A gentleman on horseback ambled through my viewfinder not long ago, and without stopping, asked me what I was taking pictures of. His words made me pause for a minute. I was standing in that sun swept North Georgia field for a reason, but how do you explain how special the light is in late winter to a stranger who had to ask? How the sun transforms everything it touches with its amber glow, the grasses, those oceans of wild wheat that pulsate in the light, rows of nimble dancers swaying in the wind. I started to sweep my arm around to show why it moved me, then dropped it back to my side and mentioned something vague about the setting sun and wished him a wonderful evening. His friendly voice carried across the field as he and his horse continued on, half shouting about how bad the traffic had become and that he can’t take his horses on the roads anymore because of it, and did I know he used to photograph his daughters during their many years of horse shows. After they disappeared into the woods I slowly turned and drank in what was left of the day, then quietly whispered a goodbye to winter.
After a hurried holiday breakfast and a few lingering embraces with the rest of our family, my daughter and I headed for the airport and boarded a waiting plane to Paris – traditional Christmas celebrations would have to wait until next year. I’ve always wanted to experience life in Paris during the holidays, and a plan slowly came together which captivated our daydreams for months until the sudden jarring news of the November terrorist attacks. After a brief pause amidst real concerns, we continued with our plans, an affirmation that life must continue in the face of adversity. After all, we will always need this iconic French city, and now Paris needed us back.
A strongly persistent tail wind agreed, pushing our plane forward and swiftly delivering us to our destination ahead of schedule in the pre-dawn hours to our beloved city of light. The full moon resting low in the sky guided our driver easily through the streets still twinkling with holiday decorations and deposited us curbside to a vacant Place Vendôme and a sleepy hotel desk manager. As we waited for our room, we didn’t understand that by stepping into the balmy pre-dawn night we were making an unspoken and unexpected agreement with the travel gods that we’d be up and very awake for the next 24 hours. Giddy and energized, we greeted the day with a few other travel vagabonds, and wandered the streets for hours until our dinner at the Eiffel tower and the ride to the top finale. It was the start of a week to remember, seven days between Christmas and New Year’s, a welcome return to a city we love and I think especially this time, a city that truly loved us back.
Our week in Paris was a meandering, window shopping, café lingering, schedule-free visit of sorts, and there were days that no cameras were allowed. A see-with-your eyes only rule was temporarily instated until a visit to lovely Montmartre. The small artist enclave once surrounded by vineyards is of course now a popular tourist destination, especially on beautiful sunny winter afternoons. This hilltop village is like being on top of the world, the vast views almost begging one to spread their wings and fly. Once grounded, the labyrinth of crooked streets come alive with interesting street scenes begging for capture.
The icing on my Parisian travel cake will always be the captivating Eiffel Tower, and upon reflection, it made perfect sense that on New Years Eve all roads seemed to lead to the Champs de Mars. United in purpose, the slow march from the Champs Élysée with thousands of other revelers will be forever etched in my memory. Strangers became friends, united by the pull of the great structure in our need to celebrate a night of new beginnings, an optimism normally taken for granted. The toned-down light show was more exciting than the greatest of firework displays and the exuberant cheers and happy chorus of voices is a sweet sound that I often hear in my daydreams. Cheers for happy memories, and for now, a belated Bonne Année to all.
On Wednesday, September 23rd, the sun’s rays began to shine directly over the Earth’s equator marking the beginning of the Autumnal Equinox in the northern hemisphere. Fall’s arrival reminded us here in the U.S. that the days are growing cooler, that it’s time to dig out sweaters, find the forgotten rakes, and to pick fresh apples and start baking them in pies. It’s the season of leaf peeping, pumpkin carving and cheering through hours of football. It is a time for counting blessings and gathering our families to celebrate all that is good in life, for cherishing our friends and remembering those who passed. This year, remarkably, the sun’s rays also guided a humble man of the cloth to our country, a Pope named Francis, who taught us that kindness and humility, acceptance, and caring for those less fortunate than us remains our daily priority. This year, when the sun crossed the equator, it delivered hope.
My husband and I woke up in our cozy hotel room in Carmel, California to the clamor from the heating unit under the window, and to a sunless gray sky beyond the checkered window curtains. A single day was our allotted time during a side trip from San Francisco, and our plan to spend it on the coast in Big Sur was threatened by a persistent drizzle and a fog that seemed to float in and out on a blanket of whispers. A travel article I had read advised not to rush when driving along the stunning stretch of coastline between San Simeon and Carmel, that Big Sur should be explored leisurely so as not to miss the many sites between the curves and valleys. We had time constraints, but with this scenic stretch of coastal wonderland at our doorstep, the alternative of choosing another spot for the day was simply not an option. There is a certain freedom that comes with the realization that you have 90 coastline miles of one of the most popular and beyond beautiful tourist destinations in the world to yourself, an aloneness that was almost guaranteed by the early hour and gloomy weather. Each mile driven further into “el sur grande” or “the big south” that morning defined the beauty of the area despite the mist that clung to it. The landscape’s tumble toward the sea was so captivating that my husband and I became victims of what I call the stop and go syndrome, the uncontrollable act of pulling over, jumping out of the car, running around in circles in wonder, and repeating every half mile or so. We spent a full day there, which is enough to experience the greatness of Big Sur, but two days would have been perfect. Here are a few thoughts if it’s on your trip list:
Plan ahead. Get to know the area and the highlights. If you’re a hiker, there are a variety of hiking trails, (see Hiking Big Sur) or a tree lover, the Redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park are a must. If you love the ocean…you’ll feel as though you’ve come home.
Leave as early as your body clock will allow. Big Sur gets crowded, and if you’d like a little alone time on a bluff overlooking the Pacific you’re more likely to get it at 9:00 am vs. noon.
The weather is generally moderate year round, and I can’t imagine the area being anything but gorgeous no matter what the day throws at you.
Cell phone service is non-existent for many miles along the Big Sur Coast. Print out hard copies of directions for your wish list, or screen shot them so you’ll have them handy on your phone.
The top attractions are the tops for a reason: Mcway Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Bixby Bridge to name a few.
Pfeiffer Beach was my favorite, but the most difficult to find. The long dirt road to the sea is hidden, and we had to pass by the turn off a few times before we realized where to go. Parking is limited and there is a fee, but the amazing views, purple streaked sand, and giant rock formations were awe-inspiring.
For lunch, the charming Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant served the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever devoured, and the bakery goods reminded me of a weekend at Grandma’s.
“The details, that’s what the world is made of.”
My feature header picture is of Point Sur Lighthouse located on the Northern end of Big Sur. It’s retro vibe reminded me of the 70’s styling of a Wes Anderson movie, one of my favorite filmmakers. Tours of the park are available on scheduled days of each week. For more information see Point Sur Historic Park and Lighthouse.
It’s hard to imagine visiting San Francisco without the great anticipation of a sighting of deep orange steel from the Golden Gate Bridge from almost anywhere you turn. Like the iconic Eiffel in Paris it teases, playfully peeking around street corners and waiting patiently for admirers to view it from the hilltops or from the hazy windows of the tallest of buildings. If I played a game where the rules read to avoid looking at it for an entire visit, I would come up losing. Have I seen it a hundred times? A thousand? I couldn’t possibly keep track. Generous, the structure’s form and color bring out the best of its natural surroundings, and as it reaches gracefully over the bay, the bridge completes the city and makes it whole. It is timeless.
It was just over four years ago when our son made his decision to attend Indiana University, a large public research institution in the charming mid-western college town of Bloomington. And it was five years ago during our student tour, that I remember standing at the entrance to the oldest part of the campus from our place under the graceful limestone arches known as the Sample Gates. A few years later we gathered for parents weekend and cheered on the football team, met roommates and friends, and celebrated university life. Time marched on, the distance between the school and our home is several hours, young men aren’t in need of their parents as often, and the visits to the Bloomington campus ceased, until a few weeks ago. With graduation looming, I heard the call of this beautiful mid-western university and felt an instinctive pull toward our son to spend a last visit together, cement graduation plans and to dream of the future. I met housemates and friends, celebrated university life and embraced the instinctive moment of motherhood when I knew that everything would be, alright. Before I drove back to the airport, I stood again at the Sample Gates and imagined a young man from Atlanta, Georgia tossing his graduation cap from the sunroof of his car as he turned left at the limestone gates for the last time, driving towards a friendly fading sun who lightly whispered a future of love, laughter, hope and promise.
Atlanta, Georgia morphed into a thriving modern city despite the double whammy of destructive a civil war in 1864 and a great fire in the early 1900’s. What wasn’t destroyed in the war, was likely consumed by flames from the later fire. The lack of architecture from this time period haunts me, I like to embrace the past with my eyes, feel it with my fingertips, and it was in part the reason for my choosing to hike the Red Trail in Sweetwater Creek State Park last weekend, a vast wooded park located just west of downtown Atlanta, known for its civil war and Cherokee history. About a half mile into the hike, it was both exciting and sobering to find the towering civil war ruin from my research, nestled peacefully beneath the canopy of trees along the glistening white-water rapids of Sweetwater Creek, both rewarding my curiosity and offering a history lesson about a tranquil area belied by its violent past. My search for remains of civil war architecture brought me to the same sandy banks of the creek where the Union Calvary approached the New Manchester Factory textile mill during the 1864 campaign, ordered it closed, and burned it a week later along with the small surrounding town. The employees, all woman and children, faced a life of hardship when forced to leave and head north, many of them to fend for themselves in towns already crowded with refugees.
The site’s painful history was palpable, and with my mind buzzing I turned to explore further when suddenly the atmosphere shifted slightly, and in a ripple, rows of dull-eyed soldiers marched forward intently toward their destination in a haze of hot summer dust, brushing through me, invisible. The sound of their boots hitting the ground was lost in the laughter from children darting among the rocks, distant conversations lilting lightly in the wind, the muffled tap of my own shoes hitting the dusty, uneven path, until each step fractured the image into a dull melancholy shadow.
The remains of the five-story structure is now protected by a border of chain link fence, limiting access for safety and preservation, but also limiting angles to take pictures. In order to lighten my load for the hike I had switched my camera lens to a small portrait lens, which I enjoy for landscape photography. It captured the dreamy quality of this elegant structure that is slowly and inevitably being reclaimed by its woodland environment. Nature has a way of softening life’s hard edges, of soothing old wounds. I discovered that a hike in the midst of this process had become a compelling history lesson.
For more information on The Sweetwater Red Trail, and to view beautiful photography of the area see Atlanta Trails.
“What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.”
― Kobayashi Issa, Poems
Spring arrived early this year but barely made a ripple in the southern atmosphere as it painted our world in pastels, a relief considering the thrashing we took in the late winter months. The cherry trees in the yard bloomed bigger and the petals fell earlier leaving behind small orbs of dark red, eagerly devoured by chipmunks scampering though the branches like tiny acrobats. The testosterone ravaged birds arrived, puffed up and singing loudly, happily, uncontrollably. They staked their territories, built fine nests of pine straw and dried moss, cleverly disguised above the bird feeders lined like smoke stacks along the branches. The turf wars began. The squirrels, ready to feast at the tables set before them, were shamed into retreat by the flurry of beating wings, warriors suspended in mid-air. The rains came, barely making a ripple and our world rested, preparing for the inevitable arrival of summer, and a backyard truce of sorts.
It’s daybreak on Venice Beach and the sun targets the local pier for a hit of warmth and color. The weathered structure is suddenly transformed into art, light accentuating the etchings worked by the sea and the beautiful symmetry of its industrial design. In a few hours the same sun will bleach the cement pilings of color and the tide will swallow loudly the layers of ocean carvings. The desolate pier will become alive with human activity, and the artistry will evolve again.