Once upon a more simple time, they rumbled through quiet neighborhoods in rural Massachusetts, flanked on all sides by kids of all ages.
Legs churned, arms waved. Dimes glinted in the afternoon sunshine.
“Snow Cones, Push-up Pops, Creamsicles…come and get yours!”
A single row of barbed wire runs along the outside edges of the pasture where these utilitarian vehicles came to rest. They are nested, now, in tangles of ivy.
Hard to believe that the rust-covered metal was once a glossy white. The wiper blades are arthritic; the headlights, bleary.
Shredded tires are stashed on the floor, and the windows are smeared with nature’s residue.
Tired sentries, standing guard over the happy moments they once delivered:
Sweet frozen treats on hot summer days, tucked behind decorated metal awnings.
Their time has clearly come and gone.
At the end of an old gravel road, within the loose confines of a pasture, someone’s mowed the grass around these time machines.
Their engines are long gone, and their beauty has long since faded. But maybe, just maybe– if we squint our eyes, just a little, and tilt our heads just so–nostalgia will carry us back to those blue-sky moments of our childhood.
One of my Facebook friends set forth a creative challenge: Interpret the word coats as you wish—with paints, colored pencils and pens, needlecrafts, photography, you name it. As luck would have it, Serendipity worked her magic again! We’d already bought tickets for the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound’s Twilight Tour, and I couldn’t imagine a better place for a fashion shoot. So many exquisitely designed and constructed coats, custom-tailored to Mother Nature’s most discerning customers!
By way of background, the EFBC is a breeding zoo and research facility in the high desert of Rosamond, California. As you can see from this set of photographs, the compound isn’t a money-making enterprise. It’s isolated and minimalistic. And yet, it’s occupied by more than 70 of the world’s most endangered and exotic felines. They rely on special events to help bring in money for research, construction of new facilities, and ongoing animal care.
Make no mistake about it, though: their cats are well-nourished and don’t suffer for any lack of attention.
White tiger, eagerly awaiting a volunteer’s treat
When they’re not napping or seeking refuge from the midday sun, you get much closer views than you would at most zoos–especially during their Twilight Tours, when visitors are granted all-access passes to the entire compound. Cats are more active at night anyway, but volunteers entice them into the open with treats enrichment items: crushed peppermint and lavender, to stimulate their sense of smell; phone books, which they rip to shreds in minutes; hard-boiled eggs, raw chicken strips and watermelon, all of which disappears in a flash.
Jaguar makes quick work of a watermelon
You can learn a lot by simply observing. Touching is verboten, but you can always read (a good source) and ask questions. We were among the last to leave, and I brought home a whole wardrobe of bespoke coats, photographed on the owners who wear them best.
A tiger’s stripes are like fingerprints—the pattern is individual to each cat.
A leopard’s low-slung, muscular form is covered with skin-deep, closely spaced rosettes that serve as contrast to its tawny coat.
Black leopards have spots, too, though you might not see them at first glance.
Jaguars have substantially larger heads and jaws than leopards do. They are beefy beasts! Notice the occasional dot in the middle of those rosettes? Those markings helps distinguish them from leopards—which, as you know, never change their spots.
White tigers are showy, but beneath that exotic exterior, they’re genetically similar to their orange-tinted brothers.
Snow leopards are shy. They have closely spaced rosettes over a pale, thick coat that keeps them warm and serves as camouflage in the snow.
Bobcats have facial ruffs and tufted ears. Their fur is multi-colored, sometimes with ticking, stripes and spots.
I could go on and on, so impressed was I with Mother Nature’s haute couture. But I’ll just leave you with a few extra coats, how’s that? Look closely at the markings, shapes, and colors…Can you identify the owners?
I’ve heard tell of it since we studied California History at Sunkist Elementary School, way back in 4th grade. Fiesta de las Golondrinas: that’s how we said it later, in Spanish class.
Legend has it that a San Juan Capistrano shopkeeper swiped at the Cliff Swallows‘ mud nests with a broom, grumbling all the while about the mess these tiny “nuisances” made. The kindly Father O’Sullivan, intervened. “Come on swallows,” he said, “I’ll give you shelter. Come to the Mission. There’s room enough there for all.”
Scientific evidence suggests a different timeline, but tradition says that it was during Monsignor St. John (“Sin-Jin”) O’Sullivan’s tenure at the Mission (1910-33) that the Cliff Swallows first built their gourd-shaped nests on the renovated Sacristy of the Old Stone Church, and under the red tile roofs of its outbuildings.
Every autumn, O’Sullivan noted in his journal, the tiny birds vacated their nests for warmer climates. All the way to Argentina, as it turns out. Come springtime, they’d once again find their way back to San Juan Capistrano (a 15,00 mile journey!), where they’d spend several pleasant months in their former nests.
Each year, Father O’Sullivan welcomed the swallows’ return. They were sheltered by the mission, just as he promised.
And still, the visitors come. Tourists from around the globe flock to Mission San Juan Capistrano on March 19th every year, undeterred by the swallows’ potential absence. The Festival was on my bucket list, too, for as long as I’ve lived in Orange County. Which is to say, I’ve procrastinated for a good long while. But this year, I put it my calendar. In ink. Regardless. And whaddya know: I finally made it!
I drove this time, but the Surfliner looks like a fun option!
The festivities began with hushed silence, followed by the ringing of the Mission Basilica school bells.
As with most cultural events, there was pageantry of all sorts–including but not limited to storytelling and dancing, clanging bells and mariachi music.
Monarch butterflies drifted through the gardens, which were just now coming into bloom.
Sacred objects were on display, as were ancient California cultural artifacts. It was a feast for all senses, a joyful occasion with a little something for everybody.
For this first-time visitor, it was the schoolchildren’s performances in the sunny courtyard — all radiant smiles and vibrant costumes–that brought these long-standing traditions to life.
We watched them for nearly two hours in the open courtyard, sunshine streaming down on us from a cloudless sky. Ahhh, spring.
Some visitors retreated to the darkened chapel. Still others made a beeline from the ticket line to the gift shop. The lines grew long at the Snow Cone stand, and the exhibit halls emptied. No matter. There was shelter for everybody, room for all.
Part of the fun of having houseguests is that you have a handy excuse to play tourist in your natural habitat–to appreciate anew its beauty, and to revisit all the local attractions. And so it was I headed up PCH yesterday to tour Getty Villa with my friend Margaret.
Nestled into a narrow canyon on the coast of Malibu, Getty Villa is home to the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. The last time I visited, my kids were attending grade school in nearby Calabasas. The grounds were beautiful, but the museum itself was characterized by dark passageways and crowded display cases, none of which showed off the ancient artifacts to best advantage. In fact, my older son proclaimed it “more boring than church.”
In the interim since my last visit, the Villa has undergone a major facelift. Re-envisioned as Villa dei Papiria, a first-century Roman country home in Herculaneum that was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the buildings and grounds are brighter, airier, and more inviting.
I’ll give you an informal tour in another post, but for now I want to show you just one artifact. It’s about the size of a small juice glass, a single piece in a vast collection of glassware. Insignificant, maybe, when viewed alongside the more ornate pieces at Getty Villa.
But when I read the display card beneath it, my heart did cartwheels. And seeing as how I’ve just now transferred my Joyful Noise blog over from its LiveJournal home to WordPress, I thought it apropos to share it with you today.
All that to say: Welcome to my newly remodeled blog! I hope you’ll make yourself at home here, and that you’ll enjoy repeated visits. We’ve got lots of adventures ahead of us, and so much beauty to explore…
Family secrets and a veil of denial. Here, an intriguing story about murder in the pre-Internet era. How can you bring a criminal to justice, if there’s no firsthand accounts and the crime isn’t searchable? And if that’s the case, who are the victims, really?
Thank goodness for microfiche, eyewitness accounts, genealogical records and the like–archeological tools for memoirists like me. It’s tedious work, and oftentimes painful, because in shining our flashlights into the dark, we come face-to-face with our own monsters. But also? Our better angels.
Rose Window, “Graced with Light.” (Art installation at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.)
Graffiti on Melrose Avenue (Hollywood, CA), my photo
Today is Ash Wednesday. For some, it’s a day of remembered sacrifice, of reflection and repentance, symbolized by the wearing of sackcloth and ashes. Thus begins the 40-day Lenten season that ends on Easter Sunday. I was raised Pentecostal, so we didn’t observe those traditions–not in the literal sense, anyway. That’s not to say that we didn’t make sacrifices at the altar of our faith; we most assuredly did. I‘ve been contemplating this of late; and in all humbleness, I have to say: If could remove one stain from my childhood, I would scrub myself clean of shame-based teachings, religious and otherwise. I believe we are called to walk in sunshine, not shame, and to clothe ourselves in soft, forgiving fabrics.That said, I believe also that we come closer to “the angels of our better nature” when we carve out time for spiritual renewal, however that comes to be for each of us. With that in mind, I’m going to observe Lent this year, in a way that makes sense to me. I’m adding beneficial foods to my menu, expanding my exercise routines & yoga practice, and spending more time on activities that promote mindfulness and personal growth. I’m not sacrificing anything, per se, but the end results will be the same, in that making room for these changes will help me release the things I want/need to give up, anyway. I’ve chosen this butterfly–the symbol of change and renewal for many–as my icon for Ash Wednesday. The photograph is soft-focus, purposefully so. I’m unclear on some of the details of my 40-day plan, but the ambiguity affords me a space in which to breathe, to learn, to grow. Things will unfold as they will, and I’m allowing myself to be okay with that.