Monday’s Meander/Photos: A Look Back at San Diego’s Delights

Take me back to beauteous San Diego! My oldest daughter and boyfriend are heading that direction right now, and it triggered memories of a trip in April 2018. It was a welcome respite as heavy losses had led up to the trip. This year has had its own ups and downs (is life ever free of those?) but there is no reason needed to surrender to a tug of southern California Pacific: temperate with sweet breezes (ah, eucalyptus) and vibrant environs of city and surrounding destinations.

I offer some photos in memory of great fun, and hope to return before next summer. Enjoy–and plan your own trip!

Farewell, San Diego, for the time being.

Wednesday’s Words: Leaving San Diego (Plus Two More Unexpected Occurrences)

Dramatic sandstone cliffs at at beach within Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

This is not the last day spent in the San Diego area but it seems a good final post about our felicitous trip.  I thought of it all often since our return, realizing it was meant to restore, buoy and fortify us. That is the pleasure of travel, even in one’s home country or closer yet to one’s home. Getting out and away has the effect of an elixir, only better, as such changes of scenery can awaken the too-comfortable mind, startle the senses and arouse the spirit to greater appreciation of human life as well as nature.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a quick trip to La Jolla. The area, comprised of 2,000 acres of Torrey pines and pristine beaches, is a southern maritime chaparral. It is home to this rarest native pine in the U.S. Before tackling the short trails above, we enjoyed this stretch of the Pacific Ocean’s protected beach (California’s beaches are not all public as they are in Oregon). The sandstone cliffs are steep, textured by wind, water and tectonic plate shifts over innumerable centuries. Large flocks of pelicans were feeding and flying about as though with uniform and often urgent industry–remarkable to observe. They are so large yet graceful, as all birds, in flight. A young lady was embracing waves and sunshine as we strolled–tempting, though!

We drove to top of the cliffs to immerse ourselves in views while checking out this unique maritime chaparral. The first view looks out over La Jolla and the ocean. We stopped at the Torrey Pines Lodge, now Visitor Center-Museum, Pueblo revival in style. It was built from 1922-23 thanks to Ellen Browning Scripps, a newspaper woman and philanthropist. From 1908 until her death in 1932 she championed this reserve and bought more acreage to add to it. Torrey pines survive difficult conditions of drought and sandy earth, storms and unrelenting heat. Their roots reach down to 246 feet in search of moisture and to get a good hold on these windblown cliff tops.

Then onto the trails which meandered through cacti, namesake pines and other chaparral growths, lizards, flowers. It was, to me, a sort of beautiful desolation up there…

The sunlight amid gathering clouds kept us riveted for a long while. There were near-rhapsodic moments of opalescent, shimmering light cast upon the Pacific. Multiple shots of such beauty were unavoidable! It was not easy to pare it down to these… It was windy, wild, a little forlorn, mystical; heavens and earth and sea exerted full power as I stood steady but small.

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By the time we headed back down, the clouds gradually began to clear and the sun resumed its potent heating up the air and our Northwestern-pale skin. La Jolla shone in the hills and San Diego was inviting in the distance.

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The beach and surrounds gave us a vivid view at last glance.

This was, as all our outings, satisfying. However, our very last day was spent on Coronado Island, right across the bay, over the bridge from San Diego. This was a visit I had quite looked forward to from the start. The town of Coronado offers many delights, not the least of which are renowned beaches of brilliant white sand due to a mineral, Mica. It was a pleasure to wander about the resort area as well as the rest of the charming streets full of sights and restaurants where we enjoyed a good lunch at an outdoors table. There are many elegant homes and gardens to take in. The world-class Hotel del Coronado was built in 1888 and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. It has offered luxe bread and board to countless famous and infamous people over the years.

I regret that I have no photos, however–of which there were a multitude–other than this one courtesy of Wikipedia and one my husband took of me at the hotel. The tree behind me is a dragon tree. It was a backdrop in the film “Some Like it Hot” with Marilyn Monroe, filmed at the Hotel del Coronado in 1958. (Please find it in a bigger photo as it is impressive.) Would that I could mimic a Marilyn Monroe pose and attitude but alas!

By Nehrams2020 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The final reveal of a couple more odd things that happened while on this trip: my trusty camera was stolen. Hence, all last day photos were lost. I was more than a bit upset when arriving back in Oregon that my deeply appreciated Fujifilm camera was nowhere to be found. I suspect it was taken at our hotel, as that is where I last saw it, lying on the bed. I’d asked Marc to grab it as my arms and hands were full but it was unlike me to not double check and pick it up if he did not. Rushing too fast to the airport, I guess.

We, of course, called the hotel but were informed nothing was reported left in the room. We called the car rental agency-no camera. I realized I never carried it on the plane, so didn’t bother to check with the airline.

I thought how the trip had rockily begun with a dissatisfactory room. How I had been tiptoeing about barely corralled sorrow from past and current losses. Then I contracted food poisoning the night before my birthday celebration. A few grim moments. Yet the ensuing times had become so much happier, richer in experiences.

So I had to talk myself away from that new, only material loss. Put matters into perspective. We had been offered, unexpectedly, shelter in the amazing Presidential Suite. My birthday had come and gone without further incident–another year winning the fight with heart disease. We had enjoyed several good meals. We had availed ourselves of sights pleasing, informative and entertaining. We had rested up as well as played each day.

It was, after all, just a camera. I could buy a new one. And have.

But there is a last surprising event (that I am half- afraid of mentioning): our entire trip ended up being “comped” (excepting a few meals sought when out and about). No charges for hotel food, rooms or car garaging and valet. Neither were there any car rental costs beyond gas. As many who have read the posts on this trip, we used many rewards points accumulated from my spouse’s extensive business travel–a perk of his hard work. But we did expect a few costs, of course, and it was not to be. I am truly grateful –not due to the money, no, but due to our more hidden needs. The getaway gave us stamina and gratitude to endure the sudden loss of my brother… and now another family member is critically ill.

Sometimes you get what you don’t even look for in life; this was the gift of deeper sustenance. I hope you enjoyed this trip with me–there will be more before summer is done!


Wednesday’s Words: San Diego’s Delight/Balboa Park

San Diego, Day 5, Balboa Park 077

Day five of our April trip to San Diego was defined by our visit to the enchanting Balboa Park. From the moment we entered, I felt almost as if in a dream, so lushly interesting was the landscape and so exotic much of the architecture. It was the Spanish influence that impacted me, a culture that draws me via literature, art, music and dance, design and architecture. This excellent park is named after explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa in 1915. It was the site of the Panama-California Exposition and is now a National Historic Landmark. The park is 12 acres in which you can visit 16 museums, many performance venues, numerous gardens (19)and walkways–as well as the acclaimed San Diego Zoo.

Even after spending most of the day, we saw only a fraction of that. It is very hard to limit photographs and experiences–but here is a small offering of our experiences. Just follow along with the older gal in an apple green shirt–your guide, me, trying to look so cool and collected as I sweat like mad in the dry Mediterranean heat of day. Thank goodness for a swift breeze, at times. (Hottest day of our visit…)

We first checked out the House of Pacific Relations’ International Cottages built in 1935 to promote good will while sharing cultural exhibits. We discovered the open house tours occur only on week-ends. It was charming nonetheless. I paused at the doors of Germany and Ireland, parts of my heritage. (Marc is checking out a lovely trumpet-shaped flower.) I imagined any stucco cottage would be delightful to move into, at least for a few days, where I’d hunker down in shadow-drifts and write away, an iced tea at hand…

(For the sake of economy of space, I have tended to post smaller pictures. You know, of course,  to click on each you may want to view both complete and larger. Thanks!)

Next we wandered about, gawking at ornate buildings and passageways.  I felt whisked away to a different culture and time. As the heat ramped up, sweet coolness of shady spots was enjoyed more than once.

I always try to visit gardens when we travel. One I sought out was the Alcazar Garden, designed to mimic the Alcazar Castle gardens in Seville, Spain.

The Botanical Building and Lily Pond was a favorite stop. Built for the 1915-1916 Exposition, it is one of the world’s largest lath structures. It houses more than 2000  plants. The orchids were exquisite.

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We left the interior to admire the captivating surroundings of Lily Pond with Mama Duck and ducklings, turtles, and namesake lilies.

And this gentleman who played Latin music with feeling and a timeless if worn elan. I felt for him, sitting there in the simmering heat of day as passersby strolled to and fro, so we stood and listened awhile.

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We checked out the Museum of Photographic Arts which showcases solo artists. There was a wonderful exhibit of insect photos –beetles! which I love–among others. And we had a fun experience of standing before a work made of innumerable pictures of individuals, presumably reflective as suddenly the viewer–in this case, yours truly–becomes part of the art. It demonstrated how we are a part of each other: we are all 99.9 percent the same, according to scientific discoveries. Something to ponder as we live, learn and share with other humans in this madcap world. (I regret I can’t find the name of the artist.)

We walked through the prickly and peculiar Cactus garden, established 1935,

and as the afternoon waned, visited the Spanish Village Art Center. Created in 1935, the buildings were taken over by the US Army during WWII and used as barracks–but was reclaimed by artists in 1947. There are demonstrations  of craft and may art works to peruse but most shops were closing by the time we arrived. I managed to sneak in one and purchased one sea-blue mug as a keepsake of the visit. Note I am sitting, waiting for a freezing cold drink, which I did not get….

Hunger was driving us to the end of explorations for the day. As we headed for the car, we passed an attractive restaurant called El Prado (we tried to get in but no luck!), where people attired in fancy reds and blacks lined up for a fine dinner, some special event. We moved on with regret. There was so much more to view and wonder over! We resolved to return to Balboa Park and avail ourselves of the charms of 15 other gardens, the acclaimed San Diego Zoo and so much more.

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Farewell, you fun, beautiful place– for now!

Wednesday’s Word: An Odd and Beautiful Holiday Begins

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I am a contented domestic traveler (barring trips to nearby Canada), so I can’t claim chalking up one more exotic locale or vast varieties of experiences in that sense. But I can say my trip to San Diego presented unexpected moments both disconcerting and gratifying. A trio of events plus captivating places and days with Marc have set my mind to pondering  since the  return home.

As we arrived at the Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Downtown mid-afternoon, I admired its substantial facade. Yet I felt puzzled as a valet got the luggage. Where were the swaying palms, glittering oceanfront, jazzy street bustle? We were smack dab in downtown, merely six blocks from the waterfront. Though a very large city, there was hardly any traffic for a Saturday afternoon–unlike Portland’s city center, a beehive day and night. There were virtually no trees, and if I stepped into the street I barely made out a brief flash of water blueness. Construction was occurring in a couple of places. I wondered then about our “room with view.” Breezy balminess was soft on my skin and I was relieved to be there if a bit fretful for some irrational reason. I yet hoped for the best–a saying that would evoke more meaning later. I had no clue that I would go from 50 to near-zero to 100 very fast.

We entered the airy lobby of what was once the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank from 1927-1994. It still retains a bank’s milieu with original design features though modernized in style aspects. Designed by William Templeton Johnson, it is Italian Romanesque Revival style, a restrained extravagance. The main hall/lobby has 32 foot high vaulted ceilings. It feels medieval and substantial, elegant with marble, bronze, granite, wrought iron and large mirrors.

Up we went to the tenth floor. As we entered a nicely appointed, smallish room, I could see….grey tall buildings and a glaring pit of sandy earth where building was only temporarily halted. No water scene. No colorful streets. The room was dark,  a tad worn here and there. I was disappointed–then snared by a cresting wave of sadness. It didn’t match what I’d imagined, okay–but why on earth plummet like this? Marc was displeased but lacking distress. He is a decades-long business traveler; a perk is the rapidly accumulating of various reward points. Vacations are usually very affordable due to his hard work with such travel. He is usually blase about irritating situations; a hotel room was just a hotel room, a necessary convenience or airport glitches, the expectation. I’m clearly more the neophyte.

I should be feeling happy, I mused. I stared into the rich blue sky above skyscrapers as tears spilled onto my cheeks. Sat on a chair, arms about myself. Oh, right, there it was: that inconvenient, oft-burrowed thing, a specter called grief.

“Today is the day my sister died three years ago, then she was interred on my birthday and this week I’ll be 68…and then Mom died on Mother’s Day…it’s not news that I do not much enjoy the month of memories. I just don’t want to stay here. I’m tired out. We both need a pretty view, a good room–don’t we? Or am I being ridiculous? I’m sorry, Marc, I’m way too upset by this.”

“Yes, we do, this isn’t okay,” he said quietly.

He tried to call the front desk but the phone wasn’t working. He called from another phone which was usable. Someone came up to fix the unfixable phone. Marc was annoyed but I felt foolish, embarrassed by such emotion over a hotel room as Marc started to look for other possibilities online. Except it was not just that–it was the deeper need of a sweetening, healing time away from his intense work and our daily stressors. Things going right and well. The past months had felt like a long breath being held as I waited to see if family would manage okay. I had also recently recovered from major bruised ribs after a slip on the floor when jumping off a counter. I’d anticipated fun walks, even a hike or two.

Marc talked to someone but was told they were at near full capacity, they were so sorry. He started to look online for another hotel in the area and when another staff person appeared at the door he told him we were likely checking out. I fought back more tears and slinked off to the bathroom.

The next events blurred. I worked to get myself together in the bathroom. There was the sound of a growing cast of employees at our door. I dabbed my eyes, blew my nose and told myself severely get a grip when I caught something about moving to another spot and all being taken care of by the customer service supervisor. I blindly followed with a bit of hope quelling the distress; maybe the phones worked well and there would be a pleasanter space, even view. I was morphing back into a composed adult by the time we arrived.

We were led to an elevator, then another and crossed the hall to a second one that required a special key card to take the last elevator to the second of two floor #14s. Through a door in a small hallway and then into a spacious, sunlit array of rooms. Like an apartment. The Presidential Suite. No extra costs. For the next five days we’d stay there; the last two we’d be in a well-appointed room on the top floor. It made no sense at first glance. We wandered about, wondering why we’d been recipients of such fine care. Marc has a good job and his company gives the hotel brand tremendous business–maybe that was it? Or we had an exceptional place and supervisor, yes. Or then again, perhaps we so needed a quiet oasis that somehow we were allowed a true gift. That is how it truly felt–as if we were given what was so needed: solace, rest, beauty. Respite from the world. I was stunned by the rapid turn of fortune.

The views from the long terrace were perfect, with streets of the city fanning out, a glimpse of reflective Pacific ocean, a few giant palm trees in the distance silhouetted against bright spring light. Relief filled us as we surveyed the lively scenes.

We burst out laughing and high-fived each other. What a peculiar, surprising start to our holiday.

That was to be the first of a trio of trying, unexpected experiences. The other two will be noted in future posts. Fortunately, 97 percent of the time was filled with days and nights defined by happy, memorable moments together.

Our first night ended well. We moseyed about the immediate neighborhood and ate at a cheery pub in the historical Gaslamp Quarter. The area sports Victorian style buildings that include restaurants, theaters, shops, clubs– and is always jam-packed. There were throngs of people. We were in the thick of it at last and enjoyed people watching. Wandering further we found a calmer area with bubbling fountain and attractive courtyards. I was elated by all the new things to see and do, hands held in one another’s.

That night before we turned out the light we let our eyes take in the high coffered ceiling with colorful hand stenciled designs. We then slept deeply in a soundproof bedroom on a just-right bed behind French doors, excited to see what unfolded the next day. But I uttered a short prayer of thanksgiving for Jericho, the staff member who made it happen with such good will. I felt humbled and relieved at once.

And so our trip had begun. On Sunday we rose quite late, enjoyed a tasty all-American (eggs, sausage, potatoes, toast, juice, tea/coffee) breakfast and headed to the San Diego Bay and harbor. Along the Embarcadero we soaked up the warm and honeyed light cast upon all. It was breezy and comfortable the whole trip: “San Diego temperature.”

By evening I had forgotten mostly about the glitchy start of things. It is instructive that all grief can be reawakened, causing sudden vulnerability, a sense of being off kilter. The human heart is so tender if also tough. I recalled that Marinell, my deceased sister, had visited San Diego (her husband was a Navy and commercial pilot for decades) among other places–my extended family has traveled father and longer than have I– and how they’d have been pleased I got there. It was a comfort to think on it as I drifted off, my husband close by.

Please enjoy a few of the scenarios we found interesting our first full day. You may know that San Diego is the second largest naval base in the U.S.A. The many ships we saw were mammoth, both intimidating and awesome, and naval air traffic was a near-constant. Boating of all sorts abounds. Evident also in these photos is the Spanish influence on much of the architecture.

Next time: Mission San Diego de Alcala with its complex history and its quiet, mystery-laden spaces.

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The Muse Knows: Day 1 of a Spring Beach Trip

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Pacific Ocean–all photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

There are times the muse shows up with a fine sentence or two that beckons me like a hunger-inducing aroma. Or an entire paragraph that apparently is taken out of the middle of some narrative if I could only figure out what it’s intended to be. Or the muse presents a newbie or older story character: he/she may clumsily step forward or scurry, leap or float about or suddenly wake up in a peculiar spot–maybe a tree top or a country roadside or a bar– and then speaks directly to me as if I am this being’s private audience member. Or will talk to another character, and I am warily peering into their crazily compelling lives.

Awhile back I wrote a very long poem in its entirety while walking. The words came so fast, in such an unusual format, that I recorded it on my phone as it flowed into and out of me. I came home and wrote it down with no significant revisions. It took a long time to transcribe it but I was happy when done. And it got published.

So it is true for me that I usually sit down then just let my fingers get to work writing/typing words one after the other. I don’t mean it is necessarily good stuff, I mean it flows quickly. Language inception and usage are alchemy to me. How does it manage to even begin? We–words and I–take off for somewhere or other like comfortable, mischievous cohorts. But not today! Today it has been this: what to do and how on earth to do it? This question wormed it way into my calmly reconfigured mind yesterday and today. Then this afternoon I heard the insistent MV (Muse Voice) whisper: Follow moving sunlight into moonlight; follow the soul’s light. 

You always do get stirred up by light, water, trees, sky, etc., I mutter aloud as the instructive thought lodges itself. Yet this is my only clue for a post? Wonderful, all is simpler since this is my favorite route to embark upon when writing: follow soul first, then intellect to help shape any inspiration. The words will be revealed. Pathways perk up within and without–made of striations of shifting shadows, the ripplings of chameleon light.

But it is a rather broad, misty directive from the ole muse. It might be enough if I want to open a scene with a mysterious glen where human and other magic is about to unfold and the birds are atwitter and then silence draws me to a point of light far beyond an exquisite but faint and far-off horizon….Reality wags a finger at me: readers may not want to hear about a simple visit with an ocean. And what about the hundreds of photographs from a rather short trip to a few Oregon and Washington beaches. Nothing like wading through a stranger’s fond remembrances.

I took a power (and sweaty–it is warming up, gratefully) walk. Consternation slows down mercurial creative impulses so I let it all go. Walks are powerful medicine I must daily take. Afterwards I attacked a bunch of household chores, another intervention for a cluttered mind. Finally, I stared at a vibrantly blank computer screen. I am rarely at a loss for words as those who know me can attest.

My first day back to the blog after a lovely vacation, yay!–and this is what I have? Perhaps too much time off has made me loathe to work very hard on the blog? But that isn’t it. Sometimes I have more overload to sort and prioritize before settling down, getting it onto the page. There is a lot stuffed in both my memory bank and my photo files; sometimes it seems one and the same. I pushed away a tiny niggle of anxiety. Would I get this post posted today or not?

With more consideration, I managed to extract another interpretation of the muse’s suggestion: merely sample the trip’s offerings,  offer up a small smorgasbord of choices for eye, mind, spirit. Let it go its own way.

At last, I invite you to come along on vastly abbreviated initial portions of our trip. The fact is, no decent meander is truly ordinary if we see with welcoming eyes and heart, and the Pacific Northwest coast is mind-boggling every time I stop to better absorb its wonders. There was a wealth of beauty and peace gathered over the days we were there. More pictures and thoughts are likely to be shared in posts to come as we suddenly changed our course (the best way to go) and headed north to unplanned places. It appears the muse–that mysterious, often capricious creative spirit which nudges and, at times, saves writers and others–loves to travel, too. To embrace the multi-faceted views, to enter a deeper immersion into this life. To seek out that light out amid the ruin and peril of our ailing and loved world. It is there, everywhere.

As we begin our drive from Portland, the countryside beguiles us…and we start to simply breathe.

As we begin to approach the Pacific Ocean, we often like to stop at beautiful Wheeler, a village on the north coast overlooking Nehalem Bay. There is excellent fishing and crabbing here; many enjoy kayaking and canoeing.

We arrive in Cannon Beach late in the afternoon. Before entering the town the Pacific Ocean winks and sparkles, mesmerizing us as if this is its job. The town is a favorite weekenders’ and summer vacationers’ spot. We prefer visiting coastal areas during low season (fall and winter stir up great stormy seas) rather than high season. This time we go mid-week. So it is emptier this day, quieter, and this lends a nostalgic and peaceful atmosphere.

Cannon Beach rightly touts a spectacular beach, with famous basaltic rock formations (made of lava flows from Columbia Plateau over 17 million years ago), the primary one at this beach being Haystack Rock, with wonderful tide pools. Other curious rock formations line up here and there like sentinels guarding the sandy stretches. Haystack Rock is part of Oregon Islands Wildlife Refuge, thankfully. Even the lovely Tufted Puffins favor this site as well as Pelagic Cormorants and other seabirds.

To start: breathtaking expanse of the Pacific. And you will see our quaint, tidy lodge with tables and chairs in front. The pond is pooled beyond a waterfall feature that was lovely to go to sleep to along with ocean songs. The red barn with white fencing for horses are by the Ecola River as we walk into town; horseback riding is popular on the beach.

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As evening falls upon us, the ocean is an even more seductive entity with rollicking waves, its roaring voice rising amid tidal forces. Potent sea light which reflects for miles on shifting water and illumines the long horizon alters everything moment by moment. It creates its spell, liming the cresting waves, undulating across sand, casting its radiance on all, even through free-form clouds. The salt-tinged wind (more than a bit chilly and strong) lifts me from myself, starts to set me free.

This is why we come to the coastal forests and waters: to be renewed. Follow a slow moving sun with me as it vanishes behind the seeming rim of earth.

Look for a distant Haystack Rock and misty Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (decommissioned in 1957, now privately owned and used as a columbarium), as well as the ever present Western Gulls who reign over the beaches. The last shot is taken as we walk back across an inlet and to our rental suite.

Tomorrow, we know, there awaits much more and it will be all we hope to find–even with spotty rain forecast. I’ll just follow the light I can find.

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