Winter/Spring 2009.   ~mike gradziel.
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Down two thousand feet in just under ten miles, turn around at Highway 1 by the beach, and pedal back up through the redwoods for a couple hours. Tunitas Creek Road is a good ride, nicer going down though and nice only for the chance to see the forest change from seaside to redwood canyons to open ridgetop. Otherwise, I would choose a nice dirt trail instead of the tar-smell pavement. It's all private land and posted so heavily that I actually felt bad stepping ten yards off into a stream bank to photograph some ferns. I guess the parks are all that's left free around here; not that I would want people wandering on my land either. The risk of fire is so high, it's sort of like owning a beautiful tower of cards: one thrown cigarette, and your lovely ancient forest turns to dead black desert. There are trails all over though; I'll have to try some of them.

   April 2009
Tunitas Creek Roadside Tunitas Creek Roadside ferns in the redwoods
redwood forest redwood forest Tunitas Creek open country
into the coastal fog someone's driveway old barn in tall grass

Steinbeck wrote of the Carmel River "it is all the things that a river should be," playful and bubbling, then swift, later deep and brooding beneath undercut banks where fish lurk, emptying finally into the sea. This was inspiration for a road trip to see such country which turned out to be green and rugged with white rocky cliffs plunging into verdant river bottoms looking like Arkansas rather than California. Carmel-by-the-Sea is a white-sand beach paradise with palm trees exchanged for wind-sculpted cypress and thatched-roof bungalows swapped for shake-roofed Swiss chalets. Trees lined the streets shading high class boutiques; we searched the town and finally found a reasonably priced soup and salad at a coffee shop. Big spenders come for the world famous gold greens at adjacent Pebble Beach and evidently have few qualms about buying $200 shirts and $20 salads. Perhaps this was more true in years past, however; there are dozens of luxury homes in the area listed for sale and many businesses are vacant and closed by hard times. The resorts can still afford, or make appearances to that effect, to have two men ready and waiting to open hotel doors at your approach. I imagined myself to be a yet-unheard of golfing phenomenon, walked confidently into the posh lobby of the Lodge at Pebble Beach where lounge singers crooned at a piano and great windows looked out on manicured greens and sun-painted rocky headlands stretching off into storm clouds down the coast. We slipped down a hallway and peeked at the Bar and Grill menu with its twenty dollar appetizers, eyed the customers relaxing in their neatly pressed polo shirts, and hurried out. A cute little Italian bistro in Pacific Grove with fantastic seafood and a lively atmosphere proved to be more our style.

   April 2009
rocky shore, Pacifica CA spring flowers and spidery plants spring flowers and spidery plants
Pebble Beach, CA Pebble Beach, CA Joy walks past poppies on the beach
poppies on the beach street scene in Carmel by the Sea street scene in Carmel by the Sea
beach volleyball in Carmel by the Sea white sand and cypress trees, Carmel by the Sea Carmel River Valley
unfriendly sea at Point Lobos there are baby sea otters down there 17-mile drive at Pebble Beach
California poppies at Pebble Beach California poppies at Pebble Beach

Dig a pit in the sand at the beach to shelter embers from the wind. Pour in wood shavings and lay out clay pottery that has been burnished with a river rock until shiny, and fired once in a kiln to give it some strength. Between the pots, sprinkle rock salt and copper oxide (which, by the way, isn't food-safe). Add wood and seaweed and whatever other materials suit your artistic senses, and light it up. Topping the fire with dry cowpies is said to encourage formation of nice colors, and give insulation for a slow cooling so the pots don't crack, but we used only wood and some kelp. Four hours later we had impatiently fished out some beautifully colored pieces from the hot ash. This was with Joy's ceramics studio at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, but I suppose you could do it anywhere: combining old and new techniques, you'll get pretty pots that unfortunately can't do much more than sit on a shelf; apart from making the pots and spending hours polishing them the ordeal is merely a half-day's work sitting on the beach watching dogs chase tennis balls into the surf.

   April 2009
first light on the foam at Ocean Beach, San Francisco clay pots with wood shavings, rock salt, kelp, and copper oxide building the pit fire
pit firing the pottery waiting for the pots to cool the first pots have emerged
Joy's little pot was a favorite Debbie inspects a pot pit fired pottery

On the slopes of Mt Tam there is a little pink orchid that grows solitary among redwood trees with a single leaf and a lone flower. There are other kinds of flowers too, poppies and buttercups and lots of other ones I didn't identify. The waterfalls have water and the grass is green. It was a nice sunny day Sunday, with the spires of downtown San Francisco visible through the haze, and we were out before the crowds arrived. I'm a little surprised that land like this isn't totally overrun with people and buildings so close to the city. Northern california is nice.

   March 2009
starting out on the trail view south to San Francisco view over the East Bay
blooming lupine fairy slipper orchid, calypso bulbosa poppies, green grass, and the ocean beyond
three tiny hikers city overlook the mountain theater, Mt. Tam
waterfalls waterfalls walking through bright green grass
stinson beach overlook bright orange flower on the trail
little blue flower spring colors glowing grass

Spring is sprouting green plants, colorful flowers and the whirring sound of insects and the raw muddy scent of the earth and pollen and rain. I get so excited when things are alive. On Sunday after the storm I drove at top speed around the bottom of the bay to Fremont beckoned by the shimmering green hills and snowy peaks just beyond. From the Mission Peak trailhead I veered off the main track and walked among the cows where dappled sunlight glowed through young grass. I could just see San Francisco far away in the haze. This is my sort of country - blasted by wind, folded and steep and remote yet just a short way from home.

   March 2009
orange lichens, green grass green hills of Fremont, CA orange lichens
oak tree green and yellow lichens distant snowy hills
top of the Mission Peak trail the Mission Peak trail tri-tips grazing
tri-tips grazing tri-tips grazing young tri-tip

Point Reyes has a spit of land that hooks east from the tip of the point, sheltering beaches where seals haul out to have pups. It turns out that grizzly bears used to go out there to hunt seals, back when California was wild, but these days the seals have learned that even beaches not rimmed by steep cliffs are safe as can be. There is one overlook with a fantastic view, reminiscent of my coastal favorite on Anacapa Island, with an undulating s-curve parting water to the left, right, and beyond. I guess I like being at the very edge of the continent.

   March 2009
Chimney Point, Pt. Reyes CA
iris joy with iris pink flowers
yellow flowers seals on the beach california poppy
walking at Pt. Reyes Joy at Pt. Reyes the view from Chimney Rock
Joy and me at Pt Reyes Pt Reyes Pt Reyes light
the new Pt Reyes light is decidedly less attractive than the old one the old Point Reyes light the old Point Reyes light

An orchid show in San Francisco, and a walk around the curious spire sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy, made from trees felled as part of a forest thinning and re-planting project in the Presidio.

   March 2009
spring green in the Presidio goldsworthy spire, by Joy goldsworthy spire in the Presidio
San Francisco orchid exposition San Francisco orchid exposition hanging orchid
pink orchid orchids orchids

Stormy weather kept most of the fishing boats at the wharf on Friday but Bill went out with his boat and caught 34 crabs, four of which we were able to buy fresh from the boat early Saturday morning at a fantastic price. It's been a poor crab season and we almost came away empty-handed. The morning had started with heavy rain and darkness but sunlight was creeping through bits of blue sky as we drove back across the bright green hills and crossed the bay bound for Joy's parents' house. Yellow flowers are starting to appear on hillsides and new leaves are sprouting on some trees. Jomay brought lemons and I came equipped with grilling tongs, to transfer the fierce 1.5 pound crustaceans one at a time to a steamer pot. Fresh crab is so much better than crab any other way.

   February 2009
Cricket caught crab crabs in the cooler steaming crab
crabs ready for lunch crab shells

I last wrote upon return from the wild green Sonoma coast three weeks ago. Then I started work (long days, a good office - with a window!, an exciting new project, and regular paychecks once again after my month off), went skiing (on hard granular snow above big blue Lake Tahoe, a pleasant experience at the Heavenly resort except for a hard tumble that reminded me how much I prefer backcountry snowsports to crowded machine-groomed runs), drove to Santa Barbara for a birthday party (Berto's 30 now, and the beach is absolutely lovely at this time of year when orange sunsets glimmer across pearly pale blue water streaked with ribbons of dark indigo kicked up by the breeze), attended a wedding in Berkeley, and celebrated Chinese New Year with Joy's family. And Sunday, I baked bread all day.

   January 2009
atop the lift at Heavenly, Tahoe skiing at Heavenly, Tahoe skiing at Heavenly, Tahoe
Santa Barbara beach Santa Barbara beach

Finally, after months of working then moving then making small uneventful trips to various places, I have dozens of beautiful photos to share from a proper adventure along the California Coast:

North of San Francisco, tracts of houses quickly give way to rolling green hills sheltering groves of redwood trees. Bold highway engineers managed to run a narrow strip of asphalt along the coast, paving a precarious road that visits beachside hamlets and meanders through pastures where happy cows graze. On New Years Day, Joy and I set out along this route bound for an inn north of Jenner. We rolled through quaint towns and stopped at wild beaches where pure blue waves curled onto billions of polished colorful pebbles; nearby, curious cows munched sprouting green grass. Our room for the night was top of the line: cozy redwood beams sheltered us from the wind, a fireplace warmed away the evening chill, and wide windows welcomed in the colors of a pastel Pacific sunset on the sea - which we enjoyed from our spa tub, immersed in steaming hot water. To be fair, the Timber Cove Inn is still an unpolished enterprise; recently renovated rooms are nice but they have a hotel feel where a bed-and-breakfast style would be better (imagine, for example, the hotel-standard ice tub being replaced with an antique milk pail). But with a good restaurant on site serving up a fine tasting menu of local foods and local wines, one can easily forgive the shortcomings while sipping a smooth chardonnay and munching on seared sea bass with frizzled leeks. During the night, a heavy rain moved in and drummed on the windows. I love storms, especially when I have a seaside room with a fireplace. Morning brought broken clouds and sunshine to keep us company as we worked our way back south stopping along the way to sample barbecued oysters, fresh crab, and local cheeses.

   January 2009
the seaside village of Bolinas has hippie undertones purple crab shell and seaweed teal blue crustacean shell
agate beach, near Bolinas driving out to Point Reyes collecting pebbles on Point Reyes
pebbles on Point Reyes watching the surf self portrait, by Joy
Point Reyes beach happy cows come from Point Reyes, by Joy Sonoma Coast
sea view king room at Timber Cove Inn Timber Cove Inn sunset at Timber Cove
sunset at Timber Cove dinner at Timber Cove Inn scrabble game under way
seaside salamander the view from Timber Cove Inn hippie totem pole at Timber Cove Inn, by Joy
rocky shore at Timber Cove me scrambling on the rocks at Timber Cove, by Joy Joy and me at Timber Cove, by Joy
honeycomb sandstone at Timber Cove southbound on the Sonoma Coast Shell Beach, Sonoma Coast
crab claw on the beach Sonoma Coast barbecued oysters
Tony's Seafood, Tomales Bay Cooked crabs ready to eat at Tony's Seafood oyster shells line the roadside along Tomales Bay
buying cheese at Point Reyes Station

Between July and December 2008 I actually did make a few interesting trips aside from Italy, though most of my weekends were spent working on spacecraft parts, job-hunting, and moving. Here are some photos from the second half of 2008:
Jomay, Joy, and Hsun-Tzu watch penguin feeding at the Monterey Bay Aquarium me picking apricots in July family reunion in New York, August
family reunion in New York, August family reunion in New York, August the beach near Dana Point, California
Overnight at the San Diego Wild Animal Park cheetahs at the San Diego Wild Animal Park home in Massachusetts for Christmas
home in Massachusetts for Christmas home in Massachusetts for Christmas

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