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!).


  1. Fun stuff! Yes, on the artichoke plants having prickly, stickery bits--in a massive way, in fact. They are rather architectural if you are thinking architectural in the sense of something that could be trained into a hedge around the sleeping princess's castle in order to keep the evil witches out. Or some such! Glad you got to the aquarium on an uncrowded day and you saw at least some of the monarchs at the sanctuary.... It's cooler than anyone could imagine to see them roosting like clumps of dead leaves on the trees.

    Hugs from Richard and me, Susan

  2. Wow - sounds like you're having an event - full trip. Love the seahorse-fish-dragon sketches. And your entertaining stories. You're missing clear & crisp here in Salida - altho they say we might have some snow in the next day or so.

    Keep on enjoying! - Lisa

  3. love your seahorse drawings :) they are such neat looking creatures

    it would be great to have that view of the water in my backyard. the sound alone of the water would be enough for me

  4. Hi Sherrie!
    I find it interesting that I am in Colorado and you are in California right now. I love the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Haven't been there in years! Wonderful sketches, btw.

  5. I am so enjoying your trip. Aquariums are one of my most favorite places. I have a seahore/dragon reduction linocut in the pipeline. You are inspiring me to move it up the priority list!

  6. Hey, Suz...Thanks for the 20-foot-high artichoke tip. We'll check it out the next time we venture south.

    Snow? I admit I am NOT missing it. In fact, Lisa, I'm getting worried that I'm going to be really grumpy when I have to go back to cold...

    Jennifer... perhaps a sea dragon is just a small version of Nessie?

    Karine... the irony didn't escape me, either. Hope the show goes well... it's Friday, isn't it?

    Wendy... argh! I'm jonesin' to get a lino started, but so far it's not in the cards here. I did bring a block, and we still have a week and a half to go, so mayyyybeee....

  7. Love those sea dragons! IN fact, the whole trip is fun.

  8. The aquarium's got both kinds ...

    Aren't they splendid creatures? The leafy sea dragon is Victoria's marine emblem. It was on the logo of one of the institutions I used to be involved with. We had several goes at getting the image right because looked uncannily like the Simpsons' dog Santa's Little Helper in extreme close up.

    Am thoroughly enjoying your adventures.