Sunday, December 9, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Coco

On Friday, 30 November, 2012, the Oregon Zoo's oldest resident, a chimpanzee named Coco, was euthanized after her caregivers determined that her condition had deteriorated to the point that she no longer had a good quality of life. You can find more details about that decision in Katy Muldoon's article in The Oregonian, "Oregon Zoo says goodbye to Coco the chimp, its oldest animal." Below is the article I wrote for the Zoo Volunteer newsletter.

There’s no one around who remembers the day Coco arrived at the Zoo in 1961. Her record in the first historical chimpanzee studbook listed her parents as ‘UNK’ (unknown) rather than wild, but it is assumed that she was captured in Africa as a baby and sold into the pet trade. She was estimated to be about 9 years old when she came to us.
Within about two years she started having babies, fathered by Bill, the resident male. Accurate records weren’t kept in those days, but it appears Coco may have had as many as a dozen babies (including some twins) before our girl Delilah was born in 1973. In the wild, a chimpanzee has four babies on average in her lifetime. But while Coco was having babies, she wasn’t getting to be a mom. Some of the babies may have died very young. Some were taken from her so they could be sent to other zoos. By the time Delilah came along, she didn’t seem to know how to take care of an infant. So they pulled Delilah and then  Leah and Leah’s twin sister Rachel and put them in a nursery where humans took care of them. That was routine for the time. It was only in 1981, after having spent several years in the enrichment program learning sign language, that the youngsters (including Charlie and Chloe) were introduced to Coco and the other adult females.
In 1975, when the Primate area was under new management, Coco had a baby girl, Josie. Coco’s keepers worked to help her realize her potential as a mother. They didn’t take the new baby away from her, even when she got agitated and tried to shove little Josie at them. They encouraged her to nurse her baby and left them alone as much as possible so they were able to bond. Coco demonstrated that she could be a mom. A very good mom. She also raised David (b. 1983) and Joshua (b. 1989), her two sons by Charlie.
It was when Josh was still a baby that I first met Coco. At almost 40 she was already old for a chimpanzee, and she was mothering an energetic and willful little boy. I remember watching as she would climb into her sleeping nest and wrap the fidgety kid in her arms so that only his head and maybe one arm would be free. Only then could she nap in peace. Eventually Josh got bigger – and more mischievous – and he went to the Kansas City Zoo in 1995 to start his own family. Coco didn’t have any more babies.
As chimpanzees go, Coco wasn’t a charmer like Charlie. She didn’t engage the public like Delilah or Chloe. Instead of looking visitors in the eye, she seemed to look right past them. Maybe it was her early treatment by humans, or maybe it was just her personality. Over the years she experienced a lot of losses. Her babies were taken from her. Later the children she raised were sent away. In 1999  she lost Debbie, the old friend with whom she had spent so many years since arriving in Portland.
In October 2002 the Zoo held a 50th birthday party for Coco. We didn’t know what month she was born. We weren’t even sure what year she was born, but it seemed right to celebrate her life. She was very old, and we didn’t know how much longer she would be with us. It might have been around that time that I started saying goodbye to Coco. Every time I was about to leave the Primate building, I would stop and say goodbye as though I might never see her again.

Coco kept getting older and more frail. One day several years ago she decided not to go out anymore. She must have figured she couldn’t handle the walk up the incline from the outdoor moat. Later she decided to stop climbing up to the nesting areas. She lived her last couple of years on the ground, bedding down on straw and blankets and hand-made quilts provided by staff and volunteers who were dedicated to making the old girl as comfortable as possible. I kept saying goodbye, hoping she would have a gentle end.
Her vision seemed to be failing. She had difficulty walking and grasping, but she was determined to keep going. She always seemed to have an appetite for the fresh produce and chow set out for her, and she seemed to enjoy all the treats the keepers used to cover up the taste of the pain medication she needed. She also seemed to be mellowing. When I came up to the window, instead of ignoring me she would acknowledge me with a nod and sometimes even get up and shuffle over to see me. And when I left, I made sure to say goodbye, Coco.
Then in late November, as the Zoo was preparing for the birth of a baby elephant, the call came. Coco had taken a turn for the worse. Do you want to come in tomorrow to say goodbye? One last time, I said goodbye, Coco.
NOTE: Coco is survived by daughters Delilah and Leah at the Oregon Zoo and by Josie at the Chattanooga Zoo and Rachel at the Kansas City Zoo. She also has four granddaughters and a great-granddaughter. Back in 2000 I traveled around the country and met all of Coco’s known offspring and their offspring who were alive at that time, but I was never able to uncover any information about her missing babies.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Memories of a very special chimpanzee

On September 17, Oregon Zoo's much-loved chimpanzee Charlie died suddenly. I wrote this article for the Zoo Volunteer newsletter. For more information about Charlie, see the wonderful, feature-length article that appeared in The Sunday Oregonian on May 23, 2009, "Prince of the Zoo: Charlie the Chimp Reigns at the Oregon Zoo."

About 40 years ago a chimpanzee was born in Africa near the Liberia-Sierra Leone border. He was very intelligent, and he might have grown up to become the leader of his community, fathered several offspring and died as he had lived, in anonymity. But instead, some hunters killed his mother and the baby chimpanzee was stolen out of the forest. He was rescued, given the name Charlie and eventually ended up at the Oregon Zoo where he became a much-loved ambassador for his species.

Everybody who got to know Charlie felt they had a special relationship with him. And they were right, because Charlie made people feel special. When I tried to explain it to visitors, I said, “Think about going to a public event or reception. People are standing around in groups talking, but you don’t know anyone. Charlie is that person who comes up to you, says ‘hello’ and makes you feel welcome.”

That was Charlie, the host of the Oregon Zoo. He came up to the window, looked you in the eye and held your gaze. He picked you out of a crowd and signed, “Chase me.” He recognized you as an individual, someone worth communicating with. Over the years, countless numbers of people -- staff, volunteers and frequent visitors to the Zoo -- were won over by Charlie’s welcoming personality. They kept returning to get that special treatment, to feel that connection.

My first memorable Charlie moment came around six months into my first year as a ZooGuide. As an Animal Talker in Primates I had learned to recognize Charlie and had been through many rounds of Chase Me. I figured that Charlie recognized my red volunteer shirt and the white visor I always wore. Late one gray November afternoon I came to the Zoo for a meeting and stopped by for a quick visit with the chimps. I was wearing a business suit – and no white visor. I approached Charlie’s side of the indoor exhibit. He wasn’t there. Probably up in holding where he could enjoy some privacy. I moved over to the left side of the exhibit where little Joshua, Charlie’s son, was always eager for attention. As Josh and I raced back and forth, I heard “Tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap.” I turned and saw that Charlie had come down from holding. He was standing up and tapping on the glass, trying to get my attention. Charlie recognized me! Me. Not the red shirt and white visor. He recognized me, and he wanted my attention. It’s a moment I’ve never forgotten.

It’s been almost 17 years since that day I realized Charlie saw me as an individual. During those years, Charlie inspired me to learn more about chimpanzees, and he helped teach me a lot more than I could get just from books. He also patiently taught me what it meant to be one of “Charlie’s women.” Don’t walk by his exhibit without stopping to say “hi” – or, at least, don’t let him see you walk by. Don’t turn your back on him when talking to visitors. Don’t stand too close to other males. And always, always follow his “chase me” command.

As we both grew older and I became more of a fixture, Charlie didn’t pay as much attention to me. Games of chase became less frequent and less vigorous. When I arrived at the upper outdoor viewing area, he no longer rushed down from the climbing structure to greet me. Sometimes he barely acknowledged me, although I could usually catch him looking to make sure I was still paying attention to him and watching to see where I was heading. During feedings, after I’d handed Charlie the last piece of fruit – and Charlie always got the last piece; it was a rule – he’d sometimes hang around or lead me to the back of the holding area for a little more face time. But just about as often, he’d get up and leave me sitting there with the empty bucket.

Even though Charlie seemed to take me for granted in recent years – and maybe I took him for granted, too – I knew that he trusted me. And I felt honored to have his trust.

Charlie was getting grayer and moving a bit slower, but we all thought he had many more years to watch over the Zoo. We imagined him exploring and taking ownership of the new exhibit that would be built with the funds from last year’s bond measure. We never imagined the Zoo without Charlie.

I believe that when someone dies, they live on in the hearts of the people whose lives they touched. Charlie will live for many years in the memories we’ll each treasure and in the stories we’ll share with people who never got to meet him -- stories about his intelligence, his dignity, his grace, his willingness to let us into his world.

Goodbye, Charlie. It was a privilege to know you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

After a long hiatus: Chimp Lessons

A few years ago, a special experience with some chimpanzees who had just been released from life in a research facility inspired me to write down some lessons I’ve learned from the many hours I’ve spent watching and studying chimpanzees. Some colleagues encouraged me to share these lessons on my blog. So here goes:

What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me About Surviving (and Thriving) in a Corporation

  1. 1. Whether you spend most of your time in a group or on your own, you are part of a larger community.
  2. 2. Build alliances.
  3. 3. Keep track of who grooms whom.
  4. 4. Know which trees bear fruit … and when.
  5. 5. From time to time you need to display some attitude.
  6. 6. Know when to stop screaming.
  7. 7. Sometimes the bully wins.
  8. 8. Dominance is temporary.
  9. 9. Be resilient.

Lesson #6 was actually the first I wrote down. It was inspired by a chimpanzee named Hannah who was having a difficult time during introductions to her new group at Save The Chimps. You can learn more about Hannah and work of Save The Chimps at their newly redesigned website, which has lots of great videos.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Picture. Pictures. Pictures. And a map.

Finally got a selection of photos uploaded to a Google photo album and have started posting a subset to a Google map. Not done yet, but please check it out.

This link goes to the map. Balloon markers indicate overnight stops and include brief comments. Push pin markers indicate a photo. (As I headed east, the stops got closer together, so you will need to zoom in -- using the + sign -- to unclump the markers.)

This link goes to the photo album, which has about 130 photos with brief descriptions.

Let me know what you think -- or if you have trouble using the map or album.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pictures will be coming ... really

I've started playing around in Google Maps. So far, I've plotted out the route I followed. Next step will be to post selected photos at points on the map. I'll put the link to the map on this blog when it's got some photos to look at. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Life goes on

Car tasks done: tires rotated, oil changed, inside/outside professionally cleaned. Water heater fixed. Accumulated STUFF gradually being sorted and put away.

Went back to work on Thursday. I had to read the names on the aisle headers to remember where I sit in the cube farm. Discovered that my colleagues had decorated my cubicle as a "primate habitat" with a monkey-print curtain and straw-like material on the floor and chair. Gummy dinosaurs decorated the desk and car stickers decorated the computer monitor.

Got back to work at the Oregon Zoo yesterday, cleaning up the orangutan exhibit and holding area. Routine is setting in, but I'm trying not to go back to bad habits -- which I don't intend to confess here.

I've actually started sorting and organizing my photos and am looking into posting albums on Google so I can link to them from this blog. Maybe even link them to a Google map. We'll see.

I may be updating this blog occasionally with trip observations I've collected in my head and in writing. Please check back.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Day 62 was a beautiful day of driving up the Oregon Coast. Blue skies with snatches of fog. Scenic views of the ocean. I thought about all the places I'd visited in the past two months. The Grand Canyon. The Petrified Forest National Park. The Badlands. The scenic back roads in different states. Some truly memorable scenery. But for me, when it comes to the can't-pull-myself-away factor, there is nothing like the Oregon Coast. I could sit for hours and just watch the waves crash against the rocks. I don't want to leave until it stops ... but it doesn't stop.

I'd intended to spend some time on the beaches, but by the time I got to some of the places I wanted to sit, the tide was coming in. I did pull off briefly at Bandon and in several places in Yachats, including my favorite spot, Devil's Churn. (That's where I'd like my ashes tossed, although I'm guessing it's probably illegal.)

Stopped for an oyster burger at Mo's in Florence and made a quick bio/shopping stop at the Lincoln City outlet mall. It was 5:30 and just getting dark by the time I headed east toward Beaverton.

I've done the Lincoln City to Portland route in the dark before. The drive through the Van Duzer Forest can be kind of fun. But last night it was a bit of an ordeal. It wasn't the dark that bothered me, it was the light. There was so much traffic coming in the opposite direction, headlights were almost constantly shining in my eyes. I just kept looking at the white line on my right and making sure I paid attention to all the directional signs because I could not see any landmarks. My favorite detour over Chehelam Mountain from Newburg was out of the question.

Got home at just about 8PM. Unloaded car. Still have lots of unpacking to do. Also a couple of loads of laundry, but that may have to wait.

When I got home I remembered to reset my water heater, which I had turned to Vacation setting. This morning when I went out to my car, I noticed that the garage floor was wet, and it must have been quite a bit of water because boxes sitting on the floor were fairly well soaked. Figured it had something to do with restarting the water heater and pressure. Good thing I had not just unloaded the car and left the stuff sitting there.

Went out for breakfast and to the Zoo. When I got home late this afternoon, I found water coming from a pipe that runs up the side of the water heater. It was coming out the top of the heater and pouring down the pipe. The floor was all wet again -- very wet -- and I couldn't figure out how to make it stop. In my panic I turned off a gas valve. After several calls and a call back, I reached someone through the company that did the installation. He assured me that the gas will not be leaking as it shut itself off when I turned the knob. By the time he called, the water had diminished to a trickle. I think I have managed to shut it off so the water heater does fill up again. But now I have no hot water. He said it seems to be an easily fixed malfunction and that he MIGHT be able to get someone to come out tomorrow sometime.

So, the few dollars I might have saved by turning down the water heater will be nothing compared to the service call by the plumber. To put a positive spin on the experience: at least it didn't happen the day I left town.

ABOUT PHOTOS: I will be going through my pictures and figuring out the best way to get a sampling into this blog. Not sure whether I will go back and post selected photos in old posts or maybe make some sort of online annotated album. Stay tuned.

ABOUT THE ZOO: After the Keeper Chat, I stopped by the primate house. Chimp Delilah responded to my sudden reappearance after 2 months by getting up from her nap and coming over to the window as soon as she saw me. Charlie only came out later when fruit was delivered, and I'm no match for bananas and oranges; he barely acknowledged me. Then I stopped by orangutans and was surpised when old Inji immediately came down from her perch up near the holding area. She may have been more interested in the plastic bag I was carrying than in my return, but I was touched that she came over to the window to greet me so quickly.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Day 61 -- Near disaster on next-to-last day

Woke up at 8AM!!! (I don't remember the last time I slept that late.) Left Ukiah (which I finally found out IS pronounced "yu-KAI-ah") and continued north.

It was a pleasant drive through the redwoods and up and down the mountains. Sometimes the sky was clear and blue. Sometimes I was driving through fog. Sometimes I was driving through deep, dark woods. Not a lot of traffic most of the time.

Just after the spot where Route 1 joins US-101, I got a scary reminder that those yellow signs with the silhouettes of leaping wildlife mean something. As I rounded a curve a deer leaped in front of the car. I was able to brake in time and missed it by maybe three feet. If I hadn't been able to stop, I would have hit the buck (antlers and all) full on as he was standing in the middle of my lane. Whew. That makes the heart race. A few miles beyond that incident, on a side road next to 101, I saw two more deer just scampering about the side of the road. They didn't seem concerned that I had stopped and was watching them.

No more adventures, thankfully. Except for lunch in Garberville, no stops. No detours. No sightseeing. By 4PM I was crossing the state line into Oregon. I was debating whether to stop for the night in Brookings or to try to cover more miles -- to leave a shorter drive for tomorrow -- but the lodging options seemed best here. So Brookings is where I will sleep.

Tomorrow I plan to stop and enjoy a few beach walks along the way. Maybe try to find some agates. If I make good time, I can try to locate the area north of Newport where fossils are supposed to be easy to find. High tide is around 6AM and 6PM, so it will be at it's lowest around noon. The weather is supposed to be good. I don't care if I get home after dark.

This is definitely (probably) the final post from the road. Bye.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Day 60 -- I changed my mind ... again and again

After studying the map last night, I still wasn't sure what route I would take to get home. The only way I could do it in two days would be to take I-5 all the way, and there was no way I was going to do that. I don't like driving odd-numbered (north-south) interstates, and I really, really want to see the Oregon Coast.

I figured I could take US-101 all the way. Three days of driving, some nice scenery even before Oregon. But getting around San Francisco looked pretty complicated. I'd have to take several different highways before getting back onto 101.

Then I looked at Route 1 out of Monterey. I could take it along the coast and right through San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge and then get on 101. That's what I would do. (Pretty much the same route I took 7 years ago.)

With that decided, I started looking longingly at Route 1 all the way up the coast after San Francisco. Google Maps doesn't make it easy to figure the mileage on Route 1. Can't always find it. So I hadn't computed the mileage and travel time going that way and wasn't sure how much it would add to the trip. I began to negotiate with myself: If I get to the other side of SF by around noon, I'll take Route 1. A little before noon, when I was stopping for lunch south of SF: If I get across the Golden Gate Bridge by 1 and the fog has cleared, I'll take Route 1.

Lunch took longer than planned. By the time I was driving through SF it was almost 2PM. Then I thought about the trip 7 years ago. I had driven through SF and across the bridge during rush hour. The highway (101) was packed with cars all the way to Santa Rosa. Driving earlier in the day was smoother. Then I remembered something else: I had stopped for the night in Santa Rosa, and it took me the whole next day to get from there to Garberville by taking Route 1 -- and I didn't stop much along the way. OK. The super scenic route was out of the question.

But it wasn't a bad day of driving. I made an unplanned final tour of the Monterey Penninsula when I couldn't find Route 1 North and ended up going the wrong way. Except for the stretch around Santa Rosa, the traffic wasn't terrible. I did get a few peeks at the ocean through the fog, and the "wine country" landscape north of Santa Rosa is pretty. I'm spending the night in Ukiah. Tomorrow I will go through a redwood forest and back out to the coast. Then Saturday it will be Oregon Coast most of the way.

Gawd, I love the ocean. I don't know which I love more, chimpanzees or the ocean.

Maybe THIS will be my last post from the road. Maybe not. After tomorrow night I get to sleep in my own bed!!!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Day 59 -- Four-hour Watching Cruise

I set the motel alarm clock last night so I would be sure to get up in time to catch the early Whale Watch Cruise: check-in at 8:30AM. I woke up 9 minutes after the alarm should have sounded. Each alarm clock is different. This one apparently has a volume dial for the buzzer and it can be turned all the way down -- and it was. Who designs these things? Why in the world would someone want to set an alarm to wake them up and set the buzzer to be silent?

When I was washed and dressed I went to get breakfast in the motel front office and found the door locked. I could see that the breakfast items were set out, but no one was answering calls to open the door. Finally roused someone about 15 minutes later.

Drove downtown to one of the lower cost garages and walked the rest of the way to the wharf and got myself signed up for the 9AM cruise that was to last 4-5 hours. This is the longest one offered by any of the companies. It was very foggy at the motel, but blue sky was visible from the waterfront. There were only about 20 people signed up for the cruise, so there was plenty of room on the 70-foot boat that could hold about 60 passengers. And off we went.

The hat and scarf I bought in Flagstaff in anticipation of cold winds at the Grand Canyon sure came in handy. Some of the passengers spent all their time on the stern. (Engine fumes. Ugh.) Some spent a lot of time in the cabin. Some of them were sleeping, probably because they took Dramamine. A few looked like they wish they'd taken Dramamine. I stood practically the whole trip at the rail on the bow. I wanted to be the first to see a whale spouting water and shout, "Whale at 4 o'clock!"

I've been on a whale watch cruise at Cape Cod and another in Oregon. Both times we saw one or two whales -- and in Massachusetts the whale came next to the boat and sprayed us -- but I've never gotten to witness any dramatic whale activities like spy hopping or breaching. This time, with up to 5 hours on the boat, I was hoping to see some action. And plenty of whales. So I watched. And watched.

We saw all kinds of sea birds and more sea lions than you could count. Sea lions look much more athletic in the open water than they do hauled up on the jetty. (Ahrr. Ahrr. Ahrr.) In the harbor we saw a lone otter and around hour three I may have spotted a harbor seal or two. At one point the captain slowed the ship down so we could see a sunfish, a large, strange-looking deep-water fish that sometimes floats on its side near the surface. And some white-sided dolphins rode the bow wave of the ship briefly -- too briefly and quick to be able to get a picture.

And I continued to watch, but we never saw a hint of a whale. (One of the crew wondered whether it might have something to do with the earthquake.) After four hours, the whale-less watching cruise returned to port. I noticed that they had cancelled their 2PM cruise. We must be special because this doesn't happen very often, and this particular company guarantees a whale sighting or the next trip is free. So I left with a card for a free whale watching cruise. No expiration.

It wasn't a waste of time. I love boating, even when the water is a bit rough -- as long as I'm not getting drenched with cold water. I can't remember when I last spent that much time out on a boat. When I lived in Monterey I took sailing lessons in the bay. Private lessons. Just me, the instructor and a 19- or 21-foot boat. (Depending on which was available at the time of my weekly lesson.) Half of my final "exam" was to go out without the instructor (and come back). He recommended that I recruit a friend to accompany me, so I invited a guy named Steve who had no sailing experience. A few weeks after I was officially "certified" I got a group of friends together -- including Steve -- and we chartered a small sail boat for half a day. Since I was the only one who knew anything about sailing, it was all on my shoulders and it was pretty tiring. I haven't sailed since I left Monterey.

Anyway, now I have a reason to return to Monterey sometime -- to collect on the whales they owe me.

Once I was on dry ground again, I visited a nearby history museum for a quick look around. Then I headed off on a nostalgia walk through Cannery Row to Pacific Grove. Thirty years ago I used to spend my Saturdays walking down from the Presidio, along the waterfront to and through Pacific Grove and along the highway back up to the Presidio. I stopped along the way to read and munch on a sandwich. It was a 10-mile walk. I didn't do the whole walk today. I think I walked about two miles -- in one direction.

Much has changed in 30 years, and much has remained the same. Cannery Row is now a major destination with the giant aquarium and big luxury hotels. I spotted an orange building set away from the others and recognized it as a place that used to be called Tia Maria's and was one of the few night life hot spots in the area. (It's now called El Torito.) When I got past the new hotels and ritzy shops, everything started to look familiar. The public path hugs the coast. I saw places where you can walk out onto the rocks -- and where I used to sit and read. I heard a faint "Tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap." It was an otter floating on its back in the kelp, cracking a shellfish against a rock on its stomach. Maybe it was the grandchild of one of the otters I used to watch.

I turned around at the "gray building" -- whatever that was -- because I knew I had to walk all the way back. I don't remember how much further the coast walk continues, but I didn't have the time or the stamina to find out.

I'd hoped to drive to Carmel to take a quick look around. But it was getting late and I was too tired. Besides, I'll be coming back to see the whales, right?

Tomorrow will be a long driving day, around or through San Francisco and/or Silicon Valley. I'm debating whether to try to get home in two days (Friday night) instead of three. I think I'll skip Route 1. Gorgeous but slow. And I've already seen so much great scenery. Maybe I'll save it for another trip to Monterey.

Not sure that I'll get all hot and bothered about trying to find a motel room with internet access the next night or two. That means that this may -- or may not -- be the last blog post from the road.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day 58 -- Ah, Nature.

Got lots of exercise during four hours at Point Lobos State Reserve this afternoon. I don't know how far I walked, but I covered most of the pine needle carpeted trails along the north shore and the trail out to Sea Lion Point. Point Lobos is a gorgeous place. If I lived in Monterey I'm sure I'd spend plenty of time there. Hey. I did live in Monterey, but I never discovered Point Lobos until I visited 7 years ago.

The day had started out overcast, but by the time I arrived at Point Lobos the sun was shining. Still, a strong breeze was blowing and I was glad to find sunny spots where I could sit and get warm.

During my walk I saw only one sea otter, but there were plenty of birds, including herons, and seals and sea lions. ( Ahrr. Ahrr. Ahrr.) I spotted a heron in the bay a little ways from shore and wondered how shallow the water must be for it to be standing there. Later I saw one in the water close to the trail and realized they stand on rafts of seaweed and driftwood.

At one spot -- Bluefish Cove, I think -- there was a swarm of jelly fish. They appeared just as white spots below the surface of the water. I probably wouldn't have noticed them if someone hadn't pointed them out. With my binoculars I could see the individual jellies floating in the water.

I guess I'll have to set the alarm clock tonight. I plan to take a whale watching cruise tomorrow and the one I'm aiming for leaves early in the morning.

Oh, and on the subject of nature: If this is California, that must have been an earthquake.
This evening around 8PM, just as I was about to sit down for a dinner of leftovers, the upstairs neighbor began doing somersaults. At least that's what I thought at first. Then I realized it was an earthquake. A short while later I looked it up online and found it was a 5.6 centered a little bit northeast of San Jose. Apparently, there have been numerous aftershocks, but I haven't felt anything since the first jolt.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Day 57 -- Driving in the clouds

The free continental breakfast at the Morro Bay motel never materialized. Maybe it was because there were only 3 or 4 rooms occupied. No big deal. I figured I would find something on the road. Route 1, to be exact.

Around Cambria I saw a little village-y looking street and decided to pull off and look for a bakery. There was an internet cafe with frou-frou coffee drinks and baked goods. Just what I needed. While I nursed a mocha and cranberry scone the proprietor and I chatted about the town and about my travels. A few locals came in, including a young woman wearing fairy wings. For Halloween.

As I headed north, I looked for the funky little motel I'd stayed in 7 years ago. I remembered that it was just past the place where the elephant seals gather. I couldn't remember the name of the area, but apparently it is Piedras Blancas. I found the elephant seal site, but didn't see any motel. Then further up the road I passed it, but it looked like it might be out of business as there was no sign out front. It was pretty run down back then.

Then it was on into Big Sur as clouds came down to meet the road. I can't afford to stay at the Ragged Point Inn -- at least, not on this trip -- but I was intent on stopping there again to enjoy the view and maybe a hot blueberry muffin. (Yeah, yeah, I know. I'd just had a scone.) When I stopped there 7 years ago, the sky was bright blue, but today I could only catch brief glimpses of the coastline through the fog. There were no hoards of hummingbirds this time, but a single one did come out to greet me and I could hear others in the trees.

You can probably drive from San Simeon to Monterey in about 2 hours, but you can also turn it into a full day trip by stopping at the many view points and exploring the beach access trails. Today I made a quicker trip of it than I had previously. For one thing, the views were restricted by the clouds, but also the few routes down to the water were closed due to extreme fire hazard. There wasn't going to be any sitting on the rocks watching the waves this time. So I put on a tape of nature sounds mixed with soft music, rolled down the window, turned on the heat and enjoyed the drive. Even when a light rain began to fall, I kept the window open. I made a few stops along the way to take pictures or just marvel at the view and arrived in Monterey around 3PM.

I immediately located the motel I had picked out and got a room. With so much time left in the day, I decided to walk (about a mile) towards Fisherman's Wharf.

When I lived in Monterey 30+ years ago while attending the Defense Language Institute (DLI), I didn't drive. I walked, took the bus, and caught rides with friends. It was a long time ago. I have only vague memories of how the streets connect, and many landmarks have changed. But I managed to find the waterfront, have dinner and get back to my room. I plan to stay for two more days. List of activities include time at Point Lobos State Reserve, a visit to the Presidio where DLI is located, and maybe a whale watch cruise. The weather is supposed to improve.

Oh. And while I was at dinner the waiter asked if I was here for the conference -- the librarian conference. (Do total strangers think I look like a librarian?) I suddenly remembered that the Internet Librarian conference is in Monterey in late October or early November. I've been wanting to get my job to send me for years but have never managed to coordinate it. Maybe I can get in to see the exhibitors hall. I'm sure I'll find vendor invitations on my desk when I return to work next week.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Day 56 -- Congestion!

No. I'm not coming down with a cold. Today I drove from Laguna Hills in Orange Country to Morro Bay just north of San Luis Obispo: I-5 to US101 and just a short jaunt on Route 1. The whole way I was in traffic. Some nice scenery but no open road. Congested roads for 269 miles.

I'm glad I arranged my visit to my brother's home to run through Saturday night. Traffic would have been even heavier on Friday or Saturday, and I would not have been able to get such a good deal on the nice motel room I found -- if I had been able to find a room at all.

But at 4PM on a Sunday, I had my pick of many economical lodgings. Once I got checked in I went for a walk on the waterfront, just two blocks away. I found an information center that explained the local geography. Then I got my exercise checking out all the eating options. Most of the offerings were fried food (e.g., fish & chips, calamari & chips, clam strips & chips) but since I'd had fish & chips the day before I opted for clam chowder and a salad. It was so-so. Sometimes it's hard to be good.

Tomorrow I'll spend the day driving through Big Sur. Last time I did that -- 7 years ago -- it was an overcast day, which made the views very dramatic. Not sure what's in store for tomorrow, but the scenery on this part of the coast is always great. I plan to spend the next 2-3 nights in Monterey.

I just discovered that there's a new Jane Goodall special tonight on Animal Planet -- and I have cable in my room! So now I'll stop writing and settle down for a night of TV.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Day 55 ... I think

I haven't driven my car since arriving at my brother's home in Laguna Hills on Wednesday. The car sits in the driveway with a light covering of ash. The So. Cal. fires appear to be mostly under control, but many people have lost their homes and some have lost their lives. The smokey skies of the past two days have been replaced by cloud cover. And it even sprinkled a little today. Very little. No. Wait a minute. As I look out the window I see actual rain falling. This is good news.

We haven't spent a lot of time outside because of all the smoke and ash in the air, although today seems better. Driving has been replaced by eating. On Thursday we went to a Belgian restaurant. Friday we had dim sum for lunch and then went to a Brazilian restaurant. Today we had fish and chips at Dana Point for lunch and will go to Sam Woo's (my favorite) for dinner. I may not need to eat again until I return home a week from today.

Tomorrow I'll hit the road again. Plan is to take I-5 north to US-101 and spend the night somewhere near the start of Big Sur.