So last week I flew home to the bay area after a month with family in the NY/NJ region. I always love flying into SF from NYC: the route very frequently goes more or less directly over my home town of Santa Rosa, then cuts down along the beautiful coastline in Sonoma & Marin counties, more or less directly over the Golden Gate Bridge and then in some manner or other executes a circle in order to line up for landing at SFO. These photos were all taken in the space of one day when I’d returned from my assignment to Central African Republic last year. I landed late at night at JFK, woke up near the NYC office for my debrief meetings and a bit of a presentation to the office team, then hopped directly on trains to the plane for the flight. Since it was a clear day on both coasts, I got morning photos from a walk along the shore at Battery Park & views of the Statue of Liberty; then took photos of Santa Rosa from above, Point Reyes, San Jose & silicon valley at dusk, and the coast south of SF as the plane began its circle toward San Jose then back up to land. Air travel remains a gift which I enjoy on days when the view out the window is so spectacular, even if the in-airport experience long since stopped having any pleasant elements whatsoever :-). Enjoy!
You probably know I fly a fair bit, and I’m one of those people who stare out the window of the airplane if there’s daylight. I don’t suppose I’m truly claustrophobic in the classic sense, and I do just fine even in a middle seat if I need to (then I do escape into headphones and the in-set tv screen or i-pad), but I certainly enjoy flying much more when I can look out the window and enjoy the magic of seeing the earth from a different angle. Here’s a selection of photos from three flights I took over the past year – each photo has a name that explains what it is, more or less. Hope you find the aerial views as intriguing or enlightening as I do. And happy thanksgiving weekend, if you’re in the US. 🙂
Since I don’t usually have much bandwidth when I’m on field assignments, I never adopted video. Recently, when spending more time at home, I’ve been taking more short videos to show friends a different angle of how I occupy my time when I’m at home here in Santa Rosa. For example: the photo above, taken from the Santa Rosa Creek Bike Trail, was taken about the same place the video below, which shows an egret fishing in the creek. And you can see me biking up and down the trails a bit, courtesy of another biker who agreed to do the video. There’s also a video of an evening street fair with its band, last December…and rain dripping down the bark of a tree as I walked my neighborhood one rainy day last year after my surgery. Hope you enjoy :-).
Each of us resonates particularly to some kinds of beauty more than others. I’m naturally drawn more to wilderness and natural areas than to cities, as you can probably tell by all the natural-world photos that occupy these pages. But I do find the combination of hills and abundant water, with densely-packed urban centers featuring tall buildings and dramatic bridges, interesting architectural features and urban parks quite compelling. San Francisco has all of the above in abundance. Now that each of my assignments begins and ends with flights from and to SFO — now that each trip back to my own home involves crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing many of the views you see here — I find myself collecting photos two or four at a time, whenever I visit the city for a concert or lunch with a friend or just a trip to or from the airport. This post is full of my miscellaneous photos taken in such trips over the past year or so. As I prepare to head out for another assignment far away, some photos of my home region to enjoy while I’m away. 🙂 If you’re curious what’s shown in any of the photos, by and large they will have names that are descriptive.
For many reasons I’ve been thinking about balance lately. Health and illness, birth and death, creation and destruction. My personal friends know I’ve had a fairly serious illness myself this past month, coupled with some fairly significant health issues affecting close family as well. And here we are nearly upon the one-year anniversary of the first outbreak of deadly wildfire which destroyed so many homes in my own community of Santa Rosa just a year ago. Recovering my own physical health at first involved avoiding much physical exercise, and now involves steadily allowing my stamina to build back. One way I’ve done that is to go hiking again in our local state park, where a second wildfire, coming from the south of Santa Rosa instead of the north of Santa Rosa, also destroyed many homes and lives at nearly the same time. Our rainy season here usually begins some time in October: last year, the first rains came later in the month. This year, we had an inch of rain last week and this allowed the moss to green up again on a stone I’ve been watching and photographing since the first time my normal trail in the park was reopened three weeks after last year’s Nunns fire was declared controlled. That stone is shown in the gallery below, with the most recent photo first and working backward. Date of the photo is indicated in format yymmdd, if you’re curious.
With a good friend I also drove up and over the hills to the north — hills from which this panorama shot just below, which looks south,was taken — there’s a major road across the mountains there along which many homes and businesses were destroyed in this week last year. There is some rebuilding happening and many lots cleared and seemingly prepped for rebuilding — just as a small tree in the second gallery, which last year was burned, is putting out a second season of new leaves now. You might need to enlarge some of the gallery photos to even see the burned parts lower down: the scars all across our landscape are already fading compared to what they were a year ago, though the vacant lots remain quite visible and the scars in the community and landscapre are certainly real. I feel fortunate to live in a community which came together in mutual support when faced with such challenge and destruction. I hope our human family more broadly will find constructive and healing ways to bridge our sometimes seemingly unbridgeable divides, on a larger scale and for a longer time. Balance, moderation, and an honest acquaintance with global realities seem quite necessary for longer-term health and survival of our planet and species, from what I’ve seen and experienced around this beautiful complicated world we all call home. Peace – health – balance.
If you haven’t been to the San Francisco Bay Area yourself, and if you wonder why I’m always so happy to get home to it; or why visitors to SF and the bay area so often rave about it — a good place to start is to take in the photo just above. I’m still working my way through photos I took last year, before I headed over to Bangui, where I’ve been now for more than two months. I shot all of the photos in this post during a take-off from SFO en route to EWR last year, in May — but what I’m posting are just photos from the bay area and up til the time we reached the still snow-covered Sierra Nevadas. Since it was nearly a year ago, and this year hasn’t seen as much snow — just remember: it’s last year! Enjoy!
In November, I had the great pleasure of participating as a tour guide in the Forced From Home exhibit, which in 2017 toured five different cities in the west. This provided me with a chance not only to explore a few corners of Oakland more thoroughly than past visits, but also to meet a bunch of other MSF colleagues whom I’d probably never meet otherwise, unless we happened to be in the same mission at the same time. (Which was not the case for any of the interesting and fun fellow tour-guides I met during this stop on the tour.) The exhibit itself happened just across the street from Lake Merritt, right behind the beautiful Oakland Civic Auditorium aka Henry Kaiser Auditorium. The building itself has been closed for structural reasons for more than a decade – but the outside is still beautiful.
But the most important thing the tour gave me was a chance to share a more realistic taste of what life is like for many of the patients and communities we work with, than I can do just speaking in front of a classroom or to friends when I get home from an assignment. I’m always looking for ways to capture what’s similar and what’s different, between the wealth of most US communities and what’s normal for so many people where I work. People who grew up where and when I grew up take so very much for granted that they often seem to actually believe it’s a hardship to not be able to get the next release of an i-phone the day it comes out. (I know poverty is present in the US – but even the poorest states and towns will still usually have paved roads in the town center, a public electricity grid that’s very stable by global standards, a municipal water supply, local and national governments with sufficient income to maintain a fairly reasonable level of civil order, and so on.) In any case, I spent about 10 days sharing stories and examples of what displaced people all around the world might face – and it was an honor and a pleasure. It’s interesting to sort and look back at these photos and remember the questions my tour visitors asked, now that I’m back at work in a country with something like 25% of its citizens displaced from their homes due to violence.
I’ll let the photos, of the civic center and the tour, of downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt in all their glory, speak for themselves. (Do read the titles on the small photos from the auditorium, above – you’ll find how I titled this post.) And I’ll share three public links, the first about this year’s plans for the Forced From Home tour (it’s well worth a visit if it stops near you), the second an article about the exhibit which quotes me, and the third a recent public statement relating to the work I’m doing at the moment, to keep things in context. As you know I can’t really talk about the current work on this personal blog…but public statements are public statements.
On a warm, bright day last May, I for the very first time took the freeway exit which would lead me, Amy & Nancy to China Camp State Historic Park on the shores of San Pablo Bay in the northern reaches of the greater San Francisco Bay. All along the freeway north of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, one sees signs for state parks, state historic parks, significant historical or architectural landmarks…and too often one simply drives past with the internal monologue that says “I’ll visit next time.” It’s rather like New York City residents who see the Statue of Liberty out their subway window during elevated portions of the ride from Brooklyn into Manhattan but may actually visit the island itself only once a decade when visitors from out of town express an interest. In any case we three did finally visit on that bright morning in May, exploring a few short trails and enjoying the visitor center’s historical displays about the local shellfish harvesting done mostly by Chinese immigrants, and the local community and commercial culture that grew up around these camps. Yet another sad fact in the history of the western US is the sheer historical forgetfulness of too many anglo types around the essential, critical role played by so many non-anglo communities in making these places what they are today. This little park does its bit to remind us all, and I for one found it well worth a visit – try it yourself some time! And for anyone who’s curious: yes, I’m now back in the heart of Africa, writing this fairly close to the shores of the Oubangui river and I’ll just let you guess where that places me, if you don’t already know :-). At some point I might find a few things I can photograph and post from here, but for the time being I am still using my limited personal free time to dig through photos from some of my favorite outings during my extended inter-mission last year…I hope you enjoy them as they pop here every now and then in coming weeks, as the occasional lazy Sunday morning with sufficient internet bandwidth permits. Peace, health, thanks as always for visiting the site and sharing my photos with me … out.
Singing the mountains and valleys, trees and rocks, grass and flowers and even the loud wild turkeys that surround me in my adopted home here in the North Bay. As most readers and friends know, this adopted home town of Santa Rosa, where I’ve hung my hat any available moment between assignments or family-and-work trips elsewhere since 2014, was caught up in a devastating fire which then became a complex of several enormous fires in October of last year. As noted in a few previous posts, I’m trying to watch the process of decay and new growth which nature is pushing forward as the rainy season has rolled from November through now February here. We’re still far too short on rainfall for the rainy season, and must hope for many more inches in coming months if we’re to avoid further devastating fires and water restrictions later on. But for the moment, the grass has greened the hills and gentle steady rains have revived many plants whether burned, dormant, or both. Burned patches scar many of our mountains as seen from a distance, while burned trees and rocks remind us on walks and bike rides that we’re fortunate the fires ended when they did. I’ll soon be off to a new assignment, in a portion of Africa which rarely makes the global headlines, and where the opportunity and luxury of taking photos will rarely apply. So to remind myself of the beauty for which I’m so grateful every time I come home…I’m popping a whole ton of photos (yes, I know, way too many) up on here. Further down you’ll see galleries with tree-and-rock level detail of charred tree trunks still standing and bravely putting out new leaves and shoots; you’ll also see three months’ worth of photos of my fire-scarred rock in its gully and be able to compare the process of regrowth. It’s rather like watching the scar from my own small surgical procedure last December: each month, that scar seems to recede. Mine is only a small scar, unlike many of our mountainsides whose scars still astonish with their size and brownness, even in this relatively green time of the year. Enjoy the photos – click on individual pictures in each gallery and you might see why I included it once it’s a bit larger. (For example, a tree scarred at the bottom but still alive higher up.) Here’s to a year of healing wounds and finding new growth, for me and everyone reading this :-).
Look closely at this post’s first photo, and you will notice drier, browner patches in the mountains on the far side of the valley. Those are from the Tubbs fire, which in early October burned such a path of destruction in and around Santa Rosa. When that fire struck I was on the east coast visiting my mother, who’s had some health issues of her own. In early December, I got out to Anadel again with a good MSF friend & colleague (see photo below). She had recommended that I pick a specific view or area to photograph as I get out and about in Santa Rosa and watch the process of regrowth. (Anadel is the state park affected by the Nunns fire, which was separated at one point from the Tubbs Fire only by the valley you see in that first photo.)
I’ve followed her advice – did so, in fact, the morning we took this photo. Further down you’ll see a gallery of square photos, three in a row. You’ll notice a rock there with a clear burn mark across the moss: I plan to photograph this rock any time I’m up there in the coming year or so. As with these two, I’ll title the photos with dates, so I and any interested readers can watch the process of regrowth. It seems nature is faster at rebuilding — it seems to happen…well, naturally there. The many destroyed homes I bicycle past when going about my appointed rounds seem to still be under review by claims adjusters, and a friend who lost his home tells me there are various safety requirements to be met prior to fully launching a rebuild. (In particular around possible toxics from burnt homes in the soil, I think?) Still, though, I figure we’re likely to see a significant building boom by the middle of the new year.
The BBC tells me that Prince Harry (he of UK fame) recently did a radio show where he spoke with (among others) President Barack Obama, truly a class act whom I and millions of Americans miss greatly. Harry asked about finding hope when times are tough. I’ve found myself talking about the same topic a lot with friends at home — friends whose homes burned, friends who had to evacuate. All of them friends who, like me, find the dishonest bully currently in the white house quite distressing and depressing. I take comfort in signs of growth and connection where I can. I choose to believe that there is at least as much generosity and kindness in this country and this world, as there is sadness and loss. May 2018 prove me right for us all on this blue ball spinning through space :-).