The Wild West

The Hai River, Tianjin's connection to the sea
The Hai River, Tianjin’s connection to the sea

Howdy!

A short message — mainly for those back in Asia and the southern hemisphere who may not be familiar with the West, the real West, the Wild West — some wild photos. Featuring genuine native-speaker sentence fragments. Sorry, it’s been a sore spot lately.  I mean.  Yeah.  Anyway . . . .

The Flight Back

My journey to America was fragmented, actually. The plane was an hour and a half late out of Tianjin, despite perfect weather (and sort-of clear air) and no visible traffic. Apparently the government had some non-apparent traffic in mind. Perhaps it’s a consequence of building the airport directly adjacent to an air force base.

Los Angeles from the clear air
Los Angeles from the clear air

It happened to me once before, last winter.  But this time the delay was greater, and I missed the connecting flight from Korea to San Francisco. So I flew to Los Angeles. I’ve decided that LAX is not my favorite airport. Considering the size of the herds flowing through the lot, they head ’em up  as well as could be expected. But, still . . .

I also found out that the American border crossings are moving towards computer-supervised systems where passengers can process themselves through customs. However, due to my general incompetence after so many hours of forced sitting, I got diverted to a human, who proved to be pleasant.

How many hours? By the time I got to San Francisco, and was collected by my long-time friend Sharon, and delivered at home, it was 26 hours door to door.  Afterwards, I slept the most I’d slept in one night for a long time. The good news was that so much sleep all at once dropped me into Pacific Standard Time almost immediately.

Point Reyes

For the first time in at least five years, I got to visit Point Reyes again, one of my favorite places on earth. My friend Arlene took me this time. We visited all the old haunts that carry so much meaning in my memory. But before we got there, we also visited a Gloria Jeans coffee shop.

The Mall-ified Gloria Jeans
The Mall-ified Gloria Jeans

As mentioned before, Gloria Jeans took over the old restaurant on the Tianjin University campus where the foreign experts used to stay. It’s an international Chain that began in Chicago, but is now mainly centered in Australia, where they’ve opened more than 400 shops. There’s also a Gloria Jeans in San Rafael, in a mall. It lacks the burgers and Chinese food of the Tianjin version, but still serves the same white hot chocolates.

Beware the Seal
Beware the Seal

Anyway, we visited the Visitor Center at Point Reyes, and discovered that the old map at the door had been crushed under the weight of an elephant seal. Sharks and Orcas also swam through the air under the high ceiling.  Otherwise, it remains the same, and it still maintains one of the best book stores of any visitor center that I know. And yes, I bought one. And yes, I also snagged one of the old style baseball caps, which they appear to be phasing out.

Kule Loklo

We visited Kule Loklo, the re-created Indian village, where I remembered Lanny Pinola, the kind and gentle soul whose forebears had dwelt there for thousands of years.  He always used to laugh and joke about the difference between his traditional diet of acorn mush and the McDonald’s down the road (actually, I’ve never seen a McDonald’s out in West Marin, though).

Traditional homes at Kule Loklo
Traditional homes at Kule Loklo

The old people, he said, had always lived to be ninety, a hundred, or much more.  But not now. Not when they’re cut off from the their traditional diet. “I’ll never see a hundred,” he’d joke. “I love McDonald’s too much. Hey, about about that for an advertisement — ‘Eat McDonald’s!  Kill you before your time!'”

He was right. He died about ten years ago, and nowhere near ninety. But Kule Loklo still survives him, even though, as he often said, no Indian would ever actually build a village there, not at the top of a hill where there’s no water.

The Educational Center

Clem Miller Environmental Education Center
Clem Miller Environmental Education Center – Panorama

Naturally, we visited the Educational Center, the destination of twenty-one pilgrimages over the years, leading groups of either forty or eighty.  My long-time camper colleague Kay is also gone, having also passed away too young about five years ago.

The field where we had conducted studies had been thoroughly  shorn into a lawn.  Yeah, that field has a lot of interesting history with my groups over the years.  Perhaps they’ll let it spring up again in the springtime. In the meantime, the dry poison hemlock sticks were cut down so they couldn’t tempt some kid.

Other than that, we didn’t explore any further, since the facility was in use at the time.  I did wonder if the daffodils would rise again by the sign at the turnoff.

Limantour Beach.

Limantour Reflections
Limantour Reflections

We also strolled onto Limantour Beach, again, remembering classes past. If you don’t know Northern California, you may be surprised at how few people were present to enjoy the beach. Only one person was actually swimming that day. Our real California is not like the more famous faux California found in the southland, like by Santa Monica. No, our beaches are made for strolling and reflection,  not for showing off trim figures in skimpy costumes. And if you want to surf, you better dress warmly.

Equus at the beach
Equus at the beach

That’s the beach where Sebastián Cermeño lost his fully-loaded and not-so-securely-anchored Manila Galleon to lashing rain and high winds in 1595. For centuries, pieces of the lost treasure, including Chinese porcelain, washed up on the beach.

It’s also where, exactly four hundred years after his loss, a small group of students huddled around a teacher in lashing rain and high winds, not just listening to the story, but experiencing it.  Yes, it was a teachable moment.

Point Reyes Station

The deceptively simple life at Point Reyes
The deceptively simple life at Point Reyes

We  briefly toured Point Reyes Station, the closest thing to a town in the region, and picked up some sandwiches at the same deli where my friends Bill and Marilyn got sandwiches, yes, many years ago.

The town looks like a simple country settlement, except that you’d better have a million dollars if you want to buy one of those simple homes, not that they come up for sale very often. I have to say, though, it’s a wonderful place to live, to breathe the fresh air, and listen to the quiet and the twittering of actual birds.  If I had the money, I’d probably retire there.

In addition to these places, we took both the Lucas Valley and Fairfax routes between Point Reyes and San Rafael. It was a day for nostalgia, as I realize even more strongly as I sit typing this in Arizona. The only thing missing was Gus Wright and his pieced-together Volvo. Well, that’s a long story for another time.

White Tank Mountains

Cholla reaching out from the ground
Cholla reaching out from the ground

Yes, I’m here in Phoenix visiting my dad. I’ve already typed more than I’d planned, but I really should include some desert pictures before I sign off.  The beach isn’t the only place where you can find sand, after all.

What you do find in the desert are a lot creatures prepared for self-defense and water conservation. Most of the plants are covered in barbs and spears. If you ever fall into cholla, you’ll be pulling them from your skin for quite a while.

Curve-billed thrasher with stick.
Curve-billed thrasher with stick.

The White Tanks are named  for some rocky pools located high up on the slopes, the most important geographic features in such a dry region. That said, it’s rained almost every day since I’ve been here, though seldom harder than what they’d call a “soft day” in Ireland. Temperatures are typical for winter – around 20 degrees Celsius.  It’s incredibly pleasant compared to winter in Tianjin.

We drove up to the White Tanks nature park a few days ago, before the rains started. I got lots of great pictures, and then we visited the park visitor center.

White Tank cacti
White Tank cacti

The last time I’d been here, the visitor center was an old house-trailer, cramped and full of animal and plant specimens.

These days the visitor center occupies a spacious showroom in a large public library, built right outside the park entrance. It’s quite professional.  Not only do they still have several cages of snakes and a gila monster, they’ve got some living black-widow spiders in their typical tunnel-shaped nests and some bark scorpions with a handy ultra-violet flashlight for making them glow. Cool.

Well, I’ve written more than enough. I’ll attach a few more desert pictures to the end. I hope the nostalgia wasn’t too thick!!

Big Skies in the White Tanks
Big Skies in the White Tanks
Gambel's Quail
Gambel’s Quail
Bird Nests
Bird Nests
A Forest of Saguaro Cacti
A Forest of Saguaro Cacti