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.

The dog days of winter

I love snow days, and today has offered up a good one where I live. I know many of you who live north of here are sick and tired of snow, but for those of us who don’t often get snow, it’s pretty special when it happens.

My dog and I got out early this morning, and with the exception of a few cars trying to head down the road and a few other paw prints and footprints in the snow, we had the streets to ourselves.

I have always loved snow days. My dad often had to walk to work, but both he and my mom made sure snow days were special for us. My brother and I spent most of our time outside on snow days: sledding, building snowmen, having snowball fights, sledding, sledding, more sledding. Even my mom, a northern transplant herself, took some rides on the sled. It helped that we lived on the perfect hill for sledding, and I sometimes wonder how many times I’ve walked that hill dragging the Flexible Flyer behind me for the next ride.

When we came in to thaw out, she’d have soup and grilled cheese and maybe even hot chocolate waiting for us after we peeled off sopping-wet layers to dry by the fire. I even wrote my first book (when I was five) on a snow day and called it The Snowy Day. It was a picture book – because I liked to draw, too, and I was busy reading picture books at that age – and I updated it a few short years later on another snow day.

I think my inner child taps into those memories and enjoys spending time outside, alternating with trips inside to thaw out with something hot to drink and a pen in my hand.

Having a dog makes snow days even more fun. My dog especially loves to freeze her tennis ball in layers of snow, chase after it, bury it in the snow and then dig it back up with her nose or her paws. She is equal parts joy and energy on snow days.

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A blur of fun

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Guarding her prized tennis ball; waiting for another throw

I think this is one of my favorite pictures of her.

The colder-than-usual weather forced both of us back inside pretty quickly (she would have lingered if I had let her). It’s one thing to play in 30 degrees and snow but another entirely in 18 in wind and snow.

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Warming up from the snowy chill

I went back outside later to take some more photographs. Tonight looks like it’ll be the coldest night we have had in years, and I’m hoping the snow will protect the plants. I guess I won’t know until spring which ones will survive and which won’t.

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A gardenia waiting for spring

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A snow bud?

I didn’t last long on this trip outside with my camera.

When I went back inside, I curled up under a blanket with a book I’ve been reading, Isabel Allende’s memoir My Invented Country. The dog snored and dreamed of chasing her snow-encrusted tennis ball while I read for a bit and enjoyed some hot tea.

One of the most poignant parts of Allende’s book so far is her description of leaving Chile as a child, with a journal in hand to keep her company:

I wrote everything down in my notebook with the industry of a notary,
as if even then I foresaw that only writing would anchor me to reality.
… When she gave me that notebook, my mother somehow intuited
that I would have to dig up my Chilean roots, and that lacking a land
into which to sink them I would have to do that on paper. (108-109)

My parents always kept scrap paper handy, and so I can relate to Allende’s sense that writing would be an anchor for her, that paper would be where she thrived. Maybe that’s why writing is one of my anchors on snow days and why snow days remind me of my earliest days as a writer.

How about you? What do you love best about snow days?

The promise of spring

“Ha!” I can hear many of you saying as you sit blanketed under snow today. Or is it a “Bah!” that you’re calling out to my promising the return of spring.

Spring seems an unreal probability in this wintry season. Even here in the south, we got a little sneeze of snow last night. Not enough to cover the world with its cleansing white cover, but enough to get the local kids excited about a school delay and enough to glue the little kid still inside me to the windows as the snow drifted down last night. I dream of a proper snow day while many of you are ready for it to just. go. away. already.

I will admit to wishing for warmer weather. too. This has been an unusually cold winter, and if it’s going to be this cold, I’d prefer snow to accompany it. While I’m busy wishing for more snow or warmer weather or both – after all, it could be warmer here and still snow, too – I thought I’d share some photos from my recent visit to San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden with you.

Some of the trees in the gardens are bare, but there are cherry blossoms, too. And nothing promises spring to me as much as a cherry blossom. So enjoy these photos and a cup of something warm. I promise: spring is on its way, but for some of us, it can’t get here soon enough.

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Nothing promises spring to me like a cherry blossom

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Someone is having fun training these shrubs (trees?) to grow like this.

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The koi and the trees’ reflections mesmerized me in equal measure.

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More reflections, thanks to a clear, still day

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I love the shape of this gnarled tree and am thankful for winter’s opportunity to see the flinging shape of its branches.

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A garden of dwarf trees, while a pagoda looms over the garden

A quick note about this garden of dwarf trees. Sometimes even trees get caught up in wars, and these dwarf trees are no exception. The Hagiwara family that cared for this garden from 1895 to 1942 was, according to the plaque nearby, “forced to relocate” during World War II. I guess that’s the genteel way of describing the internment of Japanese Americans during that war. The Hagiwara family left these trees in the care of a landscape architect Samuel Newson, who later sold the collection to Hugh Fraser. Fraser’s wife gave the collection back to the tea garden in her will, and they’ve been back here – flourishing – for almost 50 years.

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One last picture of these hopeful koi (I didn’t feed them, but they hoped nonetheless.)

What are the signals or promises that you look for to prove that spring will return?