Friday, November 30, 2012

Moonstone Beach

The east coast of the United States has been ravaged by storms of late.  Now, it's California's turn.   We all watched with trepidation this week as our local weather guys mapped out three storms, all lined up in the Pacific Ocean like airplanes waiting for take-off.  The first hit Wednesday afternoon.  The second will hit us today, and the third one on Sunday.

I happened to be in Cambria yesterday.  It's a charming little town on Highway 1, half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  It's only a two-hour drive from Santa Barbara, so I come here often.  I love this stretch of the highway because it hugs the Pacific Ocean.  It has to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world.  During the winter months, however, mudslides and high surf cause many closures.

I timed it just right.  About 8:30 a.m., the rain stopped.  I grabbed my camera and walked across the street from my hotel, happy that the town had built this boardwalk along Moonstone Drive.  The ground was soaked.  There were other people out, walking their dogs or jogging, knowing they had a small window of opportunity here before the next storm hit.  In less than an hour, it started to rain once again.

This blog is all about searching for magical moments and to see the Pacific Ocean fueled by storms is definitely one of them.  The surf is frothy and turbulent.  The mist bathes my face;  it is more therapeutic than an expensive facial.  Ah, Mother Nature!  Thrillingly treacherous.  Sublimely beautiful.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Man Named David Douglas

The Douglas Fir.  Tall.  Ancient.  Majestic.  And abundant.   At least in British Columbia.  But how did this tree get its name?  I'd never thought about it until hiking in Vancouver Island.   I read a sign about David Douglas, a botanist from Scotland, who identified over 200 species of plants in North America from 1827-1833.  The Douglas Fir was named in his honor.  Wow!  I wanted to learn more.


Turns out he wasn't really a botanist in that he wasn't a scientist or even college educated.  He was a gardener.  A very good one!  He helped the head gardener at the 3rd Earl of Mansfield's estate for seven years and then moved to the Botanical Gardens at Glasgow University.   While there, he sat in on lectures.  A botany professor recommended him to the Royal Horticultural Society as someone who knew plants and would make a good "collector".  They sent him on three expeditions.  As far as he was concerned, they had sent him to heaven.  It boggles my imagination. 

He brought back conifers such as the Sitka Spruce, Sugar Pine, Ponderosa Pine and Noble Fir, as well as the mighty Douglas.  He changed the landscape of Britain and introduced a wood that made excellent timber.  A construction boom followed.


This giant Douglas Fir is over 800 years old.  It is the largest tree in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.  David Douglas was a lucky man.  He was given an opportunity to travel, explore and bring back knowledge to a thirsty world.  He had 50 plant species and one genus named after him.  Sadly, he died at the young age of 35 while climbing Mauna Kea in Hawaii.  But when a tree that can live to be a 1000 years old is named after you, well . . . that's as close to immortality as you can get.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Walk in the Rainforest

Temperate Rainforests

The Most Beautiful Places on Earth

Drum roll, please . . . as promised, today I write about the best hike on the Island of Vancouver.  Not only do I rank it Number One in that guidebook I'm going to write (someday), but it merits a spot on my Most Beautiful Places on Earth list.  I did not want to leave.  I could have walked the loop over and over and over.  Forever and ever.

The rain had finally stopped, but not underneath the canopy.  Only 5-10% of sunlight reaches the forest floor.  Once you enter this wet hallowed place, you enter a magical world complete onto itself.  Every organism, plant and animal contributes to the cycle of life.

This particular rainforest trail is located in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.  There are two boardwalk loops, one on each side of the road.  We had arrived late afternoon.  There were no other cars in the parking lot.   Signs were posted at the entrance warning hikers that the boardwalk was also used by bears, wolves and mountain lions.  There were instructions on what to do if you came face to face with one of these wild animals.  Don't look a bear in the eye.  Make lots of noise.  Put up an umbrella.  Gulp.

"What in the world?"

"To make yourself look bigger," my travel buddy said.

I almost turned back.  My trepidation, however, vanished within minutes.  The forest was so beautiful, fresh and fragrant; it was nature at its purest.  Even so, I felt I had walked onto a film set.   Lions, tigers and bears, so what?  Bring 'em on!

Giant firs and cedars touched the heavens.  Ancient and mighty, these trees are hosts to a hundred species of epiphytes, plants that rely on wind and moisture for nutrients, rather than roots buried into tissue.

Moss draped down from the branches above.  Ferns and mushrooms carpeted the forest floor.  Fallen trees are never moved.  The boardwalk is rerouted.  We saw first hand how a fallen tree is not the end but a beginning.  As the woods decays, it absorbs rain water and nutrients, which feed the moss and younger trees around it.

We never did see a bear that afternoon (thank goodness) but they might have seen us.  Who knows?  The forest holds many secrets.  To see only a few of its treasures is an experience I will take with me . . . forever and ever.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Driftwood Sculptures

This wet, moody, fog-enriched beach is found on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.  Appropriately named "Long Beach", it is a vast strip of surf swept sand, an outdoor gallery of cedar, spruce and hemlock logs that have floated in from the wild Pacific or fallen from the rainforest behind it.

This area gets 118 inches of rain a year.   By the time we walked its length, we were chilled to the bone.  Even though it's one of the world's lonely places, people are pulled to its shore like a powerful rip tide.   Some people come here to see the fury of the ocean and watch the winter storms; others create art and compose lines of poetry.  Nature has that effect on people.  There are endless treasures to be discovered here--the best, within ourselves.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Closed for the Season

There are pros and cons to traveling off season.  I prefer it, actually.  No crowds.  Low season rates.  No lines.  No need for reservations.  Nicer people.  Fly by the seat of your pants freedom.  Except . . . in British Columbia.  Late October wasn't just low season; it was no season.

"What the heck?"

"Oh, yeah, everything closes up after Thanksgiving."

"But it's only October," I protested.

"Canada's Thanksgiving was October 8th this year."  Stupid Americans.

So we rented a car, headed north and hoped for the best.  It was just us, logger trucks and black bears on the open roads.  We tried to see the silver lining in the clouds.  After all, if we drove around a curve and saw a breathtaking view, we could slam on the brakes with no worries of getting rear-ended.

And although the nicer hotels and resorts had "closed for the season", when we did find available cabins, we got our pick of the lot.

And we got the best tables in the house.

Vancouver Island is wild, wild country.  This time of year it is also very empty.  Good thing my travel buddy and I get along so well together because days went by when we didn't see another soul.  And that was fine by me!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Santa Barbara's Very Own Carnegie

"Oh, no, not again!"
"I tell you what, Mimi.  I'll drop you off at Encanto around the corner and then go to the libarary alone.  Deal?"
"Deal.  Only . . .  Marea?"
"Can I have your credit card?"

Now, you have to understand . . . the Santa Barbara Public Library is my home away from home, but only recently did I discover it was built with Carnegie grant funds.  It doesn't look like a Carnegie Library, at all, so it never dawned on me.  It is actually one of the very few Spanish Revival Carnegies that were built.  It opened in 1917 and was designed by local architect, Francis Wilson.  It blends in nicely with the other red-tiled adobe buildings in the community.  Other Mission style libraries were built in Woodland, St. Helena and Monterey.  All of them are uniquely Californian.
This woodcarving above the library's door is amazing.  It was designed by Carleton M. Winslow and built by Marshall Laird.  Santa Barbara's coat-of-arms is in the center (I never even knew we had one!) and Plato and Aristotle stand on either side of it.  Above them are the shields of famous libraries:  the University of Bologna, the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris, the University of Salamanca and the Bodleian Library at Oxford.  Lofty icons for little ole' us, but, heh, why not?
The library has a cozy and warm environment.  I love the semicircular windows, the wooden furniture and bookcases, the massive fireplace.  This library has never failed me, and although I worry that the Nooks and Kindles of the world are going to replace books, computer technology is a good thing.  If I can't find the book I want here, a click of the button will guarantee shipment from another library.   I will get my book in a day or two.  I know, I know, if I had a Kindle, I could get it immediately.  But what's the fun in that?  I would miss curling up in my favorite armchair and miss going to Coffee Cat across the street for a latte afterwards.  A trip to the library is often extended to include my favorite shops on State Street. ( And just in case you were wondering, I did not give Mimi my credit card.  She's the dummy; not me!)