Between Here and Gone

IMG_5905We are very nearly home. Now in Olympia, we will be home on Saturday, and very glad of it.

Before we went on this journey, there was a song that I played over and over, usually a sign that I am identifying with its message. I was needing to go on the road. Didn’t think much about the El Camino and where it was or what, but now I know. Highway 101 and other parallel roads, linked by Missions, Presidos and towns—600 miles worth from San Diego to Sonoma County.

I’m headed out to that Mission Bell
Gonna wash my soul, gonna get it clean
Heading down the border road called the El Camino


I needed the open road. I can’t tell you exactly why. I wanted to wash my soul. Maybe it was years of underfunded jobs that could never gain the purchase of stable funding. Maybe it was the lightly called and deeply felt empty nest syndrome. Maybe it was saying goodbye to both parents and feeling my own age creeping up on me. Or maybe its just a few too many days spent mostly indoors last winter.

This song, by Mary Chapin Carpenter comes closest to saying it.

Life astounds us in an instant,
Changing all we know.
Blink just once and then you’ve missed it,
all that you can do is watch it go.

I want to feel what the wind feels like,
I want to go that high.
Feel no fear instead of being down here,
Holding up the sky.

I found myself between two lifetimes, the sunset and the dawn.
I reached up and took the lifeline
Offered up between here and gone.

We were in California for a month.
Now, as we approach the Northwest in the rain, it already seems like a dream.


Our first starry night found us stuck in sand up to the gunnels of our van.
Our last day, we woke up in fog, in a meadow full of Roosevelt elk north of Eureka.
We took that old van from 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley and over
the Sierra pass at 7, 382 feet, right through the 5 feet of new snow fall, to celebrate
Christmas and Solstice 2012 and my birthday at Mariya’s home in Tahoe.


We froze our fannies in San Diego during the California cold spell . . .
But when it broke, and the days bloomed into the seventies, we donned shorts at Big Sur, watching breaching humpbacks and migrating gray whales.

We marveled at the silence of the redwoods,
Watched a pup die, in the wilderness of elephant seals—


Laughed our way into the New Year in side-by-side claw foot outdoor bathtubs,
Walked Venice Beach, ate fresh local fruit and veggies in winter,


Studied the surfers at Malibu,
Walked in mountain lion, tick and rattlesnake country,


Went “flying” (aerial yoga) with a Maori yoga master at the Giving Garden urban communal living space in Santa Monica.


We touched hot springs that touched our lives,
Visited old friends and family, made new friends,
Sampled hostels, sought dog-friendly beaches and watched many sunsets.
I guess that was the opposite of holding up the sky.
You know, down here on earth, holding it all up.
Making a habit of doing that, day after day.
I guess washing my soul meant taking the lifeline offered up between here and gone.
That is, as we discovered, sometimes—hard.


We learned what winter is to the body when the dark cold curtain fell at 5 PM and didn’t come back up until after 7 AM.
And there was, often, no place else to go. We just had us and the van.
Sometimes, this was giddy essential living.
Sometimes it was plain gritty.
We observed that an evening with light and warmth was precious.
And that being on the road was to be prized.
The two realities existed side by side in our world. Knowing both felt like a privilege.


I wanted to feel what the wind feels like. Being too safe in my world wasn’t giving me that feeling. At the same time, really knowing what the wind feels like makes home more precious than ever.
Hard times are a dime a dozen.
Good times are made by sanctuary in a big, often raw world.
Blessings to all who gave us that sanctuary.
You were friends and family who took us in, and showered us with hospitality and friends who sent us support and home greetings.


You were strangers who went out of your way to invite us to your world and who pointed the way to free parking areas, drew us maps so we wouldn’t get lost, and who co-created experiences with us that we won’t soon forget.
You were people we will never meet who made the trails, told the stories, preserved the hot springs, and created and protected the public spaces we enjoyed.
You were the servers at restaurants and bars, the gas stations and a myriad of other roadside places who gave us a kind smile and the helpful energy to speed us on our journey.


You were the Pacific Ocean, our constant companion for many days, the red rock Canyonlands, the deserts and mountains, rivers and the sunlit landscapes that made our hearts sing. You were the deep and extraordinary sacred places of America that were entrusted to us. We will sing your praises and encourage others to find your beauty and keep you safe for the generations to come.


You were a simple 1996 Ford Econoline Van that took us to all these experiences. Gratitude.

California Dreaming


So, we are in Venice Beach. And Jack has just taken a poop on the grass and I am bent over putting it neatly into a little baggie. And a burly police officer motors up so fast I almost drop the precious nuggets and shuts off his engine. I scroll through the possible things I could get chastised for, “but Jack is on a leash’, I think and “I am picking “IT” up”.

“That a labradoodle?” patrolman asks eagerly. I smile and nod. We get asked this many times a day.

“Nice,” he says and motors his big-ass motorcycle away. Yep. That’s what it’s like walking the dog. Reminds me of when I walk alongside the daughters, where I am invisible and all eyes are trained on them.


Okay, while I am on topic, I will now refute the oft-issued challenge by said daughters that Jack is the “most photographed dog in the world”.  Perhaps they are a bit jealous but we really do love them more than Jack. That said, the boy deserves mention. He has had some great fun adventures but oh my, he has had a lot of things thrown at him. He’s been attacked by Chihuahuas (and many other little dogs…doing things that a big dog could never get away with), rushed by pit bulls and made “friends” with Great Danes100 pounds heavier than him. Jack has had cactus in his paws, ticks in his skin, been startled awake by marauding raccoons, then told to be quiet and go back to sleep, asked to walk straight up and down slick rock cliffs, walked the streets of Las Vegas and Venice Beach, amongst many other places— from Death Valley to the Temple Square of Salt Lake City. Occasionally, he’s scared people with his size, but more often delighted people. He’s slept a whole lot of nights in the van alone and a whole lot more with his two humans, scrunched up into his small space as we step around him, never flinching from the things that drop on him. He’s eaten pistachios every evening at our own version of happy hour, floundered in Tahoe snow over his head, galloped on beaches, been confused over times when it was okay to chase squirrels and times when it was forbidden, stayed in the Grand Canyon dog kennel, lounged in hotel rooms, and sat around many campfires. He has been an amazing companion.

IMG_6559IMG_6630From day to day, our human perspective of the trip changes. We have reached the end of the travel south. The road warriors have become road weary, and our talk turns more often to home than to travel.  We haven’t forgotten: it was the NW winter climate that propelled us into this trip. Travelers know how much the daily weather matters to their moods and ability to do things. Last winter, on days when I could not remember the color of the sky beyond the dense pewter cloud bank, I wanted light and access to sun more than the comforts of home. Only now, after weeks of travel, has this drive wavered. Ironically, it is an unusually rainy and cool winter in California. Here, the sun is high and warm and bright at its zenith. There is a gleaming luminosity to the days that still feeds our hunger for it. Soon enough we will be headed north, to good friends and to our good home in the Salish Sea. This will have its own warm radiance. And the sun has rounded the corner of winter and is on its way back. What a miracle.


I never really explored California. It is more than worthy of all the superlatives that portray it. For all of you who have been here many times, I can’t to begin to try and describe it. To call it favored and gorgeous seems laughably obvious. I grew up in San Diego but left when I was 18. Ask me about Oregon, Washington and Alaska, fine. I know them. But not California. Many of you have explored and experienced more it than we will on this trip, so what to say…?


We can’t pretend to be suave about it. Steve and I have been tourists here like all the vacationers who crowd our San Juan Islands in summer. Now it’s our turn to gawk and marvel. We stared so long at 28,000 Monarchs fluttering and clustering for the night in the long rays of the setting sun that my neck took awhile to work out the resulting spasm. A small patch of 800-year-old live oaks, huge and twisted and gorgeous, gave us a hint of how California used to look. IMG_0322The night farmer’s market in January in SLO (San Luis Obispo) was nothing short of astounding, a rainbow-colored profusion of fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, berries, and dates; all grown locally. The wineries and vineyards of the Edna Valley, and Santa Maria valleys, vast agricultural fields, stunning beaches—seriously, I don’t know where to start. I have been dazzled by California’s diverse splendor and made speechless. Just kidding, so don’t get excited.


We made it all the way to San Diego, where I was raised. I had a posse in those days, and the four of us rode fat-tired bikes and swam in the Pacific Ocean as our home country. We galloped horses on open slopes that now are covered with homes and businesses. The vacant lots, fruit-tree-studded back yards, and big canyons with their magical springs and life-giving seasonal ponds were the center of our world, along with the sandy beaches and secret coves of our shorelines. I hadn’t been back for over 40 years. Without a guide, in my old friend Robin, I would have felt adrift in a city I had never been to before, shining and interesting, but without these landscapes that had been my bedrock. Even the San Diego Zoo, and Balboa Park, the Serengeti and wilderness of my youth, felt domesticated and smaller. IMG_6740This, I think is not a unique experience, to go “home” and find it smaller and tame. Some of it is because we were smaller and the world more open, quite literally, in terms of humanity’s footprint and sheer populous weight. Now I feel the edge of my neighbor on the border of my own space. Then I felt… a spacious opening around me, populated by many creatures who were very real and not human. These places of my youth now exist only in my dreamscapes. Now that I have another vivid confirmation of that, I want only for those dreamscapes to remain as testament to the worlds of beauty that lived alongside me, that nurtured and fed me and taught me.

Anyway, that’s where we are. Road weary. Soaked in beauty. Tough. Hardy. Tired. Ready to go home, almost, but not quite. Every day, we experience the best of all times, and the worst. Every day, I find out that good things come in flashes, when you set down the wariness of your own little world and let someone else’s in. My favorite moment on Venice Beach was when I stopped when offered a “free” CD. I looked into the face of a Jamaican man. It was a face I liked. I took the CD. He put the head phones on my head and his own reggae music played warm into my ears. “It’s my first CD,” he told me proudly. He asked for a small donation. $5 dollars later, I walked on, smiling. Best five bucks I ever spent. IMG_0374



IMG_6457Holy smokes, has it really been 3 weeks or a month, since I got my paws on this key board?  Well let me start most recent and work backwards; given my age (just turned six) my memory isn’t what it used to be!

IMG_6465So, today I had a decent walk on the beach (illegally– as dogs aren’t welcomed on most California beaches), in a place called Carpenteria—-Just south of Santa Barbara.  There’s this real active railroad on one side, and then there is the beach with surfers in the foreground and these 7 oil platforms a couple miles out, that break the vista toward the Channel Islands.  Sleep has been a bit ‘catch as catch can’ given the raccoons, ground squirrels, gulls, coyotes, people and train bells and whistles, to say nothing of the surf that seeps in and around the window that the boss man keeps open at night (he claims it’s needed for the sake of his beauty sleep?!).  This beach has black gooo seeping naturally out of the rock formations just above the beach, and lots of oil soaked outcroppings—the Beverly hillbillies  must have seen this and sold the rights to the petrol companies that have been active in this beautiful chunk of semi wild California.    O—and did I mention being attacked by three more yappy Chihuahuas on the beach today?  Boss man was unhappy and loudly cursed out the errant and ‘out to lunch’ dog owners that did nothing to curb the curr’s!  I just danced around them and tried to keep my heels from getting bit.  We also met up with another in a string of old Alaskana, by the name of Culbertson—-some connection with the Koponens , from the little bit I was able to gather as they sipped

black java from the French pressIMG_6549.IMG_6513

Ok now for yesterday—em, it seems so long ago—there have been so many places, people and things—-I think even the two leggeds are getting a bit tired of being on the move so much! Yesterday I hung out with Big, I mean really BIG dogs in Santa Barbara, called Great Danes— 165 pounds worth!  That was the hallmark of yesterday, as bossman and ‘The Lady’ hung out with some old Pipeline friend called Mertens and another called Ben/Barb Fitzgerald—they watched the Irish get crushed and Seattle win a big one and get this; ate eggs Benedict with lobster  and drank 10 year old Rye Whiskey—-Boss man was in hog heaven, especially as Mertens has a steam bath and a hot tub!  I got a nice consolation prize in the form of a beef rib that Alpha got at some farmers market thingie that happens every Thursday in what the locals call SLO—San luis Obispo—another one of the pretty cool places we’ve over nighted in!

IMG_6493“Kooks”, lots of kooks out here wandering the byways and highways that we seem to be crisscrossing;  like the elderly couple (nearly as old as my two humans—hangovers from the wild and wooly 60’s I think!–) that buy a $95 annual parking sticker and just live free and legal on the streets and along the beaches of Santa Barbara in their modified hippie wagon.  I think ‘boss man’ is getting some new survival ideas on how to do South California on a dollar a day—–seems there was a book out some years back, that he used in Europe and was/still is, his ‘bible’?  We are supposed to meet up in Venice Beach with a university professor they met at a natural Death Valley hot springs, who is writing a book about living for 6 months on gleaned food from the fields/trees and dumpsters of L.A.—-no doubt more fodder for his $1/day inclinations!!!!

IMG_6480In days past we have had some very interesting times at places like the cemetery above  Cambria, that had the most varied and interesting head stones and paraphernalia one could ever imagine—bossman even said he wanted to be buried there?!   O—lordie beeee, I could go on and on, but its time for me to yawn and stretch and let these two ‘chowder heads’ know its my time to get out and relieve myself—-they sometimes forget that I too have needs!

IMG_6326Signing off for now—your friend, Jack—-ps  Steve got a big kick out of The Mrs. and me  watching Dr. Who on her smart phone the other night—me in the drivers seat and she sitting all bundled up in the passengers seat, reaching over scratching my head—-seemed just right to me!!

“Another year over and a new one just begun.“

IMG_6082IMG_6024We Left Tahoe on Christmas Day. Took Elena tothe Reno airport so she could fly home to Seattle, and then found another one of those cheap rooms in the Casino.  So, from the window of Harrahs, we watched more snow fall on Christmas Day eve. Went to see Les Miserables. And felt a little lonely.

IMG_0295It took us nearly 5 hours to get over Donner Pass the next day. Between the holiday traffic and the snow, it was just a very long haul.  It was absolutely wonderful to break out into the green of the foothills. And then to arrive at the inviting home of my Aunt and Uncle in Cool just after dark felt like something of a miracle.

IMG_6086And it was a wonderful visit. We set off, back on the road the next day, well fed and rested. All we knew for sure was that we were headed south.  Made our way to I-5 and drove through the dark until we made the decision to take the turn off to Paso Robles (hah, I made that sound so easy).  Arrived late, slept in our van on a darkened side street.

IMG_6092More than a little road weary, after nearly two months traveling, we only knew we had to get back to the Pacific Ocean. We didn’t expect the startling beauty of Highway 46, from Paso Robles to Cambria—old oaks, vineyards and sycamores in undulating hills. After weeks in the desert and then in snow, fifty shades of vibrant green took our breath away.

IMG_6350We looked the coastline up and down. Took a remarkable walk on the leash-free beach near Morro Bay where dogs in sizes XS to XL were flying free as kites, scampering with great canine abandon from surf to sand.  We noticed not one dropping, as all the owners seem well schooled in doggie-doodoo-picking-up-etiquette, used the bags provided, and disposed in the simple trash bags tied to the fence.

IMG_6245But after our explorations, we came back to Cambria. We could tell it was the right place at the right time for us. How do you find a great town, anyway?  I started by googling “great towns of southern California”. As travelers, we know for sure that we don’t want to spend time in bad towns. And we also know great towns are rare. So when we found a sweet hostel in an appealing setting, we knew we were blessed.  The hostel was the Bridge Street Inn. We were thrilled to find it.

IMG_0306The hostel life, if anyone wants to know, is one of the most sublime experiences I have ever known. Cooking together, eating together, talking with travelers, forming a short-lived but rich community—it far outshines any sterile hotel room. The hostel in Cambria, Bridge Street Inn, is managed by Brandon, with an easy hand and an eye for spontaneous creativity. A modern day beat poet, Brandon played songs for us on his guitar and read his own stories, while we thoroughly enjoyed his distinctive humorous style; pure irony with a satirical twist that made me laugh out loud more than once. I was fascinated by the way Brandon encouraged co-creation and collaboration with his visitors; from conversation to projects to bonfires and potlucks.

IMG_6152IMG_6177People told us to go see the elephant seals.  Not knowing what to expect, we went.  “World-class” is a travel term that often falls short but I would put the viewing of the elephant seals in that category without hesitation. Never mind that it is just steps away from Highway 101 and that you view their lives elbow to elbow with a whole lot of other people. In fact, those facts make it seem more amazing to me. There is some kind of one-way mirror between the human community and the elephant seal community.  We watch them but they seem remarkably oblivious to us. They are 25 feet away on the sand; you are on the boardwalk. They are fighting, nursing, dying, birthing, swimming and resting. IMG_6138You are watching this with a combination of awe, inspiration and heartbreak for those that lose or die. Many questions arise, and as soon as you say them out loud, one of the other extraordinary features of this experience appear… docents. People who love the Wild, and can articulate it over and over to endless questions (and often stupid—I know, I asked them myself!)—are special. The elephant seal world is so raw and untamed that it nearly defies description. They are the fundamental nature of the sea personified.

The next day, I woke up drenched by elephant seal dreams. We decided to check out Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, following Brandon’s suggestion. Walking right from the hostel, we entered this beautiful community treasure and thoroughly enjoyed its riparian and woodland communities, the rich birding and the faIMG_6227bulous views. The story is one that makes my heart delight and echoes a San Juan County triumph: Turtleback mountain.  When a community decides to make something last into perpetuity, it is the best of human teamwork and vision. I quote here the inspirational Fiscalini story, for it needs no amendments

“The Fiscalini family owned the property for nearly a century, raising first dairy stock and then beef cattle. The family sold the Town Ranch out of tax necessity in 1979 and it went through a series of development plans by ambitious owners. These plans were blocked by Friends of the RanchLand until they realized that the only way to save the land was to buy it, bringing in the American Land Conservancy (ALC) in 1999.”

 Bottom-line, a series of partners appeared and pledged funds to save the Ranch but these funds needed to be matched by local efforts.

 IMG_6234“Cambrians, through numerous fundraisers, donations and an eleventh hour donation by Midstate Bank of their creek side property, accomplished the impossible. With hard work and determination the purchase was finalized in November of 2000. The Ranch now belongs to all of us, forever.The Ranch is open for public enjoyment every day.”

 IMG_0314We ended 2012 with a stop at the Stolo Family Winery. Together with our new friend, Alison, another Bridge Street Inn hosteller, we toasted to our intentions for 2013 in between tastes of delicious and high quality wine. I have never been able to figure out why people think that getting smashed on New Years is the way to celebrate. I love this holiday. I love wrapping up the old year, out loud and in writing, reflecting on it and marveling on all that happened. As for resolutions, I don’t subscribe. If I get past February, it’s a wonder. But I do like goals, and I do think there is much truth in the saying “as soon as you can think it, ink it.” We can direct our lives in more ways than we think possible, especially when we say it out loud and then write it down.

IMG_6285IMG_6198This stop was what we needed. We had to give up the notion of warm, but replaced it with sunny and “pretty warm” (60’s). The sun is bright and you can actually feel its heat. Now, in San Luis Obispo, we are taking our time in central California. It wasn’t ever really on our radar but for now, it is providing us with much that we have been looking for: beauty, nice towns, long sandy beaches, splendid hikes and rustic hot springs.