It was spring in San Juan Capistrano, and cold, and we had left very early and in the dark to get to the show. When we pulled in to start our day, I saw a half dozen horses and riders in the warm up ring, all breathing steam like dragons as the sun crested the trees. I’d barely put the car in “park” before leaping out, grabbing a camera and dashing to the side of the ring. As Tobi Coate and Zorren transitioned to a walk break, the steam rose up from his body and enveloped them. Thank you, Tobi, for being a great model, and for being in the right place at the right time!
My plans this morning included dashing out the door early to partake in the California Art Club paint out that was part of the Balboa Park Centennial celebration. But instead I woke up to the sound of thunder, as monsoonal storms rolled through the county.
Because Balboa Park is busy on any given Saturday, and add to that road closures for the Pride Parade just north of the park, I’d planned to be out the door no later than 7:00…. But as I watched the storm, the tv weather report and updates on my iPad, and not wanting to drive through squalls alongside SoCal drivers, who seem to not understand the correlation between water, tires and hydroplaning, I had a feeling I was going to miss my window of opportunity for a smooth trip and a good parking space.
I was mesmerized by the storm. We have a pretty low bar for storm drama out here: a touch of moisture on the ground will whip the tv graphics guys into a frenzy of “STORM WATCH” banners. But having spent 38 years on the east coast I recognize a good light show when I see one. However, being un-coffeed, it took me a few moments to think to take pictures. Duh!
By the time I’d set up the tripod and camera I’d missed some of the big cloud-to-ground strikes, but I managed to snag this beauty.
It was a great two weeks of dressage at San Juan Capistrano. From Rosamunde, age 8, floating through Legolas’ complicated freestyle, some fine small tour horses (I’m talking about YOU, Avanti, Le Noir, Rey Del Mundo, Sanceo) and some super up and coming youngsters (Quincy, Finesse, Donovan, Santo Domingo) it was a fun show to watch through my lens.
But the two weeks began with swiped car keys. I KNEW that I’d put them on the desk in my stand before dashing to the Little Blue House (because …. because Little Blue House). But just in case I hadn’t, we searched the grounds until dark for them. And then squeezed into Sheila’s car for the hour’s drive home (thank you, Sheila!), and called neighborhood security to pretty please let us into our house with their spare key, even though we had no identification, because both our wallets were locked in the car at the showgrounds. When the security guard arrived and saw that I was standing outside the door with a fortune in camera equipment (the camera bag was in the car at the showgrounds, too), he was convinced that we weren’t there to break in.
A short night, an early morning, traffic on the drive north, and no golf carts left when we got back to the show: apparently they hadn’t all been delivered to San Juan from the recently finished Thermal jumper series. So I hoofed it around the grounds. I apologize to the few people whose rides I just couldn’t get to. By noon, whoever had grabbed the car keys by mistake, apparently too embarrassed to bring them back in person, had returned them to show grounds security, so my car and I were reunited.
Big thanks to Glenda McElroy, David and Alisa Wilson, and the whole crew of California Dreaming, who put on a wonderful series of CDIs this winter. Thanks to my manager, Sheila Ransom, for always having a smile at the ready. Thanks to hubby Axel Steiner, who commentated tirelessly for the livestream of both CDI weekends, and who entertained and educated an estimated 30,000 people about our horses, riders and sport.
I shot about 15,000 images over these two weeks. They’ve all been culled, edited, processed and posted: Enjoy the highlights slideshow!
The weather has been stunning this Christmas week. The lake has been completely still in the evenings, making for perfect conditions to photograph the holiday lights. As always, I’m fascinated by what shows up during long exposures: the true color of the night sky appears; the blinking lights of a plane; a swan swimming by in the dark.
I’m told that in some places, the weather was less than stellar. In fact, the eastern seaboard is bracing for a winter storm that will likely screw up travel plans for Christmas week, and it’s pouring rain in the Northwest.
Here, it was pretty darned close to perfect.
The low tide was forecast to be very low at 3:30, and the sunset, on this shortest day of the year, was at 4:47. I conjectured that there would be enough time to get the shot I was after, so Axel, Tinto and I headed for the beach. We chose Fletcher Cover in Solana Beach because of the steep cliffs and flat beach. Lots of other people were out enjoying a sunset walk, and several photographers were setting up clients in the beautiful evening light.
This was the shot I’d been thinking about as I drove toward the beach. It mean running out across the shiny wet sand as the waves receded, and then running back up as the next set approached. If you look carefully, you can see Axel standing at the center of the photo. I know he’s laughing at me being chased by waves.
Sunsets out here are hit or miss. Sometimes you think it’s gearing up to be fabulous and the marine layer rolls in minutes before the sun hits the water. Or there are absolutely no clouds to be seen so there isn’t much color. For the solstice, we were treated to a grand show!
We must be crazy, I thought, as my friend Jacqueline and I drove toward the San Diego Zoo.
On a Saturday.
But it was late afternoon, and although at first glance the parking lot looked full, we got a spot within shouting distance of the entrance because the early birds were already stuffing Zoo memorabilia and cranky children back into their cars.
And yet … there were hoards of people just inside the gate, posing with koala-dressed characters and pointing at the free-range peacocks. So we did what any savvy Zoo members would do: we jumped onto the Sky Tram and in 10 minutes we were transported to the relative quiet of the far side of the park. Where we were transformed into little kids ourselves, squealing “Elephants!”.
I never know which part of the Zoo is more fascinating: the animals or the people. Our eyes were trained on the former, but the things we overheard people saying kept us giggling. For instance, when a particularly bored male tapir decided to … take it out and play with it, in a quite entertaining fashion, a teenage girl with pink sparkly face-paint stared and asked, quite seriously, “Is that a BOY?” Ummm, last I checked, girls don’t normally have one of those.
And when an elephant takes a dump, everyone at the fence feels the need to comment on it. Granted, I’m glad I’m not the one cleaning the habitat, because one elephant equals an entire barn full of warmbloods in that respect. And the elephants seem to take some pleasure in “downloading” as close to the fence as possible. Really. They’re bored. We amuse them.
Then there was the little girl at the alpaca pen who stared into those huge, beautiful, long-lashed eyes and announced, “You sure are a creepy looking thing.” I told her that he probably thought the same thing about her. She ran away. Jacqueline and I laughed. Even the alpaca seemed to giggle.
And there is something about a sleeping animal that seems to require people to chirp, clap, make kissing sounds or bang on the glass. Fortunately most of the animals are so habituated to humans’ self-involved behavior that it doesn’t even make them flinch.
The most interesting thing to me was that because we were standing quietly and glancing at them instead of staring at them, many of the animals became curious about us. The alpaca, for instance, watched us intently for several minutes before lying down and getting comfortable…. while continuing to watch us. The oldest of the elephants kept an eye on me while I drew, and the moment I was finished and changed my posture he ambled off.
We sketched. I had my iPad and Jacqueline worked “old school” with graphite and white chalk on toned paper. Jac has mad drawing skills: here’s a link to one of her sketches. We sketched even when jostled by double-wide strollers. We sketched as parents thrust their toddlers in front of our faces so they could see the animals. We sketched as the sun set, and the light got so dim that we could barely see the patterns on the giraffes.
The evacuation orders for my neighborhood were lifted yesterday. Tinto and I made our cautious way past the lake, where Marine helicopters had been filling their water buckets the day before for aerial drops on the fire lines, and up the hill to the house. There were yellow knots of caution tape on the mailboxes, put there by police as they had gone door to door to mark that there were no occupants that would need rescuing if the worst happened. I knew of a few stalwart folk who, experienced in the ways of wildfires, had stayed, but by the looks of things, I was one of the first to return.
It was eerily quiet, therefore. The temperature outside was 98 degrees, but I was startled to walk into a pleasantly cool house. I realized that in my dash to leave, I’d forgotten to turn off the air conditioning, and I cringed to think of what the filter would look like. Everything else was just how I’d left it, of course, but with the mayhem of the past two days, it seemed strange that it was.
I looked around at the art on the walls, and thought of all the other paintings that were in the studio. I’d made a conscious decision to leave them all: transporting art is never without risk, when I’d left I hadn’t known where I was going, and I simply couldn’t choose which to bring with me. But the one thing I’d realized, lying awake that first night, was that I had all the hard drives containing everyone else’s photos, but I hadn’t thought to grab my own. Photos of Axel’s and my childhoods, families, our wedding, scattered around the house, not readily grab-able, many of them the only surviving copies. I vowed that the coming weekend would be dedicated to digitizing them.
There was ash on the deck, flecks of white that had gathered wherever there was anything for it to stick to; a cobweb, flowers, the fabric of the deck chairs. But not as much as I’d expected: when we had lived on Coronado, the ash that had floated for literally miles from the 2003 wildfire had crunched underfoot when we walked outside. That was the year that the entire city of San Diego had shut down because of the smoke cloud that had blanketed it.
The last thing I had done before leaving was to open the pool cover, in case the fire fighters needed the water for their hoses. There were bits of dark ash on the top step, and when I picked one up, I realized it was a charred leaf. It had flown at least a mile on the wind, and I wondered if it had still been an ember when it had landed in the water. I kicked off my sandals and Tinto and I stepped in up to our knees…. and we both just stood there a long time, staring at the cloud of the Las Pulgas fire, 15 miles away and in the process of burning 15,000 acres, that was towering over all of Camp Pendelton.
Wee Horse at the 9/11 Memorial
I didn’t expect it to be the coldest day of the year when I’d started organizing a painting trip up to the top of Mount Palomar for this week. After all, when I’d gone up there with my friend Nancy two weeks ago, we’d been searching for bits of shade because it was so warm. But we’ve had two cold, wet storm fronts come through in the past week, so we’re probably lucky there wasn’t thick slushy snow on the ground!
Nine intrepid PAPASAN painters made the trek up the serpentine South Grade Road to our overlook just beyond the summit. As ear car pulled up, and artists emerged, the first line out of each mouth was, “Holy %X$*#@ it’s cold up here!!!” After all, we’d only driven an hour and a half from the temperate San Diego coast. But this is a hardy and well-prepared bunch: on went the powder pants, the coats, the hats, the fingerless gloves, out came the easels and the painting began.
When it’s clear, I cans see the cut of the Palomar ridge road from my kitchen window. It was that extraordinarily clear on Tuesday, and from the lookout we could see the line of the Pacific 30 miles away. Somewhere down there was my house, too: if I’d had a powerful pair of binoculars I could probably have spotted our hillside.
We were fanned out around the overlook, enjoying the view and the sounds of hawks and the breeze in the trees when we heard an approaching car. We actually heard the music before the engine, so we were a bit dismayed that the booming white pick up truck pulled into the parking area. But I realized that the radio was belting out “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and not some angry urban war chant. I figured anyone who had John Lennon playing, even at full volume, probably wasn’t searching for a confrontation.
The two Rotties in the cab barked. A chuckle preceded Roy as he shut down the stereo and the engine and emerged. “Don’t you people realize it’s %X$*#@ cold today?” he exclaimed. He lives up on the mountain and was quite surprised to see a group of crazy artists bundled up to the eyeballs and peering over a precipice. We all agreed, chatted, joked for a while. Then he announced that we were all somewhat insane and probably needed coffee, got back in the truck and vanished down the road on a receding wave of Beatles.
A half hour later, we heard music again. This time it was some hot wailing blues. This time, Roy was carrying a thermos full of coffee. Seriously. He’d gone home and brewed a pot for us. We all thought this was quite amazing: how often does one encounter spontaneous generosity from a stranger? But it sure carried us through the chilly morning. Here’s to Roy, and to mountain hospitality!