Friday, July 31, 2009

Too Cute for Words

Rai, we do believe that you're getting cuter and cuter every day. Keep it up!

The Morphy Visit: Day 13 - Marin

Up high, on top of a rounded hill a small stone bench sits carved into a rocky outcrop. On the bench, a plaque reads: "Give me these hills and the friends I love. I ask no other heaven." Every time we come to this place, Rai, we feel the same way.
The bench was built in honor of Richard Festus O'Rourke who, in his 70s and 80s, maintained trails in this still wild and windswept land of hills and forests that divides San Francisco from the inhabited parts of Marin County.
Almost every time we drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, we end up at this spot. Even with the hundreds of trails, dozens of waterfalls and lakes, and the beautiful forests that we visit and hike to in the Mt.Tamalpais foothills, this very spot is still on of our favorites.
Called the 'Edge of the World', the lookout at O'Rourke's Bench feels like it. All around, the hills drop off abruptly. To the west, an incredible panaroma of the Pacific Ocean far, far below and to the north more hills, smaller hills, fade into the distance before the rusty color of the Golden Gate Bridge can be seen, the gateway to San Francisco whose downtown skyscrapers look like tiny white trees in the distance, blending with the green of the redwoods and pines in the valleys of the nearby hills.
Sitting on O'Rourke's Bench we always feel full of longing for a simpler life, a stronger connection to the earth around us. Every time we have someone visiting from out of town, we take them to this edge of the world to share our love and appreciation for the part of the world we are grateful to call home.
Yesterday, as we did our day in Marin with the Morphys, after stops in Sausalito and Mill Valley, we drove up the Panoramic Highway, then up the Mt.Tamalpais Road, stopping at Rock Springs. From there, a short walk through tall, dry, golden grasses that swayed and sang in the afternoon wind brought us to the Bench. A thick fog that had advanced across the entire city and most of the hills below us hid the Ocean and The City, but gave us the feeling that today we were not at the edge of the world but rather on top of the world. Our hilltop alone, solitary and quiet, rose above the fog. In our bed of golden grass, we floated above the world, above the clouds. On this kind of afternoon, in this place, I know no other heaven too.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What is Big Sur?

About six years ago, I sat on my knees, looking at a map, I found the town of Big Sur not far south of Carmel. A more thorough look at the map showed me a Point Sur just north of the town and who in California hasn't seen a photo of the famous Bixby Bridge also not far north of the town. I remember thinking: "If we see this Bridge, visit Point Sur, and check out the town of Big Sur, then we've explored Big Sur."
Back then, my question had been: "What is Big Sur?" and in that brief search on the map, I thought I had answered that question. When your Mom and I made that first trip to Big Sur, I quickly learned that Big Sur is so much more than those three spots I had honed in on. The other day, before we left Carmel for Big Sur, your Uncle Ryan asked me, "what is Big Sur?" Having visited Big Sur three or four times per year since that first trip six years ago, I was much better prepared to answer this question now.
Big Sur is an 80 mile long and 20 mile deep stretch of coast that begins just south of Carmel and continues all the way south to San Simeon. It is wild, rugged, and unforgettably beautiful -- the only place where the coastal mountains come right to the Ocean's edge. High cliffs, white sand beaches, sparkling blue waters, green slopes, redwood groves and a rainbow palette of wildflowers - that is Big Sur. A winding and often dangerous road, completed in 1937, follows the Big Sur coast, called the greatest meeting of land and sea on earth.
What is Big Sur? In our years of travel, we've visited hundreds of miles of coast all over the world. There is nothing like Big Sur. Big Sur is more than just the natural setting. There is something magical about it. Nowhere else have we gone where we feel so disconnected from our world and so connected to the natural world. It is no wonder that so many are drawn to this region and those that feel its draw know that this place is as close to heaven as one can get.
Inspired by our latest visit, we searched the internet for home listings in Big Sur. Hey, if Brad Pitt could afford a tenth home here, we could surely afford our first, right? Our search turned up dozens of dream homes. A few were the perfect eco-cabins we were searching for: simple homes built of natural materials, a permacultural response to the Big Sur landscape. Unfortunately, the rustic cabin, escape from the world type of experience that Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, and so many others were able to find here is no longer available to the common person. Simple homes were in the millions, and more reliable, roomy, full-time homes neared the 10 million mark. I guess it's time to make some rich friends.



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The Morphy Visit: Days 9-11 - Monterey Bay

Our mission: to inspire conservation of the oceans. So reads the mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The statement, prominently displayed in bold print at the entrance to this renowned Aquarium, is simple, clear, and appropriate as the Aquarium sits on the shore of one of California's most biologically diverse and cherished bays.
The Aquarium fulfills its mission too: every visitor leaves with a sense of awe and amazement at the beauty of life under the turbulent surface of the this bay's waters. Our own commitment to keeping fish out of our diets is affirmed whenever we visit the Aquarium and we would not be surprised if many visitors consider vegetarianism after seeing all those sea creatures enjoying life in the seas.
Rai, one of the tough realities of the human world is that not everyone translates an experience of communing with the splendor of nature as a call to preserve nature. Not everyone leaves the Aquarium a vegetarian. For those who leave with filets and shrimp cocktails on their minds, the city of Monterey is the perfect place to be. There is perhaps no better place to enjoy seeing animals thrive in their natural environment before butchering them and consuming them by the plate and bucket-full!
Just steps from the entrance to the Aquarium the bounties of Monterey Bay can be found spilling out restaurant doors and into stands on the sidewalks. It's a veritable dead sealife bonanza! Clam chowder, shrimp bowls, salmon sandwiches and so much more can be enjoyed with views of the Bay. Even Aquarium visitors most inspired to conserve the oceans can hardly resist the smell of buttery seafood or the charming call of fishermen (or someone dressed like a fisherman) promising 'the best chowder on the Bay' along the row of restaurants that is historic Fisherman's Wharf.
We wondered what the Aquarium management was doing to spread their mission beyond the front doors of the Aquarium and found out when we saw the small page of sustainable and unsustainable seafood given to all visitors. A small step.
For thirty years, the city of Monterey grew and prospered around a sardine industry. The sardines were completely wiped out by 1950. Now, as tourists feed on buckets of shrimp at Bubba Gump's, they can rest assured that the ocean will in fact be conserved although it may be a lifeless one.
Rai, now that I've dwelled long enough on that issue, let's recap the other two days we enjoyed with your Canadian family in the Monterey Bay region. We spent 2 great nights at the fabulous Asilomar resort managed as a State Park and visited lovely and historic Carmel with its wooded streets lined with whimsical cottages and seaside mansions. And, just when we thought that people were living large in Carmel-by-the-Sea, we took a drive down scenic 17-mile Drive, a road that winds through several golf communities including Pebble Beach. Many of the homes built along the rocky, cypress covered shores of this peninsula were unbelievable displays of wealth and luxury.
Rai, you're probably thinking now that we're setting some big expectations in just these past two stories. First, we want you to modernize the rail system at Roaring Camp from coal-burning locomotive to magnetic rail and now we're expecting you to have all the seafood restaurants in Monterey shut down. That's right, every generation is charged with undoing the failures of the generation before it. You've got a lot of work ahead of you...



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Roaring Good Times at Roaring Camp

Rai, imagine roaring through the redwoods of coastal California pulled by an early 20th century steam locomotive. Giant trees, within arm's reach, flashing by as the train whistle blows and the iron locomotive works hard to bring you up to the top of a forested mountain.
Imagine no more, Rai, you've done it! A few days ago we visited the Roaring Camp historic railroad in the Santa Cruz mountains near the mountain town of Felton where you made this nostalgic journey by train. At just 3 months of age, it's pretty unlikely that you'll remember this adventure. I mean, your Mom was going there during elementary school and she didn't even remember it! The memory had faded so completely for her that she got all excited about this narrow gauge railway when she saw it on two different baby blogs over the past few months. "Where is this railroad?!" she wondered as she looked at the happy smiles on the faces of our friends' kids. Still, the images did nothing to bring back memories from several visits to the railroad years ago.
It was a great experience -- one that we'll repeat -- but there's one thing we'd like to see changed about it. As it is, the locomotive is absolutely authentic right down to the last detail. Unfortunately, what this means is that it burns piles of coal and billows suffocating clouds of black smoke into the pristine redwood groves through which it rides. We can only imagine the carbon footprint of this train, running several journeys daily, 365 days per year.
The ride through "the big trees" that Roaring Camp promises is more than slightly diminished by the emission of all this dark smoke as it chars and singes the green leaves and pines of the trees above the tracks. Still, parents come here not only for their kids but to enjoy a little bit of nostalgia themselves so it is unlikely that we'll see this locomotive go green anytime soon. For now, all you can do is imagine a smooth, silent, zero-emission, magnetic rail trip pulled by the train of the future through the majestic redwoods of coastal California. All dreams begin in one's imagination.