We’ve been blessed with more than usual rainfall on the central coast of California recently. I love the way the gray skies and damp, rain-soaked surfaces around our home make the colors seem more rich and vibrant. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. Wet cement and a shovel can look like abstract art. While fallen tree branches take on the purple glow of a Fauvist painting. Even a little hummer left behind this winter came out to dazzle me with its red-throated splendor. I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.
Dale and I spent a magical day recently at San Simeon Bay along Highway 1, just below Hearst Castle on the California central coast. Quite unexpectedly, we found two sailboats rolling gently in the bay and three elephant seals lulling in the sun. Something we’ve never seen here before. Although elephant seals are found abundantly in this area, it’s unusual to find them on busy beaches. Signs warned us to beware, as these wild creatures can bite should they be disturbed.
One of the boats looked like La Gitana, the 46-foot sailboat that was our home for six years when we sailed around the world. Nostalgia for that magic time hit heavy. I almost felt like I could see our son at the bow with his fishing line thrown into the bay, our daughter riding the boom as she liked to do, and Dale and I sitting on the aft deck with two big green buckets and a wooden plunger, doing laundry.
Further up the beach was a quaint hut made of driftwood that some surfer had built. Like ones we often saw on remote beaches built by yachties when we were sailing.
Along the way as we hiked up the bluff and out to the point, we stopped to visit the largest eucalyptus trees we’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, with their rainbow bark, elephantine trunks and long octopus arms. Magical!
When we reached the point, we could look back at the bay and get a faraway glimpse of Hearst Castle high in the hills, another magical place. On the other side were beautiful views of the coastline.
The last time we came here we headed back after reaching the point, but this time we turned north to a path lined by pine and eucalyptus trees that parallels the coast.
The path grew narrower and darker and spookier as we walked, the trees thicker and more gnarled, blocking out the sun. Sharp branches reached out to grab and tree roots rose up to trip. On one side we could hear the hidden ocean waves whispering warnings to us, while all around the creepy creaks and groans of trees sent cold shivers down our spines. It seemed to go on forever. We could almost imagine ourselves as Hansel and Gretel lost in the stark, dark woods just before reaching the witches gingerbread house. Our path eventually opened up to a sun-filled view of the coastline stretching out as far as we could see, with the very faint outline of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse in the far misty distance.
On the hike back to the beach we came across a strange trail of dark, oily splats along the path, as if dropped from some huge creature flying by. Dragon shit, we surmised, looking up as if to see the dark shadow of reptile wings wheeling by. A fair and fitting end to our magical day at San Simeon.
That unusual thunderstorm I wrote about last week brought more than 1200 lightening strikes that forked across California causing 560 wildfires gobbling up forests, homes and whole communities. The worst we’ve had so far, and the fire season gets worse each year.
We were fortunate here on the central coast. The few fires that struck nearby were quickly put out. But the state is ablaze north and south of us. Our county lies under a thick pall of heavy smoke that fills the air with ash and fine particles. Air quality warnings are on high alert all around us. Our masks do double duty now, to protect us from Corona and the fires’ fallout.
While all this was going on I was watching the Democratic National Convention, which shone like a glimmer of hope beneath the pall of smoke and burst aflame during the final days.
Here’s what I wrote on Facebook after the convention:
I have been so inspired by the Democratic convention this week. I’ve been riveted all 4 nights, loving the new format, the intimacy and variety it brings, highlighting ordinary citizens all across the nation, republicans as well as democrats who are joining together to support this inspiring ticket to redeem the soul of America. While I was thrilled with the speeches by the Obamas, charmed by Jill Biden’s loving endorsement of her husband, excited by Kamala Harris’s acceptance speech, and cheered by so many others, it was Biden’s speech that filled my heart with hope and joy. He is the leader I’ve been waiting for, the one who can unite and heal our country, who can bring decency, honesty, and integrity back into the oval office. Who will defend our democracy and protect our troops and restore our standing in the world. We will again be a city on a hill, a beacon in the dark, a champion of human rights around the world. I’m stoked and hope you are too. Please VOTE
Despite this excitement and new confidence that Biden will win the day, I worry about the day after January 20. There are so many wildfires he needs to put out before he can even begin to “build back better.” Not least among them is getting this virus under control, getting kids back to school and people back to work. Replacing all the Trump-appointed heads of departments and agencies who have worked so hard to tear them apart. Recalling his ambassadors who wreck havoc overseas. Restoring our relationships with the WHO and NATO and the Climate Accord and so many other entities. The list goes on and on.
I think a President Biden administration will be up to the task. But it will be a long haul just to get back to zero, to the prosperity President Obama left for us before Trump ruined everything. The challenge will be trying to do all this while also marching forward with new positive changes so needed, like ending systemic racism and guaranteeing affordable healthcare to one and all, in order to make this truly a “more perfect union”
The most most pressing problem to address, and the hardest in which to see timely results, is Climate Change, which contributed to all these wildfires and to the double hurricanes sweeping toward our Gulf Coast as I write.
Saving our planet from ourselves and for our children and grandchildren is priority #!. My fear is that with all the other fires we need to put out it will be put on a back burner. And if it is, who knows what devastation will be brought to our shores and across the globe next year, and the year after, and the one after that . . . .
Photo credit – Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty. A senior center sign warning of Covid during Hennessey Fire near Lake Berryessa in Napa on August 18, 2020
I’ve long loved the way the rolling hills along the coast of California fold together and overlap, the sensuality of that “hot rise and cool dip.” I’ve tried to capture a bit of that fascination in some of my poetry: Hot Hills in Summer Heat, and Playing with Light, loving the way the light falls upon those folds so that “the hills unwind, one at a time, to dance before us all.”
Lately I’ve been trying to capture some of that in a few paintings, some inspired by the work of other artists and some from my own photographs. I’m not wholly satisfied with any of them, but something of what I’m trying to capture comes through.
This first is watercolor and oil pastel, and even a brush of soft chalk pastel in the sea and highlighting the closest hill. This was inspired by a Dale Laitinen painting of the coastline along Highway 1 near our home called.
The one above and below were inspired by a local and much-loved artist Erin Hanson who works mostly in oil. My painting above is again oil pastel and watercolor on Arches cold press paper, which has much more texture than the smoother hot press Fabriano paper used in the other oil pastel paintings in this post.
This one was also inspired by Hanson which I painted some time ago in acrylic. I’ve only created three works in acrylic so far, but for some reason I feel intimidated by it. I’m not sure why. The three I painted out came out well enough. Of course, none of these inspired by other artists come even close to the quality of the original works. But I learn so much each time I try.
This one and the one below are from my own photographs taken of the hillsides on my walks around our neighborhood. They come closer to those “folding hills” I wrote about earlier, “the hot rise and cool dip” in my poems. Both are oil pastel and watercolor on hot press paper.
In this last one I wanted to see what the hills would look like stripped down and closer. I’m not sure which version I like best. The mattings help a lot to set off the works. Someday I will learn to photograph my paintings better. That might help too (smile.)
Thank you for bearing with me as I try to learn this craft and share my efforts. It’s a fascinating pastime.
[Note: I created this post before the latest round of fires set these hills ablaze north and south of where we live. My heart goes out to all who have lost their lives and homes, and seen their communities destroyed, including the wildlife that inhabits these hills and forests.]
Two of my paintings are being shown at a local gallery this month. They are part of an exhibition titled “For Love of Central & Coastal California.”
One is a view of iconic Morro Bay Rock as seen from the top of Highway 46, not far from where we live. It is one of my favorite views, especially in the spring with the green hills folding down to the sea. In the actual view from the highway, Morro Rock can barely be seen, even on a clear day. But one of the wonderful things about painting is that you can move things around and make them smaller or larger to fit your vision and what you want to capture.
This painting was a composite of the following two photographs that I took not long ago. I tried to capture the intense green hills and their shadows from the first photo, and more detail of the ravines that spider up the far hills in the second. I made the hills steeper than they actually are and emphasized the road dipping into the folds.
The second painting on display is a view of a hidden sea cave as seen from Highway 1 near Big Sur.
It is a composite of the following two photos, the first featuring the yellow wild flowers that grow near the highway overlooking the sea, and the second shows the cave itself in its private cove. You can barely make out the fence and pathway leading down the cliff toward the ocean in the photo.
This last painting is not part of the show but shares the theme. It is a painting of a pathway lined with oaks leading to the river near our home. A “California dreamer” leans against a tree trunk.
This is the reference photo, sans the mountain and the “dreamer” I added.
I was trying to use the colors and the looser style found in the following painting, one of my favorites by Henri Manguin.
Mine isn’t as successful as I had hoped, but it still captures enough of that “dreamy” feeling of late afternoon, with the sun filtering down through the leaves, to want to keep it.
I hope you enjoyed this brief stroll with me through California’s sunlit and sea-splashed hills. May you savor the natural beauty that lies in your own backyard, wherever that may be.
Here on the central coast of California, we look forward to a green, rather than white, Christmas. While we love our golden hills of summer, we crave green in the winter. During last year’s drought our summer hills turned dun. Even the golden grasses dried up and blew away, and this lasted through winter. But this year our green came early and I’ve been revelling in it.
Here are some recent photos of the green-wonderland behind our home.
My husband and our dog Mitzy.
A fallen giant.
Shadows and moss.
Sunlight breaking through.
The Three Sisters.