Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On the Grounds at St. Francis Retreat

Waning Gibbous Moon

A few miles south from my camp, up in the foothills of the Gabilan Range, is the St. Francis Retreat, a Franciscan Brothers refuge from the nutso world of 21st century America. Located on 73 acres of prime oak and buckeye forest overlooking San Juan Valley, the facility was once part of Rancho San Justo, a Spanish land grant dating back to the old mission days. The Franciscans purchased these acres for $100,000 in 1947 and converted the existing ranch house into a conference center and housing for the bros. The original house burned down in 2006. Three years later, a new facility was built. I have a love/hate relationship with the place, as I do with most things churchy, but I love the grounds.

Interestingly, the St. Francis Retreat web site describes history in the region as beginning in 1795. The Amah Mutsun branch of the Ohlone people, who lived and loved here for thousands of years prior to the friar, are not even worth a brief mention. Insert frowny face here.

Anyway, that atrocity aside, the retreat grounds are open to the public for hiking and contemplation as long as you check in with the nice office folks and state your peaceable intentions in advance. Rain was forecast starting at noon today, so I went up there this a.m. to explore a little bit before the front came in. This is the love part.

I started my walk at the koi pond near the office parking lot and made my way toward Flint Lake, a small but pretty sag pond along the San Andreas Fault. The fish in the pond are colorful and active, protected from marauding birds and raccoons by tough synthetic nets. The lake is bigger than I remembered it plus it features a very cool bridge leading to a little shrine to Our Lady of Fatima - all good stuff.

The netting keeps the birds out.

Time to reflect.

I have seen the bridge.

Our Lady of Fatima and friend.

A short walk from the shrine is a first-rate gazebo overlooking the valley (see, distinguishing this place from all the other run of the mill, gazebo-less Roman Catholic land holdings in California.

For a better view, check out The Gazeebook!

In front of the gazebo is another fine place to take in a long view.

Having bagged yet another gazebo, I continued walking on the Brothers' Trail toward Ofelia Road, where I was treated (and re-treated) with animal sightings: a rafter of wild turkeys and a small herd of whitetail deer. The turkeys were cautious but not skittish. The deer were both skittish and cautious.

As long as I stood still, the turkeys just slowly made their way toward the trees.

These guys bolted in a matter of seconds.

Up on Ofelia Road, I found a cabin named after Leo of Assisi, the "favorite disciple, secretary, and  confessor" of St. Francis. Brother Leo died in Assisi, Italy in 1270 A.D.

Ofelia Road.

Brother Leo's Cabin.

The rest of the hike was on The Loop, winding through the oak and buckeye forest around the edge of the property back to the parking lot. Some nice gentle climbs made my heart beat a little faster and stole my breath away as the rain started to arrive. I made it back to the truck with just the beginnings of a wet jacket. This was an hour and fifteen minutes well spent on the first Wednesday of the year.

The Loop Trail in winter.

Some kind of mushroom.

Nearing the end of The Loop.

Peace, Love, and Well Being,

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Post Christmas Funnies

Waxing Gibbous Moon

I used to enjoy Christmas a lot when I was a kid living with my big family. It was magic and mysterious and fun. As an adult, much of the shine has faded, but I still get a kick out of some of the holiday rituals. With the advent (pun intended) of the internet and social media, one of my favorite things about the season is receiving Christmas cartoons and images in my inbox from friends. Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

Peace, Love, and Tinsel,

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Winter Solstice Illumination

Waxing Crescent Moon

The beginning of something big.

The Mission San Juan Bautista was founded in 1797. Like many other structures and monuments around the world, the church was built with cosmology in mind, aligned with the path of the Sun on the Winter Solstice. At sunrise on December 21, the first rays of the winter Sun shine directly down the center aisle and through a large second tier window, brightly illuminating the pathway leading to the altar and projecting the light from the window onto the back wall.

The church has started to light up. Excitement is building.

Local indigenous elders Elayne "Laynee" Silva Reyna and Chief Sonne Reyna first brought this phenomenon to the attention of the community several years ago. In conjunction with parish priests, they have been leading a Winter Solstice Illumination ceremony for the general public ever since. On a clear, crisp morning like today, the Sun provides quite an entertaining and inspirational show. It builds slowly starting about 6:45 a.m. and by 7:10 or so, the altar and center aisle are bathed in brilliant light.

It feels like a visitation from an old friend.

Eventually, the beam is brilliant and the church is full of light. People are transfixed.

You would have to be pretty jaded not to be positively and happily affected by the illumination experience at the Mission San Juan Bautista. More people show up for this special happening than for any Mass, even Christmas and Easter. The intensity and quality of light is never exactly the same, but it never disappoints. This morning brought a welcome, much-needed, and brilliant dawn, the start of a new loop around Earth's star. 

Creator bless us all.

Peace, Love, and Light It Up,

Friday, December 15, 2017

San Juan Bautista Annual Bonfire

Waning Crescent Moon

Every year close to the Winter Solstice and Christmas, the town of San Juan Bautista stages a giant bonfire in an empty lot next to the Mission. It is a very big deal in a very small burg. There is a modern (last hundred and fifty years) historical significance that has to do with some local old timers whose names are not very familiar or interesting to me. And there is an older, traditional, indigenous ritual also associated with it.

The former is nice. It commemorates people who contributed to their community in positive ways in their lifetimes. The latter, however, is more to the point of the present moment and its relationship to eternity. The traditional winter bonfire at the end of the Earth's trip around the Sun represents letting go of the events and any associated drama from the past year as well as a renewal of energy and conviction for the next one. It's kind of a reset, a pause to reflect in the flames on the truth of the eternal present. I can dig it.

So here are some bonfire pictures. I titled them not so much out of any metaphysical purpose or nuance but more like momentary whimsy. Call them whatever you want if any of them catch your fancy.

Early On












Peace, Love, and Letting Go,

Friday, December 8, 2017

Elkhorn Slough

Waning Gibbous Moon

A twenty-five minute drive west from San Juan Bautista is the entrance to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Operated by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the 1,700 acre reserve has five miles of hiking trails within one mile of the Pacific Ocean at Moss Landing, CA.

On a good day, visitors on the hiking trails might see a harbor seal or a sea otter, a heron or a pelican, a turkey or a bobcat, any number of ducks or gulls, and perhaps an a occasional deer. Today on a four-mile afternoon walk, I saw everything but the seals, otters, and deer. See the turkey?

The bobcat did not let me get close enough fast enough to take its picture. It calmly stood up from its trail side sunbathing position and slipped away into the bushes. That bobcat  sighting was much more of a thrill than the turkey sighting was.

Heading past the barns toward the Main Channel, I just made it across the bridge on the South Marsh Loop before high tide covered it up.

From there I walked toward Whistlestop, over the tracks to Hummingbird Island.

Hummingbird Island is right on the Main Channel of the slough. The island is my favorite spot on the Reserve because it is the most removed from the busy, civilized visitor center. It has lots of trees and cool places to sit and watch the rising tide make ripples on the water's surface.

An energetic team of high school kids was busy collecting samples and taking pictures for their school research project on the South March Loop. I didn't disturb them other than to ask briefly a few questions about what they were doing. They acted like they had been conditioned not to talk to strangers and their teachers were so young I could barely tell them apart from the kids.They did not talk much either. I must have been a genuine fossil to them - it is sort of surprising they didn't try to collect me and stick me in a vial. They were more than a little shocked, though, when I passed them on the way back. They walk slow - like really old people walk.

I wish I had a picture of the bobcat. That guy was really cool.

Peace, Love, and Sloughs,