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Newport, Oregon beach rocks I love all sorts of walks on the beach: romantic strolls with my husband, energetic hikes to a distant jetty or dune, meandering ambles with a new friend. When our kids were small, I loved watching them as they scrambled around, picking up every shell and turning over every stone in search of something wonderful. However, introvert that I am, nothing quite beats being alone on the beach with a camera.Footprints on the beach, Newport, Oregon

Newport, Oregon: ocean and cloudsEarly morning is the best time; sunset is great, too, if the colors are bright. Any time at all is still nice. Today it was morning: a still morning early enough that the breeze had not yet begun, when the sun rose brightly over the hills, and the freshly washed sand pulled me toward it with magnetic force. After a lovely rest in the Emily Dickinson room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon, I was ready.Newport, Oregon: rocks and buildings in mist

Being alone brings a certain freedom. I can sing praise songs aloud with the pounding of the surf both my background music and my disguise. I can stop to watch a bird circling above or stand and drink in the peacefulness of the ocean as long as I want, with no worries that someone else may wish to move on. I can turn aside for whatever catches my eye—a cloud formation, a small pool’s reflection, a tiny shell, or even just the pattern left in the sand by the rushing waves and beating wind. I can take a hundred pictures, trying to capture the essence of the scene, the special beauty of that particular moment.

Newport, Oregon sand patternsFinally I must wander back to join the others, to eat breakfast, to plan our day. But those moments alone on the beach with my camera have given me images to share, as well as a peace inside that is all my own.

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Heinz Field, Pittsburgh“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,” wrote–and sang–Joni Mitchell, “from up and down, and still somehow
it’s clouds’ illusions I recall…” And really, when it comes right down to it, clouds themselves are a bit of an illusion. They look like you could reach up and touch them, but if you did, your hand would slide right through, cool and damp perhaps, but without ever hitting anything solid.PPG Place, Pittsburgh

On our recent trip to Pittsburgh to visit our son and daughter-in-law, we saw plenty of clouds, both from below and from above. Some brought rain and snow; some piled up like bright puffy ice cream sundaes in the sky.

Clouds from aboveAnd from above, they danced across the landscape, finally building up into a soft blanket. Heading toward our landing, the plane sliced into the blanket, and it felt like entering the void, with no way to see above, below, or ahead. Just a field of gray in every direction. Until… until we dove underneath the grayness, and the city lights sparkled below, and all was just the way it should be. And yet, I wonder… is that, too, an illusion?   Pittsburgh, March, 2013 342

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My husband and I wake early and look out the window. The sky is gray, the lake still in shadow. We dress warmly and push our little canoe out into the smooth water. Its pink sides—sun-faded from a once-bright red—reflect from the mirror that is Odell Lake in the Oregon Cascades. Bigger boats sit anchored in the mist out from where Trapper Creek joins the lake. Excited shouts echo across the water whenever someone hooks a fish. All around us, kokanee are being reeled in, stringers being filled. We row away from shore and cast our lures out into the deep blue.

The dark sky begins to lighten. Cottony gray clouds add silver linings. Across the lake tall firs turn a brighter green, as a glow begins to rise from behind a hill. Sunlight reaches out and touches the lake. The sun springs up over the hill, reflecting off the water in blinding flashes.

I squint at my pole in the glare. Day has fully arrived; the fish have not. My pole vibrates slightly with the motion of the lure as husband works the oars. It does not jerk or bend down with the weight of a big lake trout, or even a little kokanee. Our record of no strikes, no hooks, no fish still stands. But at least we witnessed the dawning of a new day at Odell Lake.

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The bus to Kamikochi breezes along the narrow road with only a short guard rail separating us from the precipitous drop off to the canyon below. The rocks, the rushing river, the cascading greenery heighten my expectations as we near our destination. Kamikochi in the Japan Alps—an amazing place!

The Azusa River—flowing gently in places, rushing over rocks in others, clear and fresh water straight from mountain glaciers

Myojin Bridge

 

Takezawa Marsh—dark and mysterious, haunting birdsong echoing through the trees

Takezawa Marsh

The forest—bright greens springing to life on the ground and in the trees; Nirinsou Anemones lifting their clean white flowers, filling the woods with green and white.

Nirinsou Anemones

“Snow monkeys”—the native Macaque monkeys peacefully munching on new greenery, doing acrobatics in the trees to reach the tender buds

Macaque “snow monkeys”

Northern Japan Alps in Chubu Sangaku National Park—looming over us in snow-covered majesty, lit by the sunshine, or hiding in the mists of a rainy day, pure beauty.

Kamikochi.

 

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My husband and I returned recently from a two week trip to Japan, where we visited our son and saw some new places. I will have to do a post on Kamikochi soon; it was an amazingly beautiful place! However, today I want to talk about some of the people we met over there and the kindness shown to a couple of sometimes-confused Americans.

Police let children sit on their motocycles at the Karuizawa Half-Marathon

While my husband has been studying Japanese and can speak a bit, I know little beyond “Konnichiwa” and a sentence asking the location of a certain necessary room. However, everywhere we went, people were overwhelming gracious and helpful. I will mention just a few of those encounters here.

Matsumoto Castle

When we visited Matsumoto Castle, we noticed a group advertising free English-speaking tours. Our volunteer guide, Horoshi, led us on a wonderful tour, explaining the history and purpose of the castle and its various parts. He used our camera to take pictures of the two of us at different points in the tour. At the end, it was lunchtime, so we asked if he could recommend a nearby restaurant. Instead of giving directions, Horoshi led us several blocks to his favorite soba noodle café. When we offered to donate some money to his organization, he refused, although he did laughingly suggest that if we had a million dollars, we could donate that!

Bus Travel

Another time we needed to take a bus to the hotel near Kamikochi where we had reservations. We apparently looked confused at the station, as two different workers came out to tell us where to wait and which bus to take. When it arrived, they put our luggage aboard and talked to the driver. Later we realized that they had told the driver our destination—and that we had luggage to unload. The driver looked back and smiled at us when we arrived at our stop, as well as making sure we got our bags. The worker at the stop pointed out our hotel to us. And always, whether or not they spoke English, they offered help with a smile.

Tokyo train station

There were many other instances of kindness: Toshiro, an associate professor of civil engineering whom I met on the train, who offered to give us a ride from his stop to our destination a few miles away; the restaurant workers who patiently explained the menu to us as best they could, given their lack of English; those who pointed out where to wait for a train or where to find an elevator before we even asked; the friendly elderly couple who tried to talk with us as we all waited for the bus; the three giggly junior high girls who thought it was exciting—and apparently funny—to talk with visitors from America.

Power rangers at Karuizawa Half-Marathon

All of these people helped to make our trip to Japan a very pleasant memory.

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The plane rises into the sky, lifted by forces I can explain but will never comprehend. Slicing through the clouds it disappears. Like magic. Like today turning into tomorrow, and present experiences becoming memories. For a moment, my heart flies with the plane as child of my flesh, child of my soul, you leave again.

Was it really a week ago you arrived? Why does now become yesterday so quickly? Christmas trees with glittering lights. Scones and fudge and decorated cookies. Cold sunshine and Oregon rain. Laughter amidst the warmth of family. Learning a new game where you are the master and we, your parents, mere apprentices. Chicken katsu with curry, artistically presented. You have grown into a strong and confident man, and our hearts glow with pride.

I drive slowly home, to be greeted by empty Christmas stockings and a quiet house. To embrace a husband whose heart also aches. Sweet memories have been added to my storehouse, and I will rejoice in those. Rejoice in love and family and faith—and all the blessings you have given me, often without even knowing. One day soon, those tomorrows will bring us together again. And that will be a wonderful day.

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Sacramento

A business trip to Sacramento, California gave me a chance to visit relatives I hadn’t seen for awhile, work face-to-face with people I usually only talk with on the phone, and see some new territory. From my hotel, Old Sacramento was a short stroll through a tunnel under the freeway. Very touristy, of course, but fun to visit. Mingling uneasily with the tourists were a number of homeless men, carrying their packs and garbage bags, digging through trash bins for whatever small treasures they might find. I bought a newspaper from one man, wondering what his story might be, but not sure I really wanted to know. There have been too many sad stories touching my life recently; for this day, at least, I preferred to enjoy the sunshine.

I had to take a few pictures of the Sacramento River. My father grew up along that river, although not in Sacramento itself, and spent many hours fishing in it, bringing home much-appreciated food for dinner, back in those Depression Days. He tells of the time after a flood, when he and his brothers discovered a rowboat washed up on the bank. They had no idea where it might have come from, but happily claimed it as their own. From that day forth, their fishing expeditions were not confined to the river banks.

Back in my hotel room, I looked out at rush hour traffic, glad not to be in it. Whenever I woke in the night, I could hear cars in the background, a dull continuous hum. I enjoyed my visit to Sacramento, especially the time spent with relatives and with coworkers who are also friends. But I also enjoyed coming home to Oregon, to my quiet little place where the only sounds to disturb my sleep are the occasional barking dog or yipping coyote. As they say, there’s no place like home!

 

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