Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

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.

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More at Moss Landing


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.

• 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.

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Scenes from a Superbloom

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It rained a lot this winter. That’s what it’s supposed to do in the coastal redwood forest of Northern California near Santa Cruz. After seven years of drought, the last few years of close-to-normal precipitation have been a relief.

We don’t get superblooms here, just the expected spring flowers. Superblooms occur in arid areas that usually don’t have wet winters. I hadn’t been paying attention to the weather farther south so the news of a possible superbloom came to me late and I had to scramble to figure out how to fit in a trip. During the superbloom of 2017, Chris and I went to Carrizo Plain National Monument (CPNM). I was adamant about going again.

The deserts of Southern California, which have been in the news for their fabulous flower displays (and destructive crowds of people), are a 10-12 hour drive from here. But Carrizo Plain is a mere 4-5 hours.

We packed up the camper for a three night stay. The wildflower hotline said it was pre-peak at CPNM but I figured there would still be plenty to see. It was indeed stunning, a heavenly spectacle of color and verdancy. Yellows, followed by purples, dominated the hillsides and valley floor. Then came the oranges, blues, pinks and whites. Everything was held in a great embrace of green.

The first night we pulled off Soda Lake Road and bumped along a rough single lane dirt path into the hills where dispersed camping is allowed. We found a rise with an open view across the great plain to the Temblor Mountains to the east, with the Caliente Mountains lifting up behind us.

We saw little wildlife during this trip, only indirect evidence of it. The ground was pockmarked with the borrows of ground squirrels and other rodents with larger holes for foxes, coyotes and badgers. The holes were so numerous that walking became an obstacle course. The first evening, distracted by photography, I twisted an ankle in a dirt opening. I limped for a day or so and it is still a bit sore, two weeks later.

We saw only a few birds, mostly ravens and sage sparrows, and a couple jackrabbits. Walking with the midday sun, we kept an eye out for rattlesnakes, but none were spotted. The rodents remained invisible, even at dusk or dawn. At night I shone my flashlight across the ground, hoping to catch a busy nocturnal creature. But saw none.

We wanted to camp on the eastern side of the Monument which we had not done before, but several of the main roads across the valley plain were closed due to poor conditions. The CPNM Visitor Center directed us to cross over on Seven-Mile Road, just outside the park, to reach Elkhorn Rd. Seven-Mile Road turned out to be quite a treat on its own. The valley was covered with goldfields, hillside daisies, tidy tips and occasional phacelia.

Unbeknownst to me, this road also led to an iconic view (one I had only seen in photographs) where Highway 58 passes through the Tremblor Mountains. The hillsides glowed in gold with complementary patches of purple. Cars had pulled off the highway and lined the roads. Families trekked up a path to a fairyland of color. It was Sunday and it was crowded. After a few photographs we opted out on the hike and chose to continue south on Elkhorn to find a spot for the night.

We pulled off Elkhorn and had another vast view, this time facing west. Coyotes barked, yipped and howled at night and in the morning. Near us was a dry arroyo. I surmised this would be a good place to find flowers since it would have been wetter than the surrounding hillsides. It was indeed a wildflower haven. While the flowers in this part of the park were not so widespread to be seen from space (, they were abundant, delightful and diverse at close range. I saw varieties that were new to me such as desert candles, evening snow and blazing stars as well as familiar hillside daisies, phacelia, lupine, poppies, fiddlenecks, filaree, owl’s clover, cream cups, thistle sage and more.

The sky was sunny and cloudless the next two days. This sounds great, but it’s actually not ideal for photography. On the last morning I got up before sunrise so I could see the flowers and the terrain bathed in the subtle light of dawn.

Photographing wildflowers here also turned out to be grueling exercise for my legs. In addition to long walks, I was popping up and down constantly, doing deep knee bends, to reach the low to the ground treasures with my close-up macro lens. And I was always carrying weights, AKA two heavy cameras.

I longed to stay more days, go on more walks, find more and more unique flowers. But we had to leave. Before getting on the highway we stopped again at the pass through the Tremblor Mountains and this time I scaled the trail into the yellow rounded hills. I was alone and the view was breath-taking, pure magic.

I plan to go back but my schedule won’t allow it until the end of April. It will be post-peak then, but I imagine the late blooming varieties will still be showing off their fleeting, heart-breaking beauty.

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Happy Winter Solstice!

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Happy Solstice to All and to All a Long Peaceful Night!
December 21, 2018.

May the increasing light be the light of wisdom. May the world expand in its understanding, empathy and caring. May people respond with compassion and action to the decimation of the planet, to bigotry, to violence and war, to the general insanity around us.

Chris and I made the last minute decision to witness the Winter Solstice sunset at the Ohlone Solstice Stones in the Santa Cruz Mountains off Skyline Blvd. The weather was promising in Santa Cruz but deteriorated as we climbed the steep and winding Highway 9. The cloud cover became dense. Eventually we entered the clouds and were enveloped in a foggy wet haze. Light rain occasionally fell. We wouldn’t see the sunset tonight but we would go anyway, stand at the sacred rocks and say a few prayers and blessings for a troubled world.

The Ohlone Solstice stones (I’ve written about them before) include a rock with a deep “V” and a large round flat rock. The V lines up with the setting solstice sun as it sinks silently into the sea. The other rock, “turtle rock,” is said to be the origin of the Ohlone people.

A few cars were parked at the trailhead, but not many. We walked up alone, the woods and the views disappearing into silence and white space. We joined several others already at the sight. People were chatting in pairs and small groups, maybe 11 in all. I said to a women near me that we must be the “hardcore solstice people.” When the weather is clear, there can be sizable crowd. Sometimes a ranger is present.

The view looks west over several ridges to the Pacific Ocean. Tonight we gazed only into a murky void, maybe 50 yards of visibility at best. I’ve been there when the weather is worse, raining hard, blowing and frigid. So this wasn’t too bad. We would just have to imagine the sunset and check our watches for the timing.

About 5 minutes before the sun set, the group naturally fell into silence, just standing quietly, peaceably, together around the stones facing west. Just at the time of sunset, at the farthest edge of what we could see, a buck walked slowing out of the tree cover and crossed the grassy meadow on the slope below. Then a second buck followed him. Both carried handsome, impressive sets of antlers. They disappeared into the fog.

Eventually people began moving around, preparing for the short hike to the cars. Chris and I did our silent blessings, offering gratitude and a little tobacco to the spirits.

Please do not reproduce any photographs or videos without permission. If you are interested in purchasing a photograph, contact Carla at:

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My TGA: When Memory Becomes Unmoored

Below is an essay I wrote last year about a unique experience I had. A little different from my usual photos and commentary posts. Perhaps you know someone who had a TGA. I had never heard of it until I landed in the hospital.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Several people are crouching close by. They speak deliberately to each other and to me. I respond to their questions but I have no sense of what I am saying. We’re in a very small space. I am lying down. Is this room moving, is this a vehicle? Why am I here? The scene quickly fades like a darkening theater. A silent void remains.

I’m on a moving bed. A woman is having trouble maneuvering it. Then, in conversation with another woman, she realizes it has a motor and turns it on. We glide through brightly lit narrow hallways. Where am I? Quickly an enveloping shadow overtakes the light.

Another small bright white space. How did I get here? I am in a small bed. I see Chris, my life partner, sitting back quietly in a chair. J, a friend, is closer, leaning toward me. I am covered in a crumpled white sheet. What has happened? Was I in an accident? If I was, I remember nothing. I search my body for clues and discover no pain and no discomfort other than befuddlement. I can’t quite make sense of my surroundings but I do feel cocooned by caring people. I am not afraid.

One “wall” of the cubicle is only a sliding curtain and it opens to a hallway of brisk activity. People also sit at a counter. It looks like a bar but they stare into computer screens instead of drinks. Sounds crowd my head, louder than my thoughts. People chattering, the clanging of carts and equipment. Orders being shouted. A woman nearby screams unabated. Her wailing voice reeks of uncontrolled fear and pain beyond limits. I wonder what has happened to her. I know she is in the right place and I wish her comfort and quick relief. I hope she is not alone.

A man walks in and introduces himself. He talks about what is happening to me but I cannot remember what it is. Information disappears like water down a drain, flushing out to sea, impossible to bring back.

Where am I? How did I get here? J must have brought me. Where am I exactly? Clearly I am in a medical facility; I see people in scrubs. There are intricate machines, electronic monitors, tubes and wires decorating the room. The crisp smell of cleanser and rubbing alcohol is in the air. I know something serious has happened to me. But what could it be? Is it a stroke? I search for anything to explain my circumstances.

People continue to ask me questions. I can’t seem to find the answers. I am stumped. I know I should know but I can’t recall no matter how hard I try. I scrunch up my face in deep thought, make an effort to recover the correct response, give up, chuckle and say, “Now, that’s a good question!” I do not know the year, month or day, where I am or why.

I am in another room; I don’t remember being brought here. Medical devices beep and tubes dangle from my right arm. Only Chris is in the room. I wiggle my feet; I am wearing bright yellow hospital traction socks. I have on a blue print hospital gown and, surprisingly, my own black pants. Other people come and go.

Chris explains to me what has gone wrong but I can’t remember what he says. What disturbs me most is I cannot recall where I had been before. What had I been doing? What had happened to bring me here? How could I not know? Something terrible must have happened. I plumb the depths of my mind; there is little there to reveal my recent life. The previous hours, days, weeks, are now muddled, elusive. I am told that I am in Dominican Hospital. I have visited friends here but this is my first time as a patient.

I begin to remember more about forgetting. I watch and recall how everything in the moment seems clear but then fades like a train disappearing down a dark tunnel. Two nurses check my body for lesions and wounds – a necessary protocol, I assume, for anyone who might be in the hospital for an indeterminate amount of time. There are no sores. I remember that I was clear when they were here, we chatted as they looked me over. But now it has become dreamlike, distant and vague. I know it happened just a few minutes ago but the details are gone, the image smudged, dim. I tell the nurse that I am losing memories; she nods with understanding.

People reassure me; they say I will recover soon. From what? I am repeatedly tested for stroke. “Squeeze my fingers.” “Lift your legs.” I pass each time.

Chris asks me if I remember J. Yes, I recall she had been with us. Had she brought me here? This must have been hard for J. Just a few months ago she had been in this hospital to remove a cancerous tumor from her brain. This is probably the last place she wants to be. But I am lucky, her natural concern and her experience navigating the local health care system has come in handy. Chris hates anything to do with doctors and medicine. This must be difficult for him too.

Finding memories feels arduous. I reach inside but only discover empty, silent space as though my own mind is shunning me, refusing to respond to my entreaties. Someone again asks me what year it is. Such a simple question. 2013 comes to mind as an image, lighted numbers on a black background. The date is followed by several blank spaces as

if they are waiting to be filled. Interpreting the mind image, I think it must be later than 2013. But what year can it be? How many years later? I do not know.

How can the circumstances of my life slip away like this? I know I had had other plans, important plans, for the day but I do not know what they were. I announce, as a kind of joke, “I didn’t schedule this. This wasn’t in my appointment book!” It is important to acknowledge to others the shock of my situation, to acknowledge the uncertainty of my life.

Some memories of recent weeks are returning but the previous five days are still out of reach. Chris interviews me while making a video. He prods me to recollect, to find and gather the memory fragments that have fluttered away.

“What did you do on Thursday?”
I pause. “Uh . . . I don’t know.”
“It’s something you like to do.”
I contemplate this. Then an image of the seashore comes to mind. “I went to the beach! I thought I dreamed that.”

“And what did you find?”
I pause. “I don’t know.” Chris waits.
An image of a small container appears in my mind; I look in.
“Sea glass! . . . I thought it had been a dream!” I smile at the pleasant recollection.

My ability to think is slow and thick like old honey that is too congealed to flow. When I am asked a question, there is initially no inner response, nothing evoked, nothing triggered, nothing known. Then gradually, out of the darkness an image approaches. The words and meaning come a few seconds later, if at all. Probably in ordinary consciousness the process of shifting from image to words is so fast it seems to happen simultaneously. But for now I get to watch the brain work in slow motion.

New memories are beginning to stick. A little while ago, only feelings and mental impressions lingered; I couldn’t retain detailed information. Now, for longer and longer periods, new memories, instead of sinking out of sight into murky water, float nearby, available when I need them.

I think I have already been told, but I ask Chris, “Where was I? What happened there?”

“You were teaching a daylong meditation retreat with M. At the lunch break, you couldn’t remember the morning. You were confused and J drove you to urgent care. M called me immediately.”

“Oh my god! I don’t remember it! M was here from Boston?” I had a vague feeling that M and I had discussed this possibility when I saw him over the Holidays, weeks – or was it months? – earlier.

“I left M on his own? Is he okay? I need to talk to him, check in with him.” I felt some guilt. I must have arranged for us to teach together and now I left him to fend for himself in a strange city.

Chris responds quickly, dismissing my need to be concerned. “Don’t worry about M. He’s fine; he finished the afternoon. He told the group that you had to leave because of a ‘bug’.”


I’m amused by this. Yes, some kind of bug alright, but not a cold or flu, more like a insidious computer virus infecting my brain.

I am stunned and disturbed to realize I had lost all memory of being with M earlier today. At the workshop I would have been sitting in front of a large group. I would have been speaking, giving instructions, answering questions. Did I behave normally or oddly? There would have been people there I knew, like J, but they had all been erased from my memory. Chris says that M and I met the day before to plan our workshop. I don’t remember that either.

“Did people know there was something wrong with me?”

“Mostly not. But J thought there was something off at the end of the morning session. She talked to you for awhile and decided to bring you in to be examined. You had a CT scan and a EKG. An ambulance took you from urgent care to the hospital.”

I have no memory of the tests or the trip.

I dredge my memory banks for any images from this morning or the last few days. I realize the few mental pictures I do have, all have the same flavor. I can’t tell if I have dreamed, imagined or actually experience what I recall. This is startling. They are all equally dreamlike, difficult to retrieve, devoid of detail. Like a dream, they are familiar but they don’t seem to pertain to this waking world but rather to some other reality I haven’t really lived. I had assumed most of what I saw in my mind were dreams; especially since I feel like I have been asleep, totally absent, for days. I start asking Chris if specific events I recall are real or imagined.


The man in the white jacket I has met earlier returns. He tells me that he is a neurologist.

He asks, “How are you doing?”

I shrug my shoulders and raise my hands palm up, shake my head and smile, meaning, I don’t really know how the hell am I doing! Do you?

But Chris adds, “She is doing much better. She’s starting to remember things.”

The doctor explains, “You have Transient Global Amnesia. We don’t really know what causes it. Over the next few hours, you should regain most of your recent memories and your ability to make new ones. But you may never remember this morning. By tomorrow you’ll be fine. This probably won’t happen again. But we want to keep you overnight for observation.”

That’s okay with me. My body aches, a foggy confusion clogs my thoughts and I am tired, so tired. I am relieved to be surrounded by trained medical staff for the night and machines that monitor my well-being.

I ask Chris for my smartphone so I can look up Transient Global Amnesia (TGA.) My eyes burn and tire as I try to focus on the small glowing screen. After a few minutes I quit. But I first discover a few facts.

TGA is a rare neurological event. When it strikes, you lose the ability to make short term memories. Most people also temporarily forget the recent past, from days to months. You know who you, family and friends are. You still have what’s called “procedural memory”, you can do those things that you do by habit, like talking, getting dressed, even driving (although you might not remember where you are going.) Your personality, ability to interact socially, and even your sense of humor remain intact. Although basic memory returns, some people have cognitive and memory loss symptoms that linger for weeks and even months. The doctor didn’t mention this.

One of the most peculiar symptoms of TGA is the repetition of the same questions ever few minutes. It is like a video recording being replayed, with the exact same words, gestures and affect. Chris tells me I had done exactly this. Where am I? How did I get here? Again and again, forgetting that moments earlier I had been given the answer.

It’s most common in people between 50 and 75; the median age is 62. I am 62. There are many “precipitating events” common to people with TGA’s – hard exercise, sex, jumping into cold water, stress, a recent medical procedure – but it is not known why these experiences trigger the disruption in short-term memory. I had had a colonoscopy several days before. People who have a history of migraines are also more likely to have a TGA. I’ve had migraines since I was twelve. Occurrence is slightly higher in Scandinavians. I am of Norwegian descent.

It’s been 9 hours since I lost my memory. I now know the date, month, year. I know where I am and how I got here.

After Chris goes home for the night, I turn on the TV to entertain my stagnant mind and to enliven the stark impersonality of the hospital room. “The Matrix” is on. I am pleased and amused. Here is a tale that intermixes physical reality and mind-created worlds; it is an inquiry into what is real and what is not. Just up my alley tonight. Other movies come to mind that remind me of my situation, “50 First Dates”, “Memento”, “Groundhog Day.”

The new night nurse checks in on me.
As we chat, he asks, “Are you on the hospital staff?”
“No, why?” I am surprised by the question. Do I look like a doctor?
“Well, I heard you were teaching a workshop on medication this morning.”
I chuckle. “No, it was a meditation workshop!” I add, “Sometimes meditation can be as helpful as medication.”
After twenty minutes, I am weary of the movie and I retreat into the muffled quiet of the night-time hospital, the rhythmic beeping of machines, the murmuring of nurses, the soft rumbling of supply carts rolling by. It is hot in the room and the nurse opens a window. The courtyard fountain gurgles, adding a welcome soothing sound.


I am exhausted yet sleep seems unlikely with the headache, back pain, mild nausea and general malaise I feel. My heart and my spirit are heavy and fragile. It occurs to me that I could die tonight. Maybe I will slip into the darkness, that empty place of not-knowing and not return. Maybe death is like this not remembering, the same silent blackness into which my memories fade. If death is like losing my memory, then it’s not so bad, just a painless disappearing. A tender sense of fear and sadness arises as I recall my life and those I love. I know that someday, if not tonight, I will pass into that mystery.

It’s morning and I didn’t die. Despite feeling as though I hadn’t really slept, the night passed quickly, if uncomfortably. Chris has returned and we wait, a bit impatiently, for

me to get discharged. He’s at lunch in the hospital cafeteria, when the neurologist finally checks in on me and says I can go home. The doctor is confident that I will be fine. There is no follow-up treatment except to check in with my PCP. He repeats that the cause is unknown but speculates my incident might be related to my colonoscopy.

As I wait for Chris to return, I turn on the TV one more time. “50 First Dates” is on. I am delighted by the synchronicity. The Drew Barrymore character, like me, lost her short- term memory. Her cycle was one day; she would wake up each morning believing it to be the day before her head injury, every repeated new day after that lost. My short term memory, in the depth of the TGA, only lasted 1-2 minutes.

Relieved to be home, no longer a hospital inmate, I stretch out on the couch and watch the afternoon light stream through the silent redwood trees. All I want now is a warm shower and some sleep. All I want is to return to being someone who remembers.

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Don’t Hurt the Mushrooms!

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I walk through the forest for exercise and the feeling of aliveness in my body, to breathe in the refreshing exhalations of the trees, and to see what might reveal itself to me. After the rains begin in the fall, I also look for mushrooms and related fungi. Hiking in the Pine Flats area of Henry Cowell State Park last November, I wandered down a side trail encouraged by some mushrooms I spotted near the path’s beginning. However, I soon discovered that someone had recently stomped on every mushroom that grew on the side of the trail. The only people I saw were a man and his perhaps 10-year-old son. Were they the mushroom mashers?

Sadly, this is not uncommon.

I recall as a child being with other children who had been told that mushrooms were “bad” and should be destroyed. This was unfathomable and disturbing to me. I suspect this is still being taught. Mushrooms are associated with death and decay. A few are, of course, poisonous and can kill, others cause illness and hallucinations. But these are rare and easy to avoid. Cars kill and houseplants can poison; do we stamp those out? Mycophobia is the fear of fungus and, like all irrational fears, is based on what is perceived as unknown, out of our control and vaguely threatening. But mushrooms and the fungal world are truly our friends; they keep the world in balance.

My grandfather shared his love of mushrooms, teaching his grandchildren how to make spore prints to help with identification. He had books about mushrooms and a collection of his own photographs. Although I like being able to accurately identify mushrooms (and wildflowers and birds, etc.), I am actually most excited by the treasure hunt of finding them. The reward is in the surprise, the beauty and the unearned gift of witnessing an ephemeral wild thing.

I rarely pick mushrooms anymore and usually do so only if I plan to consume it. There are several species that are hard to get wrong and are reliably good to eat. But mostly I leave the prize edibles, the uniquely beautiful mushrooms and the commonplace ones alone, sometimes creating a record of our encounter through photography.

The true living organism of the fungi – the mycelium: all those white threads found throughout healthy soil – are the veins, lungs and nervous system of the forest. (The mushrooms are the fruiting body like an apple on a much larger tree.) There is generous exchange between the trees that create sugars from photosynthesis and the mycelium that transport minerals and fluids. They provide inter-plant communication and distribute the wealth of resources. This intricate web of tiny fungal fibers is so extensive that in a cubic inch of soil there can be eight miles of these cells. It’s called the “Wood Wide Web.” Listen to Radiolab, “From Tree to Shining Tree”

Did you know that fungi are more closely related genetically to animals than plants? Once considered part of the plant world (which is what I was taught in school) they now have their own separate kingdom.
Watch this TED talk, “Six Ways that Mushrooms Can Save the World.”

So please do not harm the mushrooms. If not for the mushroom’s sake in its attempt to reproduce, then for the nature lovers who share these trails with you. Each time a mushroom is spotted, respect its essential role in the forest and its rare appearance like an exquisite wildflower.

All mushroom photographs were taken in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Santa Cruz County, CA between November 2016 and March 2017. Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones):

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The Big Trip Has Come to an End

October 4, 2013

The Big Trip has come to an end.

Just as it was hard to believe during the few weeks before starting our trip that we were actually going to leave home, it has been hard to believe over the past few weeks that we were going to be home again. We ended The Big Trip the same way we began it. Our first and last nights were with Chris’s sister in Menlo Park and our next and previous nights were at Mercey Hot Springs. This symmetry seemed fitting for re-entry.

Although I have written mostly about the outer journey – places and events – it is the inner journey that has been most important. I will continue to complete a record of our travels through stories and photographs, but my big job now will be to understand and integrate what has shifted inwardly. I do not know yet how much of that process I will put on my blog. It may take months, if not longer, to fully survey this new inner landscape.

During the past two week I noted that many of the tasks we had done so many times we were doing for the LAST time. The last time washing my hair under difficult conditions, the last grocery shopping in an unfamiliar supermarket, the last withdrawal from an ATM machine, the last time collecting quarters for a laundromat, the last trip photograph and, of course, the last supper. Some of these I am happy to leave behind, but others I will quickly miss. Endings, change, transitions, all hallmarks of impermanence. But beginnings and birth are also part of impermanence and I will be starting life afresh in Santa Cruz.

I had many reasons for going on this extended “drive-about”. To restore myself after a few too many years of demanding work. To re-evaluate, re-assess and re-vision my role as a Buddhist teacher. To clarify my deepest intentions for what I have left of this life. To give freer rein to the “wandering monk” within. To step out of routine and schedules and into immediacy and spontaneity. To be awed everyday by the natural world. To create space for my writer’s voice to speak. These were all fulfilled to varying degrees.

A deep bow of gratitude to the many wonderful people who supported this sabbatical year of travel and introspection. May the rewards of this trip be worthy of your faith in me. And thank you to those who spent time reading this blog; it helped me feel that the effort was worthwhile!

Chris said philosophically the other day, “The trip will continue once we’re home, it will just change.” Yes, we will still be on a journey, the mysterious trip of the unfolding present.

I will continue to be a student of Nature: inner nature, true nature and wild nature. And I will always be a student of wonder.