Todays Walk: Birds of Sunset Cliffs

“Birds know themselves not to be at the center of anything, but at the margins of everything. The end of the map. We only live where someone’s horizon sweeps someone else’s. We are only noticed on the edge of things; but on the edge of things, we notice much.”

― Gregory MaguireOut of Oz

The birds of Sunset Cliffs live on the edge. For so long I walked along, barely registering them except to restrain my once young dog from chasing them over the rocks into the ocean.

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Now that I’m on my own, they have moved from the periphery of my vision to the center. I look for the pigeons clustering along ledges in the cliffs. I watch for the flash white as gulls arc against the morning sky or see how close they will allow me to come before they leap off the edge of the rocks and dive to the water below.

The cormorants clustered on their own, proprietary rock just off shore,  sent me to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn why they were lifting their wings like Dracula preparing to swoop. Turns out, their feathers do not shed water. They are simply hanging themselves out to dry.

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I’ve begun to notice that the gulls are the early risers although very few of them appear much before  six o’clock in the morning. The pigeons emerge later, usually by 7 at one of the parking areas where a man brings bread. By mid morning, on a sunny day, all are resting on the ground along the cliffs, occupying spots reserved apparently, through some kind of avian negotiation, for their own kind.

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The pelicans command attention and resist my efforts to capture them on film while in flight. Many times, I stop walking and look up as a squadron passes overhead, chins tucked, wings barely moving, communicating so closely with the wind and each other that the rest of us are irrelevant. At rest, they are the guardians of the pier.

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Once I started paying attention, I started to see the precariousness of their lives. I’ve seen three gulls with one leg. I’ve seen young pigeons lose crumbs of bread to bigger, fatter, more experienced birds. I’ve watched winter storms drench the cliffs, roil the waves, toss the littler ones around like confetti and I’ve seen day after winter day how the gulls and the pelicans stare at the white caps of a winter ocean waiting for it to calm enough to fish.

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But I’ve also seen this: a pigeon couple courting and then coupling in the middle of long afternoon of blue sky and sun, seizing the moment and then turning as one to face the ocean and the sky and whatever the future holds.

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Today’s Walk: Morning Dilemma

“…I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” 
― E.B. White

Yesterday, before the mists rolled in, I rose and took my walk early. I didn’t want to stop. But I did. These moments nourished me for for the rest of the day and into today, as I sit watching the rain drip outside the window. I’m sharing a few hoping they do the same for you.

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Today’s Walk: Morning Light

“Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book

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These are from a walk I took Monday morning before I began to work or even think. A storm the night before was gone but left its mark. The sky and plants vibrated with light and color. A new garden of native plants to help preserve cliffs seemed to take hold. More cracks and fissures opened along the edges of the cliffs. The, gulls, cormorants and pelicans emerged from wherever they huddled for shelter and waited for the waters to subside so they could fish. The pigeons? They turned their backs on the ocean and looked for people bearing bread crumbs.

The day turned out to be a particularly good one.IMG_20160308_073123890_HDRIMG_20160308_065603626_HDR

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I’ve been walking for a year now, not every day and not always as far as I would like, but it is now part of me. I look for that moment each day when I can get outside, get my feet moving, let the thoughts in my head go for a while. Walking has become as important to my writing as sitting in the chair.

Along the way, I usually find at least one thing that catches my eye or snags my attention and sometimes I just want to share it as I find it. No long essay. No attempt to make meaning other than what is right there. If the moment captured is not from the day I post, it means I have been casting back in my memory and photo records of my walks and unearthed a nugget I think you’ll like. I invite you to comment and share your own photos of “Todays Walk.” You can post here or join me @EGMarro #todayswalk on Instagram, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Today’s Walk: Market Day in Ocean Beach

“An ordinary simple street is the mirror of the whole world!” 
― Mehmet Murat ildan

Too many days, too few walks. Then came the chance to walk to the post office to mail a book to someone and there it was: the mirror of the world. Music. Color. The smells of empanadas, tamales, ribs, herbs, lavender cream. Tastes of honey, cheese, pastries. Sounds of laughter, sales pitches called out as the parade passes by with their shopping bags. I’d forgotten it was Wednesday when the weekly Farmer’s Market sets up on Newport Ave.

The ordinary is extraordinary in Ocean Beach.

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i’ve been walking regularly for over a year now, not every day and not always as far as I would like, but it is now part of me. I look for that moment each day when I can get outside, get my feet moving, let the thoughts in my head go for a while. Walking has become as important to my writing as sitting in the chair.

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Today’s Walk: Everyday Magic

“The sun set, which is everyday magic…”
― Terry Pratchett

A long day inside and then one healing step after another along the cliffs into the end of it all. And then home.

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I’ve been walking regularly for over a year now, not every day and not always as far as I would like, but it is now part of me. I look for that moment each day when I can get outside, get my feet moving, let the thoughts in my head go for a while. Walking has become as important to my writing as sitting in the chair.

Along the way, I usually find at least one thing that catches my eye or snags my attention and sometimes I just want to share it as I find it. No long essay. No attempt to make meaning other than what is right there. If the moment captured is not from the day I post, it means I have been casting back in my memory and photo records of my walks and unearthed a nugget I think you’ll like. I invite you to comment and share your own photos of “Todays Walk.” You can  post here or join me @EGMarro #todayswalk on Instagram, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Today’s Walk: A Silver Saturday


The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea. 

-Isak Dinesen

Today’s walk yielded evidence of the cliff’s impermanence. A crack ran the length of the parking lot’s edge below a ribbon of red caution tape. Yet the sea drew us all today for one reason or another, some joyful, some not. Surf advisories only drew surfers and people to watch them. One guest attended a wedding on the end of his leash.

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I’ve been walking regularly for over a year now, not every day and not always as far as I would like, but it is now part of me. I look for that moment each day when I can get outside, get my feet moving, let the thoughts in my head go for a while. Walking has become as important to my writing as sitting in the chair.

Along the way, I usually find at least one thing that catches my eye or snags my attention and sometimes I just want to share it as I find it. No long essay. No attempt to make meaning other than what is right there. If the moment captured is not from the day I post, it means I have been casting back in my memory and photo records of my walks and unearthed a nugget I think you’ll like. I invite you to comment and share your own photos of “Todays Walk.” You can  post here or join me @EGMarro #todayswalk on Instagram, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunset 2013

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Sunset
Photo by Kit Guest, Ventura, CA, December 2013

As 2013 began to draw to its close, the skies over southern California began to light up. For several weeks in December, many of us would be on our way into the house to make dinner only to become spellbound. More than once, the early risers among us caught the moon fading into a glory of blues, golds, violet and, salmon. Pictures of sunsets and sunrises passed among friends on Facebook, were sent to relatives back east by email, or were snapped on smart phones and shared with any who happened to be nearby.

It wasn’t just the singular beauty of each moment that caught us by the heart and wouldn’t let go. It was the unprecedented abundance of such moments. Each night, each morning offered a new gift of light, a new chance to feel our bodies turn towards the light and stop, transfixed. The palm trees we passed every day without a glance went black against the sky as if scorched or danced in the softening light, fronds shining.

There is no such thing as an ugly sunrise or sunset. It’s just that the beauty is often more subtle, so subtle we may forget to look. When the skies lit up this month, some of us wondered what it meant — was it some new weather pattern? It’s possible. But it is also possible that the heavens were hurling bolts of beauty at us to make us stop, to make us look, to rob us temporarily of our speech and our thoughts which keep us from noticing the every day beauty that surrounds us. Look now, the skies seemed to be telling us. Look deeply.

Or, maybe this was 2013’s way of saying good-bye.

Happy New Year! Thank you to each and every one of you who has made my first year with this blog a joy. Here’s to healthy, happiness, and peace in the year ahead.

Sunset transforms a utility pole outside my house.

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A utility pole outside my house is transformed by the sunset

The next day, sunrise – a new day

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December sunrise, Point Loma, December 2103
Photo: Elizabeth Marro

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December sunrise, Point Loma, 2103
Photo: Elizabeth Marro

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December sunrise, Point Loma, 2103
Photo: Elizabeth Marro

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December sunrise, Point Loma, 2103
Photo: Elizabeth Marro

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December sunrise, Point Loma, 2103
Photo: Elizabeth Marro

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December sunrise, Point Loma, 2103
Photo: Elizabeth Marro

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December sunrise (and moon-set), Point Loma, 2103
Photo: Elizabeth Marro

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December sunrise, Point Loma, 2103
Photo: Elizabeth Marro

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December sunrise, Point Loma, 2103
Photo: Elizabeth Marro

Many thanks to my sister, Kit Guest, who provided the photo of the sunset from Ventura at the opening of this post. Her eye for beauty and gift for capturing it never cease to delight all who know her.  If anyone else has photos of sunrises or sunsets they would like to share, please give us all a way to look at them and appreciate them as the year comes to a close.

Hitting Bottom and Calling it Home

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Photo by Jim Mastro

Thirty one years ago, Jim Mastro applied for a job as a seal trainer at the San Diego Zoo. He didn’t get it so he went to work in Antarctica. For a year.

When I met Jim earlier this year at the Southern California Writer’s Conference, I knew none of this. If I had, I would have abandoned what I was there to do and hounded him for details. Luckily, I found out later that he provided them in his book, “A Year at the Bottom of the World.”

I didn’t know there was such a thing as ice envy until I read this book. There is, and I have it. It’s Jim Mastro’s fault. His writing and his photographs (all of those that appear in this post are his) capture the ferocity, the isolation, and the beauty of Antarctica. As Tina Fey says, “I want to go to there.”

A quick word here about Jim: he is the author of the Children of Hathor Trilogy, a gripping series of novels for people in the “middle grades” of school and for all others who love an inventive and well-written sci-fi adventure story. In the first book,“The Talisman of Elam,” hero Jason Hunter boards a space ship in his backyard and nothing is the same for him, his friends, or the planet, again. I’m not a kid (by a long shot) but I loved “Talisman” and I urge you to check it out along with its just-published sequel, “The Hand of Osiris,” here. Both books have been reviewed by librarian Ardis Francoeur and you can read what she thinks here:

Children of Hathor Review by Ardis Francoeur

Jim knows a bit about life-changing moments. One July Day, he’s boarding a jumbo jet in Los Angeles. Two days later, he’s in Christchurch, New Zealand climbing up the steps of a Hercules LC-130 with 34 other passengers. Which wasn’t easy since all of them were wearing three layers of clothing including a thick red parka and “bunny” boots, the equivalent of wearing giant and very sturdy marshmallows for shoes.

“My feet looked like they belonged to a cartoon character,” he writes.

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Photo by Jim Mastro

Six hours later, he realizes they are past the PSR point or the point of safe return. This means that the Herc has to make it to McMurdo Station in two to three hours or it will run out of gas somewhere over the icy ocean. They don’t issue life jackets on the planes that fly to McMurdo Station. They provide “exposure suits.”

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Photo by Jim Mastro

The Herc, equipped with skis, lands on the Ross Ice Shelf. Jim emerges into a world carved out of ice, surrounded by air so dry and cold it seemed like a “living thing that disliked people.” But it was also beautiful.

“The sky, the vast field of snow on which I was standing, even the ice crystals flickering in the air — all of it was blue. Blue in a million hues. In the distance, jagged, snow-covered mountains glowed pink and purple from a still-hidden sun. The sky was cloudless, the air dead calm, and the whole world encased in ice. It was more strange and beautiful than I could have imagined.”

From there, Jim takes us through a year at the bottom of the world season by season. The book is informed not just by that first year but also by his subsequent stints that, combined, add up to more than six years at the bottom of the world. In those six years he has:

  • Dived under the Antarctic ice and come face to face with seals who spend much of their time breathing through holes in the thick layer of frozen water above them
  • Held a baby skua and placed it back in its nest
  • Stroked the neck of a Wandering Albatross, a bird that stands three feet tall and has a twelve-foot wingspan
  • Defended himself against a bug-eyed seal, the name the researchers gave adolescent male seals whose hormonal surges produce the same unpredictable behavior common to teenagers of all species
  • Ordered a pizza – and got it delivered
  • Fallenl in love with the woman who is became his wife
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Photo by Jim Mastro

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Photo by Jim Mastro

He learned that in summer it is hard to get a minute alone on the most isolated continent in the world. That is when researchers from all over the world flood into McMurdo and work around the clock to take advantage of the fleeting season.

He also learned first hand what winter anger is, why “winter-overs” — those who spend the winter at McMurdo and the South Pole station — look a little wild-eyed when confronted with the arrival of spring and new faces. I’ve often wondered if I could handle day after day of darkness, not to mention the cold and storms that rush over the ice in winter.

“My sleep/wake rhythms were free-cycling. Periods of alertness and periods of extreme drowsiness would strike at any time, and the forced rhythm of meals and work had no noticeable effect. There was no day/night cycle to act as a cue, and my brain was improvising.”

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Photo by Jim Mastro

Sensory deprivation took its toll. He learned about “Big Eye” — sleeplessness. His dreams went wild and became a source of fascination. He spent time with colleagues talking about fresh fruit or fresh anything.

Reading this book was like traveling vicariously through the seasons. I fell into Jim’s account and the photographs which display the harshness and beauty of the environment while also giving a good idea of the people and daily life at McMurdo when he worked there. Things have changed since then and he writes about that too. In fact, he shared some insights with me in an interview which you can find by clicking the link below.

Interview With Jim Mastro

Learn why no one killed the spider they found in some lettuce. Jim also talks about how his experiences may have influenced the characters or stories in his trilogy. “A Year at the Bottom of the World,” can still be found at Amazon and at BetterWorldBooks.com among other sources. I’d like to say I’d lend you mine but I’m never giving it up.

The drawing for Jim’s books has been done and two lucky readers now have their copies. If you’d like copies for yourself or for a friend here is where you can find them http://www.amazon.com/Jim-Mastro/e/B001IYZB1K. Thank you for stopping by!