Feb 28, 2009

The Last Daffodil Party

Merlin sniffs daffodils
Each year Merlin eagerly looks forward to the annual early spring Daffodil Labyrinth Party in Mendocino. As a four month old puppy, the weekend was Merlin's first big overnight road trip. We packed his mobile dog house with familiar blankets, squeaky toys, water dishes, and puppy food for three days and headed north.

Baby Puppy MerlinPuppies have tiny bladders. We stopped every half hour for a stretch, sniff, and drink. When I was a kid, our family spaniel only rode in the car on her way to the veterinarian, so the one time we tried to take her on vacation to a friend’s cabin up north she howled and puked all the way there. And back. Since here in California we drive everywhere, including to our walks, I knew any California canine companion would need to be road-ready and car friendly. We collected puppy Merlin from the Valley of the Moon when he was six weeks old and he’s been riding around joyfully ever since. Merlin adores his MerlinMobile and is happy to sit in it even when it’s parked in the driveway all day. One of his top favorite phrases is: In the car. Other favorites include What’s this?, Say please, and Oops! (especially when exclaimed from the kitchen). And of course, Road Trip! He rides about, senses thrust out the window, brain expanding and tracking. How astonishing to watch the earth shift and change around you with no knowledge of maps or countries. Merlin is like an early explorer, setting out for new worlds, guided by the sun and stars (and his chauffeur's GPS). He inspires me to discover new places, take the back roads, stop often for a stretch and a sniff.

Merlin in Horse LabyrinthThe three hour drive threads through the ranch land north of San Francisco and west along US 128 through Boonville. Boutique vineyards are nudging out sheep ranches so we have to be sharp to spot spring lambs. Merlin’s got a thing for sheep. He’s not sure what it is, but he’s supposed to do something about them. We slow down so he can give them the Intense Herding Stare silently from the safety of his MerlinMobile. He also plays close attention to the Anderson Valley Brewing Company. He likes microbreweries. They serve french fries.

Merlin sniffs labyrinth daffodilsThe annual daffodil party has been hosted since 1987 by Alex and Joan Champion on their property down a remote dirt road. The festive weekend gathering in early spring celebrates labyrinth walking, feasting, art, music, and travelers’ tales from the road trip of life. It’s our family reunion. One year there was a total lunar eclipse.

Alex is a labyrinth builder. He creates outdoor earthworks by digging and mounding dirt, engineering for drainage, wildflowers and beauty. Merlin supervises LBC labyrinth His installations include public parks, private homes, schools, and conferences from hillside rock gardens to painted playgrounds in Chinatown. Merlin has helped with several, including the 80 foot installation at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. There are five earthworks on his property in Mendocino and in early spring a verdant carpet of native grasses flows around river stones and quartz rocks anchoring the pathways. Dozens of daffodils pop from the premier seven circuit Cretan Classical labyrinth.

Puppy Merlin herds daffodil labyrinthThis was Merlin’s first labyrinth. As a puppy, he could barely see over the foot high mounds from the path. He followed us boldly, at our heels, right where he wanted us. Puppy Merlin runs daffodil labyrinth Round and round we trotted, following the path and other walkers right and left, to arrive in the center. Merlin immediately claimed the grassy knoll center as the best place from which to herd the entire troupe of walkers. He tracked everyone but when I ran along the outermost ring he shot towards me, hopping straight across the labyrinth, leaping from bank to bank. He bounded the mounds, tagged me with his nose, and bounded back to the center. Puppy Merlin runs daffodil labyrinth Everyone cheered and a new game was born. Merlin spent much of the next two days running around the pathways and leaping from mound to mound. Thus his first and lasting love of labyrinths.

Joan's LabyrinthLast year’s Daffodil Party was cancelled because Joan Champion had just passed away. She had battled, and beat, cancer for a year but the treatments wore her down and she transitioned into pure spirit on the weekend of the annual daffodil party she loved so much. This year we gather again at her home in Mendocino to celebrate her life, and each other’s precious company. One last daffodil party.

Of all the labyrinths Merlin has visited from Grace Cathedral to Detroit, the Champions’ meadow earthwork daffodil labyrinth is his favorite. Come walk with Merlin!
Merlin trots daffodil labyrinth

Feb 1, 2009

Superbeach Sunday

Pt Reyes Merlin
While most people celebrate Superbowl Sunday by gathering in front of a large screen TV to cheer their teams, half time, and million dollar commercials, like Apple’s Macintosh Computer’s 1984, Merlin looks forward to wide empty roads to interesting places like Point Reyes National Seashore.

Just north of San Francisco in Marin County is a world of redwoods, rolling ranch land, and Pacific Ocean beaches. So with hot coffee in travel mugs and fresh pastries from the Marin Farmers Market, we set off for a day outing, a road trip mini.

Merlin ProfileIt’s a winding road to the coast, and the Merlin Mobile rear seat windows go all the way down to avoid chin bumping. Merlin has developed a special stabilizing tripod sit. He can lean into curves while keeping his chin to the rim. His nose telescopes out the window in focused drive-by sniffing, sifting roadside rodents from pastureland cattle and deer. Even I can smell skunks and horse stables. Cows are his favorite. His herder brain sparks, his ears enlarge, his nose extends, and his head stretches out the window, pinpointing the herd. He knows he’s supposed to do something about cows and looks smug to be herding them from his car. Drive-by herding. Got them right where he wants them.

Highway 1 doglegs through Point Reyes Station, passing master black and white landscape photographer Marty Knapp in his gallery, our favorite west Marin artist. Continuing west towards Inverness, we skirt Tomales Bay, cross the San Andreas Fault, and drive uninterrupted onto another continent. The land feels wild and ancient, shifting into undulating hills and historic dairy farms, still inhabited, to Merlin’s delight. Ranch parcels have alphabetical letter names, as if settlers were so exhausted by the time they reached this far west, they just sat down and declared, “M”.

Merlin Tree Tunnel
Radio antennas shimmer into focus. We drive through the magnificent Monterey cypress tree tunnel to the 1929 “G” Ranch RCA / Marconi Wireless Station, the most successful and powerful ship to shore station on the Pacific Rim. Merlin prances through the dappled light, enjoying the grand trees, sniffing for deer and watching for squirrels. Low winter rim light ignites the southwestern edge of the ancient, wind twisted cypress. We have stepped into another land, another time. We dance in the empty road.

Pt Reyes Beach SurfCattle give way to oysters at Drake’s Beach Visitor Center. We hop out to see if winter low tides have revealed Sir Francis Drake’s plaque proclaiming this land for England. While circumnavigating the globe raiding Spanish galleons, Drake camped here in the summer of 1579 to careen the Golden Hinde to repair her hull. A notorious Sea Dog, polite speak for authorized Elizabethan pirate, Admiral Drake traded with the local Miwok Indians, and claimed all the land east for Queen Elizabeth. He named it Nova Albion, Portus Novae Albionis, the Port of New England. If anyone had returned to defend his claim, we could all be speaking British, instead of English. Meanwhile, the Spanish crept north from Mexico, naming Drake's Beach la Punta de los Reyes, the Point of the Kings, in honor of their shipwreck date, the feast day of the three wise men, January 6, 1603. Merlin’s not a digger so no plaque discovery today.

Tule ElkThere are several dozen cars in the visitors parking lot and a few people waiting for the shuttle bus to take them to the lighthouse for whale watching. The ranger mentions that Sundays are usually overflowing with hundreds of cars and we smile in our Superbowl strategy cleverness. With a NPS map of dog friendly beaches we drive on. Passing a herd of Tule Elk posing by an elk crossing sign, we head west for South Beach.

Merlin romps joyfully along the tideline, dabbling his paws in the darting waves. The steep beach makes for dramatic crashing surf, and dangerous undertows. We know better than to swim in the Northern California Pacific where even surfers wear wetsuits. We also know to never turn our back on the ocean but in a moment of unguardedness Paw Wash a sneaker wave suddenly surrounds us, dousing me to the knees and immersing Merlin. Time to retreat up the beach. There’s a considerate shower and foot wash in the parking lot. Merlin tries the paw wash but prefers to dry off in the back seat towel pile to emerge white pawed and sand free.

Buoyed by a car picnic, we drive east to North Beach and settle onto a sensible dune well away from sneaky waves. At the edge of a continent, we look west off the edge of the world. Merlin whale watches.Pt Reyes Whale There she blows! The unmistakable water spout of a surface gliding whale sprays into the sky. Our perch affords a fantastic view of the surf as water reaches towards sky and beach to tumble, churn, and roil. Waves rise dark blue then, shot through with sunlight, roll over themselves as they break light green. Bubbling with white frosting they dissolve into white splashes Pt Reyes Beach Surf and glide up the beach to kiss the toes of squealing toddlers. After 200 photos (gotta love digital) I clean the sea spray from my lens and herd everyone back to the car.

Refreshed, restored, revived, we greet the evening star Venus in the darkening sky as we approach the near empty freeway, flowing home from our Superbeach Sunday.

Pt Reyes Beach Merlin
Point Reyes National Seashore loop: 100 miles.