Monday, December 28, 2015

CALIFORNIA'S HIGHWAY 1: From San Simeon to Big Sur

California coast near San Simeon
California’s Route #1, from San Simeon to Big Sur, is the quintessential California coast highway, winding its way north from a gentle plain, up and around steep cliffs, across tall bridges, through deep valleys, and at Big Sur, into a redwood forest. In the second week of December, I drove Highway 1 on my way to and from a writing workshop in Jules Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Although I have driven this road before, I am always amazed by the sheer grandeur of nature.
Male elephant seals competing for territory
At the southern end of the route, near San Simeon, hundreds of elephant seals live along the coast, coming onto the beaches to rest and breed. Elephant seals are enormous (weighing up to 8000 pounds!) and get their name from the males' long snouts. In December and January males joust for dominance and the opportunity to breed with females. On the afternoon that I stopped at the overlook I heard the loud roars of males declaring their territory and watched as they pushed and shoved one another in the shallow water.

Elephant seals: mothers and pups enjoying a sunny day
The beach is just below the parking area so it is possible to see the animals at fairly close range and they are seemingly oblivious to people watching them.
Coastline south of Big Sur
After San Simeon the road becomes steeper as it hugs the cliffs and canyons. I stopped several times at overlooks to appreciate the view. I was hoping to see California condors, which frequent the coast and feed on carrion washed up on the beaches. Just as I passed the turnoff for Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, several condors suddenly appeared over the highway, gliding on their nearly ten-foot wide wingspan.
California redwoods in Jules Pfeiffer State Park
Finally, I arrived at Jules Pfeiffer State Park and Big Sur Lodge, nestled in the redwoods along the Big Sur river, where I spent the weekend at a writer’s workshop organized by the Henry Miller Memorial Library along with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I was one of the faculty at this annual writing workshop. (Writer Henry Miller (1891-1980) lived in Big Sur between 1944 and 1962. The library is worth a stop if you are driving up the coast.)

Meeting room and swimming pool at Big Sur Lodge
From my cabin deck I had a lovely view of the grounds, where deer were so comfortable that they barely noticed guests walking by! Delicious meals were served in the Lodge dining room. During a break in the schedule we visited the amazing gift shop at Nepenthe and then had coffee on the gorgeous outdoor patio at Ventana, a resort and restaurant nearby.
Fawn on the grounds at Big Sur Lodge
The visit to Big Sur brought back memories of my honeymoon in the park nearly fifty years ago. The difference is that for our honeymoon we slept in a tent in the campground! But the spectacular scenery and closeness to nature is still the same. It will always be one of my favorite places.

Monday, December 21, 2015


With best wishes for a
Our beautiful ceramic Christmas ball made in Deruta, Italy, is a souvenir that reminds us of our travel in this past year and will decorate our Christmas tree for years to come. I hope that your holiday will provide you with many happy memories as well.

Monday, December 14, 2015

AFRICAN SAFARI in 1974, from the Memoir of Carolyn T. Arnold

Carolyn and Guide on the Equator in Kenya
My husband Art’s Aunt Carolyn led tour groups all over the world, and in the summer of 1974 she took a group to Africa. While much of Africa has changed since then, the thrill of seeing wild animals in their native habitat will always be the same. Here are a few of her photos and a description of part of their trip.
One year our group went on an animal safari in Africa. We visited Johannesburg and Nairobi, but mainly we stayed at safari camps out on the wide, wide plains. Most of the camps were in Kenya. We saw countless animals, wild and free, protected in their native habitat. We were not allowed out of the van, but the top was raised so we might photograph those animals which came close. The driver’s keen eyes could spot a group of animals long before we could see them–giraffes, antelope, elephants, leopards, lions, zebras, buffaloes, impalas and many more.
Safari Van
We stayed one night at Treetops, built high on stilts and bedrooms at second story level. A balcony extended across the front of the building, so we could sit there and watch the animals come out from the trees to the water hole, mainly in the evening. We were led a short distance from our van by a man with his rifle, in case some animal ventured into our path. Also, he pointed out, there were camouflaged niches which we could dash into if necessary.
We also were warned about the monkeys. “Hang onto your purse or anything you are carrying,” the guide said. “The monkeys, always curious, will pick it up in a hurry.” As we were sitting on the balcony that afternoon, Hazel opened her purse for a handkerchief. Quick as a flash, a monkey climbed down from the roof overhead and snatched it away. She should have let the monkey have it, but involuntarily, she reached out her hand for it. So she got a monkey bite on her arm. It was nothing serious, but how astonished she was.
During the night, a mighty shaking of the building aroused us. Nothing more happened and all was quiet. In the morning, we found out that a rhinoceros had become caught between the poles supporting the tree house and was wildly shaking its horns to free itself.
An African safari is well worth a visit; also sunrise over Mount Kiliminjaro.
Masai Warriors
Perhaps the original intrepid tourist was Carolyn T. Arnold, my husband’s aunt.  A single school teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, she began traveling abroad when she was in her forties, beginning with a bicycling trip through Ireland in 1950.  She went on from there to spend a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Wales, to more trips to Europe and beyond, and eventually became a tour leader, taking all her nieces and nephews (including Art) on her travels.  When she retired from teaching, she wrote of her experiences in a memoir called Up and Down and Around the World with Carrie.  Today, as I read of her travels, I marvel at her spirit of adventure at a time when women did not have the independence they do today.  You can read of some of her other adventures in these posts on this blog:  October 21, 2013; October 7, 2013; July 29, 2013.March 10, 2014, January 12, 2015, June 8 and 15, 2015; August 17 and 24, 2015; October 26, 2015.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Walking the Trails in JOHNSTON MILL NATURE PRESERVE, Durham, NC

Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Durham, North Carolina
Our visits to North Carolina to celebrate Thanksgiving with our daughter and her family always include walks in the beautiful forests near their home in Chapel Hill. This year one of our walks was in the Johnston Mill Nature Preserve near Durham. This 296-acre preserve includes five well marked trails that make their way through a variety of habitats from mature forest to open brush land. Each trail is named and color coded with markers along the way.
A variety of fungi could be seen along the trail.
We began by following the Robin’s Trail which goes along the course of New Hope Creek. We then made a diversion onto the Bluebird Trail which ran along the high line and then joined the Old Field Bluff trail before coming back to the Robin’s Trail and the return to the parking lot.
By late November, the branches are bare.
It was a beautiful fall day with sunshine filtering through the bare branches of the tall trees. There were a few other people hiking and walking their dogs, but the trails were not crowded and it was the perfect place to spend a few hours and enjoy the peace and beauty of nature.
As we walked along the high line path we heard flocks of small birds foraging nearby.
The Johnston Mill Nature Preserve is managed by the Triangle Land Conservancy.
For a map, directions, and more about the Johnston Mill Nature Preserve go to: 
A blue coded sign marks the Bluebird's Trail

Monday, November 30, 2015

LEONA CANYON: a Pleasant Walk in the Hills of Oakland, CA

Leona Canyon Trail
Leona Canyon, popular with runners, bikers, dog walkers and hikers, is one of many trails in the Oakland hills in California and one of my favorite places for a short walk. Descending through oak woodland and open space along a seasonal creek, it is a pleasant escape from nearby urban life. The trail head is close to the fields where my granddaughter’s soccer team practices, so on the occasions that I drive her to practice, while she and her teammates are honing their soccer skills, I have enjoyed a walk in the canyon.
Trail head near Merritt College
Leona Canyon Regional Open Space Preserve is a  pristine wooded canyon that is protected in a 290-acre parkland near Merritt College in Oakland. A range of habitats in the canyon support a variety of wildlife ranging from hummingbirds and hawks to butterflies, lizards and snakes. On my recent visit I spotted a flock of robins, which I assume were on the way south for the winter. More than 150 different kinds of plants grow in the canyon ranging from ferns in the shady spots to native grasses in the sunnier areas.
An introduction to Leona Canyon Creek wildlife

The Leona Canyon trail is a one-mile round trip. For a trail map, a teacher’s guide to the plants and their use by the Native Americans who once lived there, and other information about Leona Canyon go to .
The hills above Leona Canyon in the late afternoon sun

Monday, November 23, 2015

KENYAN SAFARI: Maasai Mara National Park, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Gretchen and Safari companions, Kenya
Last month my friend and fellow children’s book writer Gretchen Woelfle flew to Nairobi, Kenya, and joined a group of volunteer doctors and nurses working with the organization Preventing Cervical Cancer (PINCC) on a medical mission. See her post last week for her report. Then she went to on a safari to see African wildlife. Here's what she saw:

Following my two weeks as a medical volunteer I booked a five-day safari. How could I go to Kenya and not see the world-famous Maasai Mara National Park?  A few hours out of smoggy Nairobi, down into the Great Rift Valley, we left the paved road and proceeded down a lumpy bumpy rocky road. Our van driver didn’t feel the need to slow down so we bounced and jounced for a couple of hours farther into the country. 
When we saw our first giraffes we screeched to a halt and gawked out the windows.  A small herd of zebras down the road brought another shout from us to stop.  Wildebeests, ditto.  We wanted to stop for every animal, but our driver assured us we’d see a lot more up ahead. He was right.
For two nights we stayed in platform tents, with bathroom attached, near the entrance to the national park.
Gretchen and Maasai family
We visited a traditional Maasai village, where (for a fee) the men welcomed us with a leaping dance, then gave us a tour of the village including the interior of a dark adobe hut, and the corrals for their goats, sheep, and cattle. Exiting the village we encountered the “gift shop” – women selling beaded jewelry, blankets, and carving. I doubt if any of it was made in that village, but I couldn’t resist a bright red Maasai wool blanket. (It’s now a tablecloth.)
We first entered the Maasai Mara near sunset – jostling over roads and dirt tracks. Drivers kept in touch with each other via radios, and a call from one would have us streaming down the road to reach something special. That evening we saw our first lioness – calmly sitting in the grass while her four cubs scrambled and played nearby. They are indeed regal animals.
First thing next morning we saw another lioness, finishing a meal of a cow (a weak one left behind by Maasai herdsmen,) with two cubs grabbing a bite or two. After she had dragged most of the carcass across the road, three vultures descended and attacked the two legs left behind. A dozen more, then another dozen swooped down to tear apart the stomach. Four different vulture species came for breakfast.
On that day-long trip and another at daybreak the following day, we saw all the usual suspects: elephants, hippos, elands, impalas, Cape buffalo, hyenas, baboons, giraffes, zebras, warthogs, crocodiles, eagles, tiny Thompson’s gazelles, the hind end of a (shy) leopard sleeping in a burrow by a river, and, from a distance, a pack of African wild dogs. These are said to be the most dangerous of all, because they will attack humans.  They live in the hills and rarely come to the plain, where rangers shoot them on sight.  
Gretchen and her guide, Kelvin
At Lake Naivasha we took a (smooth and gentle) boat ride and saw more species of beautiful birds than I can remember, a flock of flamingos, and two lolling pods of hippos. On my last day I longed for a more active outing and found it in nearby Hell’s Gate National Park. Kelvin, my friendly guide, and I cycled five miles down a canyon where I got fairly up close and personal with some zebras, warthogs, impalas, and even giraffes.  After five miles, we hiked down into a deep gorge and along a stream bed. A sign had warned us about pesky baboons, but we only encountered two well-behaved hikers.
At the end of that same day, I was in the air, beginning the twenty-four hour trek to Los Angeles. I felt like a time traveler, whisked from the timeless world of the African savanna, back to twenty-first century urban life.
I booked with Big Time Safaris Ltd., which offers a wide range of prices, schedules, and customized itineraries.

Monday, November 16, 2015

VOLUNTEERING IN KENYA: Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Muhoroni, Kenya. Gretchen holding a beautiful baby before the mother was examined.
Last month my friend and fellow children’s book writer Gretchen Woelfle flew to Nairobi, Kenya, and joined a group of volunteer doctors and nurses working with the organization Preventing Cervical Cancer (PINCC) on a medical mission. Her report on her experience is below.
We set up shop in the maternity wing in the second hospital we worked at, in Muhoroni.
People have adopted a solemn tone when asking me about my recent volunteer work in Kenya with Preventing Cervical Cancer.  They tend to be surprised when I say, “It was really fun!”  I think they expected “difficult” or “eye-opening” or “inspiring.” But overall, it was great fun

I traveled to West Africa several years ago, giving author talks at international schools in three countries. I’d met many interesting ex-pats, but few Africans.  This time I wanted to connect with the local people. The PINCC project seemed just the ticket. The fact that we were not a group of foreign experts coming in and taking over, but training the resident staff to run their own treatment programs also appealed to me.
Nursing students at Nyabondo joined us for lunch.
It was a novelty for non-medical me to work with a great team of American doctors and nurses for two weeks in two hospitals in western Kenya. I watched them teach their African colleagues to screen for cervical cancer and treat abnormal results. I supplied and checked all the curious bits and pieces they needed each day in the examination rooms, and I even viewed a few cervixes myself.  
But best of all were my interactions with patients: interviewing the English-speaking women who came for screening – usually for the first time – and comforting them during their exams and treatments. With illustrated charts I explained to patients about HPV (human papillomavirus) and how cervical cancer can be prevented. I learned the women’s results when I entered the data into our computer.
Kenyan countryside near Muhoroni
Getting a glimpse of Kenyan village life, walking down lanes past small homesteads in the evenings while attracting a Pied Piper-esque entourage of children, seeing the local medical staff beam as they received their PINCC certifications to continue their work after we left – was all part of the fun.

Another delight: I spent two evenings speaking to several groups of children at the Catholic compound in Nyabondo, with its hospital, nursing school, two boarding schools, a day school, and a home for disabled children. Two overflowing classrooms of girls listened enthusiastically as I talked about my work as a children’s author.  After I read my latest book, Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence, about an 18th century Massachusetts slave who won her freedom, they had lively comments and questions.  And I was mobbed in a most friendly way when I stood among them for a photo op.  The next evening I gave a similar presentation to a group of ten lovely disabled boys.
Gretchen with schoolgirls at Nyabondo.
 "I felt like a celebrity!"
Yes, Kenya with PINCC was eye-opening and inspiring, and occasionally difficult, but the pure pleasure of the adventure surprised and delighted me. 

Note: Preventing Cervical Cancer, a non-profit in Oakland, California, has been working in Latin America, Africa, and India since 2005. Volunteers travel to each site three times, six months apart, after which local staff are certified to conduct their own treatment and training programs.  At present the group is running projects in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua. For more information see

At Nyabondo, new friends pause for a chat and a photo.