The Journey and the Destination, Both

Sunset, Pacific coast at Manzanita, OR

The Oregon coast is a superb destination for some rest and relaxation.  I could have easily spent hours just on the long beach over the dunes from our yurt at Nehalem Bay State Park.  I think that I sometimes collect bits of driftwood, stones, shells, etc. so that I can hang on to those beautiful beach experiences.  But as Emerson says below, you cannot freeze time and beauty by grasping:

“The delicate shells lay on the shore;
The bubbles of the latest wave
Fresh pearls to their enamel gave;
And the bellowing of the savage sea
Greeted their safe escape to me.
I wiped away the weeds and foam,
I fetched my sea-born treasures home;
But the poor, unsightly, noisome things
Had left their beauty on the shore,
With the sun, and the sand, and the wild uproar.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Each and All”
Oregon coast nearing sunset

You cannot keep and package a sunset, for example.  A photograph attempts this, but in truth, things like sunsets can only be appreciated in the moment.  And isn’t it wonderful to know that the Universe will offer many, many more glorious sunsets so that you really have no need to try to preserve any particular one?

There is a lesson here, I’m sure, about trying to cling to the good things that come our way.  But we must be ready to let them go and return to a state of openness and receptivity to the next things — good and bad — that come our way.

Hug Point, Oregon coast
Watercolor sketch, Hug Point

Too soon our departure day arrived.  We left Nehalem Bay early Sunday morning so that we could have a leisurely drive back to Seattle.  We had time to follow our whims when we saw something picturesque or interesting from the road.  Our first stop was a picnic breakfast at Hug Point — bread, brie, hard boiled eggs, bacon, tomatoes and coffee.  It was our final walk on the ocean beach for a while.

Astoria Sunday Market

We stopped in Astoria to wander the stalls of the Sunday Market.

Poplar tree tunnel
Watercolor sketch of tree tunnel

We took a short detour off Hwy 30 so that I could photograph these rows of poplar trees.  I loved the natural “doorway” created by the tree tunnels.

Wildflowers along Hwy 30 in Oregon
Lupine and daisies along I-5
Watercolor sketch of roadside wildflowers

I thought the wild flowers growing along the roads and in ditches were also quite beautiful. I am lucky that my husband is a willing travel companion who lets me explore unexpected nooks and crannies. Those turnings taken on impulse really help to make a memorable journey.


Camping on the Oregon Coast

Nehalem Bay Beach on the Oregon Coast

My husband and I spent last weekend on mini-vacation camping on the Oregon Coast.  Two other couples that we know camped in the same Loop A at the Nehalem Bay Beach Campground, an Oregon State Park.  We took turns making dinner in the evenings, shared bicycles and camp fires, and watched a couple of sunsets together.  This was the perfect start to our summer.

Bicycling on one of the trails at Nehalem Bay State Park
My husband and I stayed in this yurt.
Watercolor sketches, camping on the Oregon coast
These are shore pines, or coast pines — lots of them in our campground

I love the wildness of the Oregon coast.  There are some touristy towns, but many, many more miles of undeveloped beaches.  From our beach over the dunes from our yurt, we could walk about three miles south to a jetty that marked the entrance to Nehalem Bay.  Or we could walk north a mile or more to the small town of Manzanita.  Our steps were accompanied by the sound of the surf and waves — eternal, awesome.

Walking south toward the jetty
Nehalem Bay State Park is also a horse campground.

The ocean beaches are full of “sea-born treasures.”  I have written before about the irresistible appeal of beach combing, filling my pockets with nature’s charms.  This trip was no exception.

Our beach sojourn was a lovely respite, but I could have stayed much longer.  Sometimes it takes a few unscheduled days to get into the flow of a vacation and benefit from those timeless hours.  I would have liked to spend more time drawing and painting.

Monday morning, back in the city, I woke to the distant sound of freeway traffic.  For just a moment, I pretended I was hearing the sound of the ocean surf.

May’s Book Covers from Favorite Books

The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World by Brian Doyle

One of my favorite reads from May celebrates the art of storytelling. The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World by Brian Doyle is a novel told through the voice of Robert Louis Stevenson while he was a struggling writer in San Francisco in 1879-80.  During that time Stevenson was waiting for his betrothed’s divorce to come through so that she would be free to marry him.   Stevenson lived in Mrs. Carson’s boardinghouse at 608 Bush Street. These real-life facts are the starting points for Doyle’s novel.

Doyle heard about a novel that Stevenson contemplated but apparently never wrote, which was to be entitled Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World:  “. . . ever since I read about this unwritten book of Stevenson’s, many years ago, I have dreamed about writing it for him.”

In Doyle’s novel,  Stevenson takes breaks from long days of writing by relaxing in the companionship of Mrs. Carson’s husband, John.  Stevenson says, “I with great pleasure and mounting amazement pry an endless series of stories from Mrs Carson’s husband John, who has been all over the world in various ships, and has had adventures of every conceivable sort, in dense jungles and remote islands and terrible battlefields, and, he says, in blazing deserts and dripping forests and under the sea . . .”

And Mr. Carson is a gifted storyteller who transports his listeners with his words alone — something quite inspiring to an aspiring writer like Stevenson.  “So it was that I began to marvel not just at Mr Carson’s tumultuous adventures, but at the man himself, and at the subtle currents of his heart; and I began to wonder if he was not very consciously and deliberately choosing particular chapters of his life to tell, in order to tell me other things, perhaps — about the nature and power of stories, about how decisions not only reflect but create character, about how stories actually shape our lives; could it be that the words we choose to have resident in our mouths act as a sort of mysterious food, and soak down into our blood and bones, and form that which we wish to be?”

This is an adventure story (Mr Carson’s tales) and an ode to the joys and power of telling stories.  “. . . I reveled . . . that a man could tell a tale so riveting that time and space fell away altogether, so that when the story paused or ended, the listener — or the reader! — would be snapped awake as if from the most delicious dream, and would have to shake himself or herself for a few minutes, as you shake away the bright fading threads of dreams.”

“There is a story in everything, and every being, and every moment, were we alert to catch it, were we ready with our tender nets; indeed there are a hundred, a thousand stories, uncountable stories, could they only be lured out and appreciated; and more and more now I realize that what I thought was a skill only for authors and pastors and doctors and dream-diviners is the greatest of all human skills, the one that allows us into the heart and soul and deepest layers of our companions on the brief sunlit road between great dark wildernesses.  We are here to witness, to apprehend, to see and hear, to plumb, with patience and humility, the shy stories of others; and in some cases, like mine, then shape and share them; so that they might sometimes, like inky arrows, sink into the depths of other men and women and children, and cause pleasure, or empathy, or a short of delicious pain, as you realize that someone somewhere else, even perhaps a long time ago, felt just as you did.”  The vice of Stevenson goes on to say, “Stories, among their many virtues, are messages from friends you did not know you had; and while you may well never meet the friend, you feel the better, with one more companion by your side, than you thought you knew.”

This book made me want to re-read Stevenson’s classics:  Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Jekyll and Hyde, and A Child’s Garden of Verses.


Irises as the Doorway into Thanks

Skagit Valley, May morning
Skagit Valley

This week I spent one morning painting in my friend Kitty’s iris garden on Samish Island.  The drive there took me past the farms of the Skagit Valley, one of the most beautiful agricultural landscapes I know.  The views out my car window were amazing enough, but then I arrived at Kitty’s house.  The irises were blooming in a profusion of colors and frills.  Wow.

Kitty’s iris beds, Samish Island

These maroon and gold irises are called “Ancient Echoes.” They are the colors of Buddhist robes. And the team colors of the University of Minnesota’s golden Gophers!

Several women friends dropped in for the painting session.  A fun day of art and conversation.  We all appreciated Kitty’s hospitality and were thankful to be able to experience Nature’s exuberance in this special garden.

My watercolor paintings inspired by the irises in Kitty’s garden. The blue ones are Siberian irises, “Silver Edge.”

by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Home Again: The Predictability of a Place

Ink drawings of lilacs
Vase of cut lilacs

We returned Seattle to find the lilacs in full bloom, filling the air with their gentle floral scent. We are home again.

Why do we travel?  There are many good and valid reasons.  We just returned from spending a rather whirlwind two weeks as tourists in Texas.  It was good fun to look with curiosity at new places, but vacationing like this just scratches the surface.  One of the reasons I travel like this, from time to time, is to make memories with my husband or family and friends.

For true understanding, for deeper experiences and connection to new places, we would have to travel differently.  I am not sure how to do this, but I yearn to learn.  Perhaps in retirement, with more time, we can figure out how to travel better, not just as onlookers.

In the meantime, it helps to practice by living more thoughtfully at home.

“It just may be that the most radical act we can commit is to stay home.  What does that mean to finally commit to a place, to a people, to a community?

It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it does mean you can live with patience, because you’re not going to go away.  It also means commitment to bear witness, and engaging in ‘casserole diplomacy’ by sharing food among neighbors, by playing with the children and mending feuds and caring for the sick.  These kinds of commitment are real.   They are tangible.  They are not esoteric or idealistic, but rooted in the bedrock existence of where we choose to maintain our lives.

That way we can begin to know the predictability of a place.  We anticipate a species long before we see them.  We can chart the changes, because we have a memory of cycles and seasons, we gain a capacity for both pleasure and pain, and we find the strength within ourselves and each other to hold these lives.

That’s my definition of family.  And that’s my definition of love.”
— Terry Tempest Williams

Texas Trip Notes: Mustang and North Padre Islands

Colorful homes, Port Aransas

We spent our final two nights of our Texas vacation at Port Aransas  on Mustang Island, another of the area’s barrier islands.  Our hotel was just three blocks from the Gulf-side beach.

Mustang and North Padre Islands struck us as being less touristy than South Padre Island.  Much of North Padre Island is a National Seashore.  We had planned a full day to drive 60 miles up this island, but little did we know that the pavement ended after about five miles, and the remaining “road” into North Padre Island National Seashore was beach driving.  Well, we did not feel comfortable driving our rental car on the beach, especially since the water was already quite high.  So we did not see as much of this “wild” island as I had wished.

Gulf-side beach, North Padre Island

Black-bellied plover

Back in Port Aransas, we watched the sunset from the tower at the Leona Turnbull Birding Center.

Leona Turnbull Birding Center
Great-tailed grackle, Leona Turnbull Birding Center

On our final night in Texas, clouds came.  It was time to go home to Seattle.

Evening at the fishing pier in Port Aransas


Texas Trip Notes: The Rio Grande Valley and South Padre Island

Kiosk selling water and ice — a great idea in hot West Texas

We drove one long day from Fort Davis to Laredo, and then the following day arrived at the Gulf coast.  On the way we stopped at the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge for some birding, but it was just not the same on our own without our expert birding companions.  This part of Texas is known for its excellent bird-watching opportunities, as it is a popular flyway for migratory species.

Great Kiskadee, Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge
That’s Mexico, a bucolic view across the Rio Grande from the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

My husband and I both enjoy being by water, so we were happy to spend a night on South Padre Island, one of Texas’s long barrier islands.  It was a touristy place, we thought, but the endlessly incoming waves on the long Gulf shore gave Nature precedence.

Gulf shore, South Padre Island

Feeding the gulls
Laughing gull (we don’t see these black-headed gulls in Seattle!)
Once we left the tourist strip, the road emptied. Sand encroached.
Pelicans, always in a group

South Padre Island also has a birding center, but we looked for birds instead along the boardwalks and grounds of the island’s convention center.  We saw black-bellied whistling ducks, buntings, red-breasted grosbeaks, yellow warblers and prairie warblers, spoonbills, the ubiquitous great-tailed grackles, and others.

Prairie warbler

We viewed the sunset from the Intracoastal Waterway side of the island.

Another great day.




Texas Trip Notes: Stargazing at McDonald Observatory

“I am stardust, comets, nebulae and galaxies.  I am trees and wind and stone.  I am space.  I am emptiness and wholeness at the same time.”
— Richard Wagamese, Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations

View from Hwy 17 between Marfa and Fort Davis

Before parting ways with my brother and sister-in-law, we spent one more evening together in Fort Davis.  We had tickets to the McDonald Observatory’s Twilight Program and Star Party.

One of the best things about our time in Big Bend country was the clarity of the night sky.  I can’t remember ever seeing so many stars.  And in the dead of night, we could see the Milky Way.  So I was looking forward to viewing some heavenly objects through the big telescopes at McDonald Observatory.

McDonald Observatory telescopes

We were crossing our fingers when we arrived at the Observatory, worried that our Star Party might be cancelled due to clouds that  had moved in.  But we were lucky.  There was a window of clearing overhead when darkness arrived, and we had the opportunity to look in three different telescopes before the clouds brought an end to the party.  We saw a spiral galaxy, Jupiter with four of its moons, and the lunar surface.

I wish I knew how to take photos of the night sky to share with you.  Here is one I found on the internet: