Irresistible Sea Otters

otter-3As a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I love the emails I receive reminding me of Sea Otter Awareness Week. I signed up to get an additional email everyday this week! Seven guaranteed smiles! I am willing to risk cuteness overload.

otter-1I have blogged about the sea otters before and their comeback on the Central Coast. But I was reminded of the role they play in our ecosystem when I read a story in Sonoma magazine about volunteer divers who are removing the sea urchins by hand from the kelp forests off the coast of Sonoma County to preserve the abalone population. Human beings are playing the role of the missing sea otter from the kelp forest.

Oh, the adorable sea otter is also a vital member of our coastal community. Is it imaginable that sea otters might expand their habitat to the North Coast?

To learn more about sea otters, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium website.

Celebrating USA Public Lands!

Yosemite NPLDThere are many different types of public lands in the United States, including local parks, state parks, national forests, and national parks. Yesterday was National Public Lands Day and I didn’t want to step past it. So much of my identify as a daughter of the West is associated with the open space protected by various public land covenants, especially those by the federal government.

I have ridden a horse on the public trails in the Sierra Nevada, walked and hiked among the redwoods and douglas firs of Yosemite and Redwood national parks. Our sensibilities around public access to the coast and to the sacred natural spaces is under attack. There are always people ready to exploit it for personal profit. I am so thankful that even something as small as the Effie Yeaw Nature Study Area in suburban Sacramento preserves a little bit of the wildness of Sacramento Valley and still remains for me and my grandson to enjoy. We only saw the fresh deer poop, not the deer themselves, but the potential remains to see something wild a short 20 minute car ride from his house. I do not want to take this for granted.

I also just learned from a father of a 4th grade student, that the National Park Foundation gives 4th graders and their families free park entry throughout the year. I hope all families with children around this age take advantage of this gift.

I’m going to sign off now and look at my calendar to find a time to visit Yosemite!

When Your Hometown Is Suddenly Discovered as a Destination

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Sacramento is the City of Trees even if some boosters are trying to make it the “Farm to Fork” capital. Tree lined streets make our city more livable in the height of 100+ degree summer days.

I’ve lived in Sacramento most of my life. For the first 25 years everyone was content with being the Capitol and a rapidly growing suburban county. As Sacramento-native Joan Didion called it, people had a more mid-western sensibility about their wealth and well-being. Our problems were either hidden or denied. The community was segregated with waves of white flight out of South Sacramento to the burgeoning suburbs.

Our claim to fame was that we were “close to everything.” It was a great place to stop if you were on your way to Tahoe, or Napa, or San Francisco or Yosemite. Sacramento is at the confluence of two great rivers–the Sacramento and American–and a gateway to the Delta, but it’s attraction for the longest time was it was at the confluence of two great highways–Interstate Highways 5 and 80.

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Sacramento has long enjoyed a vibrant artists community. Every year more murals are added in Midtown and Downtown. 

People in the community liked that it was a less expensive, quieter place to raise children. People would complain about “the traffic” that wouldn’t register on the Los Angeles traffic meter. We also don’t have to worry about earthquakes and our floods appear to be managed for now.

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Local artists Suzanne Adan and Michael Stevens created Kit & Kaboodle, an exhibit for kids at the Crocker Art Museum. The Crocker is very kid friendly, and has a great cafe for adults.

The developers who ran local politics began to beat the drum for putting Sacramento on the map and making it a world class city. In the mid-eighties they had a lot of new houses to sell in Natomas, so land speculators and builders began the dubious proposition of making Sacramento famous by bringing a professional sports team to town. The Kansas City Kings basketball team arrived in 1985 to great fanfare and a new stadium in Natomas. It did raise Sacramento’s profile but it also gave other cities opportunity to mock us for being a Cowtown.

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My neighbor created this on her fence and I love it!

Periodically ever since, someone–a mayor or other city booster–declares Sacramento a destination. Self-declaration doesn’t count. In the travel world you have to be anointed a destination by the Conde Nast magazines. Or the New York Times travel editor. Preferably both.

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Sunset Magazine and other publications don’t mention the cemetery, but the Old City Cemetery of Sacramento is beautiful and fascinating. Docents offer a wide range of tours.

At last, thanks in large part to the spotlight that Sacramento-native Greta Gerwig shone on our fair city, Sacramento is getting the attention that some would say is long overdue. The New York Times recently released “36 Hours in Sacramento“!  It is so weird to read about the places you eat or shop regularly as destinations. Lovely too.

Once in my first professional job after grad school, the National Geographic hired our little think tank at UC Davis to review an article they were doing on the Great Central Valley. We looked at their map and shook our heads. They had Gilroy on the west side of the Valley. There were other errors as well and they didn’t correct all of the mistakes we identified for them. It made me skeptically at National Geographic maps ever since.

I love the 36 Hours series, but now having read the writer’s suggestions that would have you crisscrossing all over Sactown, I am going to refer to the 36 Hour recommendations but take the schedules with a grain of salt.  Thanks for the shout outs for local favorite restaurants and shopping destinations. We have always had a vibrant arts community and now more people are taking notice.

Sacramento has also been in the news lately because of the police shooting of an unarmed black man. Stephon Clark’s death has tested our community and revealed some problems many would rather ignore. We also have a serious homelessness problem. It appears the city council and county supervisors may finally be ready to deal with the issue. Hopefully we will begin to reform the inequities so we can truly achieve “great” status.

 

I Spy With My Little Eye a Whale

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Brie saw all of these species on her 3 hour cruise with Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

Oh how I wish I could bear being on a boat in the sea! I get seasick even in a kayak on a bay. I really, really want to go whale watching. I am looking into it for my next visit to Monterey Bay. spying

You can see dolphins and whales year round in Monterey Bay. From April 1 to December 14 you will likely see the most variety of species including humpback and blue whales, maybe even orcas. In the winter you will see grey whales.

TripAdvisor suggests 5 star rated Discovery Whale Watch. They advertise a 3 hour cruise for $42 for an adult and a 4 hour cruise for $48.

My friend Brie went out on the bay with Monterey Bay Whale Watch (with her dog!). She loved it, but her dog did not. Their rates are comparable with other cruises. They also offer 8 hour cruises. Given the likelihood I will get sick, I am looking for the most whales in the shortest time!

Spying on Whales by Nick Pyenson is highly recommended for anyone who loves the ocean or whales. I’ve been reading it while visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium every day. It explains the surprising evolution of whales and how they may have become gigantic in size.

Of course you cannot visit the aquarium on Cannery Row, or read the last section of Pyenson’s book without wrestling with the impact humankind is having on the ocean and on magnificent creatures like the whales. We have to come to grips with our insatiable consumption of petroleum, and its byproduct plastic, as well as curtail our fishing. Can we do it in time? Will it matter if the earth’s oceans continue to heat up?

I love the ocean and want to be as close as I can be without getting in it. Check out what you can do to love the ocean and reduce plastic pollution.

 

 

 

Crazy Concentration of Little Libraries

Staying on the Monterey Peninsula and need something to read? Head to the corner of Short and Granite Streets in Pacific Grove for the craziest collection of little libraries. There is one on every corner, plus a children’s, YA, and non-fiction little library.

You can also leave behind a book you’ve finished. If you are looking for something new or a cup of coffee, head to The Bookworks at 677 Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove.

Entering into Pacific Grove Life for 3 Days

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I was driving home from the grocery store and I spied this garden as I drove by. I parked nearby and walked back to take some photos. The homeowner was at the mailbox so I asked permission to take photos. Cindy invited me to get a closer look.

I used to live in Pacific Grove in the mid-80s. A lot has changed since then, and at the same time it is still a delightfully “normal” place to visit. The neighborhoods and downtown on Lighthouse Avenue are charming. It is bounded by Ocean View Avenue with a rugged and beautiful coastline. I prefer to stay here over any other part of the Monterey Peninsula.

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Cindy and her family moved here in 1987 and incrementally created this garden over the years. They don’t have a backyard, but we agreed that we typically only use one or the other. This is better allocation. 

In the past I have stayed at motels and hotels. This visit I am with my daughter and her family so we rented a home. We looked on VRBO and Airbnb and we found the 2 bedroom 2 bath home we are renting on Airbnb. It has been more comfortable than 2 hotel rooms and about the same price.

  • We can cook meals.
  • There is a living room where Calvin can make play with his toys (and make a mess).
  • We can play dominoes at the dining table and laugh without worrying about waking up a sleeping toddler.
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Cindy even invited me to come in to the house to see her paintings. I shared some of my favorite artists on Instagram. We had a great conversation.

There is a debate raging about the phenomenon of vacation rentals and how it is changing the neighborhoods and city finances of Pacific Grove (PG). My daughter saw a sign for Measure M. I did some research and learned that Monterey and Carmel have tight restrictions on the vacation rental market and PG does not. Also residents have been complaining about over-concentrations of homes for short-term rent for over 3 years and the city council had not taken any action. I had noticed that many of the motels and hotels had vacancy signs, which is uncommon in my memory. There is usually some kind of conference going on at Asilomar or tourism that keeps them near full.

We were walking on Asilomar Beach with Calvin and a dog and then another 2 year old and her dad joined us. We did the usual back and forth about the kids and then he asked where we were staying. We admitted that we were staying in a home nearby. He shared his frustration with the vacation rental situation. “They aren’t paying the taxes they owe the city.” He also alluded to the partying and recently moving from Nashville, which was a party town, he was hoping to escape that scene. Sarah and I weren’t quite sure what his point was as we haven’t witnessed anything but deer roaming the streets and senior citizens power walking in the neighborhood. I mentioned that my neighbor has dedicated his investment property (across the street from me in Midtown Sacramento) for AirBnB rental. People are coming and going during the week and weekends. They typically empty a lot of “bottles” into the recycling, but to be fair, they have yet to disturb anyone.

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Not all people in Pacific Grove are this friendly, nevertheless if you stay open, you are more likely to have a great experience and possibly meet a kindred spirit.

As a consumer of temporary housing when I travel, I appreciate the range of choice available today. At the same time I am also sympathetic to the challenges it creates, especially in housing markets where rentals are already scarce and prices are rising. I also remember the signs posted in Venice, Italy protesting Airbnb and the perceived effect that it was pricing “real Venetians” out of Venice.

As we walked back to the car, Sarah and I discussed our conversation with the local who is going to vote to limit vacation rentals to the coastal zone (1 mile from coastline) and the business district. He wasn’t unfriendly, just frustrated. We wondered if we shouldn’t have rented the home we are staying in, and decided that we were unaware of the controversy, we are in the coastal zone, and it isn’t illegal. We’d like to come every year, so we’ll have to think through our options next year. Also, does Airbnb pay the local transient occupancy tax or expect hosts to do so?

IMG_5238When I lived here in the 80s, the prices were climbing well beyond the ability of people mostly working service jobs to afford to buy. Then the problem was that some of the supply was taken off the market by people who could afford to buy a second or third home on the Peninsula. They only spent a few weeks a year in Carmel or Pebble Beach and this had a ripple effect in the entire housing market. The Airbnb phenomenon makes it possible for upper middle class people to buy a vacation home and afford it thanks to additional rents.

It is complicated. When Airbnb started I thought it was restricted to host-occupied residences. It was both the attraction and the turn-off. I prefer a hotel to a Bed & Breakfast because I prefer to be left alone. Now it has become a platform for entrepreneurs with enough cash to invest in a dedicated vacation property. I use ride sharing services and appreciate the greater availability of cars where I am, the app’s easy way to pay, but it has not been so great for taxis. A lot of these apps disrupt the existing order of things and create new opportunities for consumers and the industrious. Hopefully Pacific Grove will find the right balance.

Monterey Bay a Superb Marine Sanctuary

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I became a member when my grandson was born. This trip we are celebrating his second birthday with multiple trips to the Aquarium.

As a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I try to visit as often as I can. Indeed, the entire Monterey Bay offers an opportunity to observe marine life. Just a few days ago a “superpod” of dolphins was caught on video by the Aquarium staff. As my 2 year old grandson would say, “Wow!”

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/07/645677562/watch-superpod-of-dolphins-seen-racing-off-california-coast

The Monterey Bay Aquarium gives those of us unable to snorkel or dive the opportunity to see life under the sea. The Open Sea exhibit has hammerhead sharks and two sea turtles. I spent at least 5 minutes watching the female octopus actively exploring her space.

The sea otters are favorites. Sometimes it is hard to appreciate them because of the crowds. My friend UK Sarah was reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck and he didn’t mention sea otters. I double checked with the docents and they agreed the sea otters were almost hunted to extinction when Steinbeck was in Monterey County. They began to make a comeback in the mid-70s. The growing public support for marine life made it possible to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992. The kelp forests are essential for the otters, yet without otters the urchins proliferate and eat the kelp forests. Thanks to the Aquarium’s education and conservation programs the Bay has become a much friendlier place for all marine life.

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I learned a few things on these visits to the Aquarium. Two year olds (not just Calvin) will vocalize in a way that sounds a lot like screaming like a monkey when they are frightened by the “ocean wave experience” or a scary fish. Mostly though they are in awe and very excited to take it all in.

And I still love the penguins!