I’m settled into my backyard glider, watching the hummingbirds sip nectar from native wildflowers and then zip across the sky.
Earth Day is tomorrow, I just remembered, and I’m hosting our Art Challenge on this blog.
But first, I will watch the sun slant through the palm trees, and listen to the sparrow’s lullaby. I am a child again, sitting in my Nana’s porch swing and blowing dandelion wishes into a rainbow-sherbet sky.
We’re so easily distracted, all of us. We lose sight of what’s important, ignore our inner longings. Hence, these monthly Art Challenges!
I like best that they invite me outdoors–playful spirit at the ready, all senses engaged.
Like tiny seedlings, our prompts are rooted in the things that matter most. Our environment, for instance, and the beautiful creatures with whom we co-exist.
We’re a diverse group, amateurs and pros who express ourselves in different ways. Using a monthly prompt as our muse, we come together in the name of “art.”
These challenges aren’t a competition, by any means. Participation is our goal, not perfection. It’s all about capturing a fleeting memory, exploring our passions, renewing our childlike sense of wonder, and yes! making a joyful noise.
It’s about storytelling, in words and pictures–being transported to another time and place, or finding our way home.
For this art challenge, we’re showcasing our beautiful home, in all its glory.
Let’s get this party started, shall we? Some artists will lag behind, but no worries: That’s what comes of being members of a global community. Take the tour when you’re able, and then return for another visit!
Gallery of Artists (with links to their Earth Day entries):
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense. (Robert Frost, Mending Wall)
I visited Children’s Pool Beach in La Jolla this past Tuesday–what an eye-opening, heart-expanding trip!
This charming little enclave was a well-intentioned, but perhaps shortsighted, gift to the people of San Diego, back in 1931. In funding this project, Ellen Browning Scripps brought a personal dream to fruition: a protected beach for children, the elderly, and “those handicapped in life’s game.”
Ellen didn’t own the property, mind you. She just laid out the cash for the 330-foot, crescent-shaped concrete wall that hugs the rocky shoreline.
Then as now, visitors strolled the length of the breakwater, snapping photos of the sweeping panoramic views and peeking into the tide pools below [video].
Years passed. Slowly but surely, the once-pristine swimming hole was filled with drifting sand.
It eventually transformed itself into an idyllic hangout…for harbor seals.
The horseshoe-shaped inlet (also known as Casa Beach) is perfectly suited to the pinniped lifestyle. They bask in year-round sunshine, mate, and give swimming lessons to their newborn pups.
Check out the scene, in this live-action video.
Seal pups are born in the sand, nurse within minutes, and take their first swimming lessons within a few hours.
Over the next few weeks, they’ll lose their downy fur and gain their independence.
But in the meantime, the breakwater helps protect them from predators and turbulent seas.
In this peaceable kingdom, sea birds and marine mammals find ways to co-exist, with only an occasional squabble.
No surprise, the harbor seal pups are a major draw. In fact, they helped turn Children’s Beach into a major tourist attraction.
Just look at this mama seal being shadowed by her pup. Postcard material, don’t you think? Hashtag: #HarborSealsofInstagram
But not everyone sees these changes as a good thing. Locals pinch their noses and point to the mess. No, not the half-eaten sandwiches and disposable diapers, buried in the sand by thoughtless visitors. Seal poop, plopped on the rocks and in the water. “It leaves behind an ungodly stench,” business owners harrumph, especially in the summer.
Fishermen are afraid of losing out to the seals, who forage along this increasingly depleted coastline.
And swimmers complain that they’re coming face-to-muzzle with playful (or unhappy) pinnipeds. In a territorial battle, both parties can be aggressive and unpredictable.
Deep dive: Should the beach be permanently designated as a marine mammal sanctuary, or should it be returned to its pristine (if man-made) state?
The controversy has landed in the courts, many times over. Strongly held views sometimes lead to violent skirmishes. It’s hard to accommodate everyone, but thanks to a recent ordinance, the pocket beach is off-limits to humans from Dec. 15 to May 15 (aka pupping season)–mainly in response to documented cases of seal harassment.
The Coastal Commission sided with city politicians, all of whom were mainly concerned that mama harbor seals might get frightened during pupping season and “flush” (stampede) into the water. Newborn seals get trampled, or separated in the shuffle. There’s perhaps nothing more wrenching than a frantic, hungry baby that’s crying for its mama.
Some people think humans and pinnipeds should be able to interact with one another in peace. With respect to that viewpoint, the adjacent beach is open to the public, all year long. Since harbor seals also frequent this beach, warning signs are posted at the entrance and on the steps leading down to the water.
But “shared use” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.
(I’m told that this beach is staffed by park rangers and lifeguards. But I didn’t see anyone patrolling the area.)
Some people would be happier if the harbor seals never set their flippers on Children’s Pool Beach, ever again. But I have a feeling they’re swimming against the tide.
P.S. I took these photographs on the seawall and walkways that surround Children’s Pool, and (where noted) above the adjacent beach. I used a zoom lens, and at no time did I ever venture close to the harbor seals.
Life isn’t a pailful of herring, you know. Not for Freckles the harbor seal, any more than it is for the rest of us.
Not for nothing does Freckles have this spindle-shaped sleekness. He forages the Pacific Ocean for hours at a time every day, grabbing snacks on the go because he’s also got to keep an eye out for predators. Manmade dangers, too–like gill nets and ship propellers.
Freckles navigates rough waters every day, so no surprise! When he finally hauls ashore, he’s exhausted. But as leader of this pinniped posse, it also falls to Freckles to defend their onshore habitat.
You might be wondering: How does he manage?
Look deep into those liquid brown eyes, and you’ll find your answer. There’s wisdom in that sleepy-eyed gaze of his, not fear. He’s been around the tide pools a few times, our Freckles. He’s earned every one of those grey spots.
He’s not afraid to go nose-to-nose with his problems, but he also knows when and how to chill.
You’d never guess, for instance, that he’d just squared off with Clancy, the interloper up front. Once Freckles laid down the ground rules, he nestled himself into the algae-softened rocks again, angled strategically between his long time friends and this brazen newcomer. Peaceable kingdom, restored.
That’s how Freckles rolls. He just takes care of business, tra la la, and then settles in for another nap.
We could all take some cues from Freckles, now couldn’t we? Tuned in, blissed out…finding our happy place, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Rainy days and Mondays, included.
I asked my pinniped-loving pal in New York to help select the winners in Gabriela McBride’s Book Giveaway Contest. Wow, does she win the prize for creativity, or what?
She dropped the entrants’ names into a favorite hat…
and created this adorable graphic to announce the winners.
Congratulations, one and all! I know already that you’ll love reading and sharing Gabriela’s story, so we’ll get those books out to you, right away!
We worked together for several months last year, co-creators of a super-secret project for Hillary Clinton. Two women from opposite sides of the country–upstate New York and Southern California–who shared the same vision and purpose.
Though we’d never met in person, we fell into an easy rhythm. Creativity flowed, as it does when ego’s not an issue. When my new friend fell sick, I filled my planner pages with to-do lists and affirmations, colorful sketches and motivational stickers. She poked fun at those stickers, but it was laughter that helped get us through the more difficult days of her cancer treatments. Oh, and the harbor seals. Hashtag: #StrongerTogether
On Election Day, we finally went public with the news we’d been sitting on, for what seemed like forever:
I could hardly contain my excitement. Pollsters predicted an early, easy victory. But as everyone now knows, Election Night was holding back some surprises of its own.
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but the Electoral College twisted the other way. Our hopes and dreams, aspirations and efforts…reduced to ashes, inexplicably and unimaginably so.
We explored Manhattan over the next several days, reveling in our friendship despite the pain, and reaching for the proverbial candle in the dark.
But once I got home, well. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about the election results for weeks, much less the video that would never have an audience.
Slowly, eventually…light overcame the dark. Hope stirred; optimism reawakened.
The time eventually came when I could once again look to the future with clear, dry eyes.
The moment came when I decided to take some deep, cleansing breaths. I am an optimist, after all. I’m not immune to injury and sorrow, but I do have an indomitable spirit.
And so it was that, one sunny afternoon in late December, I ventured down to Laguna Beach. Freckles was lounging on the rocks, as usual, smiling that ubiquitous seal-smile of his and waving his flipper. Adorable. Irresistible. Irrepressible.
In that peaceful island cove, I reflected on the pendulum swing between Election Night and the restorative nature of the sea. And I remembered something I’d once read about being simultaneously courageous and vulnerable:
During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to that moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to. What makes this more difficult is that now we have a new level of awareness about what it means to be brave. We can’t fake it anymore. We now know when we’re showing up and when we’re hiding out, when we are living our values and when we are not. Our new awareness can also be invigorating—it can reignite our sense of purpose and remind us of our commitment to wholeheartedness. Straddling the tension that lies between wanting to go back to the moment before we risked and fell and being pulled forward to even greater courage is an inescapable part of rising strong. –Brené Brown
Voilà! Like a pearl, hidden inside a rough shell, I discovered my 2017 Word of the Year:
Isn’t that just perfect? I’m no fortune teller, but I predict I’ll be amazed at the many ways this word will manifest itself this year, in my life and in the world around me.
PS I created these posters in Canva, using my own pictures. You are welcome to use them, so long as you leave my watermark intact. (Just now learning, so they’re not perfect, but this is how you raise the bar.)
On my way to Goff Island yesterday, I happened upon a family reunion. Tourists, probably, drinking in the winter sunshine after savoring a picnic lunch. The women wore modest clothes and hijabs, and the men wore ankle-length, cotton robes. While the younger children built sand castles, replete with fancy turrets, a teenaged boy –positioned at a distance from his group–dug through the sand, examining and discarding tiny seashell fragments.
I lifted my sunglasses, smiled and waved. They waved back, generous smiles spread across open faces.
I thought I’d read the tide tables right, but Nature keeps her own timetable, doesn’t she? The Island was mostly submerged, so the harbor seals hadn’t yet hauled themselves onto the rocks where they typically congregate.
The ocean heaved and frothed. Seaweed floated in swirling eddies. But while I sensed the seals’ presence, I didn’t see any bobbing heads.
In the sheltered cove, where the turquoise waters deposit their treasures, I found a pearly white seashell–exquisitely shaped, perfectly whole.
I wandered toward the group of children, seashell cradled in my palm; and when I reached the spot where the older boy knelt, I slowly opened my hand.
I saw in his face a kindred soul, someone for whom simple things oftentimes bring about the greatest joy.
I spread my fingers wide, and the seashell spiraled downward. It landed gently in the boy’s lap, as if it were meant to be there, all along.
“Thank you,” he said softly, in beautifully accented English.
You’re so welcome, I thought, but I let my heart do the talking.
It was a quick exchange, no fanfare or fancy wrappings, but it felt to me like a Christmas blessing.
I’ve never bought into the idea of Black Friday, but when #OutsideFriday became a thing this year, I ditched the madding crowds at the mall for a quiet morning at the beach.
Most of the harbor seals were lounging on Treasure Island yesterday, but I found Freckles and Marilyn at their favorite hangout: Goff Island Cove.
Freckles sniffed the air when I arrived, as if to say, Oh, it’s you again!
Seems as if someone enjoyed a hefty Thanksgiving meal…need I mention his name?
Look at that smile! Could Freckles be any cuter?
Zoom a little closer….you’ll see blue skies above Goff Island, reflected in those liquid brown eyes!
Freckles tends to think he’s the star of the show, but sleek-bodied Marilyn knows how to vogue for the camera.
She loves mugging for trusted visitors, but when noisy tourists show up on scene, she sticks close to the water’s edge and flushes at the slightest hint of danger.
Freckles gets perturbed on rare occasions (pictured here, after being provoked by an aggressive pair of bipeds that ventured too close while snapping selfies). But once he’s settled in for a nap, he doesn’t typically budge from his comfy roost until the high tides return.
Freckles and Marilyn put on quite the show for me–a two-seal act, performed for a limited audience.
But when the holiday crowds arrived on scene, Marilyn threw wary glances over her shoulder, inching ever closer to the water before slipping into the sea.
No crowd shots in the mix, but I recorded the seals in action. I didn’t notice anything unusual–not while I was snapping photos, and not while I was shooting video. But when I sent this YouTube link to my knowledgable, observant friend in New York, she encouraged me to examine the photographs up close, and to watch the footage again.
See how Marilyn favors her left flipper? she asked. See how she keeps it lifted as she scoots across the rocks, how she splashes instead of gliding into the water?
I’m grateful for my friend’s vigilance, and for Letty, the tide pool educator who fielded our concerns and passed along my images to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. While Marilyn seems healthy enough, she’s got claw marks and a fairly recent wound on the uppermost part of her left flipper, both of which seem to suggest she’s been attacked and might need medical attention. If that’s the case, I know they’ll take good care of her. Teamwork at its best.
Quiet observation at a seaside sanctuary, and trusting relationships, shared among species. I didn’t do any bargain hunting yesterday, but I carried home from #OutsideFriday these invaluable gifts from the sea.