“Impulsively, I had bought a pocket-sized digital Canon the night before leaving San Francisco. . . . I quickly realized, the camera itself was my travel companion. It gave me a reason to leave the flat every day and search for pictures in parts of London I had never seen before.”
— Bill Hayes, Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me
Bill Haye’s comment about his camera being his travel companion resonated with me. I am generally at ease and motivated to wander without another companion while I am at home or on my travels, and I think it is because when I have camera on hand, I am paying more attention to what is around me, always looking for unusual sights, interesting patterns, or fresh perspectives on “ordinary” scenes. My mind and imagination are so preoccupied with looking and seeing, that I don’t miss company.
“In each place I have traveled, I have used my camera as an extension of my memory. The images are a tourist’s picture in this sense. But they also have an inquiry feeling to them and, in some cases, showed me more about the place than I might have seen otherwise.”
— Teju Cole, Blind Spot
My photos and subsequent blog posts serve as my trip journals and trigger my memories of the people and places I have visited. I always think I should pare down and travel lightly, and my camera and lens are bulky and weighty. So far, I’ve always decided to put up with the extra weight and I’m always glad I did after the fact. Still, those slender, light smart phones with camera that can fit in a pocket are very tempting. They take wondeful photos, too. But I end up sticking with what I know.
I try to embody that visitor’s sense of inquiry, curiosity, and attention in my normal life at home. As I move into the new year, I will try to take Mary Oliver’s advice below and make the time to “Tell about it,” that is, reflect and write more blog posts about my life.
“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention.
Be astonished. Tell about it.”
— Mary Oliver, from “Sometimes,” in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
Terns by Mary Oliver, from Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
Don’t think just now of the trudging forward of thought,
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.
It’s summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,
sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,
their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails.
The years to come — this is a promise —
will grant you ample time
to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.
But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deepest affinity between your eyes and the world.
The flock thickens
over the roiling, salt brightness. Listen,
maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,
but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,
but of pure submission. Tell me, what else
could beauty be for? And now the tide
is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,
gathering up the loose silver, rising
as if weightless. It isn’t instruction, or a parable.
It isn’t for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.
It’s only a nimble frolic
over the waves. And you find, for hours,
you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind.
I really cannot recommend highly enough the new book, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. Over and over, she writes so lyrically about recalling oneself to an attitude of attention to everything. Oliver says, “I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t admire” (from “Hum”).
Like Rilke, she finds profound truths in nature’s offerings:
“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”
— Mary Oliver, from “It Was Early”
“The line of breakers on the beach is a fantastic dissipation of long-accumulated power. It is the fall of kings.”
— Jonathan Raban, from “Waves” in Driving Home
I don’t remember ever learning about the Southern Ocean when I was in primary school. I remember the other oceans — the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean. According to NOAA’s Ocean Service, “The Southern Ocean is the ‘newest’ named ocean. It is recognized by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names as the body of water extending from the coast of Antarctica to the line of latitude at 60 degrees South. The boundaries of this ocean were proposed to the International Hydrographic Organization in 2000.”
Oceans were just a mental image to me until I was in college and I flew over the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. That was the first time I actually saw an ocean in person. I still get a thrill every time I experience time on an ocean beach. Oceans and the infinite waves lapping or pounding the shore evoke a sense of power, majesty, vastness and eternity. I like how Jonathan Raban describes this: ” . . . the crest of each wave poised for its downfall, is a universal symbol because it unites the extremities of human experience in a single continuous line.” And, “In the winter of life, the sea lulls and comforts. It has the look and sound of eternity without putting one through the troublesome formality of having to die first.”
It’s no wonder that I loved best the ocean stretches of Australia’s Great Ocean Walk. Here are a few more photos:
The highlight of my trip to Australia was a seven-day hiking experience along the Great Ocean Trail in Great Otway National Park. This is a 104-kilometer (65-mile) trail from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles on the rugged Southern Ocean coast. I had arranged a self-guided hike through Walk 91 — they took care of all meals, lodging, and daily transport to and from the trailheads.
Originally I had intended a thru-hike over all 104 kilometers. But my hiking partner was dealing with a respiratory infection, so my experience ended up being more of a sampling of shorter hikes all along the trail. Walk 91 staff accommodated our changes to the initial itinerary so that we could be outdoors hiking for several hours every day, but not do the longer full-day walks. This ended up being just perfect for me. And I didn’t feel short-changed in experiencing the scenic wonders of this part of Australia.
If I were ever to return to the Great Ocean Road, I would allow an extra day or two in Apollo Bay. I saw from the bus windows that it would be possible to walk for miles and miles along the shores and beaches of this large bay. You could easily do this from your hotel.
The first day’s hike on the Walk 91 itinerary was a short 5-mile hike from Shelly Beach back to our hotel in Apollo Bay. The trail passed along sandy beaches, pastures and farmland, bluffs, a caravan park, suburbs, and the Great Ocean Road (highway).
While the Great Ocean Walk does follow the rugged coastline of the Southern Ocean, long stretches of the walk are too far inland to afford views of the water. We hiked through coastal forests of gum trees and eucalyptus, and along bluffs of coastal scrub bushes that were too high to see over. The occasional breaks in the foliage gave out on amazing ocean vistas. And all of the trail’s beach stretches were our favorite parts of the Great Ocean Walk. And where we took the most photographs!
We stopped for a scone with Devonshire cream at the cafe opposite the Cape Otway Lighthouse. You couldn’t beat the setting for this afternoon break.
I knew I was in Australia when I saw koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and echidna in the wild — animals I had previously seen only in zoos or television documentaries.
These wildlife viewing opportunities came on a seven-day Great Ocean Walking tour that I had arranged through Walk 91. From Melbourne, we took a one-hour train ride to Geelong, and there we transferred to a bus for a 2-1/2 hour ride to Apollo Bay. Most of the bus ride followed the coast of the Southern Ocean — a very scenic and wild coast. For seven days, we hiked portions of the coast trail, the Great Ocean Walk, which is in the Great Otway National Park. And we stayed in several different accommodations along the way. Most of our Australian animal sightings were in the evenings or mornings by our accommodations.
We saw koalas in the trees near the Cape Otway Lighthouse area. Most often, the koalas were lethargic, sleeping or dozing on tree limbs. But in Bimbi Park, near our lodging, we saw a couple of more active koalas. We watched one climb down a tree, jump to another one, fall down, and then run to another tree, which it climbed to safety. So I got some good, up-close photos.
Koalas are marsupials, mammals that carry their developing young in pouches. Kangaroos and wallabies are also marsupials. We saw both. The wallabies looked like kangaroos to us, but they were darker and heftier.
The wallabies seemed curious, and stood and stared at us for a while. The kangaroos we saw, however, seemed much more wary. We saw them only from a distance as they grazed in a meadow at sunrise near the place we were staying. They took off as soon as they spotted us. I was surprised at how high they could jump!
Another of Australia’s unusual animals is the echidna. It is sometimes called a spiny anteater. It is just one of two egg-laying mammals (the other is the platypus). I saw one along the hiking trail between Station Beach and the Cape Otway Lighthouse.
One day we took the train on a day-trip out of the city to Brighton Beach. This sandy strip of beach is on Port Phillip Bay, about an hour from Melbourne. We disembarked at Middle Brighton Rail Station and then walked to the shore from there.
Our destination was the row of colorful bathing boxes along Brighton Beach. These historic “tiny houses” were featured images in many tourist recommendations for Melbourne. They are basic structures — no electricity or running water — used by their owners as places to change clothes or get out of the sun on a day at the beach.
All of the research I did before traveling to Melbourne included its street art as one of the top things to see and explore. What Melbourne calls street art, I might have called graffiti. But instead of illicit spray-painted words and drawings, this street art has been sanctioned by the city. The tourist offices even have a map showing the locations of some of the best examples, usually in little alleys and lanes in the Central Business District.
I enjoyed the vibrancy of color in these out-of-the-way alleys. I wished I would have stumbled across an artist at work, but that was not to be. Here are some photos from my wanderings around Melbourne in search of street art:
I recently returned from Australia — my first time ever on this continent. My posts over the next few days will recount my impressions of this land, or at least the relatively small piece I visited. I flew into Melbourne and traveled only in the state of Victoria.
During my first few days in Australia, I felt oddly comfortable. After journeying 7,920 air miles from Los Angeles, crossing the international date line, and setting foot in the Southern hemisphere where it was no longer winter, but spring, I had expected to feel more displaced — like I was in a foreign country. And yet everything was feeling almost too familiar. I didn’t even experience jet lag.
Part of the easy transition was due, I suspect, to our common English language. Signs and conversations were in my own language. There was none of the disorientation that comes from making your way without the solid foundation of listening and reading for understanding.
Melbourne is at about the same latitude in the Southern hemisphere as San Francisco is in the North. So the weather was also similar to the Pacific Northwest — gray skies, rain showers, and temperatures moderated by nearness to a large body of water. Melbourne is situated on a large bay off the Southern Ocean; my city of Seattle is on the Puget Sound off the Pacific Ocean.
I was struck by how the terrain around Melbourne was so very flat. Seattle is hilly and surrounded by mountains. Both cities have a youthful, urban vibe. Melbourne did not seem as diverse as Seattle. I saw few blacks, although Asians and Indians were represented in the crowds. The place felt “white” to me.
And, I suppose, I immediately felt comfortable in a city where a coffee culture thrives! Melbourne has as many, or more, small coffee shops as Seattle. People here seem to take the time to sit down and enjoy their coffee break on the premises. I did see some people with take-away cups, but far more were experiencing their caffeine, not on the run, but with relaxed enjoyment. I noticed that the typical coffee drink was a modest 8-ounce cup, not the oversized grande and vente sizes we are accustomed to in the States. And the coffee was always exquisitely prepared and very good.
Melbourne has several large Farmers’ Markets, which are actually bigger than Seattle’s Pike Place Market. The one closest to our apartment was the Queen Victoria Market. It was a vibrant, colorful place.
And like any well-loved city, Melbourne has lovely parks and green spaces. In general, I was not expecting Australia to be so green.
“All cities are one city. What is interesting to find, in this continuity of cities, the less obvious differences in texture: the signs, the markings, the assemblages, the things hiding in plain site in each cityscape or landscape: the way streetlights and traffic signs vary, the most common fonts, the slight variations in building codes, the fleeting ads, the way walls are painted, the noticeable shifts in the range of hues the people wear, the color of human absence, the balance of industrial product versus what has been made by hand, greater or lesser degrees of finish, the visual melody of infrastructure as it interacts with terrain: wall, roof, plant, wire, gutter: what is everywhere but is everywhere slightly different.”
— Teju Cole, Blind Spot
There were “little” things that delighted me with their difference from my normal life in Seattle. Enough so that, yes, I knew I was in a foreign country after all.
It was always disorienting to see vehicles traveling on the “wrong” side of the road. I never got used to this. I made sure to check three and four times before stepping off any curb to cross the street. The bus and tram stops were always on the side of the street I would not have chosen intuitively. On crowded sidewalks with people moving in both directions, you moved to the left instead of the right. I basically had to repeatedly tell myself to just do the opposite of what my body wanted to do. I would have been a peril behind the wheel of a car (I didn’t even attempt to rent a car and drive).
I loved seeing young students in school uniforms, which felt like a carryover from past times. (In Seattle, most schools have moved away from requiring uniforms.) These students appeared to be in middle school, and the uniforms definitely made visible how they seemed to travel in packs in the city.
Melbourne’s many small, individually owned restaurants and coffee shops felt very European to me. I love the diversity of choices and ambience that these small storefronts offer. We stumbled across one small restaurant, Issus, in an alley-like street off Flinders Street, and we liked it so much that we ate there three times! The food was delicious. And while prices seemed a tad high, we did not pay sales tax or tip, so there were no hidden costs.
There was one thing on my “to-Do” list for Australia, and that was to taste vegemite. Now this was one food disappointment for me. It must be an acquired taste. I’d heard that vegemite was as ubiquitous in Australia as peanut butter is in the United States. Perhaps if you grow up eating vegemite as a kid, you could get used to it. It’s taste is hard to describe — yeasty, perhaps?
Another thing I noticed in Australia is the ever-present electric tea pot for heating water for tea or coffee. It brings water to a boil extremely quickly. In fact, I liked these electric pots so much I decided that when I returned home, I would buy one for myself. (Right now I use a conventional tea pot on the stovetop to heat water for my coffee.) The electric sockets in Australia all have a turn off-on switch for each outlet. I’m not sure if this saves electricity, or if it is a safety measure? Another one of those little differences that Teju Cole talks about in the quote above.
Melbourne has a wonderful transportation infrastructure with trains, trams, and buses. I wish more cities in the United States did public transportation as well. In Melbourne, all trams are free in the Central business district. They also have a free Circle Tram, the No. 35, whose audio narrative points out historical and tourist sights in the city. What a convenient way to move about the city.
The city of Melbourne also offers free wifi in the city center. I appreciated that, too! When traveling, I am always on the lookout for reliable wifi. I noticed that the State Library of Victoria, which also offers free wifi, was packed with patrons using their laptops.
I found the people of Melbourne to be friendly and helpful. I looked like a tourist with my camera slung around my neck, so at street corners or on trams, people would occasionally strike up a conversation. The invariably asked, “Are you Canadian or American?” I was impressed with their sensitivity to their Canadian cousins, who might be offended (especially in today’s political climate) by the assumption that every English-speaking person from the Northern hemisphere is from the United States.
All in all, my first impressions of Melbourne and Australia were very favorable. I’m glad I had the opportunity to travel there, at least this once in my life.
I still had miles to go across Washington State when the sun set on the final night of my road trip. I was in eastern Washington, the dry side of my state. I was in a hurry to get home after a 3-week absence, but I still had to stop several times to photograph this amazing sunset — the Grand Finale to my long road trip across the Western United States.
Here is the perfect poem for the end of my journey, which included an island adventure and pleasures along the road:
Ithaka by C. P. Cavafy
translated by Edmund Keeley
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
After the Mallard Island art residency and a couple of days visiting with siblings, it was time to return home to Seattle. Work would soon be beckoning again. Mentally, I was also feeling the end of my vacation and I was ready to go back.
I planned virtually no sightseeing or painting stops for my return road trip, and I so I plotted the quickest possible route on I-94 and I-90. No more moseying along country roads. I tried not to get ahead of myself and wish the journey over, but to simply flow moment by moment, staying open to the scenery along the freeways and taking breaks as needed.
About 35 miles from the Minnesota/North Dakota border, I saw a large flock of blackbirds rise in mass from some trees along the road. I pulled over to the side of the freeway (possibly an illegal move, but there was very little traffic) to enjoy the sight. I had always wanted to see a murmuration of starlings, and wishful thinking made me hope my dream was being realized. My birding experts (my brother and sister-in-law) said that this flock was more likely to be blackbirds, which also migrate in huge flocks. I love the mystery of any mass movement of animals, and I enjoyed my moments of being amazed on the side of I-94 about an hour into my return journey.
I drove straight across North Dakota with stops only for gas and bathroom breaks. I had driven I-94 eastward on my road trip, so this was familiar landscape. I had planned to stop for the day at the North Dakota/Montana border, but it was just late afternoon, so I decided to press on.
I drove from sun up to sun down, plus a bit more. After 755 miles, I had made it to the end of I-94 and the start of I-90 near Billings. Gosh, Montana is a huge state! I pulled into a rest stop and slept in the car.
I woke a bit before sunrise on Day 2 of my return journey, and I immediately hit the road. As day dawned, I could already see how hazy the atmosphere was. The haze from the summer’s wildfires never really dissipated for the rest of the drive back. It made for reddish sunrises and sunsets.
The landscape along I-90 in Montana was much hillier than along Hwy 2 to the north. More grazing land; fewer wheat or other fields.
I stopped in the little town of Three Forks and stretched my legs by strolling the small-town Main Street. I stepped into the historic Sacagawea Hotel , with its beautiful lobby and front porch lined with rocking chairs. I saw a wild deer near a pond and meadow as I was leaving town.
I finally made it across Montana. (The 80 mph speed limit helped eat up the miles!) From there, driving the narrow panhandle of Idaho was a snap. By early evening, I was in my home state of Washington.
I didn’t really want to drive after dark, but I was now anxious to get home. The 300 miles of I-90 crossing Washington State was a familiar jaunt, so I didn’t mind missing the scenery in the dark. I took a long break for supper and a stop at the Ritzville Library. Then I began the final leg of my journey home.
The last sunset was a spectacular Grand Finale. Even though I was in a hurry to get home, I kept stopping along the freeway exits to photograph the changing sky. (I will post some of those sunset photos in tomorrow’s blog post.) At long last, I walked across my doorstep at 10:30 p.m. I had driven 786 miles in one day. After a marathon two days of driving almost nonstop, my journey was over.