Let There Be Lighthouses

April 30, 2018

Part Three of the Birds, Blooms, and Winding Roads Tour. Part one is here, part two is here. Click on photo to make it bigger.

One of our winding roads led us to Point Arena Lighthouse. Originally erected in 1870, it was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and rebuilt two years later. It’s the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast (115 feet), and you can climb to the top. (One other lighthouse, Pigeon Point, is the same height, but it’s not open to the public to climb.)

The area around Point Arena Lighthouse was spectacularly photogenic. We glanced at the lighthouse itself, snapped its photo, and spent the rest of our time there stalking birds and taking pictures of wildflowers, seals, and tossing waves.

Indian Paintbrush

After lunch and a wander through Mendocino:

We found ourselves at Point Cabrillo Light Station. Construction began in 1908, and the light was turned on for the first time on June 10, 1909. 

The lightstation

We didn’t see any whales or sea lions off the point, but we did see some wildlife:

White-crowned sparrow

California ground squirrel
Looking back toward the lightkeepers' houses from the lightstation

You can stay in the lightkeepers’ houses—I would love to do that. The views would be spectacular. 

Looking toward the lightstation from near the keepers' houses
Ocean near your front door

I was going to lump the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens into this post, but I think I’ll save it for later. You’re not tired of vacation photos yet, are you? (Don’t answer that!) 

Avenue of the Giants

Into the Woods

April 23, 2018

The second day of our road trip dawned overcast, and it drizzled off and on as we headed out. I didn’t mind, because I enjoy the novelty of wearing a jacket!

Our first stop was the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex where we took a blowy, drizzly walk, searching for birds. Most of them were too far away to see well, but we saw red-winged blackbirds both male and female, Canada geese, sandpipers, and a few others I couldn’t identify.

After that, we headed south through the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile road running parallel to Highway 101, through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Humboldt is the largest remaining old-growth redwood forest in the world, and one of California’s largest and oldest state parks. Avenue of the Giants is called one of the finest forest drives in the world—you’ll get no argument from me.

An old-growth or ancient forest has the following characteristics: trees of all ages; may layers of canopy (the uppermost branchy layer); large, standing dead trees, known as snags; large downed logs; large fallen logs in streams; and trees aged over 200 years. The redwoods growing in this area are Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens)—they’re not the oldest, but they are believed to be the tallest, growing up to 370 feet tall. Coast redwoods only grow naturally in a 40-mile wide by 450-mile long strip from southern Oregon to southern Monterey County in California.
The redwood forest is an ideal place to learn about the interconnectedness of life. During a redwood’s lifespan, 1,700 species of plants and animals depend on it. After it dies, 600 species live on a snag, and 4,000 live on or in a downed log.

Redwood sorrel

Redwoods are so large that the base of the tree, the stem, and the crown each lives in a different climactic zone. There are two types of needles, depending on the conditions where they live on the tree.

We took short walks at the Drury Cheney Grove and the Founders Grove. Because of the slightly drizzly weather, we saw few people, and we didn’t hear any birds or other creatures. The woods were hushed and damp and cool.

This fire-damaged tree is still living

I learned a cool new word: “windthrow”—the blowing over of trees, and leading cause of redwood death. When the older trees die and blow down, the younger trees have a chance to grow.

This downed tree is known as the Dyerville Giant. Can you see Kerri standing on the right?
In fact, we were forced to detour from the Avenue of the Giants because a tree fell and blocked the road!

We wrapped up the day with a cold and windy sunset on the beach by our hotel in Fort Bragg.

Goodnight sun

Next up: a lighthouse, a light station, and a botanical garden by the sea. Read about the first part of this trip here


Birds and Blooms and Winding Roads

April 20, 2018

At least once a year, Catching Happiness turns briefly into a travel blog. Travel makes me happy and I always return refreshed and inspired, though also, in some cases, tired.

For the past three years, I’ve been meeting my teacher friend Kerri during her spring break. We’ve meandered in Florida and the Southwest, and this year was supposed to be my turn to visit her in Seattle. However, my dad has been recovering from a serious bout of flu and bronchitis that put him in the ICU, so I decided that if I went west, I needed to see him. We adjusted our plans so that I could have a quick visit with both my parents before we set out on the road.

Even though I was born and raised in California, with one exception, I don’t recall visiting the areas we traveled through. And certainly not during springtime since previous trips took place mostly during summer breaks or other school and work holidays. All I can say Is, wow, California, you look good in spring.

I couldn’t get enough of the rocky coastline, pounding surf, birds, wildflowers, mysterious winding roads, giant redwoods…but I get ahead of myself. I won’t bore (or torture) you with the entire road trip, but I’ll share highlights of our explorations.

After we left my mom’s, we started our road trip in Redding with a stop at one of my favorite places, the Sundial Bridge and McConnell Botanical Gardens.

One small section of the mosaic fountain area

After that, we drove to Eureka, stopping to take photos at every opportunity. Kerri’s a serious photographer, so while she searched for the perfect shot or set up her tripod, I snapped my own photos or soaked up the difference in climate and geography. Eastern redbuds bloomed all over, a pretty splash of pink in the landscape.

We asked the man at the front desk of the hotel where to watch the sunset, and he said Patrick’s Point:

Good choice.

Sunset at Patrick's Point
Next morning, we had planned to hike to the Punta Gorda Lighthouse, but after a two-hour drive on steep, twisty, and extremely potholed roads, we opted not to take our small rental car through the running water crossing the road.

On the return drive, we dawdled even more than usual, photographing the fog, the flowers, the rolling hillsides, the zebras (why?), and anything else that captured our fancy. We explored tide pools on the beach, collected a pocketful of shells and rocks, photographed a friendly-looking seal. Good thing we missed our hike, because part of the sole of one of my hiking boots came off while we were on the beach.


Hello, there

An interesting road sign:

Say what, now?!
I’m still sorting through the more-than-700 photos I took, as well as sorting through the experiences, interesting facts, and memories we made. Next week, we’ll visit the Avenue of the Giants, the Medocino Coast Botanical Gardens and more. I hope you’ll come back to explore with me!


Choosing Where to Look

April 13, 2018

Photo by Rana Sawalha on Unsplash

“I have found that I cannot force myself to feel aware or happy or interested or satisfied, no matter how hard I try. However, I can choose to allow myself to enter these states by relaxing and by consciously directing my attention in certain ways.

“You cannot make yourself see or think things that are positive; but you can choose where to look and what to think about. You can choose where to direct your attention. In this sense you can determine the interior quality of your life.”
—Tristine Rainer, The New Diary


Prophets of Spring

April 06, 2018

Pterzian at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I can identify most of the birds that live in my part of Nebraska, but I can't tell one warbler from the next. But Kevin Cole, in his new book, Late Summer Plums, from Scurfpea Publishing, has identified a warbler for us. The archives of this column, at, has another of Cole's poems, about watching a deer cross the Missouri. Kevin Cole lives in South Dakota.

Audubon Warblers

The Audubon warblers keep the time of their coming,
Arriving on stillness of a storm,
Their breast and backs as dark as low bruised banks of cloud,
Rumps and throats as yellow as blooms of buckwheat.

They throng this evening in the newly-leaved
Tender-tipped canopies nervously weaving
Through the catkins like frantic prophets
Bearing some divine prophecy of the coming spring.

I wait, hoping for nothing too grave:
News of ruinous lands, of cutting and swarming locusts,
Of withering vines and empty granaries,
Of fasting, weeping, and rending of garments.

No, I wait for lighter fare:
Perhaps a promise that the green heron will nest
On the west end of the slough and that the ironweed
And wood lily will once again together bloom.

This would be an ample prophecy for another year—
This and a promise to keep the time of their coming.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Kevin L. Cole, “Audubon Warblers,” from Late Summer Plums, (Scurfpea Publishing, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Kevin L. Cole and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.