The first four California seasons

“Have you noticed we all say ‘Y’all’ now that you’re here?” One of my critique group members asked me this after saying the word herself. I’m not sure, but I think every member of the group had just said, “Y’all” in our wrapping-up conversation. It’s true. I’ve rubbed off on them, as they have on me.

I’ve been pondering this and other changes today. You see, one year ago today, I was on a plane, my dog in the cargo hold, flying across the country where my husband waited for us to begin a new adventure. And what an adventure it has been so far.

I sat at a cafe this morning—sipping an artful latte—and read a journal entry I wrote after my first week here.

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What had already grabbed my heart by the end of that first week was one of my great loves here: the river and the beauty and life that surround it. I thought I’d share with you some favorite moments (and photos) from my first four seasons here.

Winter
Along with the river, the mild weather of this region and oranges growing in my own yard are some favorites of winter here.

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The riverbank is greener in winter because it’s the rainy season. This photo is from before my dog met a skunk. I can tell from the darker brown of her coat, pre-peroxide baths.

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Just one of the delicious oranges from our yard

Spring
Although some flowers bloom through winter here, spring really is beautiful, ushering in abundant blooms and drawing wildlife out of hiding. The trees leafing out means more shade, too, a welcome presence along running trails.

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The earliest blooms of spring

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An Anna’s Hummingbird visits purple flowers near the river.

Summer
There’s no way to sugar coat summer here: it is ridiculously hot. But the mornings are cooler (compared to what this Southern girl is used to) and dry. I didn’t enjoy trying to finish runs by 6:30 each morning, but I definitely embraced the lower humidity.

Dragonflies darted happily around the yard and posed patiently for photo ops. A baby owl grew up in a nesting box attached to our house. I’m hoping for a repeat of all of this next summer.

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Fall
Fall is my favorite season anywhere, and so it’s no wonder that this fall brought many happy moments. Clouds returned in September, followed by a handful of rainy days. The Sierra peaks in the distance have slowly turned white with snow. Trees transformed into vibrant colors, and at least one osprey followed the salmon run up the river. Fall here offers much to celebrate, and with the cooler weather, it’s easier to embrace being outside no matter the time of day.

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Leaves aflame (not with fire but with fall color)

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King of the river?

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One of countless salmon swimming upstream

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The Sierra peaks are even more snow-covered than this now. A promise of drought relief?

All the year round
I’m grateful for so many people and things that have remained steadfast the whole year. For my husband who has patiently weathered my homesick moments and encouraged my attempts at establishing roots here. For family and friends far away who’ve made the effort to keep in touch. For new friends who have embraced me into their lives (and into their language, too). All y’all are wonderful! ;-)

I’m grateful for the great running and races here. For coffee shops and wineries and San Francisco not too close but not too far either. For Yosemite within driving distance. And, oh, the stars. How could I forget the stars? It’s darker here than anywhere I’ve ever lived. Just the other night, I noticed some stars in Orion I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway for me this year—a reminder I see weekly as I drive along a certain tree-lined, windy road—is that no matter where I live, this is truth:

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This message resonated with many of you, too. In my tree signs series, a majority of you chose this sign as your favorite.

As we head toward Christmas and a new year, I hope you’ll pause for a moment in all the busyness and ask yourself what you have loved about each of the last four seasons. What stands out to you? I invite you to share a few of your joys and delights from the year in the comments below.

O, Yosemite!

We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. (John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra)

Let the mountains bring peace to the people. – Psalm 72:3

Have you ever been somewhere and not wanted to leave? Somewhere that filled you with boundless energy and measureless peace at the same time? Yosemite is such a place for me.

My husband and I made a trip there last week, our second time ever visiting Yosemite and our first since moving here. Our goal is to visit Yosemite in all four seasons. The weather was kind to us, and we didn’t have to put chains on our tires. We spent time hiking and running and strolling. Sometimes, we stood still, awed by the splendor rising up to surround us.

If you long for nature’s grandeur, come to Yosemite. If you need a reminder of your smallness, come to Yosemite. If you need to be rejuvenated in body and mind, come to Yosemite.

You may not be able to drop everything right this minute and make your way there, and so I’m sharing some favorite photographs with you. Will you carve out a little space at the end of this busy day and sit with these views? I hope they fill you with peace and renewed energy in equal portion.

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This bobcat was the very definition of nonchalance, paying us no mind as it went about its business. (Apologies for not being able to get a front-end picture)

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On the way to Mirror Lake

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Half Dome on an overcast morning

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A thin winter coat of snow

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Mirror Lake

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Half Dome with the skies clearing

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Words fail me: Yosemite falls with rainbow and snow

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Fog through the trees

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Another quiet moment

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Ubiquitous (and well-versed in the music of a snack bag opening)

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Saying goodbye in the valley

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Sun and snow at play

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Impossible not to stop and look back

Have you ever been to Yosemite? What was your favorite part of your visit? If you’ve never been, did any of the photographs inspire you to start planning a trip?

A counting of blessings

It’s Thanksgiving Eve, and I find myself counting blessings today. How about you? I’m grateful for family, health, friends near and far (and old and new), my faithful blog readers, and so many more blessings.

I wanted to share with you a few pictures of the things/places/creatures that fill me with gratitude.

This has been a year of transition, but I’m grateful for the place I live. My husband and I landed in a friendly neighborhood, and we get to run on trails by a river that teems with beauty just about every single morning. (The mornings that include rattlesnakes are a bit less lovely than the rest.)

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The river in autumn

The river brings with it some amazing animals (look for more on the ongoing salmon run in a future post). Bird watching is spectacular here. And I’m grateful for our next-door neighbor in Raleigh who sent us off on our journey to the left coast with the Sibley Guide to Birds. I miss sitting on her screened-in porch watching birds with her but look forward to a time she and other birding friends will visit. I imagine our walks by the river with anticipation. Will we see kites, hawks, gulls, mergansers, vultures, hummingbirds, egrets, or all of these and more?

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A Brewer’s Blackbird glistens in the sun.

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An osprey’s feast of fresh-caught trout. May your plate be full of your favorite catches tomorrow.

I’m grateful for a full refrigerator and having completed the grocery shopping. I’m grateful to the Whole Foods several towns away for vegan pecan pie. (I mostly say pee-kan. Do you say pi-kahn?) I’m grateful to have seen the most beautiful tree in a Target parking lot of all places, making my Thanksgiving errands that much better a couple of days ago.

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A stunning autumn sight

This autumn has been stunning, and it only took a few rainy days to make that happen. Has fall been fabulous where you are? My dad emailed the other day to say that Raleigh’s fall trees were the most beautiful he remembers in his four+ decades of living there. I asked for photos (he’s an amazing photographer), but so far, no pictures. That’s okay. I’m enjoying the show here, and I’m glad he’s enjoying the show there.

I’m grateful for views of the Sierras that show snow-capped mountains again, a promise and hope of El Niño bringing much-needed precipitation this winter. We’re already behind for the rainy season, but the presence of snow brings me joy anyway.

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How about you? What fills you with gratitude? For a little Thanksgiving fun, if you have time over the next few days, I’d love to know:

  • Your favorite Thanksgiving dessert (vegan pumpkin for me).
  • Your favorite tree in fall (just about anything bright yellow, orange or red, but maples if I have to pick just one).
  • Your favorite bird (these days, it’s a toss up between the osprey you see above or owls in general).
  • Your favorite running spot or your favorite place outdoors (too hard to pick just one, but I love a well-shaded running trail that ends up near water of some kind).

Safe travels to you all this holiday, whether you’re going over the river and through the woods, or just out for a walk around the block. Happy Thanksgiving (to my American friends)! And happy Thursday to the rest of you.

Fall favorites

My favorite season begins today.

I’m not sure what a typical autumn looks like here in California, but with the extreme drought, I am sure this is no typical year. I long for the crisp days and bright colors of leaves turning on the trees. To be honest, though, I’m really praying for rain and trees that can survive after this long, hot summer.

A friend back east posted a picture on Facebook yesterday of one of my favorite trees just beginning to turn. I don’t just mean favorite kind of tree. This tree is one of my favorite individual trees. When I saw my friend’s status update, I felt joy and a pang of homesickness at the same time.

I photograph this tree every fall, and each year, I’m grateful it has stood another year. To me, this tree is grace, strength, beauty, endurance.

I photographed it last fall on a quiet, foggy morning:

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I may not get to visit it this year before the leaves are all gone, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the photos friends post of it as it transforms into its most glorious orange color.

Do you have a favorite tree in fall? What other signs of fall do you enjoy? Pumpkins? Hot chocolate? Sweaters? Chilly nights? Football? Would you share them below?

Whatever brings you joy this season, let me wish you a happy fall full of those things.

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Tree signs: Forgive

Before we get started with the final sign of the tree sign series, I’d like to ask a favor. Wherever you live and whatever is pressing on your heart, would you please lift up a prayer for the fire fighters, the residents displaced, those who are grieving a loss of home or beloved animals or livelihood because of the California wildfires? Would you also pray for quenching rain to fall on the flames?


Now back to the final tree sign of the series.

I knew this last sign existed, but the day I walked along the road to take photographs for the series, I could not find it. I knew which direction it faced but looked and looked and looked. The road is not the sort of road that’s safe to walk along, and despite picking an especially quiet morning, I had to give up and go home without a picture.

My sweet husband drove along the road later that day while I sat in the passenger seat with camera in hand. We had to make a couple of passes before I finally spotted it, high up and partially hidden in prickly leaves.

I’m not sure it’s coincidence that this sign is so elusive. Its word is hard for us to grasp and can be covered in prickly emotions:

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Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:31-32

Forgive. What does that word conjure up for you? A moment, a memory, an act, a hard thing, a blessing?

In Old Testament times, God’s followers had to follow specific rules about sacrifices that would earn God’s forgiveness. The New Testament brought change to the need to exchange sacrifices for forgiveness: Jesus’ death became the ultimate sacrifice.

I’ve written about forgiveness both here and in my book. It never ceases to be one of the most difficult concepts for me to tackle, perhaps because I don’t enjoy thinking about those I have yet to forgive and those who have yet to forgive me. Yet forgiveness lives at the heart of faith and is essential to our relationship with God and one another, and to our own emotional well-being.

Why does it have to be so darn difficult?

Some of us cannot believe God forgives certain sins (and sinners). Sometimes we ourselves have committed “unforgivable” sins. Sometimes we look at others and deem their sins unforgivable. The uncomfortable truth of a life of faith, though, is that we must forgive one another. In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis reminds us there’s no escaping this requirement to forgive, but he also offers excellent advice on how to tackle the challenge of forgiving others.

I have to admit: knowing someone as amazing as C.S. Lewis struggled with the concept of forgiveness makes me feel better. If forgiving others were easy, our faith might remain weak and simplistic. Instead, learning to forgive builds strength, character and a reliance on God for help.

If forgiveness is a struggle for you, I highly recommend Forgive & Forget by Lewis B. Smedes. I’ve reviewed his book here before (scroll to the last bullet of the post) and cannot say enough good things about it. It’s one of those books I imagine I’ll go back to again and again throughout my life, ever needing to learn how to forgive, and ever needing to beg for forgiveness from others.

It feels like the Bible contains a bazillion “forgive” references, and choosing one for this week’s sign was a good exercise in reminding myself of God’s requirements and great love and sacrifice for me. So why did I choose these particular verses? Quite simply, the ideas of letting go of bitterness and anger, embracing kindness, and being tender-hearted fit best with the rest of the signs. These two verses provide the perfect ending to the series. If we could remember and live out all seven of these every day—kindness is free, you matter, love never fails, hug a stranger, u r loved, peace = kindness, and forgive— how would we change as individuals? How would the world around us change?


Just for fun before we leave the series, would you let me know which post or sign you liked best? Did you miss a couple along the way? You can catch up on all of them here.

If you could add any sign to this road, what would it be and why? Please leave your answer and any other thoughts about forgiveness and the other signs in the series in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!