Sunrise_Moonset1smSunrise on Abbotts Lagoon as the full moon sets on the Pacific horizon.

Alarm goes off at 6am and we grudgingly rise, step outside and check for overcast. Stars punctuate the deep indigo sky so we dress and drive north to Abbotts Lagoon to hustle the long trail to the beach. Full moon hangs brilliant in the western sky and we chase it fast in the dark as it approaches a copse of clouds lingering on the horizon. Greg asks, “What type of birds are these?” I stop and reply “What birds, where?” He points at our feet. I stare and let my eyes adjust to the dark. Right before us on the mud path, in silent cascade, song sparrows skittle and skirt in stunning numbers. We are disturbing their breakfast scavenge, the first of dawn surprises. We can hear the crash of waves long before we reach the dunes as the moon sinks behind the low border of clouds. “Oh we’ve lost it,” Greg exclaims. “Not really,” I assure him as light and color slowly fill the firmament: to the East the golden blaze of sun rises above the bluff while in the West the rose-tinged wash of setting full moon sinks into the arc of ocean waves. We stand transfixed in composing as sun creeps above the eastern hills and moon pales beneath the western horizon. Colors ebb and expand in opposite directions for the full moonset-sunrise aglow in 180-degree splendor. Grebes glide in silent silhouette on the estuary tidal flow as crows and turkey vultures ride the current overhead. A great blue heron poised in hunting at the edge of the marshgrass and then a flock of common redpolls in winter migration rest along the barbed wire fence,…all accompany us silently moving into the day as we walk back along the rutted path in morning venture.

full moon rising

FullMoonSFWolf Moon rising along Highway 1 with San Francisco in the distance

According to Algonquin traditions of naming lunar cycles through the year, the first moon of the season is the Wolf Moon, inspired by wolf packs that often howled along the perimeter of villages in the deep snows of midwinter. As we drive up the winding crest of Lucas Valley Road to the Cabin, the Wolf Moon rises over the Marin Headlands as the orange glow of cloud-cover blankets the lights of San Francisco in the distance. Stars speckle the sky as Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn rise in planetary alignment for the first time in a decade. We can only see stars on the side of the road this evening, but we plan to get up before dawn tomorrow morning to try and compose the reverse of the image below: the full moon setting over the Pacific as the sun rises over Abbotts Lagoon. How I count my lucky stars that I found this gloriously geeky husband who relishes along with me the notion of rising pre-dawn and hunting the full moonset-sunrise show.

cycles of ending and beginning

NatGeo_CoverFull moonrise above Abbotts Lagoon as the sun sets over the Pacific.

Reading Annie Dillard’s book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek allowed my lifelong fascination with nature to rise to the surface. She reminded me as an adult that I should keep looking around to notice the simple and essential beauty in the environment. As a child I was connected to those cycles – I stalked frogs along the edge of my grandmother’s pond for hours. Once caught and admired for their glorious mottled beauty, I would let them go and stalk the next. When I balked at the silent figure of a garter snake hiding among her roses, Alvina Pritchard taught me that even snakes are good citizens of any garden, principal players in the balancing act of life and death. I remember the moment that I realized when there is a full moon, the sun sets as the full moon rises, then as the sun rises, the full moon sets, once a month – equidistant in their dance around our orb. I was walking the dog before sunrise, husband and four children sleeping on a sub zero morning, snow crunching beneath my boots. I did a double take as the sun rose in the east – there was another sun in the west! How could that be? It is a dazzling phenomenon that plays out once a month, yet we creatures of the interior have forgotten fundamental nature cycles. I now delight when the moon is full to catch this show. Best seat ever was this particular evening along Abbotts Lagoon in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Greg and I had hiked the dunes to watch the sunset on the Pacific and suddenly we turned to see the porcelain beauty of the rising full moon draped in a ribbon of clouds spectrum-dyed across the horizon. Full moon sunset is the most magnificent example of the connectedness of endings and beginnings on the planet. These are the moments at which I utter a prayer of thanks to the programmers who designed the cellphone pano feature, allowing me to stitch one of my best compositions ever – because I was there to see the show. Front row seats for the grand ending and small beginnings on the dunes of Abbotts Lagoon Beach.

my corner of paradise

1_TomalesBayView  across Tomales Bay from Inverness near the wreck of the ship  Point Reyes.

I have learned what it means to support someone’s dream, and I have benefitted from manifesting the sweetness of its fruit. Every place we ever traveled my husband would be so enamored by the beauty of that particular place he would declare, “We should buy a place here!” Washington State, Amsterdam, the Yucatan Peninsula, Australia,…each place so rich in beauty that he wanted to reside there. Initially I scoffed at such a foolish notion. We were ordinary people, not affluent enough to be vacation homeowners. I held a limited notion that since we owned a home, we should be content with what we had, not aspire for more. Dreams have a way of highlighting aspirations. Dreams can also be a test of relationship. One Memorial Day weekend I finally shifted the way that I held down his dream, and stepped gently into support and admiration. That change made all the difference in manifesting the dream, and literally overnight. As we passed a realty sandwich board in Point Reyes Station on a Sunday, he uttered his usual wish. In the pouring rain I walked over and picked up the real estate listing because I knew it would make his day. I wrote my name down on the realtor’s clipboard and assured her that we were not serious buyers, just looky-lous. On Tuesday she emailed me a listing for a quaint “teardown.” Within two months we renovated rather than tore it down and affectionately call it “The Cabin.” An hour north of San Francisco, along Tomales Bay, we now live in The Point Reyes National Seashore. Such a magical place! Every time we drive along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, I reach over and touch his arm and thank him for his dream. As I do this, I reach inside myself and appreciate what it means to stand for someone’s dreams,…especially my own.

reflections on paradise

1_canal_2Summer Sunset Along the Bikepath on the Erie Canal in Pittsford, New York

I grew up along the Erie Canal in Rochester, New York. One sweet spot of nature-meets-manmade for beauty. As kids in elementary school, we chanted the folk song “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal,” written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen as mules, then motors pulled the weight of early commerce along the waterways. I grew up a few blocks from the Rochester Museum and Science Center, and spent weekends marveling at the Erie Canal Diorama on the 3rd floor, tiny figurines skating along the frozen sections passing through downtown. Eventually I raised my children along the Genesee River and it’s intersecting passages of the Erie Canal cutting along the boundaries of our Genesee Valley Park neighborhood in the 19th Ward. When I returned to Rochester for my son’s wedding in 2006, I took my husband to Schoen Place in Pittsford and rented a tandem bike from The Towpath Bike Shop to show off this piece of local pride. After our ride I composed this image of sunset on the canal. In Photoshop I mirrored the image and it serves as my classroom laptop screensaver. My students often comment on it and I continue to share the beauty of where I come from,… as it inspires me to constantly survey the beauty in which I live.

sky high…beginnings

In January of 2015 Marshall Davis Jones came to speak with my high school Photography classes after the tragic death of one of our students to suicide. Palo Alto has the misfortune of being in a “suicide cluster” for the 15 years I’ve taught there: a tragic perspective framed by Atlantic Monthly 12/2015. Marshall Davis Jones offered a poignant insight. Why? It’s Personal. Walking around my classroom he chanted words of meaning – framed perspectives that truly touched our hearts by sharing insights on things we all shared; technology, relationship, hardship.

Sadly, my own history includes the painful loss of my oldest son from a suicide in 1996. Recently my oldest daughter lamented, this year marks the fact that he is lost to us for more years than we cherished him in our lives. Ryan Brendan Barry was only 19 when depression and it’s pull took him far too soon from us. After hearing Marshall Davis Jones weave his magic of words and creative expression, I went home and wrote my first slam poem. Framing how creativity has buoyed me through trauma and tragedy throughout my life, sky high has become a way of seeing, a way of life for me. I have created this blog to practice the ART of living and learning – sky high. THIS is what it means 4U2B sky high:

Sky High

I took a train to Toronto,
First time alone, rounding Lake Ontario
A three-hour ride to visit my sister –
Ten years older and a suave city mystery.
I was just 16 tryin’ to find my way
Standing tall and ready to play
She toured me ‘round art galleries all day.
Paintings on those walls truly touched my soul
Reaching for belonging was my deepest goal.
She offered me some weed
But I said there was no need.
She called me a square.
My breath stopped – gasping air.
Oooh! That cut me hard
Into my heart a disapproving shard.

But I knew she didn’t know me
Not a square – not a square
But a Rectangle – the shape of
A canvas
The page of a book
Piece of paper for writing
Viewfinder of a camera.
Lookin’ to the landscape
That was my escape
From beatings by drunken father
Pressure of college prep alma mater –
Give me a paintbrush
A pencil or a pen
Shutterbutton click
To express all that’s been
The grief and the rage
The joy and confusion
I AM a rectangle
Of creative infusion!

Then many years later
Mother of a boy fated
To burn through his time
Put a torch to his life
And left us only grief –
THAT cut me the deepest
The square became a hole…
Years to climb up from despair
With no frame to help me care
Until I grasped for the landscape –
The rectangle of sky
To answer pointless question – Why?
Sitting Friday evenings weeping
My grasp of life was seeping
Out the windows of my car at Grizzly Peak
Staring into sunsets over bay cities beneath.
The rectangle of canvas pulled me back to desire
Blue swirls of sky – a sunset on fire
I no longer need escape – but expression of a life:
The grief, the joy, the wonder
Even with his choice a blunder.
From the empty space
A canvas took its place
To frame a view of grace –
Sky high, moon sigh, clouds drawn nigh
Slowly once again,… living sky high.

Drawing high – etched my sadness
Painting high – my madness
Camera high – the wonder
Writing high – my feelings writ asunder.
I AM Sky high!
Everyday in everyway
Lines on the highway
Things my students say
Light and shadow interplay
Art holds me together
All through the fray
ART pulls me apart
So once again,…I can start another day
After loss
After pain
After death
I can only live sky high.

No matter the day
Sun rises with a show!
No matter what passes in these hours
The sun sets with beauty all aglow!
Look up and see beauty all around –
Keep looking up as beauty abounds
Sky high everyday
No matter far or near
No matter the wear and tear
Look up and see
Look up and BE!
I can only live SKY HIGH