Tag Archives: California

Weekly Photo Challenge: Motion

25 Apr

When I saw the theme of this week’s photo challenge–Motion–I immediately thought of this photo of a bird in silhouette, at just the moment it was taking flight. I happened upon the bird unexpectedly and managed to take only one photo before it flew off. I’m still not sure what type of bird it even was. But I like that this photo captures that split second before the bird became airborne.

Landscapes from a Moving Car, Part II: California

19 Mar

One nice thing about road trips is that along scenic stretches, a car is a mobile room with a view. But when a long day of driving is on the agenda, it’s hard to stop and admire every lovely landscape. So I put my camera on Sports/Action mode, aim it through the window as we are whizzing by, and hope some of the resulting photos turn out. (Of course, I only do this when I am a passenger, not the driver…).  Here are some shots from a recent road trip from Northern to Southern California, and back.

Old farm buildings near Gilroy

Foggy morning landscape near Gilroy

Mountain landscape with wildflowers near Gilroy

Plowed earth near Monterey                     Mountain and clouds near Grapevine

Red barn building near Castroville

Northern California sunset

Postcard from San Diego: Sunsets and Pelicans

3 Feb

What is it about watching the sun set? The jewel-like colors in the sky? The feeling of being witness to that day’s curtain call? Or is it that magical feeling that comes from watching that last flash of light as the sun dips below the horizon–that blink-and-you might-miss-it moment? For me, it’s all three.

A National Geographic article on the science of sunsets says the sun sometimes appears as if it is raging against the dying of the light, but for me, the sun’s final act of the day is a moment of utter silence and absolute peace. If I can capture even a fraction of that with my camera, I feel lucky. On a recent evening on the pier at Ocean Beach in San Diego, I felt doubly lucky when I came across two brown pelicans, who, like the sun, were also calling it a night.


Vibrating Whiskers, or Finding One’s Way

23 Aug

The pier in Santa Cruz, California is a favorite sunbathing spot for sea lions.  Up close, you can identify the marine mammals by their ear flaps, which seals lack. But, like seals, they have whiskers. The sea lion below has a particularly fine set; even Hercule Poirot would be envious. Sea lions use their smooth and rotating whiskers to sense what’s around them. The whiskers, called vibrissae, pick up vibrations in the water or air, and are immensely useful when the sea lion is looking for food or is trying to avoid being food. Essentially, whiskers help sea lions find their way through the undercurrents of life.

Our youngest child is now in college. Looking back on 24 years of child rearing and looking ahead to a new modus vivendi, I, too, am envious of a sea lion’s whiskers.


Landscapes from a Moving Car

17 Aug

It’s been a while since my last post, due to a wedding (our oldest son’s–we are delighted to welcome a lovely daughter-in-law to our family), a two-week road trip across the country, and some college prep (our youngest heads off next week to start her college adventure). So this post will be brief–just a glance at some of the sights we saw in Northern California, Oregon, Washington state, and Montana, which I shot through the car window while my husband was at the wheel.

Northern California                                                 Oregon, near Klamath






Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana


Weekly Photo Challenge: Between

24 Jun

Sunset at San Clemente Pier, California–a brief moment between day and night. Photo taken through train window–a transparent barrier between photographer and scene.

Bay Area 5: Stanford and Palo Alto

27 Aug

During the final leg of my week-long stay in California, I greatly enjoyed a couple days at Stanford University, which I had never visited before. I was given an hours-long bicycle tour by a fantastic tour guide, and pretty rapidly determined that it is a gorgeous campus:



But, buildings aside, there was another surprise awaiting me:  the Arizona Cactus Garden, which is on campus. Turns out it is a hidden treasure–one that not many Stanford students even know exists because it is in a more secluded area, hidden behind a grove of trees. When we arrived, we had the garden to ourselves, with only the occasional lizard and woodpecker to distract our attention from the cacti.

The final treat was a stop in Palo Alto at the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden, a lovely oasis full of gorgeous flowers. It was truly a memorable visit.

Bay Area 3: UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley

30 Jul

What is it about botanical gardens or other large, planned gardens that makes them magical places? The kind of place where you can wander in relative silence, revel in the beauty of plants that you have never seen before (or even ones you have seen, though now viewed in a different light), where you can stop and sit on a bench in a hidden spot to soak it all in, or even read, or think? Who designed the spaces, mapped out what types of plants would be featured where, and planned the spots that would lure people and bees and butterflies and birds? They, and the current-day keepers of those gardens, are magicians.

If not already obvious, I love wandering in those kinds of gardens. I like everything about them: the flora, the fauna, the paths and stairs and benches and arches and bridges and streams. The University of California Botanical Garden has many of those features, and is a veritable outdoor museum. It is home to collections of plants from nine major geographic regions around the world, including a large area devoted to California–a biodiversity hotspot that contains more than 40 percent of the world’s plant species. To all this, add special collections including orchids, ferns, cycads, palms, roses, and herbs.

A plant lover could spend days roaming the 34 acres. I only had 5 hours, but I made the best of it; I signed up for a 1.5-hour tour that was being offered (Secret Paths of the Garden), which got me off to a great start via paths less traveled, and then I spent the remaining time wandering to my heart’s content. It really was a magical day.

Here are some of my favorite photos (and plants) from the Garden:

Manzanita Tree Bark

Dudleya Pulverulenta (Chalk Lettuce, Chalk Liveforever)

Encephalartos arenarius (Alexandria cycad)

Opuntia Kuehnrichiana                               Opuntia microdasys (Polka-dot cactus)

Bay Area 2: Fruit and Vegetable Envy

25 Jul

While in Berkeley,  I was able to spend a lovely day with long-time family friends, and admire (ok, envy) their garden. It is a productive one–full of fruit trees and tomatoes and other vegetables–with not a rampaging dog in sight. The fruit trees–apple, fig, pear, persimmon, and plum–were all bearing fruit or on the verge of doing so, and the tomatoes were glistening. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, the birds were chirping–and everything I saw appeared jewel like. The contrast to my own garden was stark: the sun shines here, too, but the air is hot and thick, the neighborhood birds chirp only when the dogs are inside, I have no fruit trees, and my tomatoes have run wild (along with the zucchini plants–after just one week away, I came back to discover that two finger-sized zucchinis I had left behind were suddenly longer and thicker than my forearm–or anyone else’s forearm for that matter). Sigh.

But back to our friends’ garden. The photos below are of Satsuma plums, Seckel pears, and Sungold cherry tomatoes. This year was the first bearing year for the Satsuma plums, so jam making is on hold until next year when there is more of a crop. But how our friends will manage to set aside any plums for jam making is beyond me–I’d barely be able to get the plums from the tree to the kitchen without eating all of them. Perhaps when there are many, many plums to be had, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and people find the willpower to think longer term….

Satsuma plums

The Seckel pears also looked gorgeous, though I did not taste one since they were not quite ready to be picked. Last year was the first bearing year for the pears, so our friends ate what they harvested, gave some away, and did not have any left to store. This year, they will have a bumper crop and are trying to come up with a plan for what to do with them. Canning suggestions? Recommended pear recipes? We usually just eat them as they are or cut them into a fruit salad drizzled with a light honey-lime syrup. (Now that I think of it, I haven’t made that in a while; it would be perfect for a summer weekend brunch.) But I’d be happy to expand my pear repertoire if any suggestions come in.

Seckel pears

The Sungold cherry tomatoes really caught my eye. With multiple orbs of various colors (from green to gold to deep orange) hanging on each vine, they looked like garlands. There were also some Principe Borghese tomatoes in the garden, though I didn’t get a good photo. Those tomatoes are destined for sun drying — by pulling up the whole plant at the end of the season and hanging it upside down to dry in the sun. Our friend has not tried this before, but is counting down the days until she can conduct this natural experiment.  I’m counting down, too, since I’d like to know how that experiment works. My own non-cherry tomatoes have exploded (did I mention the 90+degree weather?), but my plants are not nearly as neat and tidy as their Berkeley counterparts because I didn’t know what I was doing when I planted them. The stakes I put in are not nearly tall enough, the space the tomatoes are in is too crowded (and there are roses there, too–a very bad idea of mine since thorns make tomato harvesting a tricky proposition). But, I may still try to sun dry some of the Romas, if I can get my act together and build a black box with glass lid in which to put them. Our neighbor in Australia did this every summer, and it worked like a charm.

Sungold cherry tomatoes

Until then, I will live vicariously through our friends, and wonder whether I can squeeze in a Satsuma plum tree somewhere in my own garden….

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh

22 Jul

This week’s theme is “fresh”– perfect for the dog days of summer we are experiencing here on the East Coast of the United States, a time of year when even the dogs don’t want to be outside.

When I think of “fresh,” I tend to think of water in some form or another: morning dew, mountain-fed streams, that spot in an ocean or lake that signals greater depth — a crisp cucumber, chilled watermelon, iced tea, and sorbet.

But to see the pure joy of freshness in motion, nothing quite beats the spray of water from a fountain. The droplets are momentarily suspended in the sun, sparkling with bits of color and beating a staccato on the surface of the water before gravity exerts its final pull.