One of the themes of this New Zealand adventure is species at risk. It as though all of the “sky is falling” warnings of those enviro “Henny Pennys” are finally coming home to roost. As I travel I am encountering fewer birds that before, and therefore fewer penguins. I was hoping to see a Kea on my southern sojourn, but alas, friends say that their range has contracted to Arthurs Pass.
Monarch butterfly populations are crashing in North America, and it seems they are in the southern hemisphere as well. We can do more than wring our hands or just wish for a different outcome. We can plant the species of native plants we know provide food and shelter for Monarch butterflies and other pollinator insects.
Whilst I was in Blenheim I learned about the swan plant, the preferred plant of the Monarch butterfly in New Zealand. Similar to the milkweed in North America, it has a milky substance in its stem and flossy flowering pods. The plant is the preferred place to leave its eggs or form a chrysalis.
My experience with planting milkweed seeds in my home garden has been one of frustration. They never seem to germinate. This year I was able to transplant some dormant milkweed from a native plant garden about to undergo renovation. So far they are slow growing but responding. None of mine look as magnificent as Rosa Davison’s swan plants. Also, if you want to do the Monarchs a favor–stop or greatly reduce using any chemicals including fertilizer in your garden.
In California you can visit a special grove in Pacific Grove where the Monarch’s overwinter. Their numbers have been shrinking. Similarly in New Zealand, Butterfly Bay in Northland’s Whangaroa Harbour is an overwintering site. They have also seen a dramatic decline in butterfly numbers.
You can learn more about planting a pollinator garden for butterflies, or donating to promote butterfly habitats:
Many a fourth grader in the Sacramento area has taken a field trip to Sutter’s Fort. It is easy to see it as a place primarily for kids. Alas, that would be selling Sutter’s Fort short.
It doesn’t take much imagination to put yourself into the place of a miller or blacksmith living on this farm enterprise. Or imagine what life must have been like living in a community confined to these relatively small courtyards during floods in winter. This is where many a pioneer stopped thankful to reach “civilization” as primitive as it was. The California Indian museum next door tells the story of the indigenous people who lived here before European settlers and their fate as the settlers introduced small pox and other diseases and land ownership.
Here you see how the fort was first and foremost an enterprise. Many of the recreated scenes are accompanied by a narrated recording, but there are a few volunteer re-enactors who enliven the feel of the clerk’s office or other activity centers within the fort.
John Sutter was a Swiss immigrant who was granted the land from the Spanish for the fort and farms around it. His place in history was secured as the owner of the mill further upstream of the American River in Coloma where gold was discovered. The resulting rush brought a population of seekers and adventurers, quick statehood, and huge environmental degradation and water laws.
Entrance per adult is $5 and per child over 5 is $3 except on special interpretive days like the Friday we visited. Then the admission is $7 per adult and $5 per child over 5. (Toddlers are free!) The fort gates are open almost every day of the year from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
It’s a fascinating aspect of American life that we celebrate our cultural heritage, whether it is Norwegian, Lithuanian, or Persian, in a variety of festivals. Food features prominently. It is also an easier way to experience another culture when you don’t have the time or money to travel. Sometimes it just whets your appetite to go!
Demonstrating how to make lefse
The Scandinavian Festival, held on one day at the Scottish Rite Temple near Sacramento State University, features many booths with various Scandinavian themed goods. Then in the main ballroom they sell tickets to buy food and have seating to watch the flag ceremony or the fashion show. Many people are dressed in traditional dresses or Norwegian sweaters. All decedents of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, or Finland are welcome, in addition the Sami indigenous people are also recognized as their own nation although they live across Norway, Sweden, Finland and part of Russia.
Two of the people in our group discovered they were Scandinavian thanks to 23 and Me so they were discovering cultural traditions like the food, like the delicious flatbread lefse made with potatoes. I also discovered there is such a thing as Viking reenactment. I sent a photo (see above) to my brother and found out that he reenacts being a Viking for his history classes at the Community College where he teaches. I learned something about my family too!
The Pacific Ocean is such large and magnificent and I’ve lived within a few hours of the ocean my entire life. It has always been a balm to my stress. This visit to Clam Beach met my need for my molecules to be reorganized and synced to the rhythm of the waves.
Taking @DozertheDozerian and Lulu along to enjoy the open space and fresh air made it more fun. Clam Beach allows dogs to run off leash on the wet sand for a limited time in the winter.
Of course the point of my visit was to spend more time with the Watlove family. We learned to play a new board game, Fuse. We ate at our favorite restaurants and cooked at home. Nora baked wonderful lava cakes.
I have traveled to Humboldt County about once a year since my best friend Harriet moved up to Arcata to attend HSU. Now her children are in their 20s and the youngest daughter attends UC Davis, so the Watloves visit the Sacramento area often. I can’t remember the last time I made the 6 hour trek to Humboldt County. There have been changes to the route. The Willits bypass is completed. It makes stopping for lunch or a bathroom stop so much easier and more pleasant.
The weather was the wildest I’ve experienced driving up with snow in Lake County and in Mendocino near Laytonville. It is always good to check CalTrans to confirm roads are open.
Some other changes include legalization of marijuana, so there are more dispensaries now. Also the price of marijuana has dropped so the local economy is feeling the beginning of the pinch. Nora says that most people in Humboldt County also resent the portrayal of southern Humboldt in the Netflix “documentary” as exaggerating the danger for entertainment.
Some of our favorite restaurants:
Ramone’s Bakery, 1555 City Center Road, McKinleyville, CA; I did a pastry run for the sleepyheads and picked 7 different pastries then cut them up for more tastes. Everything was delicious!
Lighthouse Grill, 355 Main Street, Trinidad, CA; known for mashed potato cone and grass-fed beef burgers; our fav’s this trip included fish and chips and a tuna melt.
The Alibi, 744 9th Street, Arcata, CA; this is a dive bar on the Arcata Plaza that also happens to serve a wonderful breakfast.
Taking a walk with my 2 year old grandson always results in looking at the familiar landscapes with fresh eyes or seeing things I never noticed before. My neighborhood library is in an elegant home donated by Ella McClatchy. It is on the ironically named “Poverty Hill” surrounded by mansions. (And in a flood prone community it is a more desirable place to build.)
One morning my grandson and I explored the library upstairs and down before venturing into the neighborhood. Cal loves to run and I can stay apace through quick strides and distraction. “Look at this, Cal.” is one of my favorite tricks to give me time to catch up. This is how we discovered there are six lions living near the library.
“Part of normal human development is learning to notice less than we are able to. The world is awash in details of color, form, sound–but to function, we have to ignore some of it. The world still holds these details. Children sense the world at different granularity, attending to parts of the visual world we gloss over, to sounds we have dismissed as irrelevant. What is indiscernible to us is plain to them.” Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking (p. 26)
Travel can also refresh our ability to see. First, we notice so much more of everything wherever we go because it is unfamiliar. And then we see our own familiar home with fresh eyes and appreciation when we return.
One of the other ways we can train ourselves to see more of the rich detail in our lives is through “Eye Spy” type games. Cal and I love Momo books. Momo the border collie hides and his person Andrew Knapp snaps a photo. There is a series of books for all ages and one children’s board book for hardier viewing. The latest book is Finding Momo Across Europe and it is delightful!
We discovered the Donum Winery through their sculptures. My friend Cameon found an article in Artnet News that described the sculpture “park” opening soon (published in September). Cameon committed to figuring out how we could go as our adventure to celebrate my birthday at the end of November. We learned access to the sculpture gardens is through a tasting. And Donum has a limited number of tastings each day.
Donum Winery is in the Carneros region on the edge of Napa County and the San Pablo Bay. It was started as a premium winery made from the grapes the winemaker grew on vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Burned out after a few years, the winemaker was looking for a buyer. An art collector, Allan Warburg, made an offer on the condition that the winemaker stay on and continue her craft.
The Donum label celebrates each new year with Ai Weiwei’s image for that year (think Chinese animal). The wines are yummy. The sculptures are superb.
Most people think of a winery primarily as a place to go for a tour and a tasting. Been there done that, again and again. My friend Cameon and I are now fairly picky about what wineries we’ll go to for a tasting. The price of tastings has increased as well (Donum charges $80 a person but offers special pricing on wines.) Especially since wine aggravates my fibromyalgia so I’m only willing to do it if there is something more.
Warburg has great taste in wine and art. I will go again when the ground is dry so I can see more of the sculptures. By then I’m pretty sure there will be even more installations!
Most people visit Los Angeles for longer than 24 hours, unless they are going for business. I have flown down and back many times for a business meeting from Sacramento. Southwest Airlines makes it possible to say yes to attending a meeting in person. Southwest Airlines also makes it possible to say yes to welcoming the New Year with a show at Largo.
Sarah Harriet and I flew to LAX on the 11:55 a.m. flight. We had a relaxed morning and good night’s sleep. The flight was full-ish but all of the Rose Bowl fans would have flown the day before or earlier. We grabbed a Lyft to our hotel. While we took surface streets to The Elan, the traffic was light for Los Angeles.
Sarah Harriet gifted the tickets to see Rob Bell and Elizabeth Gilbert at Largo for Christmas, so I gifted the hotel room. On this visit The Elan was a let down. Small room with light pouring in no matter how you close the curtains. It was a great location though. We were able to walk every where until the following morning when we headed back to LAX.
We walked to eat Plancha Tacos. This taco joint in a strip mall (some of the best food in LA is in a strip mall). We tucked in to a yummy Mexican feast. Then we walked past mostly closed shops (good on these merchants for taking a holiday and giving their employees the day off). We checked out a bakery and decided everything looked too sweet. If they had a fruit pie or a bun with a little bit of icing they’d have had a sale.
We walked on to the Beverly Center. At first we weren’t sure if it was a parking garage or a shopping mall. We rode escalator after escalator and then found the mall. This was unlike any mall in Sacramento as it had all high end designer shops like those on Rodeo Drive. We window shopped and then returned to the hotel.
Although we didn’t feel that hungry we wanted to eat before the 8 p.m. show because neither of us enjoys eating late at night. We used Trip Advisor and Open Table to decide to try Taste on Melrose.
We had the choice of the courtyard (outside with heaters) or inside. Although it was January it was still more than 10 degrees warmer than home, so we said “Courtyard!” The service was slow but the food was really delicious. Just right was the Melrose vibe.
To get to the show at Largo we had to walk just a few blocks back towards our hotel. Largo is a club that seats 300 people and the posters gave us the impression it is where Sarah Silverman and other comics try out material. We asked for our tickets at Will Call and couldn’t believe our luck! We had front row seats!
We didn’t know what to expect from Rob Bell and Elizabeth Gilbert–two of our favorite authors who are friends–certainly not dancing for more than 5 minutes to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Can’t Stop (I always thought it was called Shindig). We laughed and laughed because they fully committed. I kept thinking “Don’t they realize how long this song goes on?” It helped to set the tone of vulnerability and fun.
You can hear the resulting conversation between Bell and Gilbert on The RobCast podcast. There are two episodes. I won’t spoil any of the good stuff, except to say that it was so much fun. One weird part of our experience was the woman sitting next to Sarah Harriet who must suffer from sleep apnea. First she was all into the show, then she got up and sort of tried to sneak out about 15 minutes in. Then 30 minutes later she comes back with coffee and noisily adds cream and sugar and chugs it down. Ten minutes later she is snoring loudly in spite of Bell and Gilbert talking no more than 10 feet in front of us and lots of audience response. The person next to me was frustrated and said, “Nudge her!” Sarah responded that she had several times. Afterward I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when Sarah said that when she elbowed the woman, the woman elbowed her back without a pause in her snore. It takes all kinds of people in the world. We’d go again in a heartbeat to hear Bell and Gilbert (preferably in Sacramento–we have the Crest Theater!)
After a restless nights sleep, which often happens when you are nervous about getting up in time for a 6:50 a.m. flight out of LAX. Southwest delivered again. This time there were many elated Ohio State and disappointed Washington University fans in the airport. We were home by 9:30 a.m., before we left the house the previous day. Kind of amazing when you think about it.