The Edge of the Sea

Western Gull

Western Gull

To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and the flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.
~~Rachel Carson, Under the Sea-Wind (1941)

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

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Remembering Pearl Harbor Day

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

It was 75 years ago today when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, launching the United States into World War II.

 

I visited this Hawaiian harbor last month.  Headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and still a U.S. naval station, it was fortunately much quieter than “the day that will live in infamy.”

 

USS Arizona, Oahu

USS Arizona, Oahu

On December 7, 1941, the United States was hit by an extensive Japanese surprise aerial attack on Oahu, Hawaii. An initial wave of 183 Japanese aircraft, launched from six aircraft carriers, attacked the U.S. naval base.  A half hour later a second wave of 167 aircraft stormed in.

 

Within 90 minutes 2,403 Americans were killed, 1,178 were wounded.

 

Here the USS Arizona battleship was bombed and sunk.  It violently exploded, tearing the ship in half, instantly entombing 1,177 military people on board.

1930’s, USS Arizona. Courtesy US Navy, Wikipedia.

 

USS Arizona, sinking, on Dec. 7, 1941. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

Today you can take a navy boat shuttle across the peaceful harbor waters to the site of the memorial.

 

Inside the USS Arizona

Inside the USS Arizona

Built in 1962 and designed by Alfred Preis, the 184-foot-long (56 m) memorial straddles the battleship’s sunken hull. Visitors arriving by boat cross a walkway bridge and enter a large, open-air room.

 

Here you experience the whipping Pacific winds and see through an opening in the floor to the sunken battleship below where over 1,100 people lost their lives.

Diagram of the sunken USS Arizona and white (vertical, center) memorial

Diagram of the sunken USS Arizona and white (vertical, center) memorial

USS Arizona beneath the Memorial. Photo: J. Pastoric, USN. Courtesy Wikipeida.

 

 

 

 

 

In the next room is a sobering shrine, a marble wall inscribed with the names of the Arizona’s honored dead. “The Tree of Life” resides here too, it symbolizes rebirth and renewal.

 

On shore is a modern visitor center with many exhibits and displays.

 

Base of the gun turret on USS Arizona

Base of the gun turret on USS Arizona

Read more about the memorial here, and U.S. Park and visitor center here.

 

I found this moving memorial another striking reminder of the beauty of peace.

 

pearl-harbor-75-aniversary
Photo credit: Athena Alexander (unless otherwise specified)

 

 

 

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San Francisco’s Cable Cars

San Francisco Hyde Street cable car

San Francisco Hyde Street cable car

The only true cable cars left in the world, San Francisco boasts three street car lines in full use today. A visit to the City by the Bay is not complete without a bell-clanking, open-air ride.

 

In the 1800s, when horse-drawn transportation was common in cities, the steep hills of San Francisco were especially taxing for this animal.

 

It was during this time when Andrew Smith Hallidie–a wire-rope (cable) businessman in mining and bridges–witnessed a horse accident, and got the idea for inventing the cable car.

 

He tested the first cable car in 1873 on Clay Street, San Francisco.

 

SF cable car machinery. Photo: C. Culler, courtesy Wikipedia.

A cable car works by running on a constant rotating cable underneath the street. The cables are powered by a stationary motor in a cable house.

 

Each cable car is operated by an independent grip person. When the car needs to start or stop, a skilled and muscular individual pulls a lever and ungrips or grips the cable.

 

San Francisco cable car

San Francisco cable car

By standing on a street that has a cable car line, and waiting for a quiet moment, even if there is no cable car in sight you can still hear the high-pitched whining of the cables underneath the street. You can feel the vibrations too.

 

From 1873 to 1890 there were 23 different lines in San Francisco, and cable cars were mass transit operations in many cities all over the world. But by the 1950s, cable cars were nearly extinct.

 

Boarders at Market and Powell Streets, SF

Boarders at Market and Powell Streets, SF

Not so in San Francisco. Here there was a contingent of determined citizens who fought to keep the cable cars running, and fortunately for us, succeeded.

 

Read more about San Francisco’s cable cars here.

 

Take a wild ride on a 1906 San Francisco cable car here.

 

San Francisco cable car, Powell St. turnaround

San Francisco cable car, Powell St. turnaround

I like to stand on the running board. Once my earring fell off into the street. I was with my sister and her husband, and it had been a big deal to stand in line and board, so I didn’t want to get off just for the earring.

 

When the ride was over we went back and found my earring; it was flattened, ruined. But it didn’t matter because the ride had been so fun and exhilarating.

 

San Francisco cable car, California St. line

San Francisco cable car, California St. line

Thanks for taking this ride with me.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander (unless otherwise specified).

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Belize’s Blue Hole Nat’l. Park

belize-blue-hole-close-upThe park is named after a sapphire pool in a jungle opening. It is a 500-acre park off Hummingbird Highway, near Belize’s capital of Belmopan; has trails above and below ground.

 

Courtesy Wikipedia.

The Blue Hole is a sinkhole that was formed by the collapse of an underground cave, and filled in by an underground river.

 

Belize, Blue Hole Nat'l. Park

Belize, Blue Hole Nat’l. Park

 

When we initially began the trail down we could not see the water. Each descending step got cooler and quieter, and we were surrounded by seeping walls of rock covered with thick and verdant growth.

 

Then soon the blue water at the base of the trail appeared.

 

Belize, Blue Hole Nat'l. Park

Belize, Blue Hole Nat’l. Park

There was a small standing area for viewing the pool, and for those who climbed onto the rocks there was a sandy area for entering the water.

 

We watched little kids boisterously climb out of the water, hunched and shivering from the icy dip.

 

Summer tanager, Blue Hole Nat'l Park, Belize

Summer tanager, Blue Hole Nat’l Park, Belize

We had been birding in the jungle, and having great luck. But it was hot and humid, and the mosquitoes were especially brutal. So a cold dip looked enticing.

 

But there were birds to see! We had already been thrilled with various hummingbirds, ant birds, and tanagers.

 

Rufous-tailed jacamar, Belize

Rufous-tailed jacamar, Belize

As we stood in this surreal sight serenaded by trickling water, gazing at the blue water and the millions of ferns, our reverie was soon interrupted by a new bird, a jacamar.

 

Energetically flitting among the vines and wild orchids, a rufous-tailed jacamar captured our full attention–we watched, marveled, photographed this new lifer.  A colorful and zippy tropical bird, they only occur in the New World.

 

More jacamar info here.

 

As we were hiking back out, I turned around to get one last look.

 

Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Belize

Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Belize

A clear blue pool nestled below earth’s surface–it was a fairy place. It felt like Peter Pan would be coming along any minute.

 

Or maybe that jacamar was Peter Pan?

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

WordPress blogger Myriam’s drawing of the jacamar.

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African Antelope

Oryx, Kenya

Oryx, Kenya, Africa

There are 91 species of antelope in the world, and over 70 species live in Africa. Here’s a brief overview of a few favorites.

 

Hoofed mammals in the Bovidae family, antelope are herbivores with a keen sense of smell and hearing. They have long legs; and all males have horns, some females have horns too.

 

Male Kudu, Boswana, Africa

Male Kudu, Botswana, Africa

Everything else about antelope varies among species.

 

Some are very small, like the duiker and steenbok at 12-16 inches (30-40 cm) tall. The largest antelope, the eland, is 5 feet tall (1.5 m) and weighs over 2,000 pounds (942 kg).

 

The horns, as you can see from the photos, vary widely among species.

 

Klipspringer, Botswana, Africa

Klipspringer, Botswana, Africa

African antelope typically occupy the savanna, but there are species in different habitats too. The African Klipspringer, for example, lives in rocky mountainous areas.

 

We spotted this klipspringer leaping onto rocks about 200 feet above us.

 

A few antelope species prefer desert or cold regions, forest, or water.

 

Sable, Botswana, Africa

Sable, Botswana, Africa

Most are various shades of tan and brown, but some are not. The sable was oh so elegant, we saw only one.

 

Antelope information here.

 

Gerenuks feeding. Photo: F. Salein. Courtesy Wikipedia.

I love to come across the gerenuks. They’re the only antelope I have ever seen standing on two legs. The long, slender, back legs were on the ground, and the front legs were up in the air while they foraged on tree leaves.

 

A different time, in my periphery and across the river, I saw the most beautiful antelope ballet. Fortunately it went on for a few seconds so I could watch.

 

Stotting gazelle. Photo: R. Wilhelmsen. Courtesy Wikipedia.

It was a small group of gazelle zealously springing into the air in the most glorious way. They were not leaping over anything, it was more of a bouncing, like balls.

 

I later learned it is called stotting, when all four feet spring off the ground simultaneously. There are numerous theories about the purpose of this.  You can read more here.

 

Kudu, Africa

Kudu, female, Africa

In the African grasslands, whether coming upon a sprinting impala or a sauntering kudu, it is an honor to observe this diverse and graceful mammal.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander (unless otherwise specified)

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Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross pairs, Espanola Island, Galapagos

Waved Albatross pairs, Espanola Island, Galapagos

There is a gusty island in the Galapagos where seabirds flock–a dry, barren, lava-covered place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

 

Here we had the rare opportunity to witness the courtship dance of the waved albatross.

 

Espanola Island is the southernmost and oldest of the Galapagos isles.  It is the first speck of land the birds come to after traveling 600 miles (1,000 km) from Ecuador and Peru.

 

With long wings that can soar without flapping for hours, the waved albatrosses spend most of their life at sea, foraging on fish, squid and crustaceans. It is only during breeding time, their brief phase on land, that we see them so close.

 

A bird with a critically-endangered conservation status, the waved albatrosses gather here to court and breed–the world’s largest concentration of this species. Named for a wavy feather pattern, they have a wingspan of 7-8 feet (220-250 cm).

 

There were two surreal things going on that day as we stood buffeting the strong winds. There were hundreds of seabirds at our feet, different species, all performing bizarre mating rituals; and we stood unnoticed in the middle of it…could have been rocks for all they cared.

 

And secondly, these were rarely seen birds, yet they were everywhere.

 

Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross

The courtship dance of the monogamous albatross is a spectacular event. They clack their long bills together, much like two people fencing. They bow in unison, strut around, and vocalize a squawking serenade.

 

Short You Tube video here.

Wikipedia overview of Phoebastria irrorata here

We were also surrounded by blue-footed boobies, read my previous post about that here.

 

Waved Albatross parent with egg

Waved Albatross parent with egg

The frigid waters of the Humboldt Current are plentiful with sea life for feeding their young. And the island is also predator-free, allowing the birds to nest on the ground without disturbance.

 

Months later, after the chicks are hatched and ready for flight, the albatrosses awkwardly waddle to the cliff edge. Their task has been completed, the cold, nutrient-rich waters will warm soon, and it’s time to return to sea, teach their young.

 

Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross

Facing strong tradewinds, the albatrosses step to the precipice, open their massive wings, and gracefully begin their very long flight.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Española Island is located in Galápagos Islands

Galapagos Islands. Tiny Espanola Island is bottom right; courtesy Wikipedia.

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The Best Store in San Francisco

Rainbow Grocery, squashWith many of us strolling the grocery stores during Thanksgiving week, I am happy to introduce what I consider the best store in San Francisco.

 

Rainbow Grocery, a cooperative-owned grocery store.

 

With 17,500 square feet of retail space, they have 14 different departments. It’s classified as a vegetarian health food store, but it also has books, gifts, bath and body products, and much more.

 

Rainbow, apples

Rainbow, apples

There are bulk bins with cereals and grains, unusual flours, beans, pastas, olives, nut butters, and more.

 

The produce department has a dozen kinds of mushrooms; it is brimming with seasonal fruits and vegetables in every season. Look at all the apples, and they’re organic.

 

Rainbow, front check-out counters

Rainbow, front check-out counters

Nutritional supplements abound, as well as medicinal tinctures, herbs, and oils; and the most knowledgeable supplement sales people you could ever ask for.

 

Rainbow grocery logo.pngAnd don’t get me started on their bulk herbs and spices…so fantastic.

 

Moreover, it is not just great, fresh food to take home with you. It’s a culture.

 

A worker-owned cooperative since 1975, the store is owned by its 243 workers. Without corporate influence, the business is run democratically, including investment in the local community and environment.

 

Rainbow, Herbs & Spices

Rainbow, Herbs & Spices

Click here for Rainbow’s website.

 

Customers and workers here are colorful people of all ages, social classes, and ethnicities.

 

I’ve been walking through Rainbow’s doors for decades. And can say with conviction, that if you want to see the true heart of San Francisco, check out Rainbow.

 

Golden Gate GraveyardMy new mystery novel has a scene that takes place in Rainbow.

You can buy the book here.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. To all my readers, may your days be filled with fresh food, health, and lots of love.

 

Rainbow, pinatas

Rainbow, pinatas

Photo credit: Athena Alexander