Foggy, Windy, Point Reyes National Seashore

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Point Reyes Lighthouse, view from one of the 300+ steps leading down, down down
Point Reyes National Seashore

Here is a wild, windy, foggy side of California. The lighthouse at Point Reyes is closed when it gets too windy. This part of California is said to be the windiest, foggiest area in all of the Pacific. It is also a great place to whale watch. When I visited several days ago, I saw grey whales (in the waters below the lighthouse), elephant seals (at Drake’s Beach and Chimney Rock), birds (everywhere!), native wildflowers (along the Chimney Rock Trail) and tule elk (down by Drake’s Beach and out by Tomales Bay). What a trip!

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Finally, an upright photo of the lighthouse. Still foggy though.
 Jamaican Connection

An old name from my Jamaican history books surfaced here; it is that of the old English buccaneer (pirate), Francis Drake. Drakes’ Beach, where I saw elephant seals, and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the main thoroughfare leading into Point Reyes, are named for him. I wonder, do they know here in California, that he was an old pirate and slave trader and not simply, “the English explorer who landed off the Point Reyes coast and claimed California for the Queen?”


Check out the Chimney Rock section of Point Reyes Seashore to learn about America’s early Coast Guard program. You can also see elephant seals here. If it is a nice enough day and the fog lifts, you can see the Farallon Islands from the tip of the Chimney Rock Trail. (You will also see a lot of birds and wildflowers here.)

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Historic Life Boat Station at Chimney Rock



1-boat dock at Point Reyes, looking towards Drake's Beach #2
Boat dock at Chimney Rock, looking towards Drakes’ Beach










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I saw several tule elk down near Drake’s Beach and an entire herd crossing over the hills by Tomales Bay near sunset. (This sunset crossing may end up being translated into a painting!) You can learn about tule elk by watching this short video. Something I learned is that the tule elks’ mating behavior is very much like that of the elephant seals’. Who knew?


Writing an Artist’s Statement Is Hard!

Posing2For the past six weeks I’ve been slaving over my artist’s statement. It turns out you’re not a real professional unless you have one. I looked at other artists’ statements, and didn’t see any that I liked. They were so hifaluting (spelling?), filled with art-speak and treated me as if I was too much of an imbecile to figure out what their work was about. It was maddening.

An honest explanation of why you do what you do takes real brain work. You really have to turn your noggin on and think, think, think.The best analogy I can think of is the genius of a small child caught in a lie. You call them on it and ask, “Why did you do it?” And what do you get from the kid? A little face all scrunched up as (s)he tries to think up yet another lie to cover the first one. You watch that little genius face at work and you just know that you are about to get a fantastically unbelievable story about how they didn’t actually do what you just saw them do. It takes that kind of brain power to write you own artist’s statement. No easy task that. So here now, is my explanation of why I create and how and what I create. Your comments, suggestions, criticisms are all welcome.

*****          *****          *****

Color is My Personal Symbolism

Jamaica’s Blue Mountains did it and now the Bay Area’s ridges and valleys are doing it again! Colors unfold, vibrant and vivid, take hold and send me rushing to my studio where I feverishly squeeze paints from tubes, freeing images I have conjured up during my mountain and coastal hikes.

      Often you will find me sketching atop a grassy mountain knoll or on a dune at Ano Nuevo. From my perch I draw things I encounter during my hikes — plants, insects, birds or the scenery before me. If I sight a coyote, badger or mountain lion, I sketch as quickly as I can, trying to capture it before it heads for cover in the woods.

      In the studio, sketches transform into paintings: there are today’s golden California poppies, ruby throated hummingbirds and green, brown and gold Bay Area hills; and there are yesterday’s women ambling through Blue Mountain towns. The outcome is my highly texturized process paintings and detailed miniatures.

      Recycled bits of metal, scraps, feathers and straw are given new life in my works. I fold them into gessoed surfaces then bathe them in paints, pigments and inks. Some paintings are whimsical; others move from the realm of the real to the unreal. A woman, for example, can be transformed into a California Quail.

      Unsurprisingly, the unifying thread throughout my works is the sun infused colors of  the Caribbean and California. I could not have created these paintings without these two muses. I nod in appreciation to both.


Wilderness Training, Part II

How We Sleep at Night
How We Sleep at Night (Four to five of us will be sleeping under this tarp, sleeping bag next to sleeping bag.)

Day Two, Henry Coe State Park:

Michael and I are leading today’s hike. Our first stop will be China Hole which is about five miles from our current camp site, Manzanita Point. I’m not liking the title of this stop: It sounds very politically incorrect to me. I wonder what meaning lies behind the name?

Manzanita Point to China Hole will be a strenuous hike with an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet. Michael takes the lead for the first part of the hike; I will lead after the China Hole stop.

Here Michael and I are conferring about the route we will be taking. This is after Michael missed the first turn. Luckily, the sweep (me) was paying attention and so, saved us extra time and miles! Oh Alicia, maybe you oughtn’t to be so glib. Do you trust us to get you to tonight’s camp site after that first wrong turn?

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From left to right: me, Michael and Alicia
China Hole at last! This is a popular swimming spot at the bottom of a large canyon. This means we are going to have to climb out of that canyon and head uphill for a seriously steep climb. Oy vey!

A little out of the canyon, heading up towards Lost Spring, newts and banana slugs crossed our path. This guy was curled up, probably trying to get warm. I wonder what kind of snake it was and was it harmless? Unwilling to test our luck, we gave him/her a wide berth. Ben, our designated photographer, stopped to take a photograph while most of us kept on hiking. The terrain here was rough, rocky and steep.

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***           ***          ***

It is now lunchtime. We have stopped at a junction near Lost Springs, tonight’s camp site. The land has leveled out here. I hope there are no more hills to climb before we get to camp.

8 -2014-02-02 03.39.57About twenty minutes after leaving our lunch spot, we find water in what looks to be a cow trough. We fill our empty bottles, add a few drops of iodine to each, burp all our bottles and pack them away.

Back on the trail we go, water bottles jostling about in our packs. The iodine has begun the process of purifying the water. In about thirty minutes it will be ready for drinking. But this isn’t all the water we carry. We are also carrying three full water “bladders” that hold the water we will use for cooking and for cleaning our hands and pots. No need to purify these as the water, once boiled, will become germ free.

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Ten minutes after filling our water bottles, we realize we are lost. This camp site, Lost Spring, is aptly named: We cannot find it!

Here are Michael and I, checking our map to see if we can find the place, but no, it doesn’t seem to exist. Now we give the orders — We send two people to the left and two to the right, to scout. No sense all of us getting even more lost and tired. Leading is not all it’s cracked up to be. When you are in charge, everyone depends on you to find the wretched camp site that refuses to reveal itself.

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Ben, one of the four scouts, comes back with a photograph of an out of order outhouse. The rest of us joke that maybe we will have to sleep in it tonight.

11 -2014-02-02 06.23.25We eventually find the site which we blithely walked past earlier — It looked nothing like we expected it to. Now it’s time to set up our living areas, kitchen, sleeping, hand washing station, etc. Our regular routine is that two different people cook dinner each night. Tonight we’re having red quinona.

12 -2014-02-02 07.55.33It has gotten very dark. Here is Cordelia cooking by the light of her head lamp:

16 -2014-02-02 52- 07.54.58While the cooks cook, the rest of us pitch the tarps under which we will sleep. Each tarp sleeps four to five people.

13 -2014-02-02 10.08.57Next morning’s lesson, by Jason, is about risk management.

14 -2014-02-02 22.29.14Having cleaned up our camp site, we are ready to begin another day’s hike. Today we’re off to Coit Lake. And if you are wondering, nope, we are not responsible for the remnants of that fire in the photograph. Whoever made that fire is crazy. There has been a “no burn” policy in California for months now, because of the severe drought. We have only used our very controlled, “whisper stoves.”

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Ten of us are in the photo. The eleventh member of our group is taking the photograph. I am third from the right, in a red jacket and navy and red hat.

(You can read “Wilderness Training,” Part One, here.)

Except for the China Hole photograph, all photos, credit of Ben Njau.

Between Art and Nature

Photo credit: Mike Kepa, The San Francisco Chronicle, 2013

Earthscape Art by Bay Area Artist, Andres Amador

Some of my favorite art is temporary and outdoors. Such is the art of Andres Amador. Here he is at work by the seaside. Besides nature, the artist’s only tool here, is a leaf rake. His media is the beach/sand. Watch as he creates a mandala at Ocean Beach in this less than three minute long vimeo:

Note: Although the vimeo is only two to three minutes long, it took an entire day to create the work.

The Natives Are Here!

spying columbus moth_DxOFPNovember in the Bay Area means there will be California oak moths in the woodlands. There are a lot more of them this year than last year. This is good news for the birds and spiders that eat them. Silvery grey, about the size of a nickel, they are noticeable only when they flutter about. (They are camouflaged by the now silvery colored oak leaves.)

Where to See Oak Moths

If you are in the Monterey Bay area, the Elkhorn Slough Reserve is a good place to see California oak moths. The trails along the Long Valley, South Marsh and Five Fingers loops are home to oak woodland and forests. Wherever the woodlands are, you are sure to find oak moths. If you hike the South Marsh trail, stop by Hummingbird Island. It is a great place to see hummingbirds and sometimes, otters as well. Closer to the San Francisco peninsula, you will find oak moths in the Palo Alto Foothills and in the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve.

Moth photograph, credit Elkhorn Slough Reserve

Summer Along the Coast Road

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Old tool shed (Cascade Ranch, Pescadero)

Summer’s winding down here in Northern California. Soon we will be in the rainy season. Six months of dry weather followed by six months of potential wetness. Every year’s the same. This Mediterranean climate is a boon for flora and fauna. So much inspiration for my art is here. My spirit soars and my legs take flight. I like it here. I like it a lot!

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Pale blush of summer, Cascade Ranch
Tractors idle on a farm near Pigeon Point

Ubiquitous graffiti — If you look hard enough, you will find some. Just off Cabrillo Highway, where Pigeon Point Road begins, a narrow footpath leads down to the sea. Here, an unexpected find: graffiti by a tunnel under the road.

Tunnel leading to the ocean (Pigeon Point Road is above)

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