By the Bay

We had been to the San Francisco Bay area before and always loved it, but perhaps never for so many good reasons as this trip offered: we attended a wonderful wedding in Sonoma at a gorgeous location, dined with long time friends, visited family, and celebrated our anniversary. The weather also favored us far beyond expectation.

We chose to stay in Tiburon, in the delightful Water’s Edge Hotel, just steps from the ferry-boat landing, and once settled in we didn’t use our car again. Taking the ferry from Tiburon to Fisherman’s Wharf offered a completely new perspective on the city, its famous bridges, and Alcatraz. But the best location for immersion and pleasure was sitting on the hotel deck at dusk for cocktails, and for morning coffee. San Francisco was visible across the bay, and the sinking sun brought a shimmer to the view. Darn close to heaven.

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Iceplant

Considered to be a coastal invader which can choke out other native plants and alter the soil, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests not planting the species, and removing it whenever possible. A drive along the Sonoma County coast last weekend, in hazy morning light, made that reasonable explanation and request very difficult to support.  

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Meow Wolf

Did I really want to see another, new (2016) art installation in Santa Fe, NM, a town of more wonderful galleries and public art works than one is able to count? After a week there, with several hours to spare before my plane departed, I debated the issue and gave in to reviews and temptation. 

As its name implies, Meow Wolf isn’t a traditional experience. Developed by a collective of artists and described as “Unique & immersive art installations with multimedia elements & a mysterious narrative throughout”, it is housed in a strip mall looking setting a few miles from Santa Fe Plaza. And that’s about as far as it is really possible to describe. 

I asked a docent where the name came from, and he said the story goes there were two hats filled with suggestions, and a word was drawn from each. It doesn’t take long to believe that makes sense. Once you enter into a very traditional looking house to begin the adventure, you can choose to enter the experience through doorways, stairwells, catwalks, or perhaps by crawling through the fireplace, or walking into a perfectly normal looking refrigerator. There are friendly creatures to meet along the way, and whether gazing up, down, through, or sitting still to watch a light show, I bet you’ll be smiling.

These few photos really give very little of the experience away; I hope you’ll give into temptation too.

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Perfect

That’s a pretty high standard to set, but our 15 days in Switzerland met all my criteria for perfect. For a country without access to the sea (my usual preference), its rivers and lakes create gorgeous settings for cities and villages, and if you love mountains, it takes your breath away, figuratively and literally. It’s pristine, charming and dramatic, the trains are wonderful, and what’s not to love about cheese, chocolate, and their own chilled white wine with crepes. We visited wonderful old towns and sophisticated cities, ski resorts, the lake district and alpine meadows, rode in an open air gondola, a cog-wheel train and the Glacier Express, took boat rides and walked deep inside a glacier. It was difficult to choose one photo per visit day, but I settled for these, plus one picture from our side trip to the lovely French village of Annecy, near Geneva. 

I read recently that the Dali Lama believes we should live our lives on earth as tourists, with compassion for one another and deep respect for the environment we share. Switzerland seems to have a good understanding of that concept, and I loved being a tourist in their country. 

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Yard Art

This has nothing to do with me; we barely provide water. The previous owners planted these Hydrangeas, a surprise to us our first spring in the house, and I’ve been grateful ever since. One morning they appear… and in a few short days, in our heat, they’ll be curled up in a futile attempt to remain glorious. The purple blooming tree, which we planted as a small bush only two years ago, is a native Vitex which thrives in our area. I’m also very happy we’ve become acquainted.

Tiny but Mighty

Having heard that Pam was a gifted teacher, I waited in the church classroom for her arrival when she burst in to greet us with a hearty welcome. She was unexpectedly dressed in colorful exercise clothes instead of her priestly garb, and, as tiny as she was, she exuded a huge presence rounding the room, speaking to each student. And thus began a very special educational experience, and a deep friendship.

Pam was first a wife and mother, and from mid-life a seminarian and Episcopal priest. Her interests knew no boundaries, and she was as knowledgeable about Judaism and Buddhism as she was about Christianity. She could set the stage, fill in the background, bring ancient stories to current life, entertain, and listen. If you asked a question, it was the smartest question she ever heard. If you needed her attention, she had laser focus on you, no matter the distractions. Everyone she met thought they were her best friend. And she made you think: no platitudes, no doctrinal lectures, no fire and brimstone; just common sense, wisdom and humor. I kept lots of notes over the years which helped me sort out my own path, and laid a foundation for deepening faith.

A few of her contributions to my understanding of religion:

  • God meets us at our level of need and understanding. 
  • God is God of all the earth and of all people; God as my “personal Savior” is small thinking
  • Relationship with God doesn’t necessarily mean understanding; the feeling of having God near is oscillating
  • We have to consent to being drawn to God; it is an act of free will. “Call” is not to become “special” but to become “whole”
  • Language about the divine is symbolic, not literal; mystery can’t be described, but a sense of the sacred can be cultivated
  • Sin means missing the mark, a reliance on self-sufficiency rather than the inner experience of knowing who you are in God 
  • Biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing
  • The Bible is a compilation of stories, written my many authors over time; it is about people forgetting what God has done and will do, about who they are and whose they are, about God being present in chaos. The question is not did it happen or did it happen this way, but what is the empowering meaning of the story
  • If we take the mystical from religion, church becomes a college classroom. Scripture can become a commodity – “tell me what to believe now”. Participating in ritual creates community; liturgy and scripture are powerful symbolic means to help evoke God’s promise and presence in a special way, through practice that attends to all senses. Sacramental mystery reminds us there is more than that which can be seen.

A few of her contributions to my understanding of life:

  • Life is capricious from our side of the tapestry; God works in darkness and light; it all comes together in God’s time, not clock time.
  • Other people’s lives are none of my business except to take to God in prayer
  • There may not be a cure, but there will always be healing
  • There is soul transformation throughout life, often in conflict with the ego’s attempt to redirect path; wrestling for understanding requires humility
  • If you want to spiritually grow and change, above all know that you are loved as you are, in spite of human fallibility.

Pam left this life suddenly, but her legacy has been embedded in those who had the privilege of studying with her, and sharing her friendship. I cannot imagine her resting in peace; I suspect she has a full classroom gathered round already, taking notes and hoping to emulate her mighty spirit.

We are missing her mighty spirit here on earth.

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Wake Up Calls

A recent feature reported by Susan Spencer on CBS Sunday Morning entitled “Can Money Buy Happiness” included mention of a 2002 New Yorker cartoon by Eric Lewis. It shows an old man on his deathbed, saying to his about to be bereaved, “I should have bought more crap.” It made me laugh, as I am once again in the unpleasant process of attempting to pare down, at least a little.

It also made me think about how I am currently spending much of my time, and as I pack for eBay shipments, I’ve been considering my personal cartoon captions:

I should have…

posted more

pinned more

tweeted more

followed more

taken more selfies

driven better stats

complained more

watched more news

The possibility for ludicrous (but eye-opening) memes is endless. While writing this, another cartoon by Eric Lewis, published in the New Yorker in 2013, caught my attention: it shows the grim reaper knocking on a front door, saying “Take a wild guess, butter boy.”

I do hope life continues to be entertaining.