One day during this week of the Cross, which comes now in the middle of Lent, I drove to the coast. It was cloudy but not as cold as inland. Here the north wind has been blowing, and a different night Susan even built a fire that I was so glad to sit in front of when I came home late. I will write about the beach on my Sea Log eventually, but here I wanted to post pictures of the Pride of Madeira echium that are so abundant out that way in this season.
In the past I’ve mentioned how my late husband and I, celebrating our wedding anniversary in March, often used to spend a night or two at the coast, and it was on those trips that I first encountered this plant. We were always delighted to see it again and again up and down the California seashore, for more than forty years.
It does grow a ways inland, even in my neighborhood, but it seems to prefer the coast. And the botanical cousin that I have in my back yard, called Tower of Jewels, I do not love as much, even if it is more rare. I’ve never seen so many and varied colors and forms as I did this week along one stretch of Highway 1.
I also wanted to share something of the wonderful homily, “In the Days of His Flesh,” which I heard on a podcast. Fr. Patrick Reardon gave this homily on the Sunday of the Cross. But I am too sleepy, so I’ll just leave you with the link, and this little quote from elsewhere:
“The cross stands in the midst of the church in the middle of the lenten season not merely to remind men of Christ’s redemption and to keep before them the goal of their efforts, but also to be venerated as that reality by which man must live to be saved.
“‘He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me’ (Mt.10:38). For in the Cross of Christ Crucified lies both ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ for those being saved (1 Cor.1:24).”
Mosaic is in the apse of the Church of San Clemente in Rome. Prompted by a comment from Jeannette, I have added a larger image showing more of the setting, here at the bottom.
This morning I drove on many narrow and winding roads that I’d never been on before,
on my way to the coast to meet Pippin’s family at the oyster farm.
On the way there, I lost cell service, and lost my way, but until I realized how late I was going to be, I was oohing and aahing at the scenery and hoping to take pictures on the way home. After that, I just drove as fast as I could and made myself carsick.
But I got there, and pulled up behind the familiar black van; Pippin and the children were standing next to Highway 1 looking for me, and Ivy ran up and declared, “It’s stinky!” With that we began our tour of the Hog Island Oyster Company. Hog Island is an island in Tomales Bay, where these oysters are raised, several million every year.
< < Oyster shells are put to good use
in the parking areas.
Isn’t that an interesting crack-like body of water? It can’t be a fjord, because this is California. The San Andreas Fault, which is “a transform fault–where plates pass one another like cars on a two way street,” runs in a line down the middle of the bay. This classic photo (at left) of a displaced fence shows what happened as a result of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, and why rock formations on the east and west sides of the bay are so very different. Earthquake country! Here is another map of the area if you want to get your bearings. It is the county just north of San Francisco.
Oysters really like to grow here, because of the particular mix of fresh and salt water, the currents, temperature, and the rich variety of plankton. The farmers keep constant and close tabs on everything, including bacteria, temperature, and those plankton. The plankton are counted every week! Here’s a chart they use when they are looking through their microscopes at the seawater samples:
(Sorry, I was also looking at it upside-down.) We saw samples of different types of oysters such as French, Pacific, Atlantic… As you might guess, the Pacific oysters are what they grow the most of here. Oysters naturally grow and fuse together and if left to themselves will eventually form a solid oyster wall in the water. Farmers have to be stirring them up all the time or breaking them apart to keep them growing in the most usable form, and a typical smallish Pacific oyster takes one and a half years from seed to harvest.
These farmers typically harvest 60% of what they plant. There are frequent quarantines for a few days every time it rains, or if a strange bacterium is found in the bay. Regulations come from the government at both federal and state levels, and they can conflict and cause delays that have nothing to do with safety. You can be pretty sure that the oysters you buy or eat here are fresh and safe, but oysters are like Petri dishes if you drive a couple of hours on a warm day, carrying them home in the trunk of your car. With all of the possible complications in oyster farming, I’m surprised that they aren’t more expensive to buy.
The oysters here are raised in bags on a line under the water, and the bags are frequently flipped to jostle them and keep them from growing on to each other. These are a couple of bagsful just harvested.
We did get to eat a few oysters, too, and several other delectable things from the picnic café right next to the barn where they are sorting. With all the variableness of growing conditions and regulators’ decisions, oyster farming is not consistently profitable, so many farmers have branched out and are operating restaurants as well, from which they can earn a somewhat more steady income. Here in Marin they have a lot of clientele from Marin County and the East (San Francisco) Bay.
The little café has barbecue grills where you can cook Hog Island’s oysters in your own way if you want, while looking out at Tomales Bay and the birds. We didn’t use those, but we did eat raw oysters with lemon and Hogwash — this establishment’s version of Mignonette sauce; barbecued oysters, burrata cheese, and trout with roe. Our guide’s son preferred to put the Hogwash on his bread or to drink it straight up. Truly, it’s good to have bread with a meal like this, for sopping up the juices of everything.
Pippin and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the wildlife and the child-life,
and the multicolored buildings of this historic town of Marshall.
After all that fun I said good-bye to everyone and drove home by myself. Sprinkles of rain accompanied me all along my leisurely drive, but not so much that I couldn’t take take pictures. Right across the road from the oyster company were bushes that looked sort of like broom to me… but not quite.
When I got home I found out it is gorse, of all things, like in the English stories. This cousin of broom is not native, it’s terribly invasive and undesirable, and a fire hazard to boot. Broom has leaves, and gorse has prickles! If you want to know more, this article about Gorse the Invader is very informative.
I feasted my eyes on Tomales Bay, cattle, mustard and more mustard, and clumps of calla lilies like you only see on the coast. Often next to a driveway to a dairy farm, a few bulbs were planted long ago and still thrive and expand on benign neglect under the foggy skies, growing into an irregular and wide swath that contrasts in the loveliest way with the green grass. These patches never will appear where I am able to pull over and snap their picture. Pacific Coast iris dot the fields on such narrow stretches of road that it would be dangerous for me to walk back from a turnout in an effort to frame them with my camera.
My favorite Pride of Madeira (echium) is in bloom, too!
As you can see, I did eventually get home, filled with knowledge and images — and oysters!
Sweeping up, trimming dead leaves, feeding, transplanting…. I love it all. This afternoon I managed to spend a few hours working in the garden and though I accomplished only a fraction of what’s needing done, every little bit helps, right? Back and forth I went from the greenhouse to the strawberry barrels, from the garage to the patio, carrying blood meal or seaweed food, a lavender plant in a pot, the pruners or a trowel or a trug in which to put the trimmings.
In the morning before I even came downstairs I was listening to the birds, and when I looked out the window of my bedroom I got a nice view of the snowball bush that has begin to bloom. And when I aimed my camera a little bit to the right of that, it shows you the table where we will sit over tea when you come to visit. After touring the garden, of course!
As I was eating my breakfast I noticed a hummingbird checking out the Pride of Madeira, or echium candicans — that’s because the blue flowers have finally started to open!! I hope lots more flowers will follow, to fill out the bloom properly.
Both kinds of rockrose, cistus, have opened now, and both are heartmelting:
Below, heuchera and blue-eyed grass:
My big rose geranium that I keep by the back door, in hopes that I will brush against it when I pass by and catch some of its scent, was terribly overgrown and gangly. I trimmed it severely and brought in a few stems to put with pincushion flowers on the kitchen counter.
All that was in the back garden. When the light was waning, and I had put away my garden tools but not my camera, I went to the front and saw that in the last day an asparagus stalk had suddenly made a sharp turn and was coming on to the sea holly.
Isn’t he a brave fellow to cozy up to such a prickly girl?
I missed my walks by the creek today, and visits with weeds. I don’t have to work hard to enjoy those wild plants; they take care of themselves and I never have a thought to remove them from wherever they are growing. But they also aren’t as satisfying to me as all my demanding cultivated flowers and vegetables! I’m looking forward to more work and pleasure tomorrow.
Sooo slow I am in fully returning to Being Home. Though I suppose I never will be living in my house in quite the same way as before, having sojourned so distantly, and changed in God only knows what ways. I grew older, for sure. But maybe I grew younger, too?
I was so surprised, when I walked in the front door on my return from that other world, to see that I have wood floors. At that moment I didn’t feel the lack of windows and light, but only felt the warmth and welcome that my house had held in trust for me all those weeks, even though I had learned to live happily with hard and cool marble floors, and the strange light coming through a multitude of windows, reflected off the Arabian Sea and filtered through smog.
It’s taken me nearly three weeks just to fill and start up the fountain again. The finches were having to make do with winterized nyger seed, that is, frozen and thawed, rained on and packed down into a brick at the bottom of the feeder. But I fixed those things today and looked around some more at the garden. Rosemary is blooming and the fountain is now tinkling.
Do you remember Miss Grenadine? She was a gift from Mr. Glad. She kept watch over my bedroom while I was gone, and still does during the day:
I had lunch with my goddaughter last week. She and her husband lost their house in the fires that ravaged our area last October. A day or two after that dreadful event, she texted me, “Wherever our family is together, that is home.”
I understand some of that. Ever since my husband passed from this earthly life three years ago this month, I have felt most at home when I am with my children, wherever a few of us are gathered. I don’t think I would feel this way if we didn’t all agree on this: though we’ve been supremely blessed in this life, it’s not satisfying in itself, no matter what beautiful place you live in and with what dear humans.
At this moment I’m thinking about things homey and cozy (or cool, as we preferred, in Mumbai), but of course concurrent in all of our lives is pain and suffering. Wherever I go, I bring myself with my sin-sickness, and I carry in my heart the burdens of those whose suffering seems to me hardly bearable. But in every place, Christ is. He is the one who makes the atmosphere sweet with the scent of flowers or the affection of our children. He is always giving us Himself.
At the end of things, The Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.” And the lost will say, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly. ― C.S. Lewis