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Robert Louis Stevenson in Calistoga, California

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Roaming in the California Footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson

 

My affair with Robert Louis Stevenson started early, I was  five or six.  Daddy read Treasure Island aloud from a thick volume with illustrations by N. C. Wyeth while  we three girls took turns sitting next to him on the couch.  Little me enjoyed a kindred imagination and the vivid alternative worlds where adventure happened every day.  More of that, please!

Perhaps unconsciously, I’ve followed that path, seeking outdoor thrills and ultimately creating opportunities to assuage that addiction to the adventurous options life offers. Stevenson wandered the world, so to follow his footsteps could take many months, probably years.  I planned a journey in California dogging Stevenson’s tracks during 1879-80 while the young writer waited to marry Fanny Osbourne, who needed a divorce first.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

After a stop in Santa Cruz to photograph the house where I lived for a while back in the day, and a brief stop at San Gregorio Beach to dip my toes in the Pacific, I nosed the rental south on 101 past artichoke fields and cattle ranches. Wind tilted the few bicyclists braving the blustery day.  More than a decade had passed since I’d visited this region. Development had been contained, leaving the shore visible where the road passed close.  Nature’s whiplash had gouged portions of the cliffs and flooding had eroded the roadbed, but highway department trucks and workers gave the sense that government was attentive to the problem.

Carmel-By-the Sea was my first destination.  This picture-perfect secluded upscale community that nurtures the American impulse to shop was a colony for Bohemians and artists back in the 1880’s, a place where Stevenson would have fit right in. Nor did I have any trouble blending in with the Keds and khaki-clad locals frolicking with their dogs on the beach. After lunch on the shaded patio at The Village Corner, I poked around the courtyards of Carmel and discovered  a charming design store selling accessories for Beatrix Potter style gardening.  Carmel is still an artist’s colony.  In another courtyard studio, the artist Lisa Bryan-Day showed me watercolor sketches of horses while we sipped Napa’s fruit.

At sunset I ambled through Mission Trail Park, a nature zone opposite Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, aka Carmel Mission.  The meandering trails pass surprisingly close to the back gates of high-end real estate. When I focused on the woods or scanned the distance for the Mission’s red tile roof, it didn’t take much imagination to place Stevenson in the landscape leaning against a pine tree, smoking and considering the evening light.  There’s no proof that Stevenson prowled these same hills, but Carmel is on the way to Point Lobos where Stevenson spent happy hours staring at the raging waves. According to his diaries, he would ride a donkey out from Monterey and stay with the goatherds camping in the Carmel Valley.

Point Lobos State Park

Point Lobos State Park

Just a few miles south of Carmel, Point Lobos juts into the Pacific. I could have biked or walked, maybe done something about that lost muscle tone, but I chose the soft bottom solution and drove through an early morning rain shower. The spectacular feast of colors that composes the Pt. Lobos landscape startled me with elaborate painterly compositions of wind bent cedars, sage green lichen on rocks along the path and purple seaweed massing in the turquoise ocean below.  As I tromped along, a bunny dashed across the path.  I stopped to paint two water colors trying to capture the purples, blues, yellows, greens,  vermillion,  and  orange. One picture more or less succeeded, but the other was a pale wet mud pie. Perhaps watercolor painting is also a use or lose condition.

A baby deer stared out from a thicket that barely screened the beige backs and legs of its older relatives. I froze in my tracks to watch.  Eventually, the fawn turned into the brush to hide. Intermittent sunshine formed sparkling jewels of light on the Spanish moss hanging from trees and on the knee high grass in the meadows. At sea, rocky remnants of  earthquakes created a coastal barrier over which the water thunders, splashes and recedes. On Sunday morning, I headed to Monterey which lays large claims on Stevenson’s fame though he only stayed here for three months while his beloved Fanny Osborne completed divorce proceedings. A large sign on the waterfront asserts that Stevenson  composed the plot to Treasure Island while walking that beach. Yet, in Napa Valley there was an historical marker that claimed he used a lookout point there as the model for Spyglass Hill.

Pacific House, Monterey State Historic Park.

Pacific House, Monterey State Historic Park.

The sailor’s flophouse where he lived in 1879 has been fixed up and  renamed Stevenson House.  I pressed close to the glass cases to scrutinize the writer’s silver flask, wallet, and pocket knife. The knife had all the recognizable Swiss army knife features and one curious addition we don’t need today, the button hook. My heart clutched briefly to see the man’s personal items – his lighter/flint box, a silver box that may have stored cigarettes and another for calling cards, a green velvet jacket laid out on the bed in the room Stevenson probably occupied. The quill pen and ink stand seemed too ceremonial; surely all that countryside trekking required a portable notebook and pencil.

While the well-informed state historian plied me with facts about the Stevenson family dining table that came all the way from Scotland to Samoa where Stevenson died  and then back to California with Fanny and her children, I studied Stevenson’s photograph.  By the lines on his face, I could tell he was a man who laughed.

Monterey was a fishing and and whaling port in Stevenson’s day. Undertaking a whale watching cruise thus seemed in character, albeit with a group of intense and rather humorless tourists clad in expensive waterproof jackets and brand new sneakers, instead of in the company of salty dog sailors.  The whale watchers clustered at the bow commanding their chunk of railing until the captain asked everybody to move back. A handful of passengers huddled in the cabin, their stomachs churned by the winter wave action. While the marine biologist blared from the loudspeaker that the whales have super sensitive hearing, she praised the boat captain for staying back far enough so the whales wouldn’t hear the engines.  What about the loudspeaker announcing every blow spout, I wondered, don’t the whales hear that? But then I come from the contemplative school of silent nature watching, which I imagine Stevenson shared.

Wrapping up my day in Monterey, I sped north to Napa Valley and Calistoga where Robert and Fanny Stevenson enjoyed the first weeks of their marriage. Calistoga sits among thermal geysers where Native Americans once built sweat lodges and contemporary sybarites soak in hot mineral water or mud wraps. Calistoga strives to conjure its past by cultivating a quasi-frontier era  vibe with signs and store names. The railroad track that the Stevenson entourage traveled over still runs through town. Not sure what happened to the trains.

Stevenson’s ailments would have profited by the mineral baths. During his California visit he suffered from pleurisy, eczema and episodes of acute illness probably brought on by malnutrition and stress.  Not one to miss a hot soak, I signed up for a mud bath which effectively ended thinking and action that day.

On the morrow, I browsed through the Silverado Museum  in the St. Helena Public Library Center. Volunteers lovingly tend a collection of letters, manuscripts, memorabilia, even the lead soldiers Stevenson played with as a child and his wedding ring. During my walks around town, I searched for cornerstones in St. Helena’s older stone buildings that might fix them to 1880, but saw only  handsome examples of 20th century local prosperity.

 

Intent on muscling up hills or down glens, I decided to hike up Mt. Saint Helena where the newly married couple occupied an abandoned mine manager’s cabin for several months in 1880 while Robert wrote The Silverado Squatters.  Today, the area is part of  Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.  About a  half-mile up  the trail, far enough that some effort is required, a polished stone monument of an open book on blocks of granite memorializes the site where the miner’s cabin stood.

Monument to RLS on site of miner's cabin in RLS State Park.

Monument to RLS on site of miner’s cabin in RLS State Park.

Another plaque I had seen in the area avvered that Mt. St. Helena was the spyglass hill in  “Treasure Island‘ which was written after he, Fanny and her children went to live in the Stevenson family home in Scotland later in 1880. Right above the mining cabin site marker I climbed a rocky promontory which offered a clear view of the surrounding landscape. It was easy to imagine Stevenson settled in the chair-like embrace of the yellow orange rock, smoking and staring down at the Napa valley.

Back at the Indian Springs Resort in Calistoga,  I turned to my lifelong companion of the imagination, Robert Louis Stevenson,  to keep me entertained until sleep.

Details:

Carmel has no street addresses. Locations are identified by the nearest cross streets.  Inns, hotels and guest houses are clustered around the shopping area. I stayed at the Tally Ho Inn (Monte Verde & 6th Streets) across the street from its more expensive and better known sister property, The Pine Inn Hotel.

Carmel:  The Village Corner Bistro

Carmel area: Point Lobos State Reserve  Extensive network of trails for self-guided hikes.

Carmel Visitors Center

Calistoga:  Indian Springs Resort and Spa, 1712 Lincoln Ave.

Calistoga: Calistoga Inn Restaurant and Brewery

Calistoga: Sharpsteen Museum

St. Helena: Gillwoods Cafe 

St. Helena: Tra Vigne

St. Helena:  Silverado Museum

Monterey: Stevenson House.

Monterey: Monterey Bay Aquarium

 

Written by patwa

08/08/2014 at 8:09 pm

Kayaking the Chesapeake

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Kayaking on the Chesapeake Bay

Kayaking will not save your soul or bring world peace, but it will move you from youth through the middling years and onward to wisdom.   We’re talking about kayak touring, not the rough and tumble white water sport that gets all the headlines and warnings.

Flat water or sea kayaks are long, stable craft, built to cut through swells and withstand wind.  There are other sports suitable for the aging weekend athlete  who wants to preserve physical dignity and prowess, but kayaking can’t be beat for visual rewards.

The views are better from a long stable kayak where  you sit on a comfortable seat, legs outstretched below deck and feet braced on pegs that connect to the kayak’s rudder.  (Not all flat water kayaks have rudders.)  During the summer,  I usually paddle without the spray skirt,  but it’s necessary when Bay chop is sweeping the boat deck or afternoon thundershowers catch you still out. No one can bail or pump accumulating water when you also clutch a double blade paddle.  A lifejacket, cockpit skirt cover, bailing pump, whistle and light are essential equipment.

Map of eastern Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

Md DNR fishing map of Tangier Sound, Maryland

On flat water, found in the numerous inlets, rivers and tributaries of the Eastern Shore of Maryland or Southern Maryland, the land between the Potomac River and the Bay, the paddling effort is slight.  You can drift with the river current.

The Choptank and Tuckahoe Rivers water trail is particularly lovely.  When I’m out paddling the serpentine tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, I often think of the native First Peoples of the region.  The Native peoples of the Chesapeake region

“Their Manner of Fishynge in Virginia.” Theodor de Bry’s engraving of American Indians fishing, published in Thomas Hariot’s 1588 book A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia.

“Their Manner of Fishynge in Virginia.” Theodor de Bry’s engraving of American Indians fishing, published in Thomas Hariot’s 1588 book A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia.

can inform modern caretakers of our waterways.

Dip, swush, dip, swush…. Paddle cadence simulates a moving meditation, a soothing zen system for approaching the universe.  Suddenly a Great Blue

Great Blue Heron bird standing near water

Great Blue Heron.

rises from a burned out tree, wing span long nearly as long as the kayak.    A turtle claps into the water, a beaver dives beneath the water.  Overhead Canada geese fly formation and there, out of the corner of my eye, a carp burns its yellow belly in the sun drenched surface of the river.  If it is evening, and a more secluded watershed, perhaps  a deer will be nibbling on tree leaves, ghosting the end of the day, marking it in my memory for all time.

Boating excursions from St. Michael’s area and beyond:

arial photo of Poplar Island in Chesapeake Bay, Md.

Poplar Island Restoration

During the 1930s, Pres. Roosevelt, (Franklin D.) visited the hunter’s clubhouse on the four-mile spit of land as  a nearby weekend retreat.   The name honors the poplar trees on the island.  The island has been undergoing restoration for years.  Dredged material has restored the island nearly to the perimeters of 1847.

South Marsh Island in Tangier Sound is under the  Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife & Heritage Service.

Smith Island, Maryland is famous for its cake.  That’s right, Smith Island Cake is like none other.  The locals serve a mean crab cake too. Board the ferry at Crisfield, Md.

Tilghman  Island, Maryland offers the easy going Bay lifestyle with rental apartments for weekenders from Edge City urban areas.

Tangier Sound – If you’re out kayaking on this water, seek local information about currents and tides.  Bear in mind there are rip currents both ways and possibly, motor boats piloted by well-oiled weekend day-sailors with impaired vision for kayakers ahead.

Watts Island off Tangier Island, Virginia might be too isolated for kayaking excursions.

Watch for mid to late afternoon winds which churn up the water and make paddling a strenous activity.  Keep your eye on shoreline landmarks such as towers or buildings to measure your progress.  If you’re not moving forward, make a new heading, possibly angling to shore.  You can’t beat wind force + currents with mere muscle.

Kayak memories are soft.  The sun at day’s end, the moon on black water, reeds rustling, nutria and muskrats scurrying away. Fish slapping the water surface with a force that can only be interpreted as glee when they realize that long shark-like creature isn’t a predator.

Resources:

Maryland Online Boating Access Guide

Chesapeake Bay Foundation boating trips

Virginia Tourism on the Chesapeake Bay

Written by patwa

15/05/2013 at 2:32 pm

Touristville, Asia

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Events - 1285Events - 1937 Events - 1955 I’ve been to Asia again and it sucks.   You know those places on the Lonely Planet beat?   They’re crowded with brusque, loud  travelers from  places where respect for other cultures wasn’t taught or the current bunch of road-killers didn’t learn.

Here we are in South East Asia, where the overland hippies from Europe and America brought banana pancakes to Samosir Island in Lake Toba in the 1960s and 70s. Where  Bali was already an artsy rest stop by the 1930s.  Where Thailand lured Vietnam War vets on R&R leave.  The same areas that by the 1980s found Swiss and Germans with months of paid vacation hanging out on remote Andaman islets frittering away long winters.

Then came the ’90s and the ’00s.  Western travelers flew to the obliging “Far East” for smokes and more-different-stranger-sex.   Indonesia’s money values swooped low, some Christians were killed in Ambon and there was a worldwide slump with the dot-com bust.  And hello, wake up,  what happened to quiet peaceful Asia?  Now comes terror bombings on the beaches where Ozzies rave.  The world recession-depression through the ’00s, meant travelers didn’t need a trust fund to waste a year on beer, naked mud slides, temple massages and cheap beds in Chaing My and Koh Tweetie.  Tsunami Tragedy and more of the same.  Wow, what an awesome mess.  No one spells correctly anymore and respecting local cultural norms has ended, full stop.  And don’t think it’s only the westerner travelers who dress inappropriately and spurn local customs.

Asia’s relentless push to acquire the  consumer veneer of success has displaced the traditional culture that attracted travelers in the first place.  Do locals have any images about life in the west except what is online or in film/video/tv?  They see a Droid sized version of superficial trappings.  A  highway of revved cars, bright skimpy clothing, painted fake fingernails and Red Bull parties. That’s the western culture dumped by itinerant bored travelers on gap year and beyond.   The intellectual and cultural understanding, once as necessary for successful travel as a passport and a guidebook, could be missing.

Development Requires Water

In a land of monsoons, peninsular Malaysia and Western Indonesia are developed with scant regard for water run-off or sustainable civic management.  Public buildings spring up swiftly without plans for increased car ownership, traffic routing, sidewalks or transportation safety amenities like cross walks, ramps for the handicapped and bicycle lanes.  Existing public facilities that don’t serve the image of the emerging computer chip state, like bus stations, cross walks, public toilets, are left unmaintained.  And all the bustle and growth is to the tune of the requisite recorded mullah blaring off-key from radio speakers, rooftops and storefronts.  No, I’m not politically sensitive, so what.  This is the reality I experienced.

Highway fatalities escalate because driver’s licenses can be purchased and training would take too much time.  Perhaps even contrary to the arrogant Muslim male who feels the seed of Allah in his loins, and struts as if he alone were responsible for populating the world.  Women are said to share public life, yet they aren’t seen and certainly not heard.  Facilities for women are limited and shared public space can harbor danger.   In a world of men, litter, urine, cigarette butts, trash, chewing gum and food wrappings are tossed everywhere.  No one cleans up when women don’t have a place or voice in the public spaces.

In a world where men believe they are the holy endowed, women are ignored, patronized or baited into compromising and uncomfortable situations.  Mercedes speed along the roads beside open sewer drainage ditches which irrigate the city and overflow when it rains.  Tropical forest has been slashed for furniture, replanted for palm oil production and bordered with toll plazas and shopping theme parks.

Huge tour groups from the new middle class of China and South Asia parade around,  while tour buses chug, sending fumes into the already smelly air as the drivers smoke and chat, or sleep in their seats, bus motors running to fuel the A/C.  How much water do these visitors use?  Can the local villages in Myanmar, for example, sustain their own people’s needs with the onslaught of tourism?

Contemporary politicians have grafted their ideas onto the glory and prestiege of the sultanates to gain depth to their history.  Has regard for the masses ever mattered to those elevated by lucre, king or church?

Did I really expect places to be the same?

In Kraabi, the town appears changed for the better with a jetty promenade and flowers planted down the new four lane roadway.  Why did they need a four lane road?  To handle the tourist influx.  Yet the old buildings endure and you can still find a clean bed for $4.  Thailand seems more prosperous than years back, but not in the flashy way Malaysia has opted to express prosperity.  Public services, structures facilities are reasonably advanced.  Trash bins, road signs, curbs, stoplights a bus station with waiting benches and an indoor  toilet.  Here, I see a balance of women and men in public.  Women wrapped in headscarves stare vacant eyed and follow careless, pushy loud men.  At least they’re not smoking.

In the bright morning light filled with promise, fishing boats chug out from Kraabi to sea. Dried fish on woven mats during the day.  A cat nibbles at the fish.  Women sort the dried minnows and smelt.  I saw a cicada caught in a spider web last night.  Cigarette butts everywhere around the public space.  Why is it travelers never realize they’re littering when they flick away a butt?

Resources:

Virtual Tourist – Dress Code in Asia

Got Passport – Correct Behavior for Buddhist Temple Visits

Written by patwa

01/05/2013 at 12:10 am

Would You Hire This Guy?

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Written by patwa

26/07/2012 at 1:25 pm

People Occupy London :: Koch Brothers Occupy Election US

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Written by patwa

02/01/2012 at 3:47 pm

Riff on Silence

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Train on my way to Savannah, Gee A.  Mix of people new to train travel and old timers who know the routines. Pervasive rings of mobile phones display the only creativity modern AmeriCan-Bandana allows: What is your ring-tone?

While most want to fill the space with sound, the rest of us are struggling to empty the sound from our space.

What is the next killer app people asked, back in the 1990s after Netscape, after Red Hat, after Af-Ta.  The next one will be the one that silences everything. I don’t mean replacing ambient noise with an iPod generated music mask.  My sound neutralizer is  a variation of Baby Quiet ®, the helmet that prevents your attention deficient youngster from bashing its brains out against the cement wall in the day care center that wasn’t your first choice but will do the job.

Silence is more than golden. More precious than diamonds and not easy to obtain. When what is most precious is gone, the restoration costs more in terms of energy and effort.

Will Bose ®, the quiet headphones company sponsor a competion to improve and expand silence?

I found this quote:  “Don’t speak unless you improve silence .” (Jesus Nebot) from this website Speaker Net News.

Written by patwa

15/04/2011 at 3:01 am

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