Farewell 2018, Hello 2019

It is that time of year, dear readers, when I look back over the past twelve months, assess progress (or lack thereof) against my goals, and think ahead for 2019.  Careful readers know that for several years I have worked with a set of life rules (rather than annual resolutions) for living the next third of my life.  This review is just one small part of an exercise to have an honest conversation with myself, so I’ll be able to have real conversations with the larger world.  We don’t do enough looking at our uncertainties and vulnerabilities, sometimes choosing as an alternative getting angry at others—which hinders real understanding.  Steve Almond, in the book Bad Stories, asserts that’s true because we take our grievances seriously but not our vulnerabilities.  In the 2017 essay “Facing the Furies” (found in the collection Call Them by Their True Names:  American Crises and Essays), Rebecca Solnit frames it this way:

“. . . more often, lashing out is a way to avoid looking inward. A 2001 study by Jennifer Lerner and Dacher Keltner found that feeling angry made people as optimistic about the outcome of a situation as feeling happy.  In other words, anger may make people miserable, but is also makes them more confident and crowds out other, more introspective miseries: pain, fear, guilt, uncertainty, vulnerability.  We’d rather be mad than sad.”

2018 was another strange year in America, where anger and grievances (real and perceived) took center-stage in too many instances.  You know it is a strange year when Dave Barry can’t make-up fake year-in-review anecdotes that are any funnier, scarier, and/or weirder than real life.  But worse than strange, the year brought actions that lead many to question whether we’ve completely lost our way as a country.  I have to go with Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., who recently wrote “This was a godawful year . . . and that leaves me full of hope.”

“. . .hope, one hopes, will breed new activism and involvement, will help people who may not have considered politics before to realize that they have the ability and the responsibility to create government that looks like all of us and reflects the majority’s values. Maybe this, in turn, will breed more waves of youth, femininity and color, as more of us decide to take America at its word about forming that more perfect union.”

While 2018 at home and work was a time of tremendous transition, I also head into 2019 with hope.  Hope for the people I love and for the causes and country that are important to me.  Hope that I will continue to understand more about what brought me to where I am today and where I want to go in the future.  Because, of course, hope demands things that despair does not.

Brown family (credit: John Thorne)

The Browns – looking forward to 2019! (photo credit: John Thorne)

So, how did I fare on my eight life rules I stare at every morning on my computer wallpaper?  Here is a short summation.

1. Be Grateful. Be Thankful. Be Compassionate.  Every Day.  Several years ago I made it a habit to say thank you to one person each day, and that simple habit has made me richer in spirit.  In 2018 I kept up that habit and made progress in being more intentional about gratefulness, thankfulness, and compassion. Being grateful, thankful, and compassionate is, to me, about equality. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we are all in this life together.

2.  Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life. Last year I wrote that I was going to keep the cartoon in mind where the doctor asks his middle-aged male patient, “Which is more inconvenient for you: 1 hour a day of exercise or 24 hours a day of dead?”  In 2018 I built a daily ritual of long-distance walking into my mornings which has been very satisfying.  But I have to focus on Rule #5 for this to really have an effect.  My health has to become more of a priority in 2019.  Period.

3.  Listen more than you talk.  This is a tough one to measure, as few people will give you honest feedback (and few people have the same standard of what is too much talking).  So I’ll just repeat what I wrote last year:  “It is always a challenge when I find myself in a place of some authority (either at work or home) not to grab the bully pulpit.  While David Isay, the founder of Story Corps, says listening is hard, he also notes that listening is an act of love…an act that one never regrets.”  I do know of a number of instances this past year when I really listened, and for that I am grateful.

4.  Spend less than you make.  2018 was (yet) another year when I didn’t buy any new guitars! Seriously, I think I did well in this area, although when I do spend (e.g., good restaurants, good wine) I tend to treat myself and others well. I continue to adjust some of my expectations in order to live with much less regular income in the not-too-distant future.  I’m also thinking more about what to give away.

5.  Quit eating crap!  Eat less of everything else.  Well, I failed here. Bigly. When I go to “My Fitness Pal” and look at my weight trend line for the year, I had a very good first quarter, and then saw it slowly but relentlessly rise over the last three quarters.  Several years ago I successfully gave up drinking sodas (I had a several-Diet Cokes-a-day-habit), and now I have to get serious about some other things to give up completely.  See Rule #2 above.

Play more music

Play more music

6.  Play music.  I continue to believe that the world is a better place when I play music.  My music is better when I play with others.  However, when I look at my tracking charts for 2018, I only pulled out my guitars 2-3 days/week.  While I may not make it to every day in 2019, I’d like to open those cases and hear those strings sing at least five days a week.

7.  Connect and commit.  Over the years since I set these rules, we made progress as a family in gathering people together on a regular basis.  While that slipped some in 2017, I was able to get together more with colleagues from work in 2018.  Next year, I want to add more friends outside work to this equation. I’m going to push myself not just to think of getting together for dinners, but focus on talks over coffee and other less demanding yet ultimately satisfying connections.  I’m going to take some of my own recent advice when I find myself not knowing how to break the ice.  I’ll “simply walk up and say, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ (a.k.a. the only icebreaker you’ll ever need.)”

8.  Don’t be a Grumpy Old Man.  Enjoy life! This is not a concern on a daily basis, but more of a reminder that it can be easier to lose the joy of life as one moves through the years.  I’ve certainly seen my elders who have handled this coming period of life with grace and happiness, and others who feel entitled, bitter, and—yes—grumpy. During the winter months, I work very hard not to let my SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) symptoms show through to others. I also spent time this past year thinking about how much I still had to contribute in a range of life’s activities.  Others helped me remember—as Madeleine L’Engle has written—that “you are every age you’ve ever been.”  Living through what you know and who you have been from the years of life is a way to understand current circumstances and embrace new possibilities. That’s my goal in 2019 and beyond.

So there you have it.  2019?  Bring it on!

More to come…

DJB

Connections

When I was a freshman in college, I waited tables at a local restaurant and bar in Nashville. Waiting tables is hard and humbling work, which I highly recommend.  Once you’ve experienced it you’ll forever be mindful of 1) how you treat wait staff, and 2) how to tip properly.  When I was leaving at the end of the school year, the manager, Bill, and his sister Ruth invited me over for a drink.  At the end of the night, Ruth gave me a hug and said, “Have a good life!”  This was the pre-Facebook/email/Instagram days, and she meant it as a heartfelt farewell to someone she’d probably never see again.  I stuck that sentiment in the back of my mind.

But to paraphrase folksinger Arlo Guthrie halfway through the 17-minute-long Alice’s Restaurant, this isn’t a post about waiting tables.

This is a blog post about the emotional and intellectual value of personal connections.

One of our staff members had her final day at the National Trust coincide with the last day of our 2018 PastForward conference in San Francisco.  Alison, who was heading off for a great new opportunity, always had a smile on her face that matched her outgoing personality, she was an extremely efficient and effective worker, and she would always have something pleasant to say as we passed in the hallway. So when heading out for dinner that Friday evening with my wife and daughter Claire, I stopped to thank a group of staff members who were preparing to catch the red-eye home. In the midst of our conversation I pulled the “Have a good life!” phrase from the back of my brain in saying goodbye to Alison.  Several colleagues groaned to let me know that they would be staying connected to Alison, and I realized my sentiment wasn’t taken as intended.  I tried to make amends, yet Claire gave me a bit of a hard time when we left the hotel, in that exasperated “Oh, Dad. . .” kind of way. I’ve thought about the sentiment and reaction several times since.

Connections are clearly easier to keep today with our on-line options.  The internet is full of articles about why high school reunions are (or quickly will be) extinct, thanks to social media.  It is easy to connect with people all around the world if you are online.  I have maintained contact with a former colleague who is probably the only individual to have worked in offices with both my son and me. I recently discovered that she was just named an Associate with a New York law firm.  I say I have maintained contact…but in truth I just saw it on LinkedIn and hit the “Congratulations” button.

Which brings me back to Claire.  Remember Claire?

With Claire at the Big A

Connecting with Claire…over a baseball game

My daughter has taught me several life lessons, but among the most meaningful is the importance of maintaining personal connections. Real connections, not just electronic touches. Claire certainly uses social media as much as most other millennials, but she is a master at the face-to-face, let’s have a cup of coffee, “I care about you” emotional connection.  She instinctively looks for opportunities to get together and will travel some distance and carve out meaningful time to keep those connections current.  Her contributions to dinner table discussions are legendary, leading family and friends into topics that are consequential and boundary expanding. She is good at telling stories and she cares about yours.  She “gets” that—as the writer Rebecca Solnit has said—“To love someone is to put yourself in their place . . . which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.”

In a wonderful 2017 essay entitled Preaching to the Choir, Solnit speaks to why we need to connect, find places of agreement, and then go deeper.

“I wonder if I hear the phrase ‘preaching to the choir’ often now because we have, in our everyday practices, pared our communications down to the bone and beyond.  Almost no one I know calls friends merely to have the kind of long, reflective, intimate conversations that were common in earlier decades; phones are for practical exchanges—renegotiating plans, checking in on arrangements.  Emails, which in the 1990s seemed to resemble letters, now resemble texting, brief bursts of words in a small space, not to be composed as art, archived, or mused over much.  A lot of people are too busy to hang out without a clear purpose, or don’t know that you can, and the often combative arenas and abstracted contact of social media replace physical places (including churches) to hang out in person.”

Sometimes I will catch myself among a group of people with my head buried in my phone screen, oblivious to the life around me. Other times I pass on chances to connect through a meal or conversation for no reason other than I have my head somewhere else.  I walk past people in the hall or on the street and act as if I am under Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.  Yet, inevitably, the times I pull myself out of my self-absorption to connect at that emotional “I care about you” level, I am the one who benefits. I have conversations and connections that let me know whether friends and family are having a good day, much less a good life.

The next time you find yourself in a similar situation and you don’t know what to do, simply walk up and say, “Tell me about yourself,” (a.k.a. the only icebreaker you’ll ever need.)

I hope you can use the upcoming holiday season to connect with real people, share stories, and have a good life.

More to come…

DJB

P.S. – As I originally wrote this piece, I pointed out all the references to the song Alice’s Restaurant (with four part harmony, naturally).  But then I thought better of it.  So I took them all out and only mention it here, buried in the footnotes, for those who thought “that sounds familiar” and will chuckle. If you have never heard of the song or Arlo (son of famous folksinger Woody Guthrie) and are curious, then click on the video above.

P.P.S – You’ll no doubt be hearing more from me on thoughts coming from Rebecca Solnit’s new collection of essays, Call Them by Their True Names, which is where I read Preaching to the Choir.

Confessions of a Southerner (Like a Southern Drawl, This May Take a While)

You may know that I’m from the South.  It takes about two seconds for my Tennessee accent to let the cat out of the bag.

Coming out of that great American “family” holiday of Thanksgiving,* I’ve been thinking recently about “where I’m from” and its impact on my life and work.  Place and storytelling are so central to life in the South that it is not surprising that many of the early and influential historic preservationists came from the region, beginning with South Carolina’s Ann Pamela Cunningham who led the campaign to save Mount Vernon.

I have always lived below the Mason-Dixon line; have worked to preserve many of the region’s buildings, towns, and landscapes; and have long been fascinated by Southern storytelling. To state it clearly, I love the South. But the region comes with a troubled history, including slavery and racism, that continues to inflict damage on our civic life today. I’m asked on a regular basis about the appropriate response to saving places and communities that were first taken from Native Americans and then often built on the back of enslaved African-Americans at unfathomable cost to those men, women, and children; not to mention the enormous moral cost to our nation.  The monuments to the false narrative of the Lost Cause that exist all across the country are also highly problematic to those insistent on understanding and honoring the more richly layered American story. Retired General Stan McChrystal just addressed that particular challenge in a pre-Thanksgiving Washington Post op-ed that called for the nation to move beyond icons like Robert E. Lee and move toward our full potential.  Next year is often recognized as the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans at Jamestown.  But as Dr. Michael Guasco has written, focusing on this date and place creates another false narrative:

“. . . the most poisonous consequence of raising the curtain with 1619 is that it casually normalizes white Christian Europeans as historical constants and makes African actors little more than dependent variables in the effort to understand what it means to be American. Elevating 1619 has the unintended consequence of cementing in our minds that those very same Europeans who lived quite precipitously and very much on death’s doorstep on the wisp of America were, in fact, already home. But, of course, they were not. Europeans were the outsiders. Selective memory has conditioned us to employ terms like settlers and colonists when we would be better served by thinking of the English as invaders or occupiers. In 1619, Virginia was still Tsenacommacah, Europeans were the non-native species, and the English were the illegal aliens. Uncertainty was still very much the order of the day. . . .

We shouldn’t ignore that something worth remembering happened in 1619. There are certainly stories worth telling and lives worth remembering, but history is also an exercise in crafting narratives that give voice to the past in order to engage with the present. The year 1619 might seem long ago for people more attuned to the politics of life in the 21st century. But if we can do a better job of situating the foundational story of black history and the history of slavery in North America in its proper context, then perhaps we can articulate an American history that doesn’t essentialize notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ (in the broadest possible and various understandings of those words). That would be a pretty good first step, and it would make it much easier to sink our teeth into the rich and varied issues that continue to roil the world today.”

These are tough issues for all Americans, and as a Southerner I find them especially challenging.  It is important to get the narrative right, or as right as we can in this day and age.  Narrative—or storytelling if you wish—sits beside place in my mind as the other key component to preservation. Storytelling is also another constant in the South.  A recent New York Times article entitled “What is a Southern Writer, Anyway?” speaks to how many of those who tell stories about the South today are also at work to shape a better narrative. The author, Margaret Renkl, asks “What if being a Southern writer has nothing to do with rural tropes or lyrical prose or a lush landscape or humid heat so thick it’s hard to breathe? What if being a Southern writer is foremost a matter of growing up in a deeply troubled place and yet finding it somehow impossible to leave? Of seeing clearly the failings of home and nevertheless refusing to flee?”

Renkl, who edits a website on Tennessee literature (yes, there is such a thing!), notes that she may be wrong.  “For one thing, Southerners don’t hold the copyright on a close connection to home, and there are many exceptions to the rule anyway. Historically, African-American writers tended to leave the South as fast as they could, and for obvious reasons.”  I don’t think Renkl gets it completely right, but I think she’s on to something about why people—in the South and elsewhere—care about the past and tackle hard issues in order to shape the narrative in a way that is relevant today and into the future.  Her take of these writers loving a damaged and damaging place is similar to Dr. Mindy Fullilove’s observation that “emotions flow through place.”

The editors of The Bitter Southerner note that there is a shame that comes with recognizing that too many Southerners are still “kicking and screaming to keep the old South old.” That is balanced in knowing that “many others, through the simple dignity of their work, are changing things.”  It is that work that is so important.  I would argue that it isn’t the refusing to flee part that is critical to Renkl’s definition, but it is, instead, the unwillingness to paper over the troubles of your homeland.  I’ve spoken all across the country about the fact that my beloved grandmother—she of the way with words that still rings in my ears—was a lifelong member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and subscribed to a false story about history.  When I’m working to tell the full American story, I feel it is one way I’m making a small contribution to begin to undo the wrongs her “Lost Cause” narrative brought to so many.

I can do my part in the work to change the narrative about places in the South and, in the process, keep the past engaged with the present as we look to the future.  I see that work in changing narratives to ensure that the history of contrabands is central to the story at Fort Monroe.  In saving the sacred places at Shockoe Bottom.  In recognizing the extraordinary Pauli Murray, who grew up in the most ordinary of houses in Raleigh, and keeping both her story and home alive and relevant in the 21st century. In honoring those marchers who gathered in Memphis’ Clayborn Temple with their “I Am A Man” placards. In raising up the story of Bunk Johnson from the gardens of Shadows-on-the-Teche.  There are so many extraordinary places with rich, layered stories to tell, and I’m humbled that I get to work with my colleagues in this endeavor.

Pauli Murray Mural

Portrait of Pauli Murray, on a wall in downtown Durham, NC

 

Pauli Murray House

Pauli Murray House before restoration (2015) and after exterior work (2016) (Photo credit: Pauli Murray Project)

As I stand and look around our office, I see many whose connection to their place is very different from mine.  But it doesn’t matter if you come from upstate New York, New England, Los Angeles, or are a child of an immigrant to the U.S.: there is still work to do, in your time and place, in “giving voice to the past in order to engage with the present.”  I believe with Michael Guasco that only when we do that can we “sink our teeth into the rich and varied issues that continue to roil the world today.”

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

*Of course, the narrative around Thanksgiving in America is also deeply flawed…something General McChrystal notes in his op-ed.  But coming out of this weekend you probably knew that.

Our Year in Photos – 2018

Family along Monterey Coast

The Browns along the California Coast

As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, I continue my tradition of posting family photographs from the past year on More to Come…. We have much for which to be thankful in 2018.

This was yet another year unlike any other in the recent history of our country. The level of vitriol coming from some of our so-called leaders has put many on edge and has driven others to do unspeakable horror.

In spite of the turmoil in the world and some significant changes in our lives, we were blessed again this year with good health and good friends. Each of us is doing well.

Shortly after Thanksgiving last year, Candice and David traveled to Providence to hear Andrew solo with the Brown University Chorus in Messiah.  While there, we took advantage of the trip to visit some of our favorite haunts in this food-friendly gem of a city.

CCB at Ellies

Candice at our favorite Providence bakery and cafe: Ellie’s

Of course, each December brings a special celebration of Andrew and Claire.  The twins’ birthday is always a major highlight, but given that they reached the 25-year-old milestone in 2017, it was a special event for all of us.  We also celebrated the holidays together in Washington, seeing good friends and visiting special places like the evocative Museum of African American Culture and History on the National Mall.

25th birthday celebration

Celebrating 25 years of Claire and Andrew – one of the great achievements of 2017!

We all have our passions.  David has his sports and writing; Candice her cooking and friends; Claire the outdoors and children; and Andrew his music and travel.

Nats Jacket

Sporting a New Jacket and High Hopes for the Nats

 

Claire at Lake Tahoe

Claire with her roommates at Lake Tahoe

 

A typical pose for Andrew

A typical pose for Andrew

 

Caps Win the Cup!

Caps Win the Cup!

Summer brings baseball (and more baseball) along with the Bach Soloists Festival in San Francisco.

2018 All Star Game with Andrew

2018 All Star Game with Andrew

 

Cathedral Tour

Andrew, on his stained glass window tour of the National Cathedral

 

Claire at A's game

Claire joins her roommates at an A’s game this summer – rooting for a team that actually MADE the playoffs!

 

Bach Festival

Andrew and fellow musicians at the San Francisco Bach Festival

We loved our vacation time together as a family at Pacific Grove, California.  It was a respite from the hustle of the year.

Lone Cypress

Candice and DJB at the Lone Cypress in Pebble Beach

 

Yoga with Andrew and Claire

Yoga with Andrew and Claire at Pacific Grove

 

Claire and Blair at the Bixby Bridge

Claire and Blair at the Bixby Creek Bridge along California’s Highway 1

 

Claire Whale Watching

Claire Whale Watching

Fall brought transitions in life for everyone.  We gathered with long-time friends, saw Andrew off to graduate school in London, and said good-bye to David’s boss of the past 8 years.

DJB Fly Fishing and casting

A fly fishing beginner learns to cast in the Yellowstone River

 

Andrew tattoo composite

Andrew with his tattoo, along with the inspiration

 

McCain's Funeral

Andrew singing at Senator John McCain’s state funeral

 

Whirlwind weekend

A whirlwind weekend: the McCain Funeral, a special evensong, and then off to London

 

Staunton Friends

Staunton Friends – Bizzy, Mary, Margaret and Candice – at the National Gallery of Art

 

DJBwith SKM

David and National Trust President Stephanie Meeks at the 2018 PastForward conference in San Francisco (credit: David Keith)

 

Candice and Tom

Candice and our friend Tom Mayes at the PastForward 2018 Conference in San Francisco

 

DJB at PF Final Luncheon

David speaks at the Final Luncheon of PastForward 2018 in San Francisco (credit: David Keith)

 

At Filoli

David, Candice, and Claire enjoying the Holiday decorations at Filoli in Woodside, CA

 

MAAHC Visit

At the Museum of African American History and Culture in December 2017

Our family continues to be blessed, and for that we are incredibly thankful.  We remain grateful for each of you and the friendships we share.  Happy Thanksgiving to all.

More to come…

DJB

Only Two Kinds of Music

Today is bittersweet, as our Andrew prepares to leave tonight for London and his graduate studies at conservatory. Over the past month, we’ve been savoring both his presence and his music.

When we were in California in August, we had the chance to attend the final concert in San Francisco’s 2018 American Bach Soloists’ Summer Bach Festival, the stirring Mass in B Minor.  Andrew joined three other musicians for the Benedictus.  This tenor aria comes near the end of the mass, and Andrew’s beautiful singing was supported by just a flute, cello, and double bass.

Andrew and Dov Houle

Andrew and flutist Dov Houle following the B Minor Mass

Then just this past weekend, Andrew had a call to sing the state funeral for U.S. Senator John McCain at the Washington National Cathedral. He had turned in his badge and music at the cathedral, where he most recently was one of the tenors in the men’s choir. But his replacement had not arrived from out-of-town so Andrew had the chance to sing his third state funeral (Reagan and Ford, while a boy chorister, were the others) to go along with a variety of Inauguration and memorial services through the years.

The cathedral has been such a part of all our lives since Andrew began there as a novice chorister in the 3rd grade.  Andrew has sung solos there as a treble (Chichester Psalms and national Christmas Eve broadcast, to name a couple) and as an adult tenor.  He’s heard—and been moved by—the words of everyone from the Dalai Lama to the Rev. William Barber over the years.  We’ve all been touched by the musicianship that Canon Michael McCarthy has brought to the cathedral during Andrew’s time on the close.

For the past year, Andrew has been thinking about how to take that formative experience with him…and he chose a tattoo.  Now, I’m not a tattoo type of person, but the elegance of the stone tracery of the rose window which is now a permanent part of his left arm, along with the very moving rationale he posted on Facebook for his decision, made it all seem right.

Andrew tattoo composite

Andrew with his tattoo, along with the inspiration

Of course, Andrew is not only immersed in classical and sacred classical music.  He listens to just about anything and shares some of his favorites with me.  We both subscribe to the Duke Ellington theory of the types of music:  good and bad.

We’ll miss having Andrew at home.  He’s been such a joy to have here as he has worked through the decision to go to conservatory for a masters of vocal performance and built up the experience and contacts to make that possible. We’re fond of saying that Andrew is “good company.”  We know we’ll see him soon (home for the holidays in December, and then perhaps with a late winter/early spring trip to the U.K. for us).  However, the house will be a little quieter (if neater) and the dinner conversations will be a tad less lively without him around.  And yes, we’ll have to finally break down and buy that step stool to reach the upper shelves in the kitchen, as we’ll miss that 6’2″ height!

Take care, Andrew, and sing well.

Andrew summer 2017

Andrew ready for the next move in his singing career (© 2017 | Kristina Sherk Photography | http://www.Kristinasherk.com)

 

More to come…

DJB

Pacific Grove-by-God

Lone Cypress

Lone Cypress (photo credit: Claire Brown)

For several years I’ve regularly traveled for work to Monterey, California, a small coastal city some two hours south of San Francisco. So when we went looking for a west coast destination for this year’s family vacation, I suggested we check out the Monterey Peninsula.  Now that we’ve wrapped up a week-long visit to Pacific Grove—next-door neighbor to the city of Monterey—we’re just coming to realize how much we’ve seen and explored in this new (to us) part of the world.

Let’s begin with the coastline, the attraction to visitors for thousands of years.  I awoke every day shortly after 6 a.m. and went for walks of as much as two hours along the well-used (and well-loved) Monterey Bay Coastal Trail.  Pacific Grove’s portion of this 18-mile trail, which follows the path of the old Southern Pacific Railroad train tracks, hews close to the water and rock-strewn coastline, while Monterey’s comes inland a bit to incorporate Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Fisherman’s Wharf.  My walk often began before sunrise and was shrouded in fog.  Thankfully, Carmel Coffee Roasters in downtown Pacific Grove opens at 6 a.m. seven days a week, so I was well fortified with java.

Harbor Seals at Pacific Grove

Harbor Seals at Pacific Grove

 

Pacific Grove Coastline

Coastline along Pacific Grove (photo credit: Claire Brown)

Monterey’s submarine canyon is in such close proximity to the shore that the bay has deep, cold, nutrient-rich water all year. This brings all types of marine mammals and sea birds close to the shore.  I enjoyed watching the harbor seals lounge on the rocks and along the beach at the Stanford Marine Institute, listening to the sea lions bark from their perch along the rocks in Monterey, and tracing the flight of a wide array of birds out for their morning breakfast.  I would stop and read along the way and found that Pacific Grove and Monterey have done a good job of capturing the stories and people from their diverse histories.  It was on one of these markers that I learned that Pacific Grove developed an Episcopal camp-meeting history in the 1880s and that Monterey had a very diverse workforce in the commercial fishing and canning industries. That led one wag to suggest that you could tell Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey-by-the-Smell, and Pacific Grove-by-God.

Pacific Grove Panorama

Pacific Grove Panorama (photo credit: Claire Brown)

We also took advantage of the coastline for a day trip down to Big Sur along California Highway 1.  This coastal road—famous for its stunning views—did not disappoint.  Along the way we stopped to take in the Lone Cypress (technically on the 17-mile road at Pebble Beach), the famous Bixby Bridge, and McWay Falls, a beautiful waterfall that fell into the ocean at Big Sur. We happened to go on a simply glorious day, with no clouds or fog and a California-perfect 80 degrees.

Bixby Bridge

Bixby Bridge (photo credit: Claire Brown)

 

DJB at Bixby Bridge

DJB at the famous Bixby Bridge

 

Lone Cypress

Candice and DJB at the Lone Cypress in Pebble Beach

 

McWay Falls

McWay Falls

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the major tourist attraction in the area and after a visit it is easy to see why.  They have crowd-pleasers (how can you resist the feeding of otters and penguins) mixed in with educational exhibits (don’t miss the live-narrated films) and secluded tanks where one can sit and marvel at the amazing creatures found under the surface of the Bay. We spent an entire day at the aquarium and felt we’d only seen a glimpse.

School of Fish

School of Fish at the Aquarium (photo credit: Claire Brown)

 

Jellyfish

Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium

As we were leaving Pacific Grove on Saturday morning, Claire and I took in a Whale Watching tour on the Bay.  It was a wonderful three hours, where we saw a humpback whale breach the water in a way that takes one’s breath away, countless dolphins looking so playful as they swam by, sea lions that came up to give our boat a close look, and sea birds too numerous to capture in a blog post.  Very memorable.

Sea Lion

Sea Lion comes in to inspect the Whale Watchers

 

Dolphins in Monterey Bay

Dolphins seen on our Whale Watching tour

 

Humpback Whale Dives

A Humpback Whale Dives into the Monterey Bay

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take the family over for a behind-the-scenes tour of our National Trust site, the Cooper-Molera Adobe, which will reopen in about a month after three years’ work to reimagine this hub of Monterey history, commerce, and agriculture.  The Barns at Cooper-Molera are already busy hosting special events, and the new bakery and restaurant, along with the re-interpreted historic adobes, will soon be ready to greet the public.

Of course, this couldn’t be a Brown vacation without great food. Two Pacific Grove restaurants became favorites, as we visited both twice over the course of seven days: Passionfish and Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar.  And after taking Claire back home to Oakland on Saturday, we had a culinary feast at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, this time in the downstairs restaurant. (Our first visit a year ago had been to the upstairs cafe.)  Here’s a description of what is intended for the restaurant, from the Chez Panisse website:

“From the beginning, Alice and her partners tried to do things the way they wanted them done at a dinner party at home, with generosity and attention to detail. The Restaurant, located downstairs, is open for dinner Monday through Saturday, by reservation only. The fixed menu consists of three to four courses and changes nightly, each designed to be appropriate to the season and composed to feature the finest sustainably sourced, organic, peak-of-their-season ingredients, including meat, fish, and poultry.”

We found it to be one of the most thoughtful menus—and meals—we’d ever encountered. It was delightful, and we were pleased to share it with Claire and her friend Blair, who joined us for parts of the vacation.

Steinbeck Monument

Steinbeck Monument on Cannery Row

Finally, I went on something of a John Steinbeck kick while in Pacific Grove.  I’d begun to read The Grapes of Wrath on the plane ride out to California, as I’d decided this was a good time in our history to revisit this classic tale of the best and worst of America. But while in Pacific Grove, we stopped in a wonderful independent bookstore and I picked up a Steinbeck Centennial Edition of Cannery Row, the short novel/poem on accepting life as it is and putting the highest value on “the intangibles—human warmth, camaraderie, and love.”  Or, as Steinbeck writes early in the novel, “What can it profit a man to gain the whole world and to come to his property with a gastric ulcer, a blown prostate, and bifocals?”

Nature of Parties

“The Nature of Parties” by John Steinbeck from “Cannery Row”

Reading Cannery Row proved to be an unexpected joy in a vacation full of joy and thoughtfulness.  I’ll let Doc’s last words in the book close out this remembrance:

“Even now,

I know that I have savored the hot taste of life

Lifting green cups and gold at the great feast.

Just for a small and a forgotten time

I have had full in my eyes from off my girl

The whitest pouring of eternal light——”

Family along Monterey Coast

The Browns along the California Coast

More to come…

DJB

Raised on Cornbread and Recollections

Rowan Oak

Rowan Oak, Home of William Faulkner

Earlier this month, I joined other members of the National Trust on a memorable trip from Memphis down to the Mississippi Delta.  Dr. Bill Ferris, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and one of the nation’s leading scholars on the American South, joined us and helped set the context for what we were seeing in places such as Oxford, Sumner, Indianola, and Dockery Farms.  His remarks were a masters class in the connections of place with memory, history, food, drink, literature, race, and gender.

At one point, Bill noted that a relative of his liked to say that “he was raised on cornbread and recollections.”  As someone who has eaten my fair share of cornbread, often quotes my grandmother, and tells stories passed down from my father, I understood completely.

We launched our journey into the Delta from Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home in Oxford.  Both the site and writer are reminders of the importance of recollections and history to life today.  Historic sites at their best are dynamic places where past, present, and future meet in a variety of ways.  I often say that “the period of significance is now” with historic sites to point to those intersections.  You cannot have been in the preservation field very long without hearing the famous William Faulkner quote from Requiem for a Nun, which goes, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  That’s very true at a place like Rowan Oak, where communities of people who write and love literature, admire architecture, and enjoy good liquor and good company all visit for remembrance and inspiration.  (To that last point, Faulkner has another famous line which suggests that “pouring out liquor is like burning books.”  He enjoyed his Four Roses.)

At its best, memory is a poet and not a historian.  But not all recollections are correct, and some are purposefully misleading, including “Lost Cause” memories told by my beloved grandmother. Perhaps the most meaningful and moving part of the trip was the 90 minutes we spent at the courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, where the murderers of young Emmett Till were tried and acquitted in 1955, setting off events that led to the modern Civil Rights movement.  Visitors are invited to “engage in the story of Emmett Till, explore your own story, and create a new emerging story with us.”  It is important to bring this past into the present, where we are still grappling with the racism that led to Till’s murder and the murder through lynching of at least 4,000 African Americans from 1877 – 1950.  In that restored courthouse, we read aloud an apology from citizens of Tallahatchie County to the family of Emmett Till.  One of our National Trust Council members spontaneously used that venue to speak from the heart about his mother’s recollections as a young African American woman in the Delta who was only five years older than Till.  This is a historic site that exists to tell the story of Emmett Till in order to move people forward.

Sumner Courthouse

Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi

 

Site of Till Murder Trial

Site of the Emmett Till Murder Trial in Sumner, Mississippi

You don’t have to be a historian to play a role in the telling of the full American story.  I happened to be with attorney Bryan Stevenson — the dynamic founder and head of the Equal Justice Institute  — last week, and was reminded of the work we all have to do when he said “injustice prevails where hopelessness persists.”  If we want to build communities and a nation full of hope, it is important that we set forth a new narrative about the injustices in our lives, past and present.  Historic sites, monuments, and recollections are good places to begin.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB