Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

The Sad Evanescence of Wildflowers (Wildflowers Part II)

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The Sad Evanescence of Wildflowers (Wildflowers Part II)
Photos from April 4-24, 2020

It’s what makes wildflowers so extraordinary: they come unbidden and last only briefly. The spring flowers and vegetation have been robust and exuberant this year. Their wild and carefree example is a welcome antidote to the oppressive constraints of lockdown.

During this pandemic, because I am limited to where I can go, I visit the same places often. I am closely witnessing the successive waves of wildflowers. It is like watching a long play with numerous acts. Some characters have a role in each scene while others exit early. Sometimes new characters are introduced later in the performance. One character who has appeared on stage in every act is the California poppy.

The flowering current, an early blooming shrub, is no longer displaying its large pink flower clusters. Eventually, it will show off it’s purple fruit but for now it has transitioned from something showy, cheerful and bright to an inconspicuous bush.

The giant trillium has now passed on. The leaves are still hugging the forest floor, big and flat, but they are beginning to show the wear and tear of life in the wild. The tall, deep red petals have shriveled and darkened, dislodged by the multi-sided seed pod at its base.

The blue of the sky lupines has been replaced by the purplish tangled mats of winter vetch. Just last week the lupines were everywhere and now they have strangely vanished without a trace. How can this be? I feel abandoned. They were just here, so vibrant and fresh.

The shooting stars have also departed, having only appeared for a brief time, like their namesake. The resplendent carpets of flowers along Russian Ridge have finally peaked. The fading of their previous glory saddens me.

Withered plants, fallen petals, dulled colors. I am heart broken and grieving. My friends are leaving again. We had such a short time together. But it was splendid and joyful for a while.

We must wait another year to meet. I hope they all make it to our next rendezvous. Our date for spring 2021 is already written in my calendar. With droughts, fires and climate change, it’s not a given they will come. My own existence is also not guaranteed.

Does beauty only exist because everything is transient? Is life only meaningful because it is finite? Does our love have to be intricately tied to our capacity for heartbreak?

Yes, it seems so.

This gallery contains 30 photos

Retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains

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NOTE: I have been remiss in posting my blog notes and photos for the last few months. I’ve been resorting to “quick and dirty” posting on Facebook on both my personal page and my more professional “Carla Brennan Photography” page. However, now that I have been sheltering-in-place for a few weeks, I am knuckling down to resume regular posts. I have no shortage of photographs to share.

When I wrote the first draft of this narrative in January, I did not know that my self-retreating skills would soon be put to good use while sheltering-in-place for the pandemic!

THE SELF-RETREAT

Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
December 2019

Every so often – but not often enough – I arrange a self-retreat, a period of time to be alone and silent. The days are spent following a loose schedule of meditation, exercise, meals and moseying about with my camera. This past December I spent four nights at a friend’s estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains while they were away.

For this self-retreat I tried something new. I shared the experience with a friend. We both contributed to preparing meals and we ate together in silence, only speaking to communicate practical concerns. We also meditated together several times a day. Otherwise, we kept our own schedules. We had separate but nearby rooms. Maybe this is new kind of retreat, a buddy-retreat instead of a self-retreat.

Despite forecasts for sun, it was overcast and rainy most of the week. Thick fog often obscured the surrounding mountains. This weather added to a mood of quiet introspection.

The property had beautiful gardens with small man-made ponds and pathways. Large and small sculptures, stonework and inviting seating areas were dispersed among the plantings. Despite the rain and chilliness, I wandered outdoors for a few hours each day. I did not hike, mind you, but only sauntered, as John Muir recommended, slowly and lovingly taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the sacred land in a leisurely manner.

This area of thoughtfully cultivated land is completely surrounded by wild redwood forest creating a feeling of remoteness and welcomed isolation, even though it was only a few miles from my home (as the raven flies) and even closer to the not-so-bustling center of downtown Ben Lomond. I felt delightfully removed from my ordinary life as if I were far away in a magical kingdom.

CALIFORNIA NEWTS
Each day, whether raining or not, I’d zigzag through the gardens of fruit trees and flowering plants. Several ponds, created for water storage and for beauty, dotted the landscape. Within these pools, California newts had begun their mating rituals, lazily floating in embracing pairs. This was engrossing to watch even though it was, for the most part, serene with little activity.

Occasionally there would be a sudden upheaval and disturbance. A third newt would approach a mating pair and attempt to takeover. I assume it was a male trying to win over mating rights with the female. Suddenly the three newts would become a writhing ball of hard-to-identify amphibious parts struggling for supremacy. Eventually one newt would leave and the pair would again settle into their gentle mating embrace, floating dreamily in the murky water. I never knew if it was the intruder or the original male who left.

Some newts had also taken to traveling across land through the forest so I had to be careful where I stepped. They were perhaps on their way to another pond to reproduce.

WATER STRIDERS
The other primary inhabitant of the ponds were water striders, those insects who magically glide on water, taking advantage of its natural surface tension. Being the large, clumsy creatures that we are, we rarely get to experience this feature of water. I tried to photograph the delicate balance of insect resting on water.

DROPS AND BUBBLES
I enjoy photographing water in all its many forms. The rain during the week left glistening beads of water on stems and leaves and flowers. I even found myself reflected in large bubbles created in ponds by droplets falling from trees.

OLIVES
Do you love olives? I do. I love eating them but I also love photographing them. I am enchanted to see them growing and ripening on their trees, something you don’t see, of course, in the Northeast where I am from. Olives do well in the climate here, with weather similar to their origins along the Mediterranean Sea. I now understand why olives are a popular motif in Southern European designs. I have, for example, a lovely French oilcloth tablecloth and napkins decorated with a black olive pattern.

RETREATING
A retreat is a chance to slow down, to return to simplicity and celebrate silence. It is a break from the relentless demand of our to-do list and a respite from the powerful intrusive “weapons of mass distraction.” For a while we can be relieved of the pressure to get things done, to fulfill agendas and pursue accomplishments.

Having engaged in many long silent retreats over four decades, I know the transformative power of relinquishing our daily routines and hurried activities. We can return to a rhythm connected to the lifeblood of the living planet rather than the demands of societal pressures and electronic devices.

It is a sorrowful state of affairs that most people don’t know that there is an inner depth available – still, silent and peaceful – just below the stormy wave-tossed surface of our thought-driven minds. Nature provides the surest doorway to this other way of being.

The first day of the retreat I slept a lot, surrendering to a fatigue I didn’t know was there. The second day, I was consumed by aches and stiffness in my body. The third day I was pursued by a torrent of thoughts and memories trailing me like an inescapable bad smell. The last day I finally fully arrived, body relaxed, heart and mind present and at ease. I was sad to be leaving the following day.

This is the way most retreats are. It takes 3-4 days to release the layers of built-up tension from daily life. This is why even longer retreats can have a more profound effect. Over many days of silence and simplicity we relax more fully into the open expanse of our inner being.

 

This gallery contains 29 photos

Monarchs Rule!

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Monarchs Rule!
October 2019

My unscientific, total guesstimate says that the number of overwintering Monarch butterflies this fall is about the same as last year. That’s good; at least there doesn’t seem to be fewer. But, as you may have read in my blog and other places, there was a precipitous drop in butterflies from 2018 from 2017. Why? Climate change, habitat loss and possibly other causes.

These photos were taken at Natural Bridges State Beach and Lighthouse Field State Beach in Santa Cruz, California. Natural Bridges has a butterfly flower garden that attracts the hungry Monarchs and allows for close-up portraits. Most of the other butterflies are either flitting about or huddled together, resting in groups high in the eucalyptus and cypress trees looking like dried leaves. You need either binoculars or a telephoto camera lens to see them with any clarity. I am amused by all the people taking photos with their smartphones; they probably, at best, captured a few tiny orange dots here and here.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Contact Carla Brennan: brennan.carla@gmail.com

This gallery contains 32 photos

More at Moss Landing

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More at Moss Landing, CA
September 2019

If you’ve you been following my blog, then you’re already familiar with Moss Landing. It sits in the middle of the great crescent of Monterey Bay with Santa Cruz at the top and Monterey at the bottom. The harbor at Moss Landing is a draw for many coastal creatures: birds, sea otters, sea lions and seals. Even though it is busy with human activity it’s a place where you are almost guaranteed to see wildlife.

Chris was scheduled for surgery and we wanted a one night getaway before then. In the center of the crowded harbor is a KOA RV park. We’d talked many times about staying there but never had. I was excited to have the extra time to wander the harbor with my cameras. Usually I visit Moss Landing for only 2 to 3 hours stints. (This post actually includes photos from my most recent shorter visit as well as the overnight.)

The RV park was nothing special and was expensive by our standards but it worked well for us anyway. We could walk to the beach (Salinas River State Beach) and the harbor channel. We could also walk to several restaurants. We enjoyed a better-than-average Mexican dinner at the Haute Enchilada and a better-than-average Thai lunch at the Lemongrass Seafood Bar and Grill. We could even walk to a small museum and store devoted to Shakespeare. What more do you need?

As I said, Moss Landing is a busy place, not like our usual preferred camping locations. It has commercial fishing, recreational fishing, whale watching excursions, sailboats, marine supply businesses, restaurants, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the nearby Highway One. And let’s not forget the huge powerplant that allows you to locate Moss Landing from a distance by its two towering smokestacks. Even during the night there was traffic on the highway, people coming and going in the harbor and groups of sea lions erupting into excited barking.

Highlights:
• Next to us at our campsite was a pristine late 60’s VW bus. Bright orange without a dent or speck of dirt anywhere. The 60s live on in California.

• During a previous visit to Moss Landing I discovered several Monterey cypresses where egrets and herons like to roost. These trees were an easy hike from our campsite and I visited them several times a day.

• In the low light of dusk, two otters were singlehandedly ridding the docks of their accumulated mussels. One otter took a large shell and whacked it against a cement piling, essentially using the dock structure as a tool to open the mollusk.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Contact Carla Brennan: brennan.carla@gmail.com

 

This gallery contains 57 photos

The Age of Aquariums

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The Age of Aquariums
July 2019

It is the dawning of the age of aquariums for me because, as a Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) member, I can go whenever I want for free. My last trip was in July with my visiting niece, Eliza.

The aquarium was busy but not overcrowded. We started, as I usually do, with the jellies and then moved on to the gigantic open sea tank. That was followed by the cephalopods, seabirds, sea otters, the Baja exhibit, the kelp forest and on and on. We closed the place out at 6:30 PM. Even though this wasn’t primarily a photography visit, I, of course, took lots of photographs.

Here are some of the highlights:
As we stood in front of the open sea tank, lulled into a pleasant stupor from the darkness and soothing ambient music, a cross made of pipe was lowered into the water from above. A docent standing nearby explained that it was a signal for one of the tank’s residents that they were about to be fed. Sure enough, the giant sunfish – a favorite of mine – slowly made its way toward the cross, mouth agape. A disembodied gloved hand dipped into the water holding some gelatinous goop and the sunfish gobbled it up. Apparently, they had to get rid of one sunfish because it couldn’t learn this Pavlovian trick – not the smartest fish in the sea.

We were disappointed to not see the sea turtles; they were having a “spa” day as they apparently do every Thursday. Yes, they call it that. They are taken to their own private tank on the roof where they get to sunbathe and eat special food.

As we arrived at the seabird exhibit they were also being fed. A MBA employee threw handfuls of anchovies into the water. Puffins, oystercatchers and murres swam like torpedoes, quickly gathering their meal in their beaks.

At the squid tank, most of them had already eaten, but one, which appeared to be a large male, still had a goldfish in his tentacles. He proceeded to play with the fish for quite a while, like a cat does with a mouse.

We watched sea otters play with fake kelp, sharks swim circles in the kelp forest, a giant Pacific octopus fully visible in its dark tank, lounging penguins and many versions of Dory and Nemo in the reef display.

With each visit there is something new to see as well as an opportunity to visit old friends.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Contact Carla Brennan: brennan.carla@gmail.com

 

This gallery contains 34 photos

The Remaining Wildflowers of 2019

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THE REMAINING WILDFLOWERS OF 2019

I posted a blog earlier this year about the superbloom at Carrizo Plain National Monument. In May I found more wildflowers at Pinnacles National Park. Today I am sharing many of the others blooms that I saw throughout the spring and summer. They were spotted along Skyline Blvd., up and down the the coast, Henry Cowell Sate Park, Uvas County Park and other local spots where I happened to be or where I pulled over to get a closer look.

Take your time and enjoy. There are a lot of them.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Contact Carla Brennan: brennan.carla@gmail.com.

 

This gallery contains 70 photos

Whale Tails and Sea Lions

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Whale Tails and Sea Lions
July 2019, Monterey Bay, CA

The day was overcast and foggy. The blues of the sky and sea had vanished, rendering everything in shades of black-and-white. Eliza and I were going whale watching aboard the Goddess Fantasy from Moss Landing. I splurged and paid an extra fee to get us “VIP” seating on the upper deck. I figured it would be easier to move from port to starboard to stern as we tracked the whale sightings. It would also give me a better perspective for photography. It was definitely worth it.

In the harbor, sea lions lounged on various docks, weighing them down into the water. Signs warned to beware of “vicious sea lions.” We watched a sailor aim a hose at a sea lion that was positioned between him and his boat. I would have thought the sea lion would have enjoyed the shower but it slid into the sea. Cormorants greeted us at the signs welcoming boaters.

Just a little ways into the Bay we sighted a single humpback whale lunge feeding, its large knobby head with mouth agape burst through the water. We kept going to an area where a small group of humpbacks had been seen. What made this whale watch special – that is, seeing something new – was the large rafts (groups) of sea lions that were swimming along side the whales. These whales were all dive fishing which means we mostly only saw spouting, arching backs and diving tails. Few heads emerged and there was no breaching. But we were interested to see them rise and dive amid the swimming sea lions as if they were all enjoying the day together.

Several times the sea lions swam quickly, leaping out of the water in quick synchronous graceful arcs called “porpoising.” I tried to photograph this but failed to capture it.

After the whale watch we went to Moss Landing State Beach and watched the sea otters.

A couple weeks later a photo from Monterey Bay of a humpback whale that accidentally scooped up a sea lion while lunge feeding went viral. This would have been taken about the same time we were there. All the experts claimed how unusual it was to see this. But after watching how closely the humpbacks and sea lions fished together, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/07/humpback-whale-sea-lion-mouth-photo/

Please do not use any photographs without permission. Contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com

 

This gallery contains 33 photos