We chose Palm Springs, CA from which to visit Joshua Tree National Park, some 50 miles away. From palm trees, dynamic skies and lush water filled landscapes in the desert of resorts, the Mojave Desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park offered cactus larger than men, gigantic boulder formations which hid cattle rustlers of the past, and the strange Joshua trees, which aren’t really trees, but a species of yucca which can grow over 40 feet tall. The Park has been a protected area since 1936 and looked starkly beautiful on an overcast December day; I’m certain it’s an entirely different experience in the blistering heat of summer.
Driving southwest from the desert to San Diego on long switch back roads led us through other alien lands and varied weather, from palm trees mixed with snow-capped mountains, to sun filled valleys nestled in vast barren rocky plains. It was a good adventure, secondary only to the primary purpose we had for being there at all: a visit with family from whom separated much too long.
Derived from Latin, Advent means “coming” in the Christian tradition, observed as a time of waiting for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, as well as His expectant return. As the first season of the Christian church year, Advent includes four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Many traditions have been developed over the centuries that Advent has been observed, including the use of purple or blue as the liturgical color, the lighting of one Advent candle each week, and special seasonal music including Lessons and Carols, Handel’s “Messiah” Oratorio, and my favorite Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel”.
It is a busy time in our lives, both festive and frenetic. I know how quickly irritations can invade my interactions, and how easily I forget the underlying purpose of the season in myopic preparations. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian who died at the hands of the Nazi regime, left this quote to remind me to honor and celebrate the world I live in as I await the one I hope for.
I spoke much too soon about finding it difficult to see colorful foliage in Texas; Fall showed up over the weekend to give me many more reasons to be thankful.
We say “thanks” often, reflexively, usually without much thought. And we love the Thanksgiving holiday as time spent with family, friends, food and football. We probably even take a moment during the day to acknowledge our bounty and good fortune with thanks. We know about gratitude and consider ourselves lucky when we tally all that we have to be grateful for. But have we turned a genuine appreciation for our blessings into shallow platitudes?
William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925, an American politician known for his persuasive speaking skills) offered another perspective, which actually caused me to stop and think. He added to my understanding of Thanksgiving; perhaps you will be similarly affected.
I’ve needed distractions for many months, and enjoyed these. Educated by Tara Westover was mind-boggling, God Save Texas by Lawrence Wright of particular interest given my environment, and Mick Herron’s Slough House series starting with Slow Horses brought laugh out loud relief from current events. I struggled to become engaged with Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders but was ultimately swept away. Good writers continue to have my undying respect and devotion.
It can be hard to find in Texas, so we headed south to the Hill country this year, probably a little too early in the season for full effect. We had foggy mornings, drove through rolling hills past wineries, and stayed in a wonderful little log cabin for a change of pace. In a few more weeks there may be more color to see; the scenery is different in this part of the world and can offer a fun surprise.
I like and use TripAdvisor (tripadvisor.com), the web site that collects advice from travelers about places to go, things to do, where to eat. I have found it useful and a generally reliable resource for developing travel plans, and dreaming of new adventures. A recent TripAdvisor post caught my eye because, of course, I wondered how I was doing in accomplishing what “Travelers Say These Are The 10 Best World Landmarks To See Before You Die (And Here’s How).” The “Travelers’ Choice award winners this year includes historical sites, scenic attractions, and breathtaking examples of architectural innovation in destinations far and wide.”
I haven’t seen them all, but those I have would make my “best” list too … except for one: Alcatraz. Alcatraz, along with the Golden Gate Bridge, are the two landmarks which represent the United States on this list. I get that they may be unique, and the bridge is certainly an iconic symbol of San Francisco. But Alcatraz? I can’t say it’s an example of anything I’m particularly proud of about our country. It’s a 22 acre rock, with ruins of a former federal penitentiary. It also has a lighthouse and lots of birds, but I don’t think tours would be filled with enthusiasts if stories of criminals weren’t part of the experience. I really don’t understand the appeal. I agree it’s an historical site, and taking the ferry around San Francisco Bay is very scenic, but compared to other options on the “best list”… the Taj Mahal in India … St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome … the Parliament building in Budapest? I have no trouble choosing. And wouldn’t you think travelers would find the Grand Canyon or the giant Sequoias or the Lincoln Memorial more noteworthy sights in America than Alcatraz?
(I did find the locks looking through the fence toward Alcatraz of some appeal as a tourist photo op).