On the way to the beach

We set out for Zmudowski State Beach, just north of Moss Landing, where the Salinas River meets the ocean. There’s a sign that points off the highway, and the road goes left, right, left, right, through field after field. The long zigzag brings us to a quiet, sandy area, good for a long walk to watch the waves.

Our goal was the beach, but we were captivated by the activity in the fields. Many of the fields are planted with strawberries, though there is lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and artichokes. We passed cluster after cluster of thirty to forty people, accompanied by a bus or truck towing portajohns, and a long line of parked cars. We passed numerous groups and figured there must have been 300-400 people at work. On the way in, around one pm, we saw people sitting on folding chairs in a circle near one of the vehicles. On our way out a couple of hours later, everyone was picking, and the lawn chairs were gone.

We saw people running with empty trays from the truck to the fields, or carrying full trays from the fields to the truck–they probably get paid by the box. Most of the people we saw were harvesting strawberries, doubled over from the waist or crouched down to pick berries. Either technique tires one part of the body or another. The next time we eat strawberries, I’ll be wondering about the person who picked them for me.

Crew doing some stretching exercises before returning to work after the lunch break.

Discovering Ft. Ord

A disused Army base, Ft. Ord National Monument, now is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is open to the public. From Ft. Ord Dunes along Monterey Bay (see banner photo for this post) to hilly inland scrub, it’s a huge park, more than 14,000 acres. We’ve explored the long stretch of beach and driven around an extensive neighborhood of abandoned barracks just a few blocks inland. The collapsing structures are within a fence, and some are boarded up but obviously visited many times over the years since the fort closed in 1994. There is supposed to be redevelopment, especially new housing, but it’s going very slowly, 30 years on with little change.

Most of those 14,000+ acres are inland, and there are miles and miles of trails. It took us a while to become interested in visiting, as most of the area is closed to vehicles, with permanent gates across all the roads into the property. It’s a long hike into the heart of the park, and we don’t take long hikes anymore. There is even a section closed to the public because live ordnance may be present. Earlier this year, the local papers ran stories about metal detectorists getting run off the closed area, as the BLM was concerned someone would blow themselves up.

Our first visit beyond the beach started at the Ft. Ord National Monument marker and took us along trails through grassland and patches of oaks. We looked at birds and admired some of the gnarled tree trunks. We agreed that we needed to visit as early in the day as possible, as the grasslands heat up rapidly. The current high heat warning affecting most of the western US hasn’t reached us, but bright sun feels hot enough.

On another exploration, we approached the inland part of the park from its western side, where four lanes of Gen. Jim Moore Blvd. divides the densely urbanized town of Seaside from the completely undeveloped part of Ft. Ord. When we found the parking area/trail head, we realized that the trail headed straight out into grassland with few trees in sight for almost a mile. We decided that perhaps this wasn’t a walk we wanted to take.

Not far away, we walked down a dirt road, the Jerry Smith Access Corridor, and onto trails that go in many directions. It’s almost a half mile along the corridor to the actual trails, which takes up a lot of our walking energy. We met other walkers on the paths, many with their dogs. Though we didn’t see many birds, we enjoyed the walk, and got to pet lots of friendly dogs.

Our best hike so far started at the Creekside Trailhead. There isn’t a creek that we could identify, and all the tiny lakes in Ft. Ord have dried up. This limited our expectations for bird watching, as birds seem to prefer staying near a water source.

The trail headed uphill, and we could see hikers at the peak of a ridge overlooking the parking area. We didn’t think about getting that far up, but the trail climbed up and up as we walked. We arrived at a break in the rock of the ridge, a gateway to the top. Through the “gateway,” we walked out to the end of the ridge, surprised that we’d reached the top. Some compassionate soul installed a park bench there, where we sat to enjoy the view.

There’s a remarkable change between the grass and chaparral-covered hills of Ft. Ord, and the valley of the Salinas River that is immediately adjacent. From our seat looking out to the north, we could see the layer of marine fog hanging over the ocean on our left, while to our right, hills became mountains off in the distance. Straight ahead of us was the flat, dark green plain of America’s market basket, the Salinas Valley. Every inch of the valley floor is a checkerboard of housing facing off against agriculture. On the one had is the need for reasonably-priced housing in California, and on the other is the nation’s reliance on the Salinas Valley for a huge volume of fruits (strawberries, cherries, peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, citrus, apples) and vegetables including the famed artichokes of Castroville. The annual Artichoke Festival is coming up on July 24-25.

While we were resting on our wonderfully located park bench, we looked down on a white-tailed kite circling in big loops over the terrain, watching for an unwary ground squirrel or rabbit. There is no other hawk sized bird that is so white, and the triangular white tail is easy to recognize. We watched until it flew out of sight over another valley.

L-R: Madrone; heading down the trail; entrance to the Hall of the Mountain Kings?

As we turned to walk back along the escarpment we noticed the deep red bark of madrone, a tree with distinctive red-orange bark. It appears to grow on the mesa tops here, but we found no more growing once we crossed through the gap in the rocks and went down hill. The trail puts a bit of stress on the knees, but it was a lovely walk, the sun was out, and nothing could be better. We intend to keep visiting Ft. Ord to see more of those miles of trails.

Quirks of Beachcombing

We usually look for sea glass at the lowest of low tides, when gravelly patches appear that often hold glass fragments right at the waterline. When we saw there were no more low tides this month, we decided to try something new. We’d go to the beach after high tide, as the water was receding toward the low tide line, leaving bits and pieces behind. Genius, right?

It turns out that lots of people have come to this conclusion, and it appears to work very well at our favorite beachcombing place in Sand City, CA. It works so well that people arrive to begin collecting as soon as it is light out. We turned up around 9 am to find at least a dozen people wandering up and down with their buckets and bags. Footprints were everywhere. By the time we were getting down the beach a ways, Jonathan pointed out that everyone else had already left. I guess I would have, too, if I’d gotten up a half hour before sunrise.

We always enjoy a walk on the beach, and we did find a few small pieces of beach glass, though nothing like what we’ve found on other days. We got a few things to add to the trash can (above) and our donation box (below):

Letting go of our mooring ropes

Having mulled over what I love about this area in my previous post, I have to face what it will take to get us on the road again. We’ve made ourselves comfortable here; after all, we will have been here 3/4 of a year. Unweaving the strands of connection that tie us here will take some effort. Here are some of the things on my mind.

The mechanics of leaving our house:

We’re in a rental that has required us to take over all the utilities and services. Between Jonathan and I we have to detach ourselves from the house:

  • Property management company: End lease, final cleaning, security deposit
  • Terminate accounts: Water, sewer, gas &electric, cable & internet—return cable box and related stuff
  • Change all shipping addresses: Amazon, prescriptions by mail. I have to think about whether there is anyone who corresponds with me by mail, who I might lose on this next move.

Inside the house there are different tasks:

  • Figure out what is ours and what belongs to the property. This is a tricky one, as we seem to add things by stealth; they just appear, especially in the kitchen. Now we have to hold up each implement and ask, “Is this ours?” This isn’t just because we want these things, we often don’t, but we don’t want a complaint from the realtor that we left “junk” behind.
  • Rearrange the furniture to its original configuration. Fortunately, I took photos.
  • Offer excess goods to family, return borrowed items and a few new things to Lyra in Mountain View, and offer some things on Next Door.
  • Donate what is left to a local charity thrift shop that I like. A few of the items originally came from it.

Packing

Our goal is two suitcases, plus carry-on. We still have our Prius, so we will take along a couple of plastic bins of pantry items. Each of us manages our own suitcase, and the volume of clothing and toiletries is limited by how we each pack. I already have a pile of clothing to donate. I’ve replaced three worn-out tops with others, replaced a pair of pants, and decided to leave another pair behind just to keep the numbers down. I’ll be abandoning a very worn pair of shoes and donating another just to get back to the two pairs of shoes I started with 18 months ago. I still have too many pairs of pants.

The Studio

When we arrived in California, I was very low on beach glass, and after our first few outings to the beach, I wondered whether I’d be able to make much of anything. Then we hit our stride, and now I have an Etsy site: http://llywindatreasures.etsy.com, that shows all the things I’ve made.

There is glass covering the tops of two tables, and a variety of tools, my Dremel, findings, beads, and miscellaneous items we’ve collected on the beach.

When to stop making jewelry is another question. I have a necklace in progress, and pieces for another that Jonathan has already drilled for me. Yet another is on a tray waiting to get drilled. I have just completed a pair of earrings and a new brooch, and I have lots of pieces for earrings that are drilled and waiting. I’ve been trying something new, and the experimental pieces are almost ready to contemplate. At some point, I have to stop and put everything away, but I have another week or two before I have to face that.

Sorting out what to leave behind is a particular torture. I am trying to divide up the beach glass, keeping the most rounded pieces. As soon as I’ve made a couple of piles, I think of some of the nice things I’ve made from irregular pieces, and I wonder whether I am saving enough. I will have several pounds, so I am probably ok.

My growing collection of jewelry making supplies: rings, hooks, chain, silver wire, etc, has to be packed carefully so that I can find what I need without dumping everything onto a table top. Clearing up the studio often takes longer than any of my other packing. I have about three times as much stuff as when we arrived.

As we go beach combing, we collect odds and ends that look interesting, and we now have a table covered with abalone shells, strangely shaped rocks called “hag stones,” various plastic toys, a crab trap clip, and a bucket full of beach toys. During one of the next low tides, we’ll take some of the rocks, shells, and beach glass and put them back on the beach, but the plastic will have to go (I’ll donate the bucket of toys).

Leaving Town

A couple of other ties are the mail service (should I have mail forwarded to our next address or to Chicago?), and regular doctor’s appointments. I have found that my insurance company assigns payment for my eye injections to a single provider for one year. Before I leave, I have to get that arrangement un-done, or I will be unable to get treatment at my next stop. This has already happened to me a couple of times and it takes about a week to sort out, during which time it is very stressful to sit and wait, knowing my symptoms will worsen. Following up on the health insurance has become mandatory housekeeping.

We have tried to reduce the paper mail we receive, but there are utilities, like our current sewer service, that do not use electronic payment systems. How can that be? Medical organizations still send out a lot of paper, too, and I’ve been stashing all the receipts that might be needed in a pile. Now I have to sort through them. I will photograph anything that could prove useful, but keep only a few, like the title to the car. It only takes about an hour to go through everything, but I usually put it off until our last week.

What has happened to our Covid-19 concerns during this time? California is not suffering too much right now, though cases are not decreasing. We really hope that the newest variant doesn’t lead to a new wave of cases. We travel with a box of disposable masks and another of disposable gloves, though these are remnants of the past year rather than anything new. Like everyone else, now that we’re vaccinated, we’d like to put the pandemic behind us if that’s possible.

Travel Plans

I may have the easier part of preparing for our departure, as Jonathan is making all the travel arrangements. As we know now, many people are on the move. Airbnb properties are not as numerous as they were in the past, prices have gone up, gas prices are up, National Parks are bursting at the seams, and motel prices match all the other increases. To keep track of everything, he creates a Word document that lists each element of our trip, where we will drive each day on our way north, where we will spend the night, confirmation numbers, and later, flight numbers, rental car information, and directions to new Airbnbs. It’s helpful to have a paper copy of all this information in case phone service is not good. We currently have USmobile phone service, which gives us unlimited calls and text and more data than we can use for $30 each per month. However, it also means we sometimes have no service at all. These days, the worst reception is inside our house (Sigh).

On the bright side, we will head north and spend our first night in Eureka, CA so that we can hug Amanda and Jim one more time on our way out of their state. The next day, we make a brief detour to the Cowhorn Winery, Jacksonville, OR. We’ll pick up wine for my sister Paula in Portland, OR and perhaps have a tasting, then continue on our way north. The next night will find us at our new home on Bainbridge Island, WA and I’m sure by that point I will have forgotten all the steps it took to cast off and look forward to landing in a new place.

My favorite things, Monterey edition

In just under four weeks, we’ll set out from the Monterey Peninsula, where we’ve spent eight months sheltering from Covid and its aftermath. We’re not leaving the US yet, but moving on to Bainbridge Island, Washington, for the month of August. Much as we are looking forward to exploring a new region, and taking a ferry ride into Seattle at least once during the month, I am sorry to go.

Above all, deciding to leave reminds me how much I like this this part of the California coast. We may even settle here when our roaming days are ending. During the winter months, the Monterey area has much milder weather than most of the US. We saw whales spouting offshore during many of our afternoon walks in December and January. Seals lounge on some of the beaches, while sea lions bark from their perches under the wharf. Sea otters float on their backs and munch little sea creatures (the banner for this post is a raft of sea otters in kelp), then dive down to get more. Gulls circle around, trying to steal the otters’ catch. On one of our first walks by the shore, I saw the outline of a dolphin in the side of a cresting wave.

Harbor seals loafing on the rocks. They are like big sausages with animal heads and tiny appendages.

We ate a lot of nature’s bounty, too. When they are in season, there is nothing better than Dungeness crab. Now there is line-caught salmon from Monterey Bay itself, the definition of fresh seafood.

Part of a fin whale on Asilomar beach

We’ve seen a surprising number of other animals, too, considering that we live in a neighborhood right in town. On our walks to and from the beach nearby, we’ve seen a bobcat, young coyotes, even a fin whale, or what’s left of it.

Curlews

Our bird watching has been rewarded over and over again, with everything from bluebirds to peregrine falcons. About the only local species we haven’t yet seen a California condor. That population might have to grow a bit more, as there are still only about 60 condors known to be alive, mostly in Big Sur. That’s a lot more than the days where there were no condors left in the wild, but there’s a ways still to go in bringing them back. Our bird walks have taken us by unusual gnarled tree trunks and enough picturesque conifers to fill a calendar, or two (see the end of this post).

Fires are a tremendous danger around us, so who would believe that flowers are one of my strongest memories in this rapidly browning landscape? I love calla lillies that grow everywhere during the spring, including front yards and vacant lots. Many, many, flowering trees and plants begin to open in February and are still showing off their colors in early July.

Despite our daily adventures, there are still places to visit. We’ve have yet to make it inland as far as Pinnacles National Park. There are still miles of trails on the former Ft. Ord to investigate, and we haven’t seen the blue grosbeak that many birders reported there.

Pfeiffer State Beach

All this and I haven’t even mentioned Big Sur. The drive south is always spectacular and the light is different at each time of day. From Carmel, the first place you pass is Point Lobos, and it’s usually so crowded that we keep going, though our off-season senior pass let us stop in a few times. My current favorite walk is Soberanes Point. Andrew Molera State Park is another. Pfeiffer Beach is justly famous for sunset through its sea arch. The very limited parking is an issue, and don’t bother stopping there on a day with strong wind or you’ll be sandblasted, with nowhere to hide.

[I cannot get the photo of the hawk to stay in a small size. I guess he just wants to show off…]

Young red-tailed hawk

We’re still in the early days of visiting museums and historic houses, and won’t get to all of them before we move on. That’s ok, we’ll probably be back. We visited local events on July 4th, and enjoyed the small town atmosphere of Pacific Grove’s music and bouncy castle event. In the afternoon, the Monterey Pops played in downtown Carmel. It was our first live concert in ages, and we enjoyed the patriotic favorites.

Flags fluttered and music played on the 4th of July in Pacific Grove.

There is lots of local quirkiness as a complement to the natural beauty. California is known for old cars and fancy cars, because there is no winter and no road salt to create rust. Sadly, contemporary Maserati and Bentley sedans look just as boring as other sedans, but now and then we see a beautiful paint job or a classic car parked by the side of the road. Just on our street are two different vintage pick-up trucks, each painted bright yellow.

Note the litte bird by the dog (It’s a caique).

People are always a community’s greatest resource, and though we have met only a few thus far, we’ve really enjoyed some of the people we’ve had a chance to meet. When Jonathan complimented a man on his dapper look, he discovered that he designed and sold shirts. Jonathan now owns one. On another day, we passed a woman and her dog on the beach, then noticed she also had a bird on her shoulder. Long time lovers of tropical birds, we know how difficult they are to keep as pets, so we stopped to chat. Her bird is a caique, a small parrot that is bred in the US for the pet trade, though the species originates from northern South America.

In Monterey, we watched a young woman feeding the ground squirrels that live in very large numbers along the shore. Later, a ground squirrel showed us its begging skills (we don’t feel the animals).

There are also surfers, kite surfers, hang gliders, parasailers, and kite flyers, many of whom are highly skilled at their activity. There’s an endless stream of people and sights.

I have so many favorite things that I can’t fit them all here. I love the storybook houses in Carmel, and all the other architectural gems that dot this region. I like the excellent seeded sourdough from Ad Astra Bakery, and ice cream from Revival, in Monterey.

And naturally, I like every beach I’ve walked on, from Big Sur to San Francisco. There are still a few beaches left that I haven’t visited, but I’ll get to the rest of them before too long. Below is a slide show of some of my favorite trees.

We step into museums again

After more than a year at home, punctuated only by grocery shopping and outdoor walks, we made a step toward normality by visiting some indoor sights in the Monterey area. There are lots of places on our list, museums, the famous Monterey Aquarium, the Carmel Mission, and the many historic houses that predate the US takeover of California in 1846. Not all cultural venues have reopened; for example, the museum at the Monterey Presidio remains closed. There is still lots to see.

We began in the center of things, Custom House Plaza in Monterey (the banner photo above this post). The huge decline in Covid cases and subsequent end of restrictions has allowed some of the historic houses to reopen. Right across from Fisherman’s Wharf, the large open plaza by the Custom House hosts a Saturday craft market, and after a look around, we headed to the Custom House and the Pacific House Museum that border the plaza.

Inside the Custom House is an area recreating the original work carried out, recording the coming and going of goods. Thick ledgers on the table where cargoes, ships, and dates were noted, hint at the enormity of trying to keep track of California as it grew from a military fort and a mission into a vast state of the US.

The Pacific House is across a corner of the plaza. Monterey State Historic Park Office, is the sign you see first, and the Pacific House Museum is in smaller letters beneath the porch roof. Inside, a knowledgeable park staff member pointed us to the start of the timeline of California history, and added that the upstairs held collections of indigenous objects.

California history begins with the people who camped along the shore and collected clams, mussels and abalone. The remains of these campsites are still visible as you walk along the coastal paths anywhere from Lover’s Point to Big Sur. Where you see dark earth dotted with fragments of abalone, you’re walking on the remains of a shell mound created by coastal people. The remains of their activities turned the ground dark, a contrast with the pale sand dunes beneath.

We’ve asked ourselves why no one seems to pay any attention to these coastal archaeological sites. Most are being eroded by footpaths, and by the thousands of ground squirrels that like to burrow in the soft dirt. Perhaps it’s because the entire coast would have to be declared an archaeological site, and you can’t protect everything. Further, these sites are about 99% marine shells–there aren’t any tools, pots, or baskets to find, and looters ignore these places. Gradually, they will erode back into the ocean.

The Spanish and Mexican history of California spans about a century, from 1769-1848, and is full of twists and turns. Land grants were established, forts built, people moved in and established farms and ranches. There are interesting pictures of Californios, people of Hispanic background born in the region in the Spanish-Mexican era.

Upstairs in the Pacific House Museum is a collection of artifacts donated by a local couple, the Holmans, owners of the largest department store between Los Angeles and San Francisco (at one time). The Holman’s focus was on California basketry, and they tried to obtain one of every type. Other objects come from all over Indian Country, Southwest kachinas, plains beaded regalia, and parfleche bags.

After a quick browse through the gift shop, we went behind the building into an extensive patio and garden area. Called the Memory Garden, it is beautifully maintained and provides shade and a few places to sit. If you’re not ready to take a break, a trail by historic buildings of Monterey leads from this area past the Duarte Store and the Joseph Boston store. Both have period items arranged within, but both were closed when we went by. It’s difficult to tell whether small historic buildings will reopen again.

We plan to visit other historic buildings in Monterey along the self guided tour (www.mshpa.org)

We skipped to the other end of the historic district to the Monterey Museum of Art. The upstairs displays work from the permanent collection, including some classic California paintings, and the main floor held two current exhibits. During our visit, interesting photographic work by local students was being shown, along with an exhibit of manipulated polaroids by William Giles that we liked very much. An extensive exhibit showed the brightly colored work of an uncle and niece, both artists who spend time in the area. I particularly liked the displays from their work areas. I’m always interested to see where people work and how they ornament the space around themselves. During the past months that we’ve been in one place, I’ve managed to spread bits of flotsam all over the window ledges and tables.

Which is why I liked the old school stuffed animal exhibits at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. Their new exhibit doesn’t open until July 2, but in the meantime the permanent collection displays most of the species you can find in central California. We scrutinized the birds, hoping for insight into identifying them, but a taxidermied bird isn’t the same as a bird on a branch. We’ll have to keep looking in the great outdoors. We did make a new friend (right) and reinforced my desire never to see a grizzly bear in the wild. Like many smaller institutions, the Natural History Museum is coming back from long months of lockdown and is very much worth a visit as a show of support for our cultural insititutions.

We’re going to continue to investigate the spaces we’ve been kept out of until recently. Being unable to visit any cultural institution at all for more than a year makes me appreciate the number of museums that are around us. Now I’m ready to visit them all.

Wildflower Time

April and May are wildflower time in the Monterey area. One of the things I like best about the central coast is that calla lilies grow wild, and it is possible to have these exotic flowers growing in your front yard or growing wild in empty lots.

Memorial Day weekend this year is forecast to be hot over much of the region, and combined with the end of their growing season, the flowers that have been all around us are tapering off. Once the flowers fade, they will not reappear until the end of next winter, yet other beauties will keep growing, like the many varieties of succulents.

We’ve seen the earliest thimbleberries (photo on left), and the flowers of Himalayan blackberries, so we know there will be lots of berries in another month or so. Then it will be time for more jam and berry pie. In the meantime, peaches, plums, apricots, and cherries are in season, keeping piecrusts filled very nicely.

Tourists in San Francisco

We decided to be tourists for a few days and went up to San Francisco. We stayed at the Argonaut Hotel, across from Fisherman’s Wharf and next to Fort Mason, a large park.

Visiting San Francisco confirms that I want to wait on European travel until next year. Our hotel is right by the cable car base, but only one line is running, along the Embarcadero. The cable cars that go up and down the hills that I was looking forward to riding, are not going to start up until fall.

Chinatown, on the other hand, is going full tilt. We walked to Chinatown, stopping in the adjacent section of North Beach by City Lights Bookstore, stomping grounds of the late Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and store owner, and posing by Jack Kerouc Alley. The North End is pretty quiet before noon, so we kept walking on to Chinatown.

Overhead paper lanterns, murals, graffiti, and store windows kept us looking in all directions.

Chinatown is large and bustling. We walked along Grant St. and around the corner to Portsmouth Square, where we sat in the park, admired the Transamerica Tower, and watched a group of men playing a game of cards that we didn’t understand at all. We settled on lunch at the Hong Kong Clay Pot restaurant. Jonathan’s clay pot of quail and Chinese sausage was a winner, delicious and full of quail.

Having regained our strength over lunch, we browsed a Chinese grocery store, and continued on to the The Wok Shop, to look at the best selection of kitchen tools around. I found the small teapot I needed as a replacement, while Jonathan found a new cleaver. A couple of other items and we were on our way.

is Frida wearing a mask?

We’ve had good luck with the bus system in San Francisco. There’s an app and a search function that tells you how to get to where you’re going. We’ve taken the bus a few times and found it easy to use, with buses running every 15 minutes or so. We haven’t had a long wait, and taking the bus has been easier than getting a cab or an Uber.

On the way home, we stopped to look at a mural of Frida Kahlo, and debated whether she is wearing a mask.

We enjoyed the visit to Chinatown, even if we didn’t buy a lot of things to take home.

Another day, we visited Japantown, which is not as busy as Chinatown, but has a very pretty five story pagoda in the center of Peace Plaza. There are two large malls on either side of the plaza, and lots of stores in the adjacent neighborhood. We had lunch at Marufuku Ramen, and strolled past the unusual and dramatically-shaped Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption. We were so intrigued that we went inside to look at the stained glass.

Our final big outing was a visit to the De Young Museum, part of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. The dramatic building dates to 2005, and holds a wide range of materials and exhibits, often puzzling because there are areas thoroughly covered by individual or family donations that don’t fit very well with the mission of a state museum. It’s all interesting, there’s a lovely cafe and a good gift shop, and the entire complex is in Golden Gate Park, with the California Academy of Sciences, and the Botanical Garden just steps away. For those fortunate enough to live in San Francisco, the city has lovely parks. We visitors have to squeeze in time to visit them.

On the way back to the hotel, we passed children splashing in the water in front of the Maritime Museum, and long-distance swimmers pulling lightweight buoys behind them as they swam quarter-mile laps across the bay from the Pier to the beach at the foot of Hyde St. I admire their discipline.

The Maritime Museum used to be a beach club.

San Francisco is a good place for architecture. In addition to the Transamerica Tower and the San Francisco version of London’s Gherkin, there are interesting Victorian townhouses that we’ve all seen in photos, and a lot of Art Deco buildings. In the evening, we rode the cable car down the Embarcadero and had dinner at Angler, a very fine seafood restaurant. Every bite was delicious.

When you combine a major city, seaside wharves, Victorian houses, hippie landmarks, and tourism, there are a lot of quirky things to see in San Francisco. Stopping along Fisherman’s Wharf, I felt I could almost capture them all in one photo: there’s a gigantic rotating neon sign of a ferryboat, wharves, dads in polo shirts, kids carrying Alcatraz souvenirs, a surprisingly large number of dogs, and various persons who are either on the phone wearing airpods, or muttering to themselves. We enjoyed all the distinctiveness of the city, the great food, and not having to use our car. It was an excellent visit.

Photos from top to bottom: steep streets, former union hall detail, Mission Street substation relief “Power” (1948) by Robert B. Howard, Sea lion on Fisherman’s Wharf, the California bear on his skateboard, a Kawaii (“cute”) figure outside a sushi restaurant, the New People building (if you go in, do you come out “new”?) and a wall mural of Monarch butterfly and California poppies.

We could live in Pacifica

We decided to go to San Francisco as tourists for a few days. Neither of us has been there on vacation, though we both visited more than once to attend professional meetings.

We took most of the day to drive north along Route 1 along the sea side of the peninsula that is home to San Francisco. We marveled at the forested areas, ranchland, and open space that stretches along the coast between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. The beach I picked out to visit didn’t work out and we continued north, stopping in Pacifica to stroll the beach and get lunch. Pacifica turns out to be our kind of place.

A tiny community perched on the water, visitors may be confounded by the lack of exits from the highway into the town, but with only a little “driving around the block” we managed to find our way toward the beach and parked on a side street. A narrow lane runs along the cliffs downhill to the beach access point, and provided a lovely walk at the same time. Someone has put a lot of time and effort into landscaping this little stretch that you can see in the photo at the top of this post. On the bay side of the lane, gates open on steep stairs to houses perched on the side of the hill. What fun it would be to rent one of these!

We strolled the beach, watched the surfers and swimmers (brrr), and decided this was our kind of place. We even picked up a few pieces of beach glass, and Jonathan found a small treasure, a numbered die.

I didn’t even recall that it was overcast until I looked at our photos! We had a quick lunch of Safeway sushi, and continued on to San Francisco.

[I always choose a photo the beginning of each post. If you can’t see it, let me know and I’ll repost it here at the end.]

Unassuming places for excellent walks

We have been in the Monterey area just over six months, longer than we’ve lived anywhere since 2014. As the months go by, we look for new places to explore, new parks to visit, new neighborhoods to walk around. The results are always intriguing.

Hidden Pictures: Can you see the eight chicks with the mother quail? They blend with the rock of the path.
Hidden pictures: Can you see the quail in the tree? The little black feather sticking out from its forehead?

Hatton Canyon is a broad trail through a forested area, yet parking is in a small shopping center. Just down the path from the Barn shopping complex outside Carmel-by-the-Sea, a bike trail goes under a bridge and there’s a dirt road going off into the woods. We’ve been down this trail a couple of times recently, and there are always birds to see, and rarely any other walkers. If you’re not interested in birds, there’s not much going on, but the lack of company has been relaxing. There’s been no need to wear a mask. Though the mask situation is changing, the walk is still pleasant. We went out to Hatton Canyon to make our bird count for Global Big Day on May 8, and saw 23 species of birds. The most fun are the California quail. They graze along the edge of the trail, hiding a flock of chicks that match the color of the ground. Just when we became accustomed to quail in the road, we began seeing them in the trees, like plump, overgrown robins.

El Estero Park is another place that surprises us by how interesting each walk has been. Best known for its Dennis the Menace playground at one end, the park surrounds a U-shaped lake, remnant of a waterway that once emptied into Monterey Bay. The surroundings are urban, with housing to the east and west, and the campus of Monterey Peninsula Community College to the south. Dennis the Menace park was closed for more than a year. It recently reopened and was swarming with children when we visited this week. While the park seems hemmed in, the seashore is just to the north, and the loop of lake encloses quiet cemeteries (and a dog park). It’s a something-for-everyone location. We have had peaceful walks along the lake, and seen unusual birds (red-necked phalarope) among the families, fishermen, cyclists, runners, and baby carriages. As we strolled with our binoculars the other day, a man asked whether we were there for the baseball game. Sure enough, there’s a large baseball field tucked in yet another corner.

We’ve walked around different neighborhoods, too, getting a sense of what different areas are like. There’s a portion of Pacific Grove tucked in alongside Pebble Beach, where large houses are gradually replacing smaller ones, and landscaping is generally manicured. The historic section of Pacific Grove is full of smaller houses built between about 1880-1930. Houses that have not been fundamentally altered are eligible for a plaque that has the name of the original owner and the date it was built. Many of these are charming. There must be some good stories here, too, as many of the houses have the names of women as owners, even back as far as the 1880s. Was this an enlightened area, or was there a tax advantage to women as owners?

The neighborhood that surprised us the most was on our drive to explore Aguajito Road, an arc that cuts through the south end of Monterey. We turned off at La Mesa, a community up on a hilltop (the mesa). We quickly realized this was a complex of military housing. There were lots of American flags, and very little landscaping (the occupants don’t own their houses). What surprised us was that we saw lots of babies and young children, parents pushing strollers, supervising bicycles, scooters, skateboards, herding small children down the sidewalk while chatting with other adults. There was more family life out in the neighborhood, and more children, than we’ve seen anywhere since Peru. We aren’t sure where all these service persons are posted, but there are quite a few families in La Mesa.

As the time goes by, we keep finding new spots to visit, and we are able to give bits of advice to people we meet while taking a walk. It might be where to park, or what bird we’re looking at, and it is fun to be able to be a part of the local scenery in some way.

[The photo at the top of this post shows a Coastal Access trail. This path, virtually unmarked, runs between two private homes, and if you know it’s there you can use it to walk along a stretch of the coast and visit tiny Malpaso Creek Beach.]

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