A continuation of the journey that began on January 1, 2010, recorded in "a year of getting up to meet the day." After 365 consecutive sunrise outings in that year, I couldn't bear to give up the dawn. This blog (no longer daily) will be informed and inspired by the rising light of the morning sun.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quebecois lessons - crossing borders

sunrise:  reasonably further west

Two years ago J and I visited one of our great lifetime friends at his amazing home in southern Quebec.

Our visit happened to fall on the same weekend as an annual event for our Canadian friend and his family. On the birthday of his oldest child, they invite a bunch of friends from their former home in Ottawa, 3 hours away.  For one exuberant weekend, the house fills with about 20 people, half of them children.

It was such a unique experience, that we kind of invited ourselves back again.

There are numerous cool things about this gathering of friends.

First - they only see each other 4 times a year, and their initial connection came from one year of living in the same town.  Somehow, this group of young and grown-up friends has become a kind of family.  When they are together, they are at their most animated and their most relaxed and secure all at the same time.

Second - Every one of them is bilingual, and for several, English is their second language.  To hear a bunch of children bantering back and forth between languages is an amazing thing to my sequestered Maine ears.  I realize that this happens in Spanish all over my country nowadays, but I don't see it (nor do many Mainers).

Third - No TV.  There is one big computer screen around, but they don't have any television in the house.  The whole crew went bowling.  The piano was played endlessly by young hands.  Kids bundled up and jumped on the trampoline.  Piles of books in both languages littered tabletops.  A floor-to-ceiling tower of blocks was erected.  There was lots of movement up and down three flights of stairs, and lots of noise.  It was awesome.

Fourth - I forget that we have this foreign culture just a few hours away from home.  Most of the US doesn't think about the fact that we have French speaking neighbors right next door, especially in our increasingly Spanish-speaker influenced society.  Architecture, food products, the metric system, signage - everything is different.  It is always so eye-opening to travel to a foreign country and be reminded that we each live in a particular culture of our own.

Fifth -  Our friend has four children, ages 6 to 14.  I think one of the things that irresistibly attracts J and me to that household is the return in time to a houseful of kids.  Our own four are launched and away, which is exciting and gratifying in its own multiple ways.  But -- to return to that dynamic, discovery-filled period of developing life is intoxicating, especially when we have no responsibility whatsoever!  It is a spectacular family of bright, inquisitive, affectionate, twinkling, engaging young people.

Perhaps even more than traveling to a foreign country, traveling back to another kind of time and place in life is breathtakingly illuminating, exhilarating, and heart-stirring.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

winter blahs edition

sunrise:  6:37

Sometimes I slide into a bit of a doldrum this time of year.  This morning's sunrise reminded me a bit of what it can be like when one is feeling low.  You know that there is something good out there, behind the clouds.  You might even see a tiny glimmer of it, as if through a crack in a wall.  But the full power of the glorious glow is obstructed.

Still - there are always bits of beauty to be found.  I love the geometric patterns that form from ice and snow on rolling landscapes.

My very kind editor allowed me leeway to write about something different this week.  So I was indulged in exploratory exposition about how to beat the winter blahs.  As of tomorrow some time, you can link to it on my BDN webpage...


And a little humor can help to weather the storm.  I love this post on Hyperbole and a Half, which takes an extraordinarily realistic and riotous look at "Adventures in Depression."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Houston by dawn and day

sunrise:  7:08

There are a lot of wonderful things about travel.  Coming from Maine, one of the best parts of travel is that almost anywhere you go, the sunrise is a bit later than at home.  Being back on the civilized side of 7am is quite nice.

City sunrise is always difficult to capture on film from ground level.  After four days of storms and clouds, in the midst of city buildings, I wondered if I would ever get a decent sunrise shot before leaving Texas.  After a move from the high rises of downtown to the sprawl of "mid-town" (an area that feels more like suburbs to me), I found my sunrise sky.

Not bad.

Here is our pre-dawn, mid-town view of downtown:

While I'm at it, I will share a bit of my daytime explorations of this fourth largest city in the United States.  I have had 5 days here to wander about while J attends a conference.

Houston is a pretty major sports hub, and two big arenas caught my eye as a walking tourist.  The Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets, has a lovely circular tribute garden dedicated to Hakeem Olajuwon.  Nearby is a basketball park that offered a nice view of downtown, shrouded in clouds.

Minute Maid Park, the baseball hub, is built on to the old Union Station, a train station designed by the same guy that designed Grand Central Station in New York.  Now those grand days of train travel are gone and the pillared foyer only serves as an entryway to the ball park.

Outside, a statue of Craig Biggio hurls a ball to the first baseman across the way.  Biggio played his entire 19 year career with the Houston Astros.

The historic district was somewhat disappointing.  Some people complain that Houston has wreaked havoc with its historical architecture.  Very few early buildings still stand.  This humble brick townhouse is one of the oldest (the oldest?) building in the city that still sits in its original site.

One of the most unusual things to me about Houston was its multi-level world.  There are skyways and tunnels like lacework all over the city, above and below.  The tunnels reminded me of airport terminals, endless rows of shops and restaurants, except there are no windows in sight.  A bit claustrophobic for me, and it seemed weird that so many people were spending time underground when there is perfectly nice fresh air outdoors.

So I headed outside the city and visited Hermann Park.  I skirted the edges of Rice University and got a little "choo-choo train" tour of Hermann Park, where there are monuments, lakes, an outdoor theater, and museums.  And of course, there are very cute squirrels.

There are also lots of live oaks.  Live oak trees are one of my favorite things about the south.  That exquisite, tortuously twisted and gnarled branchwork evokes an intensely expressive character in these trees.  They all seem to have a story to tell, and create haunting silhouettes at any time of year.

And speaking of trees - this is a famous, or perhaps infamous one in Houston.  Though there are conflicting versions of the tales, some call this "the Hanging Tree" of Houston.  Ostensibly, many men were hanged from its branches in the early days of the Republic of Texas.  But even in the 1800's, this 400 year old tree was already a venerable old creature.