Framing The Sacred Along Drakes Estero Trail
We sleep in late the day after Christmas, lounging in bed until afternoon, reading and talking about our shared beliefs. I read aloud Lesson 49 from the ACIM work and we share our experiences of feeling in the presence of the sacred. We have long ago fallen away from original paths in Catholic and Lutheran catechism. For both of us religion and church buildings pale in comparison with our deep emotional connections to Nature and experiences of being on the land or at sea. We lie in bed and do a breathing meditation on when and where we hear the voice of god. Both of us are easily distracted by demands of work and compulsions to clean up and do chores around the house. Both find inner peace in memories of being outdoors: the crunch of winter snow beneath childhood boots in upstate New York, bird paradise with playmates in Texas woodlots. We decide to shift our priority to doing the fun stuff first each day – to go hiking to listen for that sacred voice. We hear it clearly and often on Drakes Estero trailhead. Whisper of wind in winter trees. Slosh and suck of water and mud beneath our boots. Crisp seasonal chill on our cheeks. Echo of bird calls far off in the woods. The fragrant smell of pine, redwoods, and rain in the air. I love winter in California – it’s so green! I stop and take a panorama along the trail. I ask Greg to stop and look back. The arc of clouds curve above our heads against a sky in brilliant shades of blue. As I glance at my viewfinder, squinting in the sharp glint of sunset, I catch my breath at the beauty of this image and think truly, we stand at the left and right hand of god , in this paradise of our home at the National Seashore. My long shadow at left, and Greg standing on the path to the right, the living god of creation between us,…this path is our daily prayer.
Resting at The Dunes – Limantour Beach
For years we stayed up late each night, then would rise for work, averaging 5 hours of sleep a night. I used to think that was normal, until I watched a series of documentaries on PBS about the health factors of sleep. The statistic that struck me was that getting less than 8-hours sleep every night was akin to smoking! Catching up on sleep was a myth that I had believed. It does so much extensive damage to your health system that you lose about 10 years off your lifespan. After losing two siblings to smoking–related cancers, that was the science that changed my sleep habits. Not only do I make getting a solid 8-hours of sleep a priority, I take naps, and consider rest an essential health priority. When we bought the cabin we spent every weekend working constantly on various renovations and tasks; stripping floors, knocking down an old chimney, prepping and painting walls. We were exhausted working weekends on construction projects, then working all week at our day-jobs. After a year of such abuse we made a pact that we would work one day and just relax and enjoy this paradise of a life on the next. We would have at least one day of rest. Gratefully we are to the stage where we can spend most of our weekend just resting and relaxing, with the occasional shelf installation, door handle adjustment, and regular yardwork to keep the blackberries from taking over the backyard. Built in to every weekend are rest traditions, like our scheduled Sunday beach sunset picnic. We stop and get a hot dinner then drive to the beach, spread a tarp just beneath the dune peaks to shelter from the wind, and lie down with a lovely spread of wine, olives, fried chicken and an occasional slice of pie. Resting and renovating our emotional and spiritual health has become a precedent. I relish watching Greg stretch out in the sand, arms folded behind his head, clouds or fog rolling in across the beach along the horizon. In this composition I follow the example of Mark Klett, whose exhibition Reinvention of Landscape transfixed my imagination upon seeing his work for the first time in 2001 at the Huntington Library in Pasadena. Klett would include himself in the composition by leaving a pair of gloves, including his legs, or his shadow. Here I have integrated my shoes at the bottom,… for you to step into and share my perspective – to rest and enjoy the view.
The Magic Portal Along Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge West
Lately I’m intrigued by the idea that my thoughts and anxiety about past or future events regularly blinds me to the most meaningful aspects of my life – the present moments. I started a daily course of study (based on the work of Columbia professors Dr. Helen Schucman and Dr. William Thetford) through The Foundation For Inner Peace with a few friends from the East Coast. Each day we read a lesson, practice the single mind task, and post reflections on ways in which our thoughts work to sabotage or support our lives. I usually arrive at school around 6:30am to avoid Bay Area traffic, sit in my car, read the lesson, practice the meditation, then post my thoughts on our group text thread. The quiet time in the morning has definitely reframed my priorities and focus. Problems and irritations at work are minimized, while oddly meaningful things rise in importance. One evening while driving home I noticed flocks of California clapper rails alongside the bridge in the shallow waters of Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge West. As I passed a short turn-off from the freeway leading to a parking area along the bridge to view the wetlands, I thought, “Some day, when I have time, I will explore that turnoff.” The following afternoon during my prep I decided to make that time and headed to the Dumbarton Bridge expecting to have to cross and pay the toll back to pull into the parking vista area and get back to school for my Flex period supervision. I decided that it was worth the roundabout effort. What I discovered was a magic tunnel on the west side that takes you along slim shorelines beneath the bridge for bird-watching,…and allows you to drive under the bridge and back around to the main road without crossing the bridge – for free! There were no clapper rails, only plovers and avocets feeding in the low tide mudflats, but what I discovered was the magic portal that takes me to extraordinary joy right in the moment – but only when I make the Now a priority. Suddenly I’m not willing to allow “lack of time” to be a barrier to my experience and enjoyment. I’m living in the abundance of the magic portals and everyday miracles in the moments,…when I make the time to notice.
View of San Francisco from the Stern of Sky High – Catalina 350
The last year has taught me quite a bit about navigating a meaningful life. In a previous post, marine dreams, I shared the story of how we came to live on a boat on the San Francisco Bay. Greg is expert at nurturing dreams and holding fast to the intention that seems to manifest them. The choice to live on a boat started out as a social experiment, a convenient option to forestall buying a house in a high realty market. Over the last year it has become a lifestyle sprung from the daydreams of childhood. It feels like I live in a luxury treehouse (another of our daydreams) with my best friend. Close quarters presses us to resolve conflicts quickly and appreciate the feeling of being in harmony, with a sudden intolerance of being out of sorts with each other. Choosing to live a retirement lifestyle while still working has emboldened us to do what we enjoy as part of our daily life rather than “waiting for” a vacation or retirement on the horizon. The exhilarating part of this is the changes that open to us. Rather than ignore my annual retirement evaluation email when school started this year (assuming that it would be so small that I would have to work until I’m in my 70’s) I scheduled a meeting and was stunned by the reality of a generous pension within 3-4 years. I am writing and drawing on a regular basis imagining my next career as author-illustrator. Greg decided to study and work for his Skipper’s License, spending evenings studying sailing manuals and weekends taking tests and lessons, some days exhausted by the physical demands of challenging trainings at sea. It is exciting to watch each other, imagine ourselves, set sail in new directions.
Winter Solstice 2016
Solstice is from the Latin solstitium, which means “sun standing still.” Today is the first day of astronomical winter. On school break, I have granddaughters and their two friends at the cabin while parents are working this week before Christmas. We’re basking in leisure; sleeping in late, watching movies, backwards meals with cereal for dinner, leaving beds unmade. Eventually we head to town for groceries at 3:30pm. I am watching the time, very keen on seeing the Solstice sunset at 4:50pm today. We get our almond milk and dish soap then head back to Bear Valley Road toward the beach. Walking down the sandy path disappointment washes over me as I realize that lack of clouds will minimize the colors of sunset. My expectations and agenda corrupt my enjoyment of the moment. Fortunately, I am surrounded by fine teachers. Chilly weather in the 40’s does not dissuade the kids from peeling off socks and shoes to race to the water’s edge. Their embrace of the Now is infectious. This week I’ve been reflecting on the frequency of distracting thoughts that prod me toward impatience and dissatisfaction with life. Along the path I notice that everything I desire or need is really right in front of me at any moment; scrub bushes aglow in the low slant of autumnal light, sound of surf and smell of sea air, a sigh of breeze across my face, and the time to enjoy such beauty. I use the Solstice sun to backlight frame my perfect masters as they banter and bolt from wave to wet sand in the humble game of experiencing life to the fullest,…because it is simply so irresistibly delight-full.
Towards Evening in an Alameda Parking Lot
As a photography teacher I often advise my students to avoid boring or distracting subjects,… like parking lots. In contrast, when I want to assign a visual challenge to my advanced students I will ask them to find a boring subject, like a parking lot, and use their critical thinking and observations to find the extraordinary in the finer details. I build my class on the foundation of ways of seeing – that being a photographer is less about the camera and more about how we train ourselves to look, to see, to notice. The eye scans and sees the whole yet we notice only a few parts of any gaze. Gestalt posits that the parts are greater than the whole because we group the whole without considering the weight of the parts. Elliott Erwitt claims, “Photography is about finding something interesting in an ordinary place,…it has little to do with what you see, and everything to do with the way you see.” As a cloud aficionado I always pay attention to the sky. I look up first thing as I step out into my world and scan the horizon. Throughout the day, I keep looking up, focusing especially on gathering clouds (or lack of) nearing golden hour. I am constantly mining the particulars of sky. Walking into this parking lot where my EV Volt was charging, I stopped to frame the astonishing view that makes even a parking lot exquisite sometimes,… taken by the geometry of architecture in sharp contrast to the organic sprawl of clouds.