A Travellerspoint blog

September 2010

Evenings on Eagle River Beach

On Appreciating Natural Sand Art, Where to Find It, and Exploring My Favorite Beach

sunny 58 °F

What I like most about the sculptures that wind and water create, is how temporary they are. Viewing the masterpieces that these simple earth elements produce can be as moving as appreciating any form of beautiful fine art put out by the artistic masters. However, one must have timing, as these treasures rarely last longer than a few hours. Nature allows for a brief gallery show, before it indifferently wipes the slate clean, and relentlessly begins its next piece. It’s as if Leonardo once completing “The Mona Lisa” hung it outside of his workshop for all to see, for an hour, or a day. Then calmly and quite unconcernedly walked out and scraped his canvas clean, dipping it into paint thinner. To follow with immediately beginning “The Last Supper” on the same canvas, and repeating this creation and destruction cycle forever. The wind and water are just as ruthless in their never-ending cycle of creating momentary beauty, only to strip it away back to nothing. Try painting with water on Bhuddic slate, no matter how fast you paint, and how gorgeous the scene, the beauty is only temporary. The water will eventually evaporate leaving you a blank canvas once again. Such is the way of nature.
Sand is perhaps one of the best mediums for wind and water to work with, and definitely one of my favorites to photograph. Sand is a solid, yet when it congregates, it moves as a liquid. It’s so delicate, yet can take the harshest treatment without breaking down. It can easily be formed into a vast variety of shapes. Sand also allows for amazing contrast in the right lighting. It has good textures, and is perhaps felt best with bare feet. Beyond that, it is available in an unlimited supply.
It strikes me that for how ferocious Natures forces treat its medium that the result looks as though the tenderest touch created them. They appear to be treated with such delicacy and fragility that the smallest of tremors from an oafish human can easily destroy them. To see an alternative view of what wind and water can do, check out my post I wrote last winter on Natural Ice Sculpture. The same elements are at play, only instead of sand as their medium, they use water.
As I mentioned, timing is critical to viewing these masterpieces. It is also imperative to go in good lighting. Early morning, or late evening are often best, bringing out the subtle and delicate features of the scene and strongest contrast between shadow and light. The best time to go looking for this fleeting art is just after a strong storm, with strong winds, and rain. Be the first person on the beach in the morning, and keep an eye out. Look down, and walk carefully. If you can, leave the dog at home, as they are indifferent in their footsteps, as most humans are for that matter.
The best places to find natural sand art are usually where large amounts of sand are found. My two favorites are sand dunes (see Northern Utah and Southern Idaho), and on the beach near a large body of water. I prefer the western shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan as my beach area of choice, specifically Eagle River beach. It has the right kind of sand that works well with water being sculpted into shape by the prevailing westerly winds off Lake Superior.
I’ve been coming to this beach all of my life, but it’s been only lately that I started to appreciate the amazing beauty that can be found in just one small section of this beach. Every time I visit, it seems it has changed its landscape once again. It’s in not only the patterns and sculpture of sand that I am entranced. The sunsets, clouds, waves, water, air, and awesome power of the lake have me addicted and inspired. I never know what I’m going to see, from dramatic evening light bursting through the dark gray storm clouds, to the small objects that wash ashore finding that perfect spot to make a compelling composition for a photograph. This beach is in a continual state of change and flow, and a better metaphor for life, I can’t think of.
On many of my jaunts, there is often one scene that stands above all others. It often doesn’t last long, usually as long as the fading sun will allow. I view it as my gift for the day. Not that I am deserving, but as I mentioned, these masterpieces are there for ALL to see-You just have to get out there and look for them. I attempt to absorb these moments in my memory and soul. They give me a strong connection to this place, and make for a pleasant memory while dealing with life’s more mundane requirements. When you catch me staring off into space while waiting in line or answering questions during a job interview, you can guess where I am: Lost among my priceless (and I mean that) collection of natural masterpieces.
Photographer’s Note:
All of the photographs you see were collected on the same quarter mile section of beach, though taken on different days at different times. For me to walk this quarter mile section of beach, it often takes a couple of hours.

Posted by Rhombus 08:49 Archived in USA Tagged beaches art sand photography lakeshore philosophy Comments (1)

Early September Reflections

Self Analysis, Approaching Life, Appreciating Small Moments

sunny 65 °F

Such a quiet morning. The river flows with a healthy chuckle. I feel the urge to grab my trusty hiking stick, and explore upstream. I resist, for now. The peace of the scene keeps me held in place, overcoming my urges by its own force of serenity. A soft breeze rolls over me, gently bobbing the ripening apples on the ancient apple trees behind me. I decide to grab one, and taste for ripeness. It’s close, but it needs one good night of frost to sweeten it to perfection. The light overcast sky is almost a perfect white. It is bright where the sun threatens to muscle through- but doesn’t. It’s content to be a benign presence this morning. The sun knows its power, but like all good rulers, it knows when to show force, and when to leave well enough alone. A bird chirps here and there, but really, that’s about all that is up and about this morning, other than me.
I look at these quiet moments as a chance to replenish my life‘s batteries. Moreover, these smallest moments in my day, are what I live for. I wrote to a friend of mine a few weeks ago, trying to explain my mindset while I’m traveling.

“Travel mode Tom is a sponge trying to inhale as much textures of the area that I can, to hopefully be able to share with others somewhere down the line. It also involves focusing on the present, to seize the day so to speak. Sometimes it looks for smaller moments, that make an impact, and other times it looks simply for the quietest whispers of a scene. A feather tumbling along a sidewalk, almost weightless. These smallest tendrils of a day add up and can make a good day phenomenal. If you notice them.”

She wrote back saying she like the way I worded this passage, one I didn’t think too much about as I wrote it. Upon rereading it, I realized how much I enjoy observing the small things in life. Since then, I’ve tried to be more observant of things I had taken for granted, such as the pleasant morning scene I enjoyed this morning.

DSCN6393.jpgDSCN6404.jpgDSCN6420.jpgI am in between trips once again, and I’m growing restless by the day. It’s kind of a “hurry up and wait” situation. My next job begins on the 18th of October, sailing the west coast of the US down to Baja, Mexico for the winter. I am so excited about this job, sometimes I don’t know whether to smile, laugh, scream or vomit. I’ve been hired on as a deckhand on a small cruise ship that explores pristine areas of the world. A dream job, one I never imagined myself lucky enough to find. And here I am. This opportunity came about for me, because I was in the right place at the right time. I made a positive connection and I acted upon their advice. The only way I made that rendezvous was by quitting my day job, and striking out into the great unknown.

I’m about to embark down another unknown river of life, chasing my dreams, and being challenged and rewarded on a daily basis. It’s a good life, and one that I’ve found I thrive in. Since my own philosophy has acknowledged that life is a continual flow of change, it made sense to me that instead of trying to organize life into increments of time, structure, routine and security- wouldn’t it be better to simply let go, and see where this flow will take you? So far, it has been very interesting.

When I cut the cord of security two years ago, actually, it was four years ago (when I moved out of my apartment, and into my van, beginning my alternative lifestyle) I had no idea where my life would be going. I knew I was heading to Alaska. Beyond that, my journey would be what I made of it. Where I went would unfold as inspiration, and circumstance presented itself to me. I can’t say I am a mystical wanderer, full of secret knowledge of life’s mysteries. I can say however, that I am a free spirit, ready and willing to jump at life’s opportunity, should it strike my fancy. In two years time, I’ve chased my own rainbow, not looking for the pot of gold, that’s a fool’s errand, but just digging the intense spectrum of colors and landscapes that my journey has offered me: Southeast Alaska, Jasper, Banff, and Kootenai National Parks, Two months Ski Bumming in Idaho, the Vancouver Olympics, Southern Idaho, Road Tripping the Pacific Northwest to Alaska, The Brief Alaskan summer, Dealing with Self Inflicted Drama/Mental Pain, Being re-inspired by the Great Plains, Chasing Summer, Landing my dream job, Spending a week in Southern California, and now a chance to recharge at my family’s oldest home. This is my life. A continual enjoyment of all the world offers me, whether it is phenomenal landscapes, wildlife encounters, or self-doubt, heartache and mental fatigue, each new experience gives me new perspective about life, and myself.
I’ve decided that I have a new policy, that every day, I should look at least one beautiful scene, whether it be a landscape, a flower, an apple pie, or even a certain German girl I know. So far, this policy has been a good one, and I would gladly recommend it to you.

I’ll leave you with a passage to mull over:

“ ‘Sherpa’ means ‘easterner’ in Tibetan; and the Sherpa who settled in Kumbu about 450 years ago are a peace loving Buddhist people from the eastern part of the plateau. The are also compulsive travelers; and in Sherpa-country every track is marked with cairns and prayer flags, reminding you that man’s real home is not a house, but of the road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.” ~Bruce Chatwin- What Am I Doing Here?

Posted by Rhombus 14:13 Archived in USA Tagged life travelling philosophy Comments (4)

On American Food and Self Guided Tours

Emma Jean's in Victorville and Exploring the Mission Inn

sunny 103 °F

The question I am asked the most by those visiting the United States for the first time is, “What is the best example of American food?” This is a very tough question to answer. All Americans, even Native Americans (who immigrated long before anyone else) are immigrants from another country. When people came over to settle, they brought recipes and cooking styles from the old country. In every state, there are ethnic pockets from one country or another, the descendants of the original immigrants. In these areas, you’ll find ethnic dishes as the signature food, and often they are the best choice for authentic food. However, is that American food? It is, in the fact that America is a medley of tastes and people. That to sample dishes from here or there is like eating a piece of American pie. Thing of it is, every piece of that pie will have a different taste, flavor, ingredient and cooking style that went into making it.

Another way to look answer the question is that American food is what Native American’s ate, and continue to eat. After all, they were here first. Where they live in the country, decided what food staples they ate. On the plains, they ate buffalo, and used every part of the animal for food, clothing, tools, and shelter. In the Pacific Northwest, they ate salmon. In the north woods of the upper Midwest, they ate deer, trout, and gathered seasonal berries. An interesting culinary vacation could focus strictly on traditional Native American foods.

I know when I’m eating at an all-American restaurant. It has a certain feel to it; often it serves simple foods, but well prepared, and offers that extra bit of love that makes good food great. Ambiance, décor, a good staff, and regulars (diners who show up everyday) are all important as well. If you can find this rare combination of good food, and good ambiance, you will probably consider the restaurant one of the better places you’ve eaten. The Otis Café has it (Otis, Oregon). The Trail Center Lodge has it (Gunflint Trail, MN). Emma Jean’s in Victorville, California definitely has it.

I want to describe the best (and possibly last) example of a classic American greasy spoon that I have ever had the pleasure of dining. They don’t make restaurants like this anymore, and visitors to Southern California would do well to dine at this timeless diner.
Emma Jean’s is located on historic Route 66, that quintessential American road that “winds from Chicago to L.A.” Route 66 brings with it visions of a simpler time with classic cars, family vacations, drive-ins, quaint motor lodges, and the feeling that the ’America’ dream has been achieved. This roadside diner looks like it came from another era. The dining area is roughly thirty feet, by thirty feet holding four tables, and a long “L” shaped counter with room for about 20 people max. The wall and ceiling are painted white, and lit by long fluorescent tubes. The counter was made of Formica, and worn away in grayish circles from a lifetime of plates sliding on its surface. A clock hung on the wall with the numbers set opposite of normal, and indeed, the hands of it also rotated counterclockwise. It hung next to a large CASH ONLY! Sign. There were some original posters still hanging on the wall where they have been hanging for decades. The place was charming.

Two server’s ran the place, one friendly (it was her first day), and one was the boss, carrying a good-natured no nonsense demeanor, demanding “Whatcha want?” as she took your order. If you go, let her know it’s your first time eating there, and she’ll give you a smile.

We watched the short order cook ply his craft, and he was good. He grabbed orders, and then efficiently slapped down the hash on the hot metal griddle that has decades of flavor soaked into its surface. He split eggs, flipped the bacon, grilled onions, and dropped perfect circles of pancakes, set the toast going, while the order cooked. Then he plated, quickly scraped the griddle and ready again for the next order. He was a whirlwind of activity, and he was amazing to watch. He was surly looking, portly, and did his best to look annoyed, but I caught him smirking several times, as regulars would give him a hard time about him being “slow.” His name was Brian, and he made the famous house burger known appropriately as the “Brian Burger.” He told us, “If you can think it up, I’ll make it.” and the burgers he was making people for breakfast, looked damn good to me, and I’m a burger connoisseur. The next time I go, I’m getting a burger.

More regulars showed up and each greeted the staff with a nod to Brian, and a “good morning” to the servers. They didn’t need menus, and the waitress didn’t even ask what they wanted, a good sign a regular has entered the building. The clientele of Emma Jeans were all overweight. This was another good sign that this was a good place to eat. I was the skinniest person there, but if I lived in the area, I might just put on a few pounds of classic American fat. I had a delicious bacon and egg sandwich with fresh squeezed orange juice. I was stuffed. I asked my friend Mike how his chicken fried steak was, he had a glazed look on his face, and his mumbled response was, “It wounded me.” If he died from his food, I believe Mike would’ve died happy. We drove the hour back to Mike’s house, and both of us settled in for a long nap. This was another good sign that the food was good.

Emma Jean’s is an American Icon.
Mike took me on another one of his unofficial tours, this time of the Mission Inn located in downtown Riverside, California. The Spanish Mission style hotel has been in business since 1876. The Mission Inn offers luxury lodging in a unique setting. As part of California’s state historical sites, it offers daily tours to tourists who want to explore this sprawling slice of opulent history. Not only does the Mission Inn cater to lodging, but it also can accommodate weddings, reunions, and other get together meetings in its many halls.
Since we missed the daily tour, Mike and I went in, and went on a tour of our own. We gawked at all the amazing artwork, carvings, statues, paintings, architecture, stained glass windows, and fountains found throughout the grounds. We pretended that we were guests out to see the Mission Inn. I decided to put on an air of affluent, arrogant, boredom that I imagined the rich might wear when out in public in a classy place such as the Mission Inn. I know this is stereotyping rich people, and not fair at all. The truth is, all of the rich people I know are very down to earth, and approachable. I’m sure I wasn’t fooling anyone anyway, as I was wearing my stained Hanes white tee shirt, and taking pictures like my life depended on it. It was fun though, to pretend I was one of the Bostonian Cabots or Lowells, though I don’t think I acted the part very well.
I really liked the center courtyard. Upon entering, a feeling of peace and serenity seemed to emanate from the courtyard bricks. The courtyard soothed guests like a cool oasis in the desert heat, accomplishing this with comfortable seating, a perfect choice of soft classical music played in surround sound, views of the upper levels swathed in flowers, statues, and interesting architecture. Birds seem to like this area as well, and songbirds would chime in from time to time from their perch in the trees. Tranquil comes to mind, a great place to lounge away the afternoon, forgetting that on the other side of the building was hot asphalt of traffic, deadlines, and hurry.
Supposedly, there are catacombs that run underneath the mission. I’m fascinated by catacombs, even though I’ve never been in any before. We weren’t allowed to enter them however, as they were no longer open to the public. The Fire Marshall closed down that part of the tour, as they weren’t up to code. Bah! Mike told me a few stories about sneaking into them as a kid, which only fueled my curiosity, but it wasn’t to be.
I enjoyed the “tour”, and someday if I find myself with actual currency to my name, I might just stay the night at the old Mission Inn.

Posted by Rhombus 09:39 Archived in USA Tagged art buildings photography lodging Comments (0)

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