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The blue of the sky lupines has been replaced by the purplish tangled mats of winter vetch.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.

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Wildflowers are My Solace – Part 1

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Wildflowers are My Solace – Part 1

Mid-March – April 3, 2020

Santa Cruz Mountains and Coast

This is the first installment in my annual spring wildflower post. All photographs were taken before April 3, 2020. A silver lining to the pandemic is more opportunity to witness the gradual arrival of spring.

Spring has burst forth this year with confidence and splendor, oblivious to the human cost of the pandemic. The Santa Cruz Mountains are home to a beautiful array of wildflowers; you just have to know where and when to look. Each year I return to familiar haunts where I have found flowers before. Each year I try to find new places with new wildflowers.

The freedom of my wanderings has been undercut, at times, by park, beach and trail closures. But there are enough wild places open, even within walking distance, to keep me occupied. During the weekdays, there are more people out than there would have been prior to the pandemic. Since many people aren’t going to work and are desperate to be outdoors, they are showing up at places I used to have to myself. I stay home on weekends.

Walking into meadow and forest is an immersion into primordial beauty and a focused treasure hunt. I am hunting down wildflowers and hoping to capture exceptional photographs.

Below are photographs of some of the earliest wildflowers.
• Checkerbloom
• Giant Trillium
• Pacific Trillium
• Baby Blue Eyes
• Blue Dicks
• Flowering Currant
• Forget-me-not
• Giant Trillium
• Golden Violet
• Redwood Violet
• Lupine
• Milk Maids
• Wild Onion
• Popcorn Flower
• California Poppy
• Sea Pink
• Pacific Trillium
• Wood Sorrel

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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

Snow!

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Snow!
February 5, 2019

Snow was predicted for last night above 1000 ft. in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Our house is at 1400 ft. so I woke up excited this morning to see what had fallen during the night. We only get snow here about every 5-10 years so this is a special event; the higher elevations have it a little more frequently.

There was a teensy bit of snow on our cars and in small patches on the ground. However, since the top of our mountain is at 2500 ft., I knew there would be more up there. I drove the two miles up Alba Road to Empire Grade in my trusty Subaru. Yes, it was a winter wonderland! There was only about an inch or so, but enough to turn the redwood forest into a beautiful lacy filigree.

Alba Road is not built for snow and ice; it is narrow, steep, winding, with drop-offs and no guard rails. And people here don’t know how to drive on snow and ice. I parked at the intersection and wandered a bit. A little Kia was parked behind me, also taking photos. When they tried to leave, their wheels just spun. I flexed my muscles getting ready to help push them out when they finally got traction and left.

I also watched several cars make the turn from Alba to Empire Grade a little too fast, fishtailing their way down the road, barely in control. One ignorant lad actually gunned the accelerator when reaching Empire Grade, causing an impressive sideways slide and coming to an eventual stop facing the wrong direction. There are no such things as snow tires or snow plows here. This reminded me of being in Amherst MA during the first fall snowfall when all the new foreign students at the University, who have never seen snow, try to drive.

It was gorgeous driving home: sun, snow, fog, dripping trees and god rays, all mixed together. After some breakfast (winter weather, makes you hungry!) I walked up and down the same two miles taking more photos. Better take advantage of this now; it will likely be another 5-10 years for the next opportunity.

I have always been a snow lover (except for the part when it’s all over the cars, roads, sidewalks, etc. And when it turns into ice.) Having snow today was like a visit from a dear old friend. One that leaves you with joy and inspiration before disappearing.

BTW, I did all of that while still in my pajamas. When there is SNOW, who has time to get dressed?

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

 

 

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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: brennan.carla@gmail.com

This gallery contains 7 photos