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Friday, August 24, 2012

My Tahoe Home

Coyote Ridge house 2005

It has become traditional for me to end my California days in Lake Tahoe with my in-laws. It is the real vacation - reading, going to the lake, cooking, watching television (their penchant and my summer vice) and, this summer, keeping our eyes out for the eagle. We are not sure if it is a golden or a young bald eagle but it is beautiful as it soars across the meadow below us hunting. Just now, I have been watching it as it roosts at the top of a snag. It does not move - I try to not even blink. I wonder if I can mentally call it through the waves of energy between us. "You are beautiful. Please fly my way." It is not listening.

We have had warm days here, in the 80's, but always a breeze. I wear leggings in the evenings and wore a fleece vest at 3:30 this morning when I drove Katy to the airport shuttle for Reno. Now I cannot say that I spent my entire summer in California as I took her to Harrah's at Stateline and will return to Nevada Beach this afternoon to visit with friends of Ellen and Don that I have know since Bill and I lived in Bishop in the late 70's. That is when Ellen and Don got married. Bill and I played at their wedding on the deck of Ellen's house that she had built up in the woods in 1976.  In 2007 the Angora Ridge fire took it out in a huge blast along with many other houses and the forest that they nestled in. We all felt the loss as if it was our home, too, which it sort of was. So many visits over the years with growing girls. This past week I have been making an album of the girls' history here at Coyote Ridge. It starts with Margaret at age one from a smattering of photos that have been scanned and ends with Katy and Margaret here this week visiting. I believe it is the first time we have been here together since 2003, although Bill could not make it this year.

Baby Margaret and Aunt Ellen

We have been missing Bill's mom, who lived at Tahoe in her later years. I sit in her chair, we water her plants. She died in 2008, one year after the fire. The combination of those events took a toll on Ellen, but she put all of her energy into rebuilding on the same site, renting a house across the way in the interim.  Bill and I, together or singly, the girls, came to visit when we could.  Bill and I came  together to see his mom earlier in the last summer and I returned to help with hospice after attending my Aunt Zella's 90th birthday party in Crescent City. Soon after Grandma died, Zella had a fall and died that afternoon.  2008... a heavy summer of loss.

Four years later, our hearts are lighter and we are comfortable in the new house. It had been designed before Grandma died with the intention that she would live there, so now I stay in "Grandma's wing." I look out on Angora Ridge and the burned out treeline but, each year, I see more green, more flowers, more new trees. Losing the pines was particularly hard and the landscape seemed harsh in the beginning but Ellen is a gardener, an artful landscaper, and slowly our environment becomes serene.                                                                                                                             
                                    This House
view from my room
This house
  hasn't felt the family spirits
  hasn't listened to our dreams
  hasn't smelled the seet aroma of our lives
This house
  is still boards and glass and timbers
  is still a blueprint taking shape
  is still waiting for the family ties that bind
This house doesn't know
  that it's a child of another
  and that memories still linger all around
This house is innocent
  of the history and the trauma
  and the fears that what was lost cannot be found
Bless this house that we are building

Bless this land where we return

Bless this family as we travel through the changing seasons of our lives.

                                                                                       J Gilmore    2008

Now comes my difficult transition. I long to stay out West. I wish that I was already home. If I could only squeeze these places together. I love Tahoe in the winter and I love Crescent City in the rain and I would like to see the Central Coast in the fall. Instead, I will smile upon the Chesapeake and the Blue Ridge and praise the universe for my huge life that encompasses so much.

Don and Ellen, 1044 Coyote Ridge reborn


Monday, August 13, 2012

The Seven States of California

Woody Island, Crescent City, CA

     Since my last posts, I have migrated to the far northern border of California, Del Norte County. What a contrast from the beaches of Laguna or Santa Barbara. Somewhere during my trip I read the obituary of Philip L. Fradkin, a journalist who wrote extensively about California. I was intrigued and picked up a copy of  The Seven States of California when I was in Chaucer's Books, one of the few really great bookstores left in southern California (Santa Barbara). It was great reading for my train trip to Oakland when I transitioned to Northern California last week (more on that later). Fradkin calls his book a natural and human history and he divides the state into seven distinctly different areas, three of which I have visited this summer so far and I will drive through three more before I end the journey . It's a very large and diverse state.
      Right now I am in what Fradkin labels "The Land of Water." Uh, yeah. Fog and ocean definitely define my hometown of Crescent City. I believe it averages at least 75" per year of rain and this year it may have been higher. I know that the river is high right now and that a lot of good beaches at the swimming holes are under water. A friend out in Gasquet, 20 miles from town, diligently recorded the daily rainfall at her home for many years and the average out there was 100".  That's what the redwoods love! In the summer the rain turns to mist and it hugs the coastline, especially when it's hot over in the valley.  When my trip began in LA on July 10th, I started reading the Crescent City weather report every day .  The highest temperature recorded was 63 and the average was 61. I knew that meant fog most of the time. Sunny, southern weather was feeling pretty nice.

  Here is a recap of my trip since I was dropped off in Santa Barbara by my daughter on July 23rd. I stayed with friends in SB for 3 nights. Walked to the harbor on the beach, attended some master classes at a music academy, visited with old friends.  I also visited in Santa Ynez and Lompoc. In all , I was in the area for almost 10 days and so enjoyed having the time to take all of the back roads and trying out some local restaurants. It's all about wine around there but I did manage to try an interesting offering from Lagunitas called Lucky 13. It only comes in quarts so keep your eye out. This is a part of California I love:  the beer coolers.

Surf, CA - Amtrak stop for the Surfliner
 On July 30th, I took an Amtrak line called the Surfliner from Surf, CA (10 miles west of Lompoc) to San Luis Obispo and then changed to the Coast Starliner to Oakland.  It was a long ride but so lovely.  Incredible scenery, first along the coast and then heading inland by Paso Robles and up through the Salinas Valley. I ate in the dining car as it got dark and we were going by some kind of tidal water way south in the bay.  It was late at night when I arrived at the Oakland-Jack London station but the hotel I had booked was only two blocks away.  The next morning Oakland was overcast, but that had been the pattern everywhere on my trip so far, even Santa Ynez, and it did get nice and warm in the afternoon.  I took BART out to Pleasanton, through the savannah hills to the east, and visited cousins.  On Wednesday I picked up my rental car in the afternoon and headed north to Sonoma to visit with another cousin.  My goodness, I seem to have family all over the state these days. The Sonoma wine country is one of my favorite "cousin" visitation spots. Did I say Pinot Noir?

Russian River at Healdsburg, CA
I left Sonoma in the morning, heading for Humboldt County, what my cousin told me would take him four hours.  First, I had to find coffee. Then, I stopped to visit a friend at his workplace on the north edge of Santa Rosa.  It was an old HP site that had been built on an old ranch.  Quite lovely. After that, it was lunchtime and I drove into Healdsburg, a place I do not remember visiting before.  I am usually on a mission to get home at that point on Hwy 101. At this point it has been five hours since I left my cousin and I've made it about 60 miles.  The weather was so fine, one of the warmest days of my trip so far and I just didn't want to leave that warm sun. So, I called up The Benbow Inn, near Garberville,  and booked a room. Luxury awaited me two hours up the road.  That was the most spontaneous and rash decision I have made this summer but it was well worth it.

fork of the Eel River near Garberville, CA
 As soon as I checked in, I got into my suit and found the path to the Eel River.   Oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes! Cold, clear, envigorating ... I did laps up and down the far side where it was deep.  I lounged on a sandy bank admiring an old bridge while I listened to the Hwy 101 traffic on the new bridge in back of me. I think it had been 90 degrees that afternoon and it felt perfect. I later enjoyed a dinner on the terrace and the views from my third floor corner room windows which included redwoods over the river and the hotel courtyard. Cool breezes caressed me to sleep.

I did not check out the next morning until noon, soaking up the sun on the balcony with coffee and paper and then practicing in my room.  And it was still sunny all the way into Eureka but you could see the fog bank hovering out on the horizon.  I picked up my sister-in-law, who lives on the south side of town, and told her it would be foggy when I brought her back from lunch and I was right.  I put on a jacket, rolled up the windows and drove north. I got to my cousin's near Trinidad very late afternoon. What would take my cousin 4 hours, took me about 20 but it was so worth it. Since that afternoon, I have only experienced one day when it was sunny at dawn but each day the fog burns a little earlier and the sun feels a little warmer.  20 miles inland on the Smith River it is really starting to warm up and I have been swimming four afternoons in a row.  Tomorrow I head east to The Land of Fire and am expecting 100 degree temperatures.

To get back to the Fradkin's book, The Seven States of California, I started in the Profligate Province (LA and surrounding desert);  took a train to The Fractured Province (central coast San Luis Obispo to Point Reyes); drove up to The Land of Water and tomorrow start my journey through The Land of Fire (Shasta, Lassen) to The Sierra (Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Mammoth Lakes) via The Great Valley (Redding to Bakersfield) That's six out of seven.  I will save The Deserts (Death Valley, Barstow, Palm Springs) for a winter vacation.

Trinidad Cove

Monday, August 6, 2012

In the Middle of California

Santa Barbara towards the harbor

     So much debate has gone on as to Santa Barbara's geographical position in California. As a North Coast native, I had nothing but scorn for those that would label SB "northern" California, but if you go by population, the San Diego-LA megalopolis definitely shoves SB northward.  It seems to be popular convention these days to call it the "central coast."  That's where I spent 10 wonderful days at the end of July. I was so glad that Maggie could drive me up Hwy 1 from Santa Monica because she had never been in the central coast area before.  It's big wine country, of course, but also has such scenic beauty.  

La Super Rica tacqueria in Santa Barbara

We slogged our way through the traffic of Santa Monica, Malibu and Ventura but had some choice views of the coast in between which made it worth it.  In Santa Barbara we managed to find La Super Rica, a taco stand that was a fave of Julia Childs. The line was out the door but it was worth the wait for both the tacos and the tamales. 

We then drove north on Hwy 1 to Lompoc where we had a motel with a pool that would take dogs because, of course, Roscoe the circus dog was along for the ride. Lompoc gets a bad rap from everyone in surrounding towns. It's not chi-chi like Los Olivos or Los Alamos, it doesn't have the tourist offerings of Solvang, but it does have cheap motels.  However, it's either foggy or windy most of the time so it was a good thing that our pool was overheated because we used it like a hot tub against the cold wind.

     Our evening dinner was in Los Olivos, a very famous wine village since the movie Sideways came out.  We were meeting up with a wonderful friend from Santa Ynez who enjoys visiting with my daughter. Mattei's Tavern is a famous restaurant in an old stage inn that has recently closed for hotel renovations so they opened up a little place near the flag pole (those were our directions to find it) in what originally was a hardware and shoe store so they kept the name - Sides Hardware &Shoes.  Quite wonderful, very crowded, we sat at the bar and enjoyed every morsel. 

     On Sunday, Maggie, Roscoe and I explored the Spanish Mission La Purisma Concepcion which is between Buellton and Lompoc in an agricultural valley that is fast becoming a wine zone - the St Rita Hills area. The mission is tucked into some hills and has a large tract of land that is great for hiking and horseback riding. The buildings were entirely reconstructed by the CCC during Roosevelt's administration and it was a really interesting place to visit.

La Purisma Concepcion

 Sadly, Maggie had to return to Santa Monica and classes at UCLA but we did manage to have a nice morning drive with breakfast in Solvang, a Danish tourist town which I happen to know has an really fine Farmer's Market during the week.  We then drove over San Marcos Pass to Santa Barbara. It was an especially clear day and Lake Cachuma looked spectacular.

Lake Cachuma on San Marcos Pass

I had a great weekend exploring the central coast with Maggie and was sorry to see her drive away from my next stop - Santa Barbara. I will save the next week's adventures for another post.


     Have to say, I was also sorry to say goodbye to Roscoe.  I think we will meet up again later in the summer at Lake Tahoe.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Back in Santa Monica

        Wow! My next to last post was also from Santa Monica but it was Thanksgiving. I guess I was just too busy all winter planning my next summer trip which began last Tuesday when I flew from DC to LAX.  Yes, it's true, I am not driving across this summer and I do miss my car, my cooler, my camping equipment and being able to carry two ukuleles and all the books I desire.
           My itinerary is for 7 weeks in California (although I may sneak up to Eugene, OR for a few days) and the upside of not driving is that I can stay for longer periods of time in one spot. The first stop was Santa Monica, of course, to see my daughter. I used Air B&B to rent a room in a woman's apartment in Venice and that worked out really well.  I could walk to the beach, there were great coffee shops and a very snazzy Whole Foods nearby(with a bar in the middle of it) plus, I could easily catch an express bus over to Santa Monica.  I'm sorry that I did not take pictures of all of the RV's that are parked in the neighborhoods of Venice or of the colorful residents carrying their surfboards around. It is definitely a scene and I was so out of place with no tattoos. Santa Monica is a bit more refined and I did take a shot of the tree-lined street near Maggie's apartment. Rows of trees like this are all over SoCal and I find them fascinating.
           My first outing had been planned for months - the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer's Market - and I walked there from Venice along the beach. Because it was an overcast day, the beach was relatively empty but there were a lot of people using the bike path which goes a long way in both directions from Venice. Bike rental shops are everywhere.
           I am a big fan of Good Food, a radio show from KCRW in Santa Monica, and I listen to their podcasts usually during Monday dinnertime.   The show always starts with a review of the Farmer's Market and interviews with farmers and chefs so I knew what was going to be available but I was still totally overwhelmed with the bounteous offerings. I could only buy what I could carry back to Venice on the bus and some of it had to provide dinner that evening at Maggie's apartment - which is not an ideal kitchen. I came away with beets, chard, peaches, baby artichokes (purple and green) and apricots, some of which I shared with my hostess, Sofia. Her apartment complex is very typical of SoCal; mostly 2-story stuccos with private courtyards filled with succulents and flowering shrubs. Maggie added rice and lamb skewers to our meal and it was delicious.  Maggie actually volunteers at KCRW and she gave me a tour on Friday morning. Boy, do they have a lot of CD's and vinyl. Maggie is involved with archiving the vinyl to UCLA.

 Willy, my sweet, music-loving husband, grew up in SoCal and attended a lot of events at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. I was in luck that Ian Whitcomb was performing there while I was in town. He had a novelty hit in 1965 entitled You Really Turn Me On. Over the years, Ian has become an expert on all things ukulele, especially music of the 20's. What was great about his gig at McCabe's was that the audience was invited to bring their ukes and play along.  Maggie very gracefully came along with me and she thought it was hilarious. The bonus was that I came away with several pieces of sheet music, mostly of songs that Ian has written such as Ukuleles On the March and Have A Martini. Ian Whitcomb has a weekly radio show that you can podcast through iTunes covering a wide range of popular music from Django to the Stones (he opened for them in '65).

I am now in Laguna Niguel at my nephew's home.  It has become traditional for me to meet my sister here but she became ill just before I flew out and just arrived home from the hospital yesterday.  We are all missing her very much. Simone and Dylan are her grandchildren and they are entertaining me wonderfully. We swim in their pool every day and sometimes go to the ocean, too. Today we are going to see the new Pixar movie - Brave. We also walk their corgie - Sammy - down to a small lake below their house. It is suburban Orange County in all of its glory and conservativeness. You should read the local paper! But, not to worry - Obama is way ahead out here in the West. Bill keeps me informed as to the latest Mitt goofiness. Is there really a movie coming out - Mutt Romney, the Dog?

Here's Maggie with Simone and Dylan. She drove me down on Saturday and spent the day with us. I will take the Pacific Surfliner (Amtrak) back to LA tomorrow morning. It runs from San Diego to San Luis Obispo. I have rented another room through Air B&B which is even closer to Maggie's apartment plus there is a pool in the complex.

Here are some links:    Good Food, KCRW

       Ian Whitcomb's 1965 hit  You Really Turn Me On

     Ian Whitcomb's podcasts

Farewell for now.