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January’s West Coast Adventures: From Roses to Elephant Seals

The Rose Parade and a Daughter’s Pride

The morning of the judging

The morning of the judging

January started with a bang and by “bang” I mean bursting with pride as I sat with my family and watched my mother ride the float she designed and helped build in the 2015 Rose Parade aka “America’s New Year’s Celebration” on January 1st.

But let’s go back a couple of days…

My mother, at 82 years old and a 30+ year survivor of breast cancer designed the Rose Parade float for South Pasadena. And her dragonboat team, comprised wholly of breast cancer survivors would ride on the float.

My mother, and a team of loyal volunteers spent nearly 11 months building the float starting with nothing but a truck chassis. From there, layer upon layer of construction occurred to become the form we see in the last days of December – nearly complete with the exception of thousands and thousands (and thousands) of fresh flowers.

Every float in the Rose Parade must be covered in its entirety with natural plant materials. Every single inch!  When we arrived, volunteers from all over the community were working on the tedious task of gluing carnation petals, one by one, onto linoleum dragon “scales”. A single scale could take half an hour in the most experienced hands. But hundreds and hundreds of scales needed to be completed. It seemed impossible!

Carnation petals glued individually!

Carnation petals glued individually!

My extended family (which included more breast cancer survivors) flew in from all parts of the country to help in these final hours.  What an awesome reason to reunite.

In the days before the judging volunteers worked around the clock.  Every flower was placed in it’s own vial and shoved forcefully (and after an hour, painfully) into the dense foam surface.  My hands became bloodied with the effort and with the razor sharp holders for the baby’s breath flowers.  Talk about a paradox.  In the pink ribbon that stood high above the float and flanked it’s sides there were 13,000 roses alone.  Float-building is not for sissies!

My mother placed the name of her mother (also a survivor although she has since passed) which she carefully cut out of a sheet of seaweed, onto a petal-covered oar which would decorate the float. My grandmother’s name and the names of other proud women on the team that had been taken by the disease served as a memorial.

On the morning of the judging, still twilight, three judges arrived in convoy and made their marks while two dragonboats full of cancer survivors paddled in synch to a drum, just as they would the next day in the parade, heading down Colorado Avenue and inspiring thousands in person and millions domestically and internationally.

Seeing my mom, triumphant, waving to the crowd, whilst sitting with family that had come from near and far, was a beautiful moment.  I am proud to know her much less be her daughter.  It is a moment I will never forget.


A Trip North on California’s Coast

Near Monterey, California

Near Monterey, California

With New Year’s Day past and the parade over, Bear and I journeyed north along California’s amazing coastline.  It really has taken travel for me to appreciate the beauty that has always been in my own backyard.  It’s so easy to take it for granted.

Despite heavy rain and wind in the days prior, the road opened up to nothing but blue skies for our January drive.  On the cliffside curvy roads of Highway 1, we took in hundred-mile views of the Pacific.  Gray whales, migrating the 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea to Baja California were visible in abundance not far from shore.

In San Simeon, we watched gigantic elephant seals laze about on the beach. What a life — laying around,  cuddling indiscriminately with any neighbor while the warm sun beams on their velvety coats.  Occasionally, loud barks would emanate from what appeared to be blubbery corpses.  Sure, survival is hard in the ocean but my God these elephant seals take “Work Hard, Play Hard” to a whole new level.  In my next life…

The highlight of the coast was a day at Point Lobos, a State Reserve that is so pristine that one can actually imagine what the Earth was like before people ruined everything.

Here, pterodactyl-like pelicans dominate the skies.  Hundreds of seals bark like New York stock traders with no regard whatsoever for the peace and quiet that people are seeking in nature.  A small path lined by weathered and twisted cypress trees leads to an enchanted viewpoint where pistachio colored moss drapes over ancient branches like grandma’s lace over the bedside table.  Aquamarine blue waters envelop the silky black kelp that dances in the tide.  The beach is made of polished marble-sized stones of many colors. One could spend half the day combing through rocks admiring the unique colors and speckles and shapes.

Near Monterey, California

Near Monterey, California

Returning to the parking lot, a frail bearded man who looks like a wizard approaches Bear and asks if he’d like some shirts.

“My friend passed away and he was your size.  They’re all washed and in my car” he says as his eyes well up with tears.

“He was my best friend.”

I wanted to give him a hug but I’m as afraid of wizards as I am of nuns so I callously stood back and watched the story unfold.

This kind of thing happens all the time to Bear.  I’ve never met anyone who is so randomly and constantly bestowed with gifts from the universe.  People just seem to want to give him things.  I do not have the same experience in life and can only watch in awe.  I do wonder why this is.

After choosing five shirts, each carefully sealed in a large ziplock bag, Bear thanks the man and suggests that he go look at the Double Rainbow video.  The man, hard of hearing and ancient, did not strike me as a YouTuber.  But one never knows.

In Monterey that afternoon, Robin, one of Bear’s fans, gives us a tour of Monterey.  Although Bear and Robin have never met in person, the conversation comes easy. She drove us through the touristy Cannery Row and onward to the sea for sunset.  The abundance of life on the black jagged rocks at the shore is astounding.  Not one millimeter of rock is vacant with kelps and shellfish and plants of all kinds staking their claim of oceanfront property.  After a gorgeous sunset, Robin took us out to a lovely dinner, offering beautiful hospitality.

The next day we continued onward to Santa Cruz just a short drive away.  Memories of teenage sun-soaked days with friends flooded me as I sat on the Boardwalk pier eating a uniquely Californian Togo’s sandwich.  The bark of seals, the seagulls, and the faint smell of candy corn and taffy combined to remind me of times when my knees didn’t hurt and I wondered if the unreachable hunk Jerry Burch would ever like me back.

We had dinner with another friend of Bears who is working to protect the land in the vicinity of Bear’s property.  Her work is tireless and one is reminded that behind every inch of protected land in this country are people that fought like hell to make that reality.  Trying to protect the land for future generations and prevent the continuous logging that has been occurring, she is now struggling with getting help from politicians, a virtual minefield for the pure of heart and intention.  If any of my readers know Barbara Boxer or other powerful politician, she could certainly use a connection.  Please reach out.

While the coast was a wonderful change, we both looked forward to returning home.  Back roads through California’s rolling hills, neon green at this time of year, took us back to the place we love.

Photos of the Rose Parade and the California Coast (click to view):

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