Travel Notes: California

jacarandaHere I am in California, where the lemons grow by the side of the road, and soft blue plumbago blossoms reflect the sky. Where brown-robed friars first brought the Word of Christ, and those seeking an unencumbered new way still plant themselves.

Where waves crash to delineate a vast watery habitat thick with strange and beautiful creatures, while desert lands hide their own odd lifeforms until the sun goes down.

Studious and gifted, the very best and brightest academicians meet by day in mirrored glass buildings to discuss the physics of defense. The landscape is rich with riotous reds, brilliant citrus-y hues, and purple-blues, bright and tropically lush.

By night, music fills the air, and the scent of Jasmine weed (or just weed) assaults the nostrils. The breeze from the ocean requires a sweater, for summer nights are not warm, here, as on the East coast. Jacaranda here, Mimosa there, feed the hummingbirds with their nectar.

Animal Love

I have a sister who is immersed in the world of animal rescue, and she is always beseeching me to adopt this or that poor, deserving creature. While I heartily applaud her efforts to connect loving humans with loving pets, I always decline. Why?

Dogs, cats, horses, tortoises–really, all animals– keep us connected with our own most basic selves. We are animals, after all! I personally no longer want to own one; that is, to have one live in my home, connected to me in a special, one-on-one, tender way.

Why not?

1) I have owned many pets in the past, and have had to endure watching each of them finish out their shorter lifespan (shorter than mine, that is!).  I have nursed several through an extended illness that was not to end in healing. Frankly, it is almost as hard as having a friend or family member die. I don’t enjoy this!

2) I am a teeny bit allergic–especially to cats. If I pet them, it is better for me to wash my hands immediately, before I touch my eyes!

3) I don’t want to be tied down by their care. I want to be free to pick up and travel to connect with my favorite human animals…

Does this mean that I don’t absolutely ADORE animals? Well, maybe, but I actually really do like and enjoy them and cherish them–even tenderly!

I am “in relationship” with the squirrels, mountain bluebirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, American goldfinches, ravens, catbirds, tufted titmouses, pileated woodpeckers, blue jays, wrens, sparrows, hummingbirds,  etc., who live in, or frequently visit, my yard.  I leave an ample place where brambles can grow, and they seem to appreciate this. The squirrels allow me to putter around them casually, and many of the birds have tried to build nests on my porch. I discourage this, but on occasion have relented. I drew the line at the squirrels who wished to burrow in under my roof. Sorry, guys, I know it is cold out there, so I will leave you some fluff for your nests, but get real: you can’t come inside!

I tolerate the cats, skunks, foxes, deer, dogs, who come by and forage, mostly nocturnally.

I used to have a pet tortoise who would fall asleep on my feet, when I took him out to sun his back and scramble around on my porch while I wrote or drew. That was amazing!

I write children’s stories about animals–in particular, an ongoing chapter book about a squirrel named Jameson. More on this, later :)

I sketch (and/or paint) custom pet portraits for other people, and get vicarious joy from rendering their beautiful faces and forms for their devoted owners. (

I may (or may not?) own pets in the future, but I truly do love being connected to them–and to their human counterparts!


Morning Glory

I am enjoying a little vacation time in California. Painting is my “work” for these days, although it has been oppressively hot. The heat broke today, and a lot of energy returned! I am mesmerized by the beauty of creation, even in this drought. It occurs to me that the Creator, Whose work I feebly attempt to record, spoke everything forth with an infinite and eternal wisdom. No wonder each thing seems perfectly in place, in nature. It may be craggy, or even seemingly “malformed”, but it still fits. There is no hope that I could even “capture” the infinity in a blade of grass–much less a landscape full of them. But what bliss to try…

On The Mountain

I have spent a little bit of time this summer helping my siblings put siding on a new addition to an old house out in the Virginia countryside.. Every time I drive out to the Blue Ridge I want to capture it all. My muscles and breathing always relax at a specific moment on the road away from the suburbs, right before the foothills appear. Here is a fragment of such a day, committed to paint…



You are my favorite color. It is sunlight through the translucent new grasses and leaves of spring. Hope and victory over decay and endings. A lime popsicle from the ice-cream truck in the scorched alley, given by a super-cool two wheel riding twelve year old cousin, named Marc… It is the sour flavor of the lollipop given by the doctor who said his patient deserved two, for bravery. The shamrock that grew in the soil of holy ancestors. You keep the kitchen sweet and clean, little sleek Swiffer, the “quicker picker upper.”  A humble friend.

Summer, and a little relaxation…

It isn’t summer yet, but the thermometer has hit 90, and the sprinklers are on, and kids are running through them, so it might as well be summer! Festivals start, and beer is consumed, and popsicles. It is very, very good to be alive. I work with a 90 year old woman who has a lot of vim and vigor. It makes me hopeful. I will paint, I will immerse myself in green and blue, and pink. I will remember to be grateful, for it opens the mind and heart!Image

November —wai…

November —wait a minute—is today the 14th or the 15th? This is totally an appropriate way to begin this blogging experience. Not knowing the date! It is one of those two days, and I could probably figure it out by various reference points. It is definitely Tuesday, and Saturday was the 12th. Aha!

So–today is November 15th. Yesterday was a sunny 70 degrees by the shores of the Potomac. It was blustery, with flags often at stiff attention, and yellow/red leaves scuttling across the parking lot. Today is gray and calm, and a bit cooler, I think. That’s the weather report, for both yesterday and today!

I have recently discovered the bliss of sitting by the Potomac River on a bench and sketching. Not necessarily sketching the scene in front of me (the other day I spent an hour and a half working on a pencil pet portrait) but letting the river give me gentle focus.

Listening to kids playing tag somewhere, saying hello to a hiker or two, and an old couple holding hands, and some dog walkers with a child in a front pack. In awe of the initiative of the occasional kayaker or speedboater utilizing the liquid highway in front of me.

The autumn trees were placidly mirrored in the water which reflected a light blue sky, and golden sycamore leaves floated silently down from towering trees on the banks and began a journey far from the home they had always known. Life drifting by, summer ending, and winter coming on…

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

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