Pacific.

Yesterday, as we made our last push for home, I lamented the things I didn't get done, the big internal changes that I hoped to make that still needed more time. David reminded me this adventure will continue to shape our lives in ways that we haven't yet imagined.

Suddenly I am thinking of a favorite line from Tolkien: "It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step on to the path, and if you don't mind your feet there's no telling where you'll be swept off to."

We're home now... but I'm going to keep stepping out the door. This morning's path seems to lead to the post office to collect the mail, but after that? There's no telling.

Last light in Utah, last night on the road.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Proof of incomplete slackerdom

Okay... I can see that I need to get home and get back to work so I have linos to post here. My Googlejuice is suffering mightily!

As forecast, it IS raining... so yesterday I went to the Seymour Center to draw fish and anemones in tanks. I got to stick my fingers in with the anemones... they liked me, they really liked me! That is, if one can judge one's anemononal social status on how firmly they cling to one's appendages.

As proof that I have not been the complete slacker my recent travelogue would suggest I offer some sketches...

Blue rockfish and leopard shark, Seymour Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab

Tube anemones, ditto location

Giant green anemone, Natural Bridges State Beach

View of coast redwoods out the back door, Soquel.

Sorry you don't have the entire details page, too... I don't have much with me in the way of photo editing software, so I didn't mess around with shooting both sides and blah blah blah.

Two days left until departure. We made a hotel reservation for Monday night, so I guess it's official: We're going home soon. Mixed feelings all around.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Highway 1: We practically own it by now.

Sanderlings and beach wanderers, Seacrest Beach, Soquel

I'll bet you thought we fell in to the sea and were swept away by this time, huh?

The Big Adventure is winding down... we have only 4 days before we head for home. (Although, given the current weather between here and there, the adventure may be amping up when we pull out of the Soquel driveway for the last time.)

Believe it or not, it got cold here this week... nights below freezing and days hovering around 50F. At home 50 degrees would feel like spring, but here we've a damp wind and it can be pretty darn uncomfortable. HOWEVER.. it's been below zero at home, so we are absolutely not complaining.

A new concept of "bird bath." Seacrest Beach pier.

So let's see... where have we been... what have we done? 1) Everywhere. 2) Paltry little drawing, but plenty o' gawping. When we last left our heroes, they were headed to the Saturday Farmer's Market in Aptos. Truly delightful for multiple reasons. Okay... for one reason with multiple facets: diverse vendors! Available? A wide variety of veggies and fruits (we bought blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries), fish, dates, nuts, and scads of flowers. All KINDS of flowers. In December. I was most chagrined to find some beautiful potted orchids for only $3 each... if I could have figured out how to get them home without mishap, I would have loaded up the Cruiser. Still... I missed our little market at home in Salida. June seems so very far away....

From there we scouted antique shops (meeting a few novel-worthy characters along the way) and then went down to wander about Capitola Village. (Shops, restaurants, beach, wharf, funny multi-colored hotel... the "usual" tourist fare.) It was a big day.

Sunday I felt a need to catch up on writing, so we set ourselves up with tea and a table at a bookstore in Santa Cruz. Afterwards we strolled downtown and had the most decadent cup of hot chocolate at Marini's. You know you're in trouble when they perch a chunk of fudge on the edge of the cup like a lemon wedge. (They also sell chocolate-covered bacon, but that's another story entirely.)

On Monday we stayed close to home and spent the day looking at goals and plans for the new year. AKA: Reality check. Ooph. There's gonna be some serious settling down to art- and music-making in 2010!

Are you still with me? By now we must be up to Tuesday. AKA: Big Highway 1 Day.

California 1 runs 655 miles along the Pacific coast from somewhere south of Los Angeles to somewhere north of San Francisco. We've actually spent a lot of time on short sections of it, because Highway 1 is just a few blocks from where we are staying. You have to love road directions that are the same for places like Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur: Get on Highway 1 and go south until you get there.

I'm not sure I have words to describe this drive... although I will say that the DM and I simultaneously had the same thought: We sure were glad his long-time Cleveland self had a year-and-a-half of Colorado mountain driving experience! It's not a scary road, just winding and full of distracting scenery- each curve revealing dramatic new vistas. Once again, though, we scored by being here in December. Yeah, it's a little cold and gray from time to time... but traffic was negligible. It was easy to pull over every time one of us said, "OOOH, stop!"

We kept looking for gray whales, which should be in the area just now, but without practiced "sea eyes" we didn't find any. We DID see a huge group of sea lions hauled out on a beach far below us, their barking, quarreling voices got our attention before the tiny, distant shapes of their bodies.

At one stop we enlisted the help of two young men with heavy packs and a dog who were hiking down the highway. They were 15 miles from their next water stop and already dry, so the DM emptied his water bottle into theirs and we asked for a photo in return. The designated photographer kept backing up until I wondered if we would be in the shot at all. Ah well, WE know it's us.

By the time we reached Lucia we were famished, and stopped at the only open restaurant for miles. You know where this part of the story is going, right? Can you say $21 for fish and chips? Live and learn. Next time we'll pack peanut butter sandwiches.

On the way back we enjoyed a stop at the dramatic Hawthorne Gallery, where Kathleen was kind enough to let me "play" in the jewelry displays and to hang out on the deck with us looking for whales. (It was a quiet afternoon for her, too.) We also stopped in Carmel, which was loaded with galleries exhibiting a disturbingly saccharine repertoire. There were a few artists whose work really stood out (I quite liked the graphic nature of some oil paintings by Gregory Stocks, for example), but otherwise the scene seemed unchanged from one gallery to the next. And not. One. Printmaker.

This morning we were beat, and ready to stay home and record some music (the DM) and make some drawings (me). But the weather forecast for the next few days calls for rain and today dawned clear(ish) and cold, so we squeezed in one more day trip. We went north on Highway 1 this time, just a few miles through Santa Cruz to Natural Bridges State Beach. I wanted tide pools.

There used to be another natural bridge, but it washed away and left a gap.
The visitor center here has some great photos illustrating how this formation has changed since 1900.

There was an ominous sign at the gate stating that the seas were rough and to stay out of the water. The first moments on the rock ledges were pretty nervous-making for me. Huge, crashing waves and slippery algae made me feel jittery, as if I'd had way too much caffeine, but after a while I got used to the (erratic) rhythm and things dried out just a tad. The best pools were, of COURSE, closest to the edge.

We never found any crabs or sea stars, but we did see plenty of periwinkles and limpets and barnacles and tiny crawly things. And anemones!... including this "giant green anemone." (Of course that's its "real" name, what else would you call it?)

Did I mention the sea was rough? That the sign at the gate said not to get in the water? You might be able to guess, then, that the place was littered with surfers...

Since we have no experience of wave riding, we've spent a fair amount of time watching surfers and trying to imagine their understanding of sea and swell. We've decided we're pretty much clueless. But today, as we sat on the ledge watching surfers try to work the heaving, wild water, we were joined by a young man with a camera and an ukulele. It turned out he was a sidelined surfer ("blown-out knee"), keeping track of the action both onshore and off. One query from us about about reading the waves, and he enthusiastically explained why Santa Cruz was so famous for surfing (the orientation of its shore to the prevailing wind and waves), why the waves broke where they did (offshore reefs), why the swells were so epic today (big storm leaving Hawai'i and headed this way). He also gave us a great tip about other places to access this chunk of shore, more tide pools, and the Seymour Center at the Long Marine Lab (UCSC). Would that we had met him days ago! Still, we went over and checked out the lab campus, and the Seymour Center looks like a great place to hang out with a sketchbook if it really is raining the next few days.

If only my arms were long enough to make self-picture taking a little less goofy.
On the cliff behind the Seymour Center.

Whew! I think that brings us more or less up to date. Already I feel my attention tugged back towards home... torn between the feeling that there's still so much to see and do before we head back to the Rockies, and the knowledge that obligations and adventures await us there, too.

From Tuesday's road notes:

Travel is for discovering paths that are windier* than your own.

(* More winding.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Leafy Sea Dragon Video, Take... Three?

Hey! I think it worked this time! Here are the groovy little leafy sea dragons at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I'll see if I can't convince the DM to do something with the jellies videos, too. :)

Ambient soundtrack provided by the Aquarium. Squawking kid included.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lions and dragons and artichokes, oh my!

Are these sea lions on the wharf at Santa Cruz, or post-Thanksgiving gluttons digesting their meals? Given the barking and groaning, one might guess the latter.

Zoooom! This trip is flashing past at an alarming rate. Crazy to think we left home two weeks ago... in The Way of Trips, it seems both ages ago and only yesterday.

We spent the Thanksgiving holiday near Auburn (north of Sacramento), visiting friends and seeing yet another view of this massive state. We did all the usual Thanksgiving rituals: too much food, driving in traffic, and even watching football. (Although I couldn't tell you who we watched or how the game was. Watching sports always puts me to sleep.)

On the way home we got OFF the interstate and wandered some back roads through farm country and over the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. Much more our style! I do love being the navigator, and not just because I hate driving in traffic. I love maps... love looking at them, figuring out where we are, deciding where to go, and then discovering all the things about the route that a map doesn't show us. Artichokes, for example. In my mind I knew that they were in the thistle family, but I never imagined what acres of huge, cultivated thistle plants might look like until we drove past some yesterday. I wish we could have stopped to take a closer look because now I have lots of questions. (Such as, do these big, cultivated plants have the same array of thorny, stickery bits as wild thistle?)

We spent Sunday at "home" in Soquel, venturing out only to the grocery store. Ahhhhhh!

But YESTERDAY. Yesterday I hypothesized that the Monday after a 4-day holiday might be a good day to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Probably no school groups on field trips. Probably not many families, as they've just spent the last 4 days together and are probably sick of each other. So off we went.

The view from the Aquarium's back deck... not bad, eh?

I am delighted to report that, YES! It was blissfully un-busy! By mid-day things had picked up, but never really got obnoxious. Delightful!

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been on my list of places to go for ages, and I wasn't disappointed. "The Secret Lives of Seahorses" exhibit alone is worth the trip... and the DM could have spent all day mesmerized by the jellies.

I didn't take a lot of time to draw (I could have settled in there for days), but I did get some sketches done of the The Most. Fun. Things. to Draw. Ever.

Leafy and Weedy Sea Dragons
! Bizarre, otherworldly, and yet somehow completely plausible. A fish that looks like a horse that looks like a dragon that looks like a plant? Why the heck not, I say?

Talk about fun to draw! Always moving, always changing... I had to stop and focus on one thing at a time: shape of head, undulating shape of body, locations of appendages, shape of appendages. In this Leafy Sea Dragon I only drew HALF of the "leafy" appendages. Each is paired along the length of the critter, but I ran out of time and brain cells to stay with it. As I work on this post I am trying to upload some video that we took... but Blogger isn't cooperating very well. I may have to try again later.

Adjacent to the Aquarium is a pedestrian/bicycle trail that runs along the coast through Monterey and Pacific Grove. Just a couple of blocks down from the Aquarium we found these interesting rocks.

Oh, wait! Those aren't rocks! They are harbor seals. Cool.

Another five minutes down the road is the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary, a tiny patch of woods behind houses, a motel, and a school, that is winter home to migrating monarch butterflies. This was supposed to be the peak of their arrival, but the docent on duty said they didn't have nearly as many this year and they didn't know why. (Climate change, anyone?) Typically they have as many as 25,000 butterflies. We saw maybe a thousand. But like all living things, butterflies are unpredictable. Maybe there are a lot fewer, and maybe they're just hanging out somewhere that no one has identified yet. Maybe both. It's the sort of question that keeps scientists employed, I'd say!

Late afternoon light meant the clusters were mostly backlit and hard to photograph, but it was fun to stand there and watch as new little clusters formed to wait out the night. In this rather pathetic shot, there is a cluster sort of in the light in the upper left. The large dark mass below is a cluster, and to the right, about midway down, another cluster. Really! Look hard.

It was a full and wonderful day... we even wandered through the tiny Pacific Grove Farmers Market... open all day on a Monday? Strawberries are in here, and there was a fellow from Santa Cruz selling fresh seafood, but I missed our market at home. June seems so far away....

After 2 attempts and more than 30 minutes, Blogger still hasn't uploaded my sea dragon video, so I'll have to consult my technology guru (the DM) and see if I need to do something else. Right now that same technology guy is upstairs making hungry noises, so it must be time for lunch. Better go before he starts gnawing on chair legs (or eats all the lunch and doesn't leave any for me!).

Linocut in Progress: The Third Act

Time to wrap up this linocut ! And we are wrapping at warp speed (see what I did there?)... because there are deadlines. Exhibition deadline...