bucket list now

Ice_farmhouseFarmhouses along Skeidflatarvegur, South Shore Iceland

Like most people, through the intimate moments of crafting our relationship, we’ve discussed our list of most desirable travel destinations. The bucket list that would await retirement, when free of work schedules, we would have the time to travel. Last year a colleague from school who was an avid hiker and athlete, my age, dropped dead suddenly of a heart attack in his kitchen. Then a co-worker of Greg’s dropped dead at work, just after his office partner had a brain aneurysm that dramatically affected his balance and ability to travel, the year before his retirement. Over the Thanksgiving holiday we decided to initiate the bucket list, now. We booked tickets to Iceland and then sat down one weekend in January, with research books, itinerary notes from a friend’s trip, and charted our way along the Ring Road, noting what we would like to do each day, and booking farm stays and guesthouses on Booking.com. We scheduled 10 days and an average of 150-200 kilometers per day to circumvent the island nation and see as many geological and natural wonders as possible. Second semester concluded with a date at SFO to fly direct to Reykjavik. What lay ahead was the adventure of a lifetime, beginning with the jagged glaciated mountains of the southern coast, draped in brilliant green turf rolling to the sea, always crowned by a convention of clouds, roiling in the upper atmosphere of fierce arctic winds. Our now opens before us like a magical oasis in time; immersed in adventure ten days seems like months. This is the way that our now is meant to be – infinite – because it actually is!

overlapping faults

1_Duxbury Fault Line_GregFault Lines @ Duxbury Reef

One of the fascinating things we learned on our tidepool walk along the Duxbury Reef is that it rests atop three overlapping fault lines: the San Andreas (of 1906 fame), the Golden Gate, and the San Gregorio. Interesting intersections. Shale is a fragile, easily split rock formed from mud sediments made up of silt and clay. This type of rock crowning massive, shifting, tectonic plates is something akin to stacking fine china atop a table with three wobbly legs. The other odd pairing with shale is that it often stores repositories of natural gas and oil. Fortunately for us, in 2009, the California Department of Fish and Game listed the Duxbury Reef as a protected marine area. I’m always grateful to live in a state that holds stewardship of natural places in high regard. Last weekend as Greg and I weathered a stressful work schedule we had to reexamine the state of our own fault lines. We spent both days grading our hillside after installing two levels of retaining walls, and planting in nearly 50 native species. Often we spend our entire weekend repairing and renovating the almost 100-year-old boathouse that is the cabin we call home. Such a pace often wears us down and leads to tensions chafing along our exhausted personality lines. On Sunday afternoon a frustrating disagreement made us realize that we overwork until we’re like two cranky kids. We made a pledge to work only one day on any given weekend and take the other day to hike, rest and take our inner kids out for some fun. Stewardship of the resources that nurture our relationship, conservation of our energies for both work and play, allow us to savor this life. Tide pool walks, nature hikes, and beach days are now on the regular weekend agenda.

tide walk weekend

1_duxburyGregDuxbury Shale Reef @ Negative Tide

In February, a text message from my friend Erika reminds me to reserve tickets for a hike scheduled for the Birding Festival Weekend at Pt. Reyes National Seashore. We double down and get tickets for the Tide Walk on Saturday and the Secret Caves hike on Sunday. An easy morning drive to Bolinas takes us to Agate Beach to join the PRNSA (Point Reyes National Seashore Association) naturalists awaiting us with release forms and field guides for tidepools. We stop at the park information signs and learn that the Duxbury Reef is the largest shale reef on the planet. Impressed, we proceed down the sandy path to scamper along the textured brown rock in search of sea-life. The rugged shale expands as far as the eye can see north to south and the flat surface makes it easy work to dash from pool to pool pointing out green anemones both open and closed, various types of seaweed and grasses, and boring clams – named not from lack of interesting features but because they literally bore holes in roles for shelter. I am especially fascinated by the hole-strewn rocks left by boring clams as they outgrow their hole and move on to drill larger rocks. I am grateful to friends who find amazing things in my neighborhood that add to our growing collection of adventures on the Point Reyes National Seashore.

my life in birds

BirdsLifeCollageNight Herons frame, Murmuration of Swallows, Grebe in Flight, Plovers in Morning

One of the biggest surprises for me in this marine life was actually loving my new hours. My workday commute from Oakland to Palo Alto requires that I be on the road before sunrise. I always thought I was definitely not a morning person but I found out otherwise. I walk off the boat each morning at 5am into the velvet predawn of a new day. This ritual is suddenly, surprisingly, a spiritual experience for me. The high priestesses are birds. Last week a great egret, as tall as my shoulder, was posed at the end of our dock, her feathers rippling in white grace as she fled my approach. Most mornings I pass black-crowned night herons. All but one bursts into flight and kwaks at me, except the bold, clever heron that anticipates my approach and runs down the side dock and waits until I pass to return to the prime fishing spot. Each evening green herons (I think misnamed because they are actually a lovely cinnamon color) jostle for fishing spots. This morning a large Brandt’s cormorant looked up at me as I crossed the bridge to land, then dove powerfully, leaving massive concentric ripples expanding silently across the water. Last week I decided to make a U-turn in these early hours before work and I drove to the vista point beneath the western side of the Dumbarton Bridge – my magic portal of appreciation of the present moment. I framed this pano sunset then went looking for birds. A pair of American avocets walked slowly through the mudflats fishing for breakfast. A bustle of common terns (possibly elegant terns – I have to bring along binoculars) flitted among small islands raucously with their kip-kip-kip. I had to pull out my cellphone and download the Audubon app for California Birds to identify a pair of black-necked stilts. Song sparrows perched on the fence in front of my car to investigate me. I am grateful for my life in birds that helps me frame stopping to notice and appreciate beauty. Coming home last night I pulled off at the vista point as storm clouds were moving out of the area, expecting a dramatic sunset. Altocumulus clouds overlapped, dim and moody in variegated grays. Suddenly a flock of swallows swept overhead and banked around in elegant murmuration. I stood and watched until they flew out of sight and simply breathed in the gift. No colors of sunset in the dense clouds, but I would gladly trade birds for clouds some days as my gift of the day.

harbor gate

1_MarinaHarbor_4_17Gathering Rain Clouds Alameda Winter

After 18 months living on a boat, our transition plan has shifted into residency mode. We stay a few weeknights on the boat and long weekends at the cabin, driving in from West Marin to Palo Alto on Monday mornings. I didn’t think that I could handle a long-term living situation in such close quarters. The lovely part about making someone else’s dream come true is the amount of giveback that occurs. I come home on Greg’s flex-day (his every-other-Friday off) and he is coming to the end of hours of scrubbing and cleaning the boat – inside an out. It literally sparkles in the sunlight. He’s invited guests to sail next week and his day was dedicated to a literally stern to bow spring-cleaning. When I was gone to NY for a week he installed a closet rod and moved the jackets from hanging over the couch to hidden away in the stern stateroom. Sometimes walking to the boat, driving to the cabin, I’m amazed that this is my lifestyle. Such a radical and fun idea that would never have occurred to me under ordinary circumstances. Possibly that is the role of stress and change – to take us out of the ordinary – to show us the perspective of the periphery adventure that we had never noticed. I’m so grateful to get a key to pass through the gate into this rare and intriguing life.

winter one day, spring the next

River walk2Ford Street Bridge and Blue Sky on the Lower Genesee River

In a single day the temperatures rise and snow disappears. Wind carries the memory of winter in its biting chill, but the warmth of sun belies the seasonal shift. I spend an afternoon walking the Genesee River Trail around downtown Rochester. These riverbanks resound with the stories of historic upstate New York for me learned in school History lessons. Today it is known as a The Flower City. In its inception it was The Flour City due to the perfect drop of waterfall segments along the banks of downtown where they built the first flour mills, perfect for grinding and setting to market the rich fields of wheat on the adjacent farmland. They even built an aqueduct of the Erie Canal right through downtown to literally capitalize on the flour trade going upstate to the Great Lakes, west to Lake Erie, or east to Albany and the wealthy markets of New York City. We walk across the old bridges, the aqueduct empty and covered with colorful graffiti now. Canals outdone by trains and eventually trucks on the ever-increasingly savvy infrastructure. Mules and barges left for museums and empty aqueducts ghosting the old waterways and locks. I have a dream to buy a cabin on the Erie Canal one day. For this afternoon I walk the circuit of the River Trail from calm muddy banks, to roiling waterfall chases, amid ghosts of my childhood and the construction of middle America. Eventually a feeling of panic comes to me, sad to have this time with Sue coming to a close. As I walk these paths made familiar from childhood, I relax and realize that I am always walking in the sure shadows of fond memories shared with my best friend in this city that shaped our lives.

winter light

SnowTOPSnowfall in April…Lavender Farm in Upstate NY

Sometimes you just walk into the perfect day. Clouds heavy with snow dim the day and dull the light. We crunch through a world of gray as snow flurries dust the ground swirling at the edge of a major storm, we get the mild storm frosting the countryside. Snow, gray skies seem to absorb sound and light, children move through the overcast as if in an old movie reel – stop animation. We walk in wintered landscape obscured by clouds, until sunset cuts a swath of light just beneath the seam of day and lights up the ground level landmarks, setting ablaze a few trees, the western slit of marmalade sky, west-facing walls. I hold my breath and listen for angelic voices in this perfect light.

winter comes again

SnowBest2.jpgApril in Upstate New York

Snowstorms sweep across the Midwest and Northeast this week and dust upstate New York with enough of the white stuff for snowball fights and a winter romp for visiting Californians. I love the erratic weather of upstate New York, winter snowstorms followed in a few days by 77-degree Spring weather! For the first round – winter – flight cancellations add two more days of vacation for our extended family reunion and remind us that even when it’s bad, life is good. Susan invites us to her farm in West Bloomfield and the kids run wild in snow gear – snowball fights, snowmen, snow chase,…add a dog and it is an all-out frolic. My hands start to numb and my cellphone no longer recognizes my finger as the wind-chill lowers the cold weather to unbearable. Turkey dinner, with all the trimmings, real cranberry, apple dressing, gravy,… followed by real hot cocoa is the epitome of fond memories of Northeast winters. I bath my hands under cool water to reduce the pain from chilled joints, and stretch them out around the handle of my mug of hot cocoa, to warm me to the core.

coming home to beauty

Beauty3St. Paddy’s Day Explosion @ Alameda Harbor

So many people resent Daylight Saving Time, but I must confess – I love it. My timeframe shifts for more convenient sunrises and sunsets. As a teacher I also notice how much easier it makes the coming and going to and from school for students – a bit brighter on either end of the seasons. I hurry home on St. Patrick’s Day, this year on a Friday, takeout Italian pasta (butternut Squash ravioli – our favorite) from Trabocco at Southshore on Alameda. I wait for Greg and sit on the stern watching the clouds gather for the sunset show. I notice recently that there is no coloring of clouds at sunset this past week. I wax romantic as Stephen Corfidi of NOAA explains the factors of twilight phenomena replete with magnificent charts and color photo sequences. It turns out that the low-lying clouds this week lack color due to formation, boundary layer, and pollution factors. What they don’t lack is superb pattern formation. I am mesmerized by this slow-motion burst of fibrous stratocumulus clouds. They expand in a V-formation explosion across the harbor. Sun burns straight through them – no reflective color, but oh! That exquisite pattern of fine-fingered white against cerulean blue sky is more than enough for tonight’s show. My Dolby cinema group husband would be pleased to know that, “clouds catch the last red-orange rays of the setting sun and the first light of the dawn like a theatre screen, and reflect this light to the ground.” Grand show this evening, even as the theatre of our harbor lacks the color to impress, but rocks the pattern design category.

burning through the day

Burning Through the DayCrepuscular Rays @ Twilight On Limantour Beach

Surprised with a sudden Friday off, I sleep in and read until early afternoon amid birdsong. I practice my waking meditation with a chorus of crows joining my dojo. Their shadows crisscross the late morning light winking through the window. Later I go outside to sit in the hot-tub and melt into warmth, drink the world in. Eight turkey vultures swirl and pirouette slowly upon air currents above my head. They demonstrate that no effort is necessary to participate fully in the present moment, as not a single wing flap in the half hour that I bask in the sun beneath them. They ride motionless except for the occasional tweak of end feathers for directional flow. The chEEer-chEEer-chEEer of the resident osprey, tending her nest on the hillside to the north, explains simply how we need to be in each moment, each breath. A community of crows call and coast silently around me, observant, calculating, calm – fascinating models of industry as they gather food to feast or strategize, calling from tree to tree. Steam rises off the surface of water, drifting across the wall of blackberry bushes shooting out new growth after winter rains. Juncos and sparrows flit back and forth to birdfeeders suspended from tree branches nearby. A pair of hummingbirds spar for the rights to the sugar water hanging along the roofline by the deck. The buzz of their wings a few feet away as they whir and stop to perch on arching blackberry vines. As I walk inside, I stop to watch dust motes and tiny insects floating in sunlight underlined by gossamer threads arced gently on the breeze, a testimony to the majestic architecture of the world. It is nearly sunset when I pull on a sweater and pants and go upstairs for dinner. I revel in the sweet nothingness of burning through the day with free time to notice the wonders all around.