Even when life is busy I try to make time to wander aimlessly. Some days I am better at it than others. When I head out with my camera without a specific goal in mind, I often find unexpected treasures…a slice of light, a shadow, a bird flying low, or something I can’t even imagine when I make the decision to wander. And I love how the process of wandering sets off my wondering impulses, creating curiosity, leading me to further exploration and ultimately to new learning opportunities.
I didn’t know there was a name for this until I read Deanna’s blogpost the other day and learned about a course she is designing with flanerie at its heart. The key to flanerie as I understand it, is the reflection on that wandering and wondering (through writing) that leads to new understandings of ourselves as humans and our connections in the larger world.
The past week had me wandering along the coast of northern California. We had an overall game plan before we left home, we knew where we would spend each night but the rest of our time was unscheduled leaving room for exploration and spontaneity. There is something magical about a redwood forest. Trees that seem to reach up forever create their own climate. Sun shines in slants, creating textures of light and shadow. And there is the quiet–as dense as the trees themselves–I felt like I could hear my heart beat and focus on each breath as I walked miles through the forests.
When I learned that architect Julia Morgan had designed a structure for a space in the forest, I knew I wanted to wander there. We headed there early, a drive through trees, in some places so narrow we wondered if our car would fit through. The early light was soft, bringing out the greens of the stones (from the eel river, I learned). There’s something special about a person-made structure that takes advantage of all nature offers. This piece, Hearthstone, was built to commemorate the efforts of a group of women to save old growth trees in this forest.
In 1900, as the earliest example of a Kickstarter campaign, 65,000 women raised $45,000 to protect a stunning grove of old-growth redwoods. Their grove abuts the Rockefeller Grove, donated by the largess of one very rich man, in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, a bit north of Garberville, about 228 miles north of San Francisco.
These women organized the California Federation of Women’s Clubs. They hired Julia Morgan in 1932 to design and build a central gathering space. She designed an amazing memorial, symbolizing the power of their gift, which she called a “Hearthstone.” It is a 4-sided outdoor fireplace with four witty, poetic medallions above the mantel of each hearth.
The four corner posts supporting the roof are tree trunks, while the center masonry chimney is a human deference to the massive strength of the heroic trees. More than a simple utilitarian fireplace for cooking or heating, the folded roof converts the monument into an elegant weather-protected shelter, symbolic of a humble abode in the forest, crafted with elegant joinery of wood beams and posts, celebrating this special Eden. (http://levinearch.com/redwood-grove-shelter-by-julia-morgan/)
Here’s my photo of this beautiful structure.
And in the same space where Julie Morgan designed a person-made structure, I found nature-made structures that inspired awe with their beauty. I feel like I am learning about the beauty that exists in death this summer. The redwood forest is a complex ecosystem that depends on both life and death for the health of the forest. I watched new life grow out of decaying trunks, enriched by what was there before. The timing was poignant as my mother-in-law died Monday morning, the forest reminded us that death continues to offer us bounty and beauty. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this upturned tree, nature’s art composed from the death of the tree.
And then there is new life, springing up. It is surprising to find the delicate flowers and lacy ferns thriving beneath the tall giants. I love when nature creates her own still life, leaving it there for me to find and capture through my lens.
From the redwoods we wandered to the beach, stopping first to explore the small town of Ferndale, CA. The temperature dropped as we headed near the coast, making me glad I had packed some jackets. We entered Ferndale by crossing a historic bridge over a river to enter a valley with farms dotting the landscape. Cows were plentiful as well as barns as we drove into this Victorian village that felt like going back in time. Our wanderings took us down narrow lanes, where we stopped off to snap a glimpse of the farming life. (Hay bales like this will forever remind me of my cousins and spending summers in Castle Rock, WA where we rode along on the trucks as my uncles picked up and stacked the bales–something far removed from my San Diego life.)
Beaches in northern CA are nothing like beaches here. First, the weather is cold–highs into the low and mid 60s in late July! There are lots of sand dunes and breathtaking cliffs. This cliff near Trinidad, CA also featured wildflowers, a treat after a harrowing and twisty turny trip down a bumpy and often one-laned road to access it. You can see the thick fog in the distance…there was no sunset on this evening as we drove back into the fog bank to find our lodging.
We set our hopes low on the coastal journey the next day, knowing that the sunshine could be elusive. But we were treated to a sunny day that brings out the brilliance of the blue of the sky and the sea. It was fun to have this seagull fly right into my frame as I took this photo overlooking Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.
Further down the coast we stopped off to hike out to this lighthouse. We could hear the sea lions vocalizing in the distance (even though we couldn’t see them) as we walked toward the point where the lighthouse sits. You can see the light in the distance as this lighthouse continues to warn ships that land is near.
The long stretch of highway home seems to go on forever. There’s lots of time to think and talk and to pay attention to unusual points of interest. I have pictures of tomato trucks, log trucks, cows and more. A collection of working oil derricks caught my attention as we crossed the central valley from Salinas to intersect highway 5. And then I noticed this corridor of electrical towers that seems almost like a fancy entrance to southern CA.
So, enjoy some flanerie this week. Head out and wander aimlessly. Wander and wonder and write…and take some photos too. What will you learn about yourself as you explore without a predetermined goal?
You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #flanerie for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.
Grab your camera and experiment with flanerie this week. Wander and wonder, write some poetry or just doodle a bit (doodling is the focus of clmooc this week!). Be sure to share what you learn with the rest of us!
Wonderful pictures and writing. It was nice to see Julie Morgan’s structure. She’s one of my favorite architects.
Thanks Ann. Nice to hear from you. Hope all is well–might be time for a coffee one of these days!