The Genius and the Tree

You’d think that the most amazing thing I saw today was the “Father of the Forest” at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. With a circumference of 66 feet, its base was an optical illusion. Real? Not real? It’s hard to imagine that this Herculean tree beast has been around for thousands of years, existing in a single, solitary space and growing every day. But no, this was not the most amazing thing I saw today.

Here is the most amazing thing I saw.

After I read Elias “One Fish, Two Fish…” and kissed him good night, he was uncharacteristically quiet. I assumed, or hoped rather, that he had quickly fallen into a deep sleep. Au contraire!

When I peeked into his room he was on his bed with several of his books in front of him. He was taking each hardback and methodically arranging them to create different geometric patterns. First was a gradual step where one book jutted out a bit further from the last. Next he lined up each book so that the bases created a straight line in front of him. Finally, he matched corners creating a symmetric snowflake design that engulfed him.

As a proud mother I called Alex inside to check out our son’s genius. Alex brought me down to earth. “All two year olds play like that,” he said. Really? I’m not too sure.

Me and Xavey, Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Happy boy
Alex in a burned out redwood
Balancing

Surprises

On this trip I’ve learned to fully appreciate the idea that brilliant surprises can be found in even the most mundane locations.

This morning, while Elias climbed the stairs of a play structure in a small Felton, California park, I heard what I believed was a banjo being played. I could not see where it was coming from so I urged Elias to follow me as I turned toward the playful and quick footed tune.

When I looked up I noticed a covered bridge tucked into the trees. Mysteriously appearing like Alice’s rabbit hole or C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe, I blinked and the bridge was there. With Elias charging the way we entered it and found a young man sitting against the wall finding solace in a steel guitar. Tucked into the wrinkles of the old bridge he quietly and calmly listened as if to a grandfather and replied with sweet melodies.

Once through the bridge we happened upon a horse rescue whose numerous stables were home to ponies, miniature horses and thoroughbreds all of whom survived life’s misfortunes and found new homes in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains. It was Willow Pond Ranch, whose tagline read, “A sanctuary where rescued horses inspire enduring transformation”. The phrase “enduring transformation” replayed itself as I tried to grasp the gravity of two single words.

We are all constantly transforming ourselves and can never be who we were yesterday. Our daily experiences change us, creating tiny bends in life’s path.

In the afternoon we took a family hike into Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Starting from Highway 9, where the low trees are covered in moss, the redwoods appeared so far from us. Alex kept pointing to the distance claiming that he wanted to see the big trees but feared that with the two babies, we would not make it that far. Having given up our search we turned down a new path to discover that we were at the entrance of a centuries old redwood grove. How had we not realized that we were standing next to some of the world’s oldest trees, I don’t know. But before us was a path that circled trees of unfathomable height and girth. The walk was as magical is its swift emergence. Clover covered ground, fallen trees blanketed with moss and towering redwoods helped to create a world belonging to Tolkien.

There are very few places in this world where individual trees have their own personalities and which are remembered once left behind. Redwoods have this awesome ability to speak with you and stay with you once you’ve said goodbye.

The Covered Bridge
Xavey... just because

Rain

Tucked warmly in our little home, the soft pitter pat of rain has lulled both of my babies to sleep. Outside we see the base of redwoods and thick clouds of green leaves. It is impossible not to feel Northern California encroaching on us. Today’s wet sky reminds us how close we are to meeting the many friends and family who call the Bay Area home.

Officially two months on the road and today is our first day of rain. I’d say we’ve averaged 70 degrees with sun since our snow day in Alamosa. However, this rain is a welcomed break. It slows us down and cleanses the earth around us.

If we are lucky we’ll get some thunder, but only after the babies wake from their naps.

Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz

Ahhh… Mountains

Today we left the shores of Monterey to head into the mountains of Santa Cruz. Pulling up into the forested hills felt like home for the first time on this journey. From the desert, to sandy beaches, to marinas, the landscapes on our trip have been nothing like the pine forests of Colorado. Today we had our first taste of mountain living since leaving Buena Vista and I loved it!

Despite being thrilled by entering the forests, I have to say that we had a really wonderful week in Monterey. We finished up the week by spending the day in Carmel. I had no idea what to expect but was speechless at the town’s beauty. I laughed because Meta was the only mutt on a beach swarming with pedigrees and I had to call my dad to tell him that I had an incredible view of Pebble Beach Golf Course.

After playing on the beach we walked through the neighborhoods admiring the multi-million dollar homes that Alex claimed tried to look too much like Smurf castles. Now, these houses were not big by any means, but rather small,  European-like villas worth about $600 a square foot with occupants who sport Chanel and smoke cigars while strolling through town (yes we saw this). Needless to say, they were breathtaking. All were tucked into narrow, windy roads with trees that formed dark canopies. It reminded me of all that I miss about living in the East. Though it’s been years since I’ve called New York my home, I dream of forested streets that shower you with green.

This afternoon we arrived in Felton, a mountain town ten minutes from downtown Santa Cruz. It’s incredible how you can surf here and then drive ten minutes to bike in the mountains. Sounds pretty incredible right? We are at an RV park for the first time since Palm Springs and it’s nice to have the few additional amenities as well as the security. We are camped in a grove of redwoods which tower over us at unfathomable heights. There are lots of children here riding their bikes and campfires and a calming river that runs about twenty feet below.

I had the luxury of a quiet walk with Meta this evening after both kids had gone to bed. My head was lost above me in trees that reached the clouds like the fabled beanstalk Jack climbed. Perhaps these trees were the inspiration for the story? Who knows? I do know that I am thrilled to finally be in the forested mountains. It’s amazing that it took us nearly two months to get here.

A Sea Portal

On rare occasions you are lucky enough to visit an institution that has the power to seamlessly transport you into another world. It is as if a portal opens and you fall unknowingly into a foreign space that wraps itself around you and takes you away. For me, that place has always been the American Museum of Natural History. As a kid the dioramas seemed incredibly real, the artifacts unfathomable and the space all consuming. As an adult the museum still fascinates me, even during the time that I had the good fortune to work behind its scenes. It is forever growing and changing, yet its dioramas become priceless artifacts themselves because they were, at one time, visionary.

The Monterey Aquarium carries the same magic. The aquarium sits right on the bay where the ocean’s rocky edge and wildlife are as much a part of your visit as the animals inside. The water washes its way into several exhibits and you start to lose track of where the exhibits end and the ‘real’ ocean begins.

Its dark and cavernous displays bring you deep under the sea. They calm you and make the blood in your body sway to the water around you. They make you believe that creatures of the sea are alien, designed by an imagination that stymies creative minds. This aquarium has the power to make you feel that the ocean is not of this world. Its inhabitants are cool and you begin to wish that your world could be like this. Wildly calm and exploding with untamed variety.

On our visit today I became speechless when giant octopuses scaled glass walls with creeping tentacles. Like a beach towel flapping in the wind to be cleaned of tiny pieces of sand, the body of the octopus rippled under the water’s gentle sway.

The jellyfish were prehistoric. Together they are works of art moving together to their own symphony. These floating masterpieces caused cameras to be clicked constantly. It was as if the Mona Lisa were in front of us. I would have never called these boneless warriors beautiful until today but I was awestruck. Lethal creatures have never seemed so mesmerizing and gentle. How different they look under the sea than on the sands of Fire Island washed up on shore.

The last exhibit I visited was the Hall of Seahorses where proud papas carried pouches full of hundreds of babies. With their tails wrapped around ocean grass their eyes watch you as you walk by. In small tanks, floating by themselves were those babies, no larger than a safety pin. Can you even call these fish? How unique they are. They deserve a category unto themselves.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been this impressed by an institution. So thank you Monterey Aquarium for bringing me through your portal and into another world.

A Monterey Rundown

When Alex told me he had booked a site at a racetrack I had visions of Ricky Bobby and spectators sitting in lawn chairs on top of dilapidated RVs. “This is going to be interesting,” I thought. But now that we are on our third day at Laguna Seca in Monterey, I am again reminded that expectations are rarely realized.

Our camper is currently perched on top of a hill that overlooks the hills surrounding Monterey. Campsites create a corkscrew of fire pits and picnic tables around the hill’s perimeter and at its base is the famous racetrack which sets the stage for daily car races.

The days are hot and we can hear the roar of the cars as they turn the bend. But the nights here are warm and a light fog sets in so that just a thin strip floats at eye level. Above and below the fog is crystal clear as if there were a parfait of cloud surrounding our hill. When the sun sets the trees, which look like large bonsai, become black silhouettes and the sky above Monterey turns pink. It is mid week so neighbors are rare. We are spoiled to have this view all to ourselves.

I have continued my playground and children’s museum tour here in Monterey. Our first outing was to the “Dennis the Menace” playground, a large adventure zone with several play structures including a suspension bridge, an historic steam engine and a tube slide. While it’s difficult to get bored here, I echo another parent’s sentiment that it’s “the most dangerous park I’ve ever seen.” Who knew what was lurking in the sandy floor and the jagged edge of concrete tunnels made me cringe.

Afterwards we all walked down Fisherman’s Wharf where each restaurant had cheerleaders handing out samples of their clam chowder in an effort to lure in customers. We sampled several, each different from the last. At the end of the pier was a restaurant where each window had a 360⁰ view of the bay. I managed to spill a piping hot sample of clam chowder on my shoulder while trying to wrangle Elias. Most people would leave the scene; we decided to stay for dinner. The wharf is a tourist trap but the view of the bay with its myriad of sailboats is worth the trip.

Yesterday was a visit to the Children’s Museum, of which I’m starting to consider myself a pro. This is the fourth museum on our trip and perhaps one of the best next to the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum. If it weren’t for the trains at San Luis Obispo, Our visit in Monterey could take top honors. Being Monterey, there was a child’s putting green and pee wee size marina. We spent most of our time in the kitchen, naturally, and stomping “grapes” in a wooden barrel. Elias 2011 will be ready to be corked next summer.

Eight loads of laundry later (yes eight!) we were all on the southern shores of Monterey in Pacific Grove. Here is where the beaches run wild. Sea otters bob their heads while others lounge on backs for an evening meal. Rocks form jagged castles for seagulls to perch on. The fog is thick and cold. With sweatshirts pulled tight we talked about the ocean’s scope and its incredible range of personalities. Here we are where the wild woman has begun to calm, whose skin has thousands of stories to tell and whose mind still has a fiery bite. It is beautiful here and I am particularly taken with it.

With picnic in hand we jumped into a gazebo in a tiny park in Pacific Grove, a town whose storybook downtown is lined with petite Victorians, some that seem no larger than a room or two. Each block fits several of these small homes and as you drive further out of town unique homes are tucked under cypress trees so that they blend into the landscape.

Tonight we are tired. We’ve packed in a lot and still have the aquarium and Carmel to visit. Xavier is asleep in my arms but Elias refuses to fall asleep (sigh). When he does I hope he dreams of sea otters and fishing boats. How sweet that would be.

**I had some great pics from the last few days which got corrupted when I tried to save them. They are lost forever. No one is more said than me. Sorry!**

Happy Two

Elias turned two today and amidst the calls of “happy two” and “cupcake” from the energetic toddler I marveled at how much you can really love someone. A hug from Elias is more precious than anything monetary and when he sleeps I watch his chest rise and fall because it is magic to me. Yes, you often hear about a mother’s love, but in reality there are no words to explain it.

I’d say that these two years have gone by fast, but I actually feel that Elias has always been a part of my life, making those two years stretch out much longer. As we might feel that our spouse was waiting to be found, my little boys were meant to be a part of my life.

Today, on the way to Monterey, we drove through California’s central valley, the Golden State’s agricultural hub. Miles and miles of furrowed fields lined highway 101. From green lettuce to grape vines and everything in between, we found ourselves traveling through America’s garden. Life grew on all sides and it appeared to go on limitlessly into the horizon.

Elias, I thought, is so much like these fields. He is exploding with life and growing infinitely every day. His potential stretches for miles and his life will be full of ceaseless variety. And while he has become my sunshine, the center of my world, I will one day be just one part of his ever expanding universe.

Until then I am going to savor my two year old and his desire to have mommy nearby. What amazing moments they are. So “happy two” my sweet little monkey. I love you unconditionally and adore watching you grow.

Don't you touch my cupcake!
I'm growing fast too!