A short post, as I have little time, but a series of impressions from the past week, as it’s been frankly amazing.
- I saw a blue whale. A giant, majestic, largest-animal-on-earth blue whale, and it surfaced right by the boat taking me to the Channel Islands out of Oxnard, California. I could see the spine, the glistening blubbery skin, could almost reach out and stroke him/her, we were that close. (A bit scary, when you consider a blue whale’s size, alas…)
- Not only a blue whale, but in the span of 24 hours I saw humpback whales, minke whales, and playful, leaping dolphins. I even saw a breaching humpback whale fly out of the water just off the coast from the window of an Amtrak train!
- Los Angeles. The good, bad, and ugly. Full disclosure: I’m from Portland and our two cities really don’t mix well. The looming mountains were hazy with smog, the hills looked sunburnt, and the sheer sprawling size of the city makes it ridiculously involved to take city buses from one neighborhood to another. From my aunt’s house in Temple City it took three hours – THREE HOURS – to get to Griffith Observatory, including the 30 minute walk up the hill to the school field-trip invaded observatory. At least it wasn’t so smoggy I couldn’t see the Hollywood sign or the faint outlines of the city skyscrapers.
- Los Angeles does have a few pleasant surprises. It’s not all bad. I love The Last Bookstore, a slightly scruffy, slightly pretentious (Los Angeles is full of strange combos) used bookstore in the heart of historic downtown. The Great Central Market a little further down Broadway is a classic old market, now mostly given over to the lunch crowd, although a few produce stands still do a brisk business. The nearby neighborhood of Little Tokyo is great for massive, hearty bowls of ramen and the Japanese American National Museum tells the tragic, often ignored story of how our country forced the West Coast Japanese-American population into concentration camps (now called relocation centers after the fact to avoid the negative imagery of the Holocaust, but at the time the government called them concentration camps.) When Pearl Harbor was bombed, the US government deemed every person of Japanese descent an “enemy alien”, even if they were US citizens, and forced them to leave their homes and businesses and move into barracks in dusty, remote camps for the duration of the war. Most Japanese-American families lost everything, including homes, careers, educational opportunities, and businesses, and had to completely start over after the war. Two-thirds of them were US citizens; many served in the US military while their families languished at the camps. The museum does a fantastic job explaining what happened, how it impacted the Japanese-American communities up and down the West Coast, legal challenges to the camps, and how they adjusted after the war.
- Channel Islands. A little known National Park Service gem off the coast of California. I arrived on the ferry in the middle of seagull nesting season and everywhere I hiked, gulls shrieked their warnings from their nests of usually three brown spotted eggs, almost ready to hatch. Ranger Daniel, along except for the periodic campers, resides on Anapaca Island, a wind-swept chunk of rock soaring out of the sea. It was a stunning place to spend a few hours among a host of seabirds.
- Now in San Francisco, enveloped in gray clouds and fog. I finally feel at home, the weather agreeing with Pacific Northwest bones. Today I met a group of grizzled old-timers, writers and poets who have congregated for years at a bustling Italian cafe called Trieste. Browsed City Lights Bookstore, my wallet failing to emerge unscathed. Hopped the California line streetcar (less crowded with tourists) to save my knees from the steep hills.
Until I locate another library computer to update, I bid you all adieu…