Joshua Tree National Park, A Week Later

We were out here just six days ago but are just as excited to see what nature has available for us today. We would be trying to find camping if we had any of our gear as we have things in California, Montana, and somewhere in transit between Manama, Virginia Beach, and San Diego to include most of our dive gear as we’ve bought things to add to our kits and purchased part of the divemaster course that we look forward to pursuing. Anyway, without a larger car or place to sleep we settle for the six hours roundtrip for a taste of seclusion.

We get an earlier start this morning, even after we turned around 20 minutes from the house to get Caleb’s camera’s charger cord that ended up not working — the ocean takes its toll on all things whether it’s salt eating gear or turtles eating jellyfish. Caleb will look for the newest model of Nikon as his favorite little waterproof photo grabber is no longer made in that version or color. Less wind moving the car this time sms to make the windmill portion of our trip seem further from the house but also smaller in total land area. 

Caleb decides that even though the map is in the car and we could add a second stamp to it that we should get the collector’s edition book so that we have another place to feed our need to express ourselves via sticker display. I used to acquire them randomly from parks that have them and brands that we agree with or a free stack from Dad to cover the scratches on my laptop but I’ve been influenced by the #vanlife and the stickers that the lifestyle has inspired. I do drive a Volkswagen now, so my dream of having a van of the same brand seems less far off even as Caleb dreams of his retirement truck. 

We stop more frequently since we have more time for me to photograph trees and for Caleb to read the educational signs along the road. We park behind a car with a child running around and the mom is curious as to if the information center is close or if they missed it. Caleb assures her it’s just a few more miles up the road. Back in the car, I wonder out loud trying to remember our first park experience and not knowing what to expect. I’d have to relate that to an international park when you have to read the pictures because you don’t know the language but most countries are accommodating of a translation of English. 

Then I wonder if perhaps it’s a during-covid concern that they have — that the ranger station will be closed and they’ll be forced to guess their way through the park. I have no idea how it was for the last year and a half, but I heard some parks were trashed in the absence of employees to help hold people accountable because they think the planet is their dumpster. This station though has a desk outside, the counter inside, and a window available as well to keep people spread out — some in masks while in proximity and others not because they’re outside. 

I enter the first stamp and we make our way behind the visitor’s center to hike the Cottonwood Springs Mastodon Peak Loop, just over two miles of trail. There’s an oasis tucked into the valley and I can imagine a small tribe hiding in here to escape the heat of the day, but there’s just tourists going off trail with their tripod and cell phones to experience the drop in temperature that the shade provides and to get pictures of the birds that I can clearly see from the trail. I wish my junior ranger badge came with the opportunity to ticket these people to recover the damage their ignorance causes. 

I understand the detriment my vehicle makes on the environment and the light pollution at night but I would delete their illegal photos and educate them on their responsibility to protect and preserve this land for others to enjoy, just as they could be. Perhaps I’m being too uptight though and we should let people go about at their leisure carving their initials into anything — trees, paintings, and manatees. They can piss on it all, which I wouldn’t even let my dog do because I have respect for things whether they’re mine or not, especially when they don’t belong to me. 

I’m starting to see the older person perspective of life. You grow up, mature, and for some reason expect others to do the same and when they don’t you begin to resent them a little more each time they make an infraction that you see as totally avoidable. But I also realize I’ve made mistakes in life and who am I to judge the seriousness of their offenses against my own. I know this goes across cultures and continents as I’ve met all types on my travels and realize the importance of education in so many ways that are lacking. I want to maintain an open mind and heart towards all creatures and let them express their true nature, regardless of whether that goes against my upbringing because the world doesn’t revolve around me. 

I appreciate the value the desert brings to the patient and curious eyes of those who seek to find its beauty. I’m grateful for the people who deem so much of the planet unworthy of their attention as it means there is more for me to see without crowds of selfie takers. My dad recently noticed that I don’t take many pictures of me in places (or that if I do I don’t post them) and I’m ok with that because I know what I look like and will watch myself age offline as I look back on these photos as the memories fade of the locations I was lucky enough to have seen. 

There’s more color in the park this time but also more trash as I pick up a can and a straw that falls apart as I hand it to Caleb. We need to bring a trash bag with us everywhere we go. It’s one of the reasons we have a spare pocket when we dive — to clean up the laziness of others but at least in the desert the tortoise has to snort the straw in pieces instead of using it whole as nostril jewelry like its sea turtle cousin. 

Each ecosystem is the most efficient artwork of its type — one that can be appreciated for the parts as well as the whole — the cacti and the mountain, the tree and the forest, the coral and the ocean — each doing their part to sustain themselves and working together to help each other create a masterpiece in their entirety. It’s for this reason that I squat down, lean sideways, and stand on my tippy toes to take in each angle of detail or to spy on something shy that’s trying to hide so I can take in the full essence of all the things my mind can’t remember about geologic history, animal science, and plant relationships. 

I stare at a shadow and though I’ve seen a time-lapse of hours and a day, I imagine what it would be like to watch a thousand or ten thousand years go by in a 24-hour video. I could watch an overhead version of one park, then zoom out to a region (county, prefecture, borough), before taking the astronaut’s view of countries progressing through an era and watching their shapes shift. Nature is a magical place that allows the mind to follow these paths, sometimes into your daily routine where it’s hard for others to follow your thoughts as they meander through possibilities and connections yet unknown to them or fully to you. 

What do history, houses, and hounds have in common? They’ve all got untold stories that people can only guess at based on the evidence left behind — a cracked rock, some chipped paint, and a chewed on table allow our minds to fill in the gaps. What a luxury it is to see nature living its truth, even if it is through filtered ideals surviving on man-made edits in a limited environment that is structured more for human ease than it is to ensure its future existence. Meanwhile, I’m sure Caleb is on the lookout for bighorn sheep and avoiding the cacti cushions so conveniently placed along our path. 

The peak is reached and more contemplation is had as we look out on the valley and then into the camera lens for proof we were here. On our descent, we pass Mastodon Mine, just one of the 300 or so in the park’s boundary, that the Hulsey family established in the 1930s and worked on and off for decades. The entrance is now barricaded from humans to protect the bats, but not closed enough to keep them safe from the trash thrown in. It saddens me that I can’t reach in there to remove it. I see the importance of parks putting more ethical plans in place but there’s not a convenient way to enforce them. 

I look at the wood that’s been there almost a century, rough and weathered, and then notice the names carved into the new boards put in place to keep the original structure standing. I could live in a place like this — teepee, hut, cave, igloo, etc. and have a minimal impact on the environment but I (as a collective) have no time to make my own bread, fix my socks, fetch my water, and create electricity enough to keep the fridge running while I type on my computer about limiting some of life’s modern luxuries so that people could have time to explore more of their minds and less of their possessions. 

Luckily for Caleb, I keep a majority of these thoughts to myself (just while we’re exploring) and tell him my second post about Joshua Tree in May will be more about the park and less about my wandering mind, but it seems I got that wrong. Then we come across a Wilson’s warbler and our focus is on seeing the bird through his thorn bush (Lycium andersonii) camouflage as he flitters throughout its branches and I take advantage of the photoshoot moment. I love that Caleb has been with me long enough now to read an opportunity as its happening — such that when I want a picture he knows to move out of frame or grab the wheel. 

We’re driving to our next hike and I see a couple with wood gathered in their arms and shoving it in their large SUV trunk like the trees are collectors’ items and not currently protected under the Endangered Species Act (which I didn’t know at the time). My junior ranger badge might not be on and I might not even have one for this park but that didn’t stop me from luckily being near a red ranger phone that I picked up immediately. It made me feel better that even if they put the wood back perhaps next time they will think twice before destroying something that isn’t theirs. 

Caleb had chosen Hidden Valley as our second major stop of the day, but there was no available parking. Since our last trip the amount of visitors has more than doubled as there are cars parked along the road as well. I choose Hemingway instead, which is mostly for rock climbers but still able to be enjoyed by those of us without extra gear or needed experience. This is a nice finish to the day before we drive a bit out of the way to save 30 cents per gallon on fuel; the price of which continues to rise. That’s the cost of travel, which as an avid adventurer I’m ok with paying more for being frivolous in my explorations. 

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Joshua Tree National Park Day Trip

Mount San Jacinto

We were going to take this trip with Caleb’s Uncle Ed while he was in town for the last two weeks of April, but ended up staying local that day instead. Ed inspired us to get out and about, regardless of how comfortable the vehicle we ride in may be — a 2019 white Ford Fusion rental (while our’s was in the shop after being rear-ended at a red light) and our 2006 yellow Volkswagen New Beetle (with a new rear bumper that seems to drive worse now).

Anyway, today isn’t about the car. It’s about a day for us, as just us. We both grew up with people all around us all the time — they’re called siblings. Then we joined the navy and had 80+ roommates, then down to three while in A-school, then up to seven after Hurricane Katrina. We’d let a couple stay with us to save money and then we’d move in with another couple to help them save money too. We were able to live without others, not including our amazing dogs, for a majority of the last decade (minus a few transitional months on each coast). We’ve gotten used to doing things our way, not that we don’t love changing things up, especially when we travel, but we didn’t have kids for a reason.

there’s a Zebratail lizard in this photo

This trip isn’t about kids either, which is why we took it without them. We were under the impression that we’d have our own space, not be sharing our room with a large closet of soccer shoes, boys’ collared shirts, camping gear, and loads of toilet paper along with a pantry shelf for snack foods, bottled water, and powdered coffee creamer. We though that we’d have space to store our toiletries but a teenage boy, prepubescent girl, and their little sister have a way of filling up the bathroom with steam, mold, colored sticky spots, toothpaste, tape, paper, scrunchies, etc. so I tote my things in and back out.

Porcupine Wash

This trip isn’t about a lack of personal space either or getting in the kitchen to cook a non-meat meal before the family meal is made that must consist of chicken or beef and on occasion a pork loin with sauerkraut. This is about getting into the great outdoors, seeing the trees, smelling the flowers, and picking the music on the radio — as Ed prefers country or jazz or conversation — which we can all agree is better.

We get a later start in the day than we normally would as the trip was decided on as a way to escape a rainy day in San Diego and get into the sunshine that Joshua Tree had to offer. We put on shorts and 15 SPF, grabbed some bananas and pistachios, lots of water and some caffeine and hit the road. It’s amazing the immediate shift in mood when getting back to something that the last year has deprived us of. Caleb isn’t even supposed to be on this trip because it’s considered unnecessary travel (where he could pick up Covid and deliver it to his current command), which unlike his last hasn’t had to be locked down multiple times for failure to follow instruction — the only rules nature follows are its own.

Cholla Cactus Garden

As we approach the park we notice the snow-covered peaks of Mount San Jacinto in the distance and the trees in the foreground that appear to be bowing to royalty — I’ll take what I can get, even if that requires over 20 mph winds to accomplish. Caleb and I admire the windmill farm and the massive desert it creates to support wind turbines with broken blades and tops that look burnt. Hearing his mom talk on the phone about work and showers reminds me of conversations with my mom and their relaxing simplicity and of the recent post on my dad’s blog about the most difficult phone call of his life which was already six years ago. 

Joshua Trees

Time is like the wind, you can only see its effects, sometimes barely a breeze and other times a blistering barrage, such is the ebb and flow of life and finding the peace between the daily dullness and the moments that memories are made of. I drive and wonder about the possibilities of breathing the same air twice in a lifetime, but science teaches me that everything is constantly growing and dying simultaneously and the chances of two particles reuniting are infinitesimal but the effects those atoms have on us can last a lifetime; such are the influences of a parent upon a child. 

The sound of a mother’s voice disappears as quickly as the highway traffic to get to the south entrance and that’s when the windows come down and the wind fills my hair as a smile crosses my face. Caleb looks at me as his phone starts to lose signal and though their is negativity in the world, there is only positivity surrounding us now. The desert is as dry as we remember and traffic is light though camping is full. We arrive without our first mini national park passport book that we bought in 2008 or 09, Caleb’s children’s version for notes from the rangers, or my newer binder version that we got once the southeast portion was full with plans to go back and fill the rest. 

on Ryan Mountain trail

Caleb grabs a map, I put a stamp in it, and we’re off to Porcupine Wash to explore roughly 2.5 miles of the Colorado Desert in the heat of the day, which at 100*F isn’t anything we can’t handle in our shorts-clad legs and sunscreen-covered faces. This is a wilderness backpacking area and we realize that at our turn around point when we don’t know which way to go, except back the way we came, and our water is at half remaining. The desert is full of subtle colors and signs of life and we’re lucky enough to spot a couple of Zebratail lizards scurrying across the hot sand; though they prefer to keep their camouflaged distance and I didn’t bring my zoom lens. 

We left behind a few people trying to brave the poorly unmarked path (which I have nothing against) and it was just us and nature, truly two of our favorite things. We appreciate more each day the solitude and selfishness we’re allowed since we didn’t invite kids to join us for the rest of our lives and even as we look to the future, we don’t see dogs in it anytime soon because Sparky and Piggy were perfect traveling companions and we’re still ok with them living on in our memories with no need to adopt a distraction puppy because they don’t keep that cute breath forever. 

scrub jay on Mojave yucca

Anyway, so there we are, reveling in each other’s sweaty musk, holding a warm and moist hand as we listen to our feet patter over and through the grains of mountains past and feel them climb into our shoes because of course I have ventilation in the toes of mine that are perfect for this situation. Caleb’s just glad that I upgraded from flip-flops or flats which I find just as worthy on trails not covered in snow. I’m sure that’s just my youth speaking for me as my joints start to age and lose flexibility I will need more stable footwear to keep me in the outdoors for the decades to come. 

Back on the road and we make the touristy stop along the route at Cholla Cactus Garden. Last time we were here we got to witness someone being attacked by a cacti for getting off the clearly marked path. I realize for some people that the access they’re allowed now will never be enough; they feel the need to go further and faster through life than others to make some unknown claim for their “friends and followers”. So this time we get to see a high-school-aged girl pretending to airplane over a cacti while her friend films on the other side and a woman having a full conversation with another cacti, complete with hand signals. 

going up Ryan Mountain

Ignoring the idiots, we continue to appreciate the minor details showing us the cycles of life and death as the Earth struggles with its most obnoxious of predators — humans. It’s no wonder Caleb and I enjoy coming to places like this that show us a percentage of the beauty that our ancestors saw as threatening and a way to feed their families, such as other countries’ citizens continue to destroy their parks to clear land for cattle, cocoa, cotton, etc. to continue to do the same. Past this stop and we’re entering the Mojave Desert. 

panoramic views

We’ve traveled 36 miles north into the park before the split — one to the west entrance and the other to the north entrance. We’ll go right and park at Ryan Mountain. There are more trees and boulders on this side of the drive and a beautiful scrub jay watching us from a Mojave yucca and a Black-throated sparrow eyeing us from the stone steps as we ascend half the trail. We’re not worried about finishing before sunset as much as we realize we’re down to 40oz of water and Caleb still has to work in the morning. We’re roughly three hours from home without interruption and we already know we’ll be stopping at Twentynine Palms Marine base, or MCAGCC, to refill the car with gas. 

Black-throated sparrow

The trail has three other couples dispersed evenly — one that we pass bouldering, another sitting on some rocks, and the last that are ahead of us as the trail winds around the side of the mountain before the summit. We take in the panoramic views and the pops of pink and red along the route that stand out in a vista of browns, greens, and yellows before passing another couple on the return to the car. Our first stateside national park visit in 20 months went well and we have plans to do it again soon. 

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Bye, Bye, Bahrain

We would spend the last few days of the year walking around various areas of the island — some here before Caleb’s first visit in 2004 and others that were made after we left in 2016. This country is constantly a work-in-progress, some buildings leaving you to wonder if they are being built up or torn down. Here are a few of the pictures I took.

sunrise on the bridge

shopping and reading

The House of Coffee, Muharraq

outside and inside views of our staycation …

… chosen for a tub we can both lay in

sunset views

a roundabout on Reef Island

Coral Bay — kitties, water for sale, skyscrapers

Busaiteen Beach Walkway

The Park @ Bahrain Bay

a popular place to feed the birds

sun, shade, and watering cans

built with centuries between them

ready to refill

We spent a few days exploring cemeteries and realized we had missed out previously on a quiet place to explore on such a busy island (prior to the Covid Crisis). The map doesn’t do the size of these places justice as we walked the perimeter and crisscrossed through an area neither of us had thought to go, even though we’d been to the Delmun Burial Mounds and have traveled to other memorial sights in various countries.

We will depart the island next month with no idea on our expected return date, if the Navy shall grant us that option with this abrupt change in plans, as we hadn’t thought about going back last time we left except for the income increase, proximity to warm diving locations, and ability for me to travel to so many countries without a day’s long flight, literally. Caleb wasn’t able to leave the island in 2020 for two reasons: Captain Tom is a workaholic when he can avoid his wife and then Covid came in to restrict the military making fun travel illegal and work travel difficult — and almost impossible to navigate with people who have trouble working in a supervised office not being held responsible for the same duties at home.

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A Walk to Croydon

I was slow getting out the door this morning as I waited on the rain to lighten — and because I was unaware of the time change that cost me an hour. I should invest in a bright yellow rain coat, colorful cowboy boot galoshes, and an umbrella for three so I can keep dry at any angle when the wind changes direction — or at least some waterproof pants to go with my coat so the rain doesn’t drip onto my absorbent leg coverings. Though the only two things I want to keep dry is my camera because it’s pricy and my feet so they don’t blister.

The rain actually stopped for a bit and the sun was so damn bright as it shined in the sky and reflected off the wet pavement. I hadn’t bothered to bring sunglasses again because they end up taking up valuable pocket space and don’t fit on my head with my hood on. The precursors to modern sunglasses were made out of smoky quartz by the Chinese, out of walrus ivory by the Inuit, and tinted lenses by a French chemist to correct for vision impairments and light sensitivity in the 1770s.

Sam Foster would find a market for his celluloid and cerium creations on the beaches of Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1930s, which has roughly 56% of its days filled with sun while London just 11 degrees north averages 62 days a year. For such limited use, the UK has UV transmission categories so that some sunglasses can be worn inside or on a cloudy day, others while driving to help block reflections from the pavement and ones made to block out the sun on a snowy mountaintop. I love how much science and history is behind something I use daily and take for granted. I would appreciate though if the UK sold rain-x with their sunnies or glecks just as the Middle East should sell defog with their cooling glasses.

I didn’t get to “Soak Up the Sun” (Sheryl Crow) too much before my path brought shade and the weather gifted me more rain. I thought about taking the bus but that would defeat the purpose of walking and I knew there’d still be rain at the other end of the ride. My southeast journey would bring me through Ashburton Park, roughly 1km in diameter, where I will see my first female squirrel and first fartlek (Swedish for speed play) fitness trail to improve strength and endurance by varying between jogging and sprints.

I walk for at least a mile past houses before I turn onto a path leading through Coombe Wood or Addington Hills looking for an observation deck that will offer me a view above the trees of the city in the distance. The trail narrows and widens at seemingly random intersections and links with the London Loop for a while, but many photo opportunities will be missed as the rain decides to join me and the few other people I can hear through the trees on our daily outing. I’m not sure which direction to go so I wander a bit in each before I start the going-west portion of my walk.

This decision will have me entering Coombe Wood Gardens where I would love to picnic and brush up on some botany on the verdant grass amongst the rainbow of surrounding foliage but the falling water has toddlers finding the smallest puddles to make use of all their wet weather attire. There’s a busy cafe and an empty bench; a couple inside a booth and a path that leads to a dead end; short fenced territories and tall tree canopies complete the look of this garden haven.

I took the sidewalk between road and trees and am not sure how I figured out I was not going the way I intended. Perhaps it was the tram crossing and the path ending that turned me around to see the white ball of fire in its field of blue in the sky with no rainbow accompaniment… this time. I take the tram (that can reach a top speed of 50mph) to E. Croydon (the only place in London to have trams) from Lloyd Park. The bathrooms are either locked, require me to scan my Oyster card (which I suppose if you don’t travel doesn’t charge you), or to register on an app (as if I don’t have enough on my phone already).

The E. Croydon Station is the busiest in London outside Zone 1 where a majority of the tourist attractions are located and where different lines intersect to connect you to the rest of the country. Croydon is known for having the first international airport that was open from 1920-1959, giving it the oldest air traffic control tower, and coining the “Mayday” call in the 20s as most flights were to Paris and the word was close to their word m’aider, meaning, help me.

Lunch is had at Oatopia where I stand around the corner from their counter to block the wind while I eat a vegan burger patty of chickpea, pistachio, and mango. I use a ledge to hold my first turmeric latte with cinnamon. The last documented times I had this golden spice, a relative of ginger, was in the early months of 2018 — on cauliflower and in a probiotic drink. I write a lot about food on here, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to stand out, but being able to look back collectively on the moments surrounding what I was eating at that point in my life makes them more memorable.

I’ll enjoy a nice walk along the same streets where composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor lived from 1875-1912 and author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived from 1891-1894. Croydon is where Dubstep was born in the 1990s and is known for having the movies 28 Days Later and The DaVinci Code filmed here, as well as an episode from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. I pass by murals, couples, businesses, and birds on my way to the Croydon Minster, the most prominent Anglican Church of the more than 35 in the borough. I talk with the Father as he unlocks the gate to get his car inside before continuing my lop-sided loop around the Old Town area and seeing a snail, a flip-flop, a striped spider, a teapot, and laundry from balcony to sidewalk.

There’s a commemorative tablet (British for plaque) that lets passersby know that in the year MDCCCXCVI = 1896 the High Street was widened from 29 feet to its current 50. Bridges come with the year of their completion engraved in them but it’s rare to see roads celebrated in their growth as they’re usually remembered for what they were once made of, who or what they once carried, or for being the first of their kind. I appreciate the little celebration, the reminder of history, and the artsy touch the sign adds by being built into the wall.

Another smile gets me another coffee, this time by Radu the Romanian, a professional gardener, who has been living in London for 12 years. I’d have to earn my Americano by following him the quarter mile to Triple Two Coffee where we’d sip and chat a while. I walked with Radu to the tram station and watched him give a homeless woman his chicken dinner before we parted ways. I would take the rail back to Portland Rd to wash laundry (not knowing how long the machine might take) and it turns out I had to hang my clothes and let them take turns on the heater to dry.

I would use this time to talk with Caleb and do some writing, by hand, which feels so cathartic and brings me back to the days before technology became such a force in my life (and I don’t even use it as much as I used to). I grew up using ink, encyclopedias, and paper calendars and understand the eco-friendliness of using less of the Earth’s limited resources but know that the electricity, constant upgrade releases, server systems, and proper recycling come with their own issues that need to be addressed. I was nowhere near this thought process though while I let the pen express some of the electrical impulses firing from my neurons.

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Blackheath to Brick Lane

The bed, with its thin European-style spring mattress, felt super cozy under the surprisingly warm blanket that I hadn’t bothered to turn on the gas wall heater. Being up before the sun means that I get to see the sky in its multi-colored glory before it turns a shade of gray or white for the remainder of the day — typical England weather, where you’re lucky when you can differentiate the clouds as it adds depth to such an unfathomable distance… except for hot air balloons, planes, and space shuttles that give us context to measure the layers of atmosphere.

The sun rises lazily before 8am, when little shops on the way to the train aren’t open yet to sell me a morning beverage. I’m not sure of the logic used to create the trains’ schedules as last night I had planned to go to the corner of Greenwich Park, close to Queens Bath, with a train and bus ride that would total 40 minutes versus the 31 it will take me to get to Blackheath via two trains and then walking the difference, which is my main agenda of the trip, so I’m not complaining at all and am grateful for all the help available to maintain such an efficient system.

I wait for the train to arrive and appreciate having a moment to ensure I’m getting on the right train, as when there’s one about to leave the station and I seem to have a minute till the next one that I’m supposed to be on I get so anxious to climb aboard and wave adieu to my family as I’ve seen and read about many times, so I should remember that most of those people met with tragic ends, unless they’re a bunny in an animated story going to prove themselves in the big city to the Zootopia police chief. But unlike the movies and biographies of pre-1950s, when fares were pennies, I’ll top-up my card with 20 quid to avoid the $1,300 fine.

On today’s trains are three women in tights with their waterproof hiking bags, a man with his Brompton folding bike (which sells for $1,500 and is handmade in London with $300+ brands online), and a beggar. My first encounter was the other day with a white woman selling tissues, to everyone. Today, this black man walks through the cabin and only asks for change from people with the same skin color. I heard growing up that, “beggars can’t be choosers” but this world is full of options and ways of seeing and doing things that go beyond my limited childhood and cultural views.

I get that no one likes to be left out — games on the playground, voting in politics, using the same bathroom, getting room temp water like the other patrons, and having laws passed so people can’t sell each other across state lines (this one amended in 1986 for gender neutrality). This is like the broke asking the poor for money in the US — ask someone who might’ve shared a similar situation in hopes for more empathy than a person getting out of a car with monthly payments that would take you five months to make without eating or paying bills.

I get on the wrong train at London Bridge where there is an ad: Tired of being tired, try Floradix (like a floor of dicks… wouldn’t that wear out anyone?) Had I grown up in a country with such liberal use of language, I might’ve gotten into advertising. My five minutes that I didn’t wait turns into a ten-minute ride near Eltham Palace, which is on my list, but not on today’s agenda. I pride myself at being able to stand where the doors will open on the platform, which changes with train length. I had planned on coming to London for the buses and parks and am definitely getting my fill of trains and walking. Two hours on the trains will cost me 2.6 quid.

I had looked up food near the station so I’d know what my options were when I arrived hungry. I wandered down a random street to let the crowd disperse from Gail’s Bakery so that I may get an egg slider and sour cherry scone to escort me to their bathroom (a limited amenity in the public of covid). It’s then that I realize my camera’s clock is set three hours ahead, to Bahrain time, and that I better take note lest I think I was able to wait until the afternoon to eat breakfast.

Blackheath Park is the open space south of Charlton Way that separates it from the famous Greenwich Park with the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian that divides the Earth’s eastern and western hemispheres. Blackheath Park was the private property of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in the 1400s, and son, brother, and uncle of kings: Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI respectively. Standing out, and looking upon the fields of soccer practice and sword play is the All Saints’ Church that was opened in the autumn of 1858. A small house was built nearby in 1883 for a Heath Keeper to help keep the order should there be any trouble.

I enter the famous park via the Chesterfield Gate and make my way to un-crowned (barred by the king from coronation) Queen Caroline’s Bath to take a peek at the steps that led to good health and an entertainment space in the Georgian era (1714-1830, so named for the Hanoverian kings George I-IV who ruled Great Britain and Ireland until their union in 1801 under King George III, who ruled from 1760-1820). Caroline married George IV in 1795 and was barred from seeing her daughter from 10 to 21, when she died in childbirth. Caroline was the Princess of Wales until George was crowned and she was queen for less than two years before her death, never giving the king the divorce he so badly tried to initiate.

Up next is the tenderly maintained rose garden that asks guests to avoid balls, fires, and radios in the area, and to keep dogs away from the rose beds. Some of the bushes seem to be hibernating, but those that aren’t allow you to see their gentle reds, pinks, and yellows amongst a soft blue sky with billowy clouds changing shape as they move across the tree tops. There is tennis practice on the courts, dog walkers and runners on the path, a group stretching nearby and some beautiful buildings hidden in the trees that have started to drop their dry yellow leaves en masse.

I pass a statue of William IV, the third son of George III, who would rule after his older brother George IV, from 1830 until his death in 1837. The view between the Maritime Museum and Greenwich Park is great (giant ship in a bottle), but I had planned on seeing it after a trip to the Fan Museum, temporarily closed to avoid getting flu all over their absorbent history, that was opened in 1991 to showcase hand fans from around the world. In their place, I get to compare styles of varying anchor types to their enormous ships that are shown to scale with the double-decker London bus on the description signs.

The admiralty-pattern anchor at it’s shortest measurement is more than three meters, weighs over 2,000 kg, and was made in about 1750 before improvements in iron strength for forging in 1800 and the steam hammer for welding around 1830. The original oak stock lasted until 1990 and was studded with nails to protect it from shipworm (a wood boring saltwater clam that can live without air for up to six weeks on its glycogen stores). The modern wood is protected by a request: Please do not climb on these anchors.

Next to this is another impressive piece of historical technology, an eleven-tonne steel cutterhead that is used to remove materials from seabeds for land reclamation and construction projects in the Far East. This model became obsolete in 1995 when the dredger switched to a left-hand rotation, though both revolve between 20-35 times per minute. The teeth in sand may last days, while digging in rocks may need to be renewed every half hour. This is why the teeth were made to be quick and easy to change. I’m not sure I’d agree with whatever destruction they caused, but we humans have a way of choosing naïveté when it comes to the consequences of our decisions.

To finish my visit to the mini outdoor display is recognition of the balance and fitness of sailors who had to climb aloft to fix rigging. Today, even people in wheelchairs can ‘climb’ via harnesses and winches. That’s why in the Anchor Challenge (a side-plank position) where you’re asked to line up to mirror the anchors on display, wheelchairs and buggies can use a helper to balance on two wheels, which I think is more of a challenge and a trust exercise. I appreciate the consideration for those that get around differently to not feel left out.

I will zig-zag my way to the Thames, passing in front of the Maritime Museum, then east on College Way, before walking west along the river towards the Cutty Sark. Caleb and I visited inside in 2015, so I’m more interested in the little Halloween market taking place between ship and gardens. I talk with Susan about her business, her family, and the city she calls home. She sells me a hot gingerbread drink and then I spend most of my time there talking with the two women at Pasta Boss about food, travel, and marriage, while holding my Mac-n-cheese scotch egg, until they get a customer.

Also in the market is a candy bin section, with candied eggs that remind me of candied cigarettes (neither of which taste like their inspiration). There’s Illegally Delicious with a table full of cheesecakes, gateaux (layered cakes), other cakes, tarts, and various sweets; The Sausage selling pork, beef, and seitan options; and Don Jamón serving seafood, chicken, and veggie paella. All the owners are so happy to be there and I’m not sure if this is their regular demeanor or what can be expected after months of shutdown and others going out of business. They’re grateful to be here and I’m glad they are too.

Through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and easily distanced from the other ten people using this quarter-mile walkway under the river as only one of them is coming my direction. The tunnel narrows by a couple feet and the dirty white bricks are covered by a 1940 patch job from WWII to repair leaking from bomb damage on the first night of the Blitz. A few months later the fix was finished and the housing in the south was again connected to the industries and docks of the north; an essential part of the war effort that remains a popular mode of transportation today, so much so that it has been regularly shutdown during the pandemic to limit crowds.

I walk along Millwall Park, where the narrow strip of land forming the northern border was the former site of the Globe Rope Works from 1881 until 1971 when they moved to Sussex and became Marlow Ropes, still in operation today. A traveller machine was used to twist ropes of all strengths and sizes made from hemp and manilla fibers for hauling, packaging, binding, etc., until WWII when these products became scarce and they developed the nylon rope and the Hercules, two braided ropes combined.

In the 1880s and 90s, the Island boys were crazy for soccer and every club, pub, church, and factory had its own team. The Millwall “Football” Club would clear the cows from the field and steam roll the water-logged grass to create a decent playing pitch. Games were held here until 1910 when the team moved south to New Cross. I skip the Mudchute Park & Farm and get on the train instead to Shadwell station, not the least violent district in London — according to crime stats from 2018 that also claim Croydon is in the top five most dangerous boroughs (where I’m staying now) and that Kingston upon Thames (where I will be staying) to be the safest.

Some of these neighborhoods make me wonder which came first — the religious buildings and restaurants or the people bringing a piece of home with them to new lands. Here, in Shadwell, it’s the mosques, halal butchers, and women in burqas that give this community a very Muslim presence. A 17 x 18 meter mural detracts from that scene and depicts the Battle of Cable Street that took place in 1936 when 250,000 East Londoners took to the street so that the thousands of Mosley’s Blackshirts, the British Union of Fascists, “Shall Not Pass.” They didn’t, but The Public Order Act of 1936, banning the wearing of political uniforms in public, did.

The mural was started in 1976 by Dave who struggled through multiple acts of vandalism and left the project unfinished until three more artists came and finished it in 1983. Paul Butler, one of the three, was appointed for necessary repairs in 2011 so that the reminder of what communities of varied political parties, workers’ unions, and religious groups can do when they come together against those trying to divide them. If this is what it took for more peace in the world, I’d hire street painters and muralists to cover every manmade structure as a reminder that species get more done working together than they do tearing each other apart.

I found a Street Art Tour online and am attempting to follow it even though some of the art must be eluding me or the map is available to throw people off from the actual course the tour guide takes. Either way, I’m having fun and as I finish taking a picture of a building, I smile at another passing stranger and Michael, a 60ish year old Irish man, invites me inside the Pret A Manger for a coffee. He makes sure I’m situated at the table before going to the counter and getting nothing for himself because he’d just finished lunch. He writes down his address on a betting slip and offers his sister’s bed in Ireland for a night in exchange for a postcard.

I sip on the coffee while we talk and Michael is glad that I’m enjoying my vacation, even with its limits. He doesn’t realize it’s also because of people like him taking the time to make my trip more pleasant and memorable and that it stands out from just another gray day in the city because I’m not commuting or struggling to make ends meet. The kindness of strangers encourages my superfluous burdens to melt away when I am in the spoils of nature and newness.

I continue to follow the art as it weaves back and forth across Brick Lane and come across a group of people fly posting. The lookout asks that I don’t capture their faces in my pictures as what they’re doing is illegal. The city has laws on where leaflets may be distributed and fees assessed by volume. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act of 2005 was introduced to reduce the litter this form of advertising creates and to hold those responsible accountable — whether they’re the ones pasting or the person or product being shown. It’s ridiculous how much tax money is spent annually to remove these guerrilla marketing tactics to present a clean and safe place, so some cities are working with legit fly posters to keep the dirty rogues away.

Perhaps if instead of just rental cars and SIM card stations at the airport there was a booth where you could download a traveler app that contains the top ten apps that are of most use to your destination — local maps, restaurant reviews, trail finders, recycling centers, public transportation, and reporting crimes etc. I suppose people prefer to post their witnessed atrocities to Facebook Live instead of via an app where you could send picture proof and other supporting details via text without worrying about phone minutes, reception, language barrier, or the offender overhearing you.

Since this isn’t a thing, I take a picture of Stacy, in the You Are Enough series (portraits of women friends bettering society) by Dreph, a London-based visual artist and continue my walk in the patter of rain. I approach another large portrait, this one on Hanbury St by Ant Carver, who uses oil and spray paint as his mediums for expression. This piece was just finished ten weeks ago as a tribute to a friend with the idea of living in harmony with grief. Another artist to sign his name legibly is SubDude, who speaks out about politics, cell phone culture, and equality via satirical slogans.

Adrian Boswell, the Broccoli Man, turned a 2017 vegetable shortage into an art idea that started out with the cruciferous plant becoming a collage on local walls. Soon, the member of the Brassica oleracea species was turning up red and gold and can now be found in a rainbow variety or imprisoned in a clear cage. You can find this artist in his studio, The Broccoli Factory, next to a painted scroll with the message, “In a room full of art I’d still stare at you.”

The cool thing about the color of the sky, besides the temperature it maintains, is the loss of time available to me as I wander with the only purpose of looking at my surroundings; following the art and not the street names and wanting to meet the people displayed so grandly, such as the musician Natasha Awuku, painted in David Speed’s neon style at Powerleague Shoreditch, just a month ago, where I watched a guy lacing up his cleats for a late afternoon practice with his team already on the field.

If my afternoon had been a homemade film (before editing software became a household item) than my ‘goldfish lost in a fishtank’ meandering would have foretold how my evening on the trains would go. Walking into Liverpool Street Station did feel like a holiday romance flick when the happy ending verges on the two main characters coming together before the credits to let the audience know how it ends. Well, my story wasn’t over yet. The transportation app suggested I walk to Moorgate Station for a more efficient trip or perhaps it felt I could use some more color against the grey wetness falling innocently enough for a half mile.

I missed the train because my phone told me mine was in five minutes (arriving or leaving) I’m still not sure. I need to read the platform signs instead since they give a more detailed answer as to when the next three trains are arriving and where they’re stopping at. I ride to London Bridge for something to eat and a direct ride home only to have my train canceled so that I can listen to a guy laugh hysterically and look like a gnome running in place while talking about a girl he knows somewhere and his roundtrip to Brighton.

I could’ve moved amongst the crowd while I waited but I wasn’t the only one watching this man tell his story so I figured I would take in this moment for what it was and let him feel heard, even if not fully understood. I get to East Croydon and meet a German woman who just finished a marathon, and though tired and hungry, is more willing to hoof it to Norwood Junction than I am. We decide to wait the 20 minutes together until the delayed train arrives.

I’m on the lookout for snacks and settle for a cheese onion sandwich (not as good as egg and cress) and get charged twice at Sainsbury’s because the receipt asks for a signature. Luckily, the cashier had canceled the first transaction before asking someone else to help ring me up. I climb in bed with pen and snacks in hand and rain skittering faintly at the window. After my notes are finished, I’ll read about transitions (not sure if referring to green energy in The Wisest One in the Room or something online) before listening to a podcast (keyword: brain) for half an hour.

As I lay down, there was pure silence for a moment and I didn’t want to move for fear of disrupting the peace, which was fleeting.

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