January 26, 2019

I heard the seagulls calling to me and I followed them to Laguna Beach.  They led me to little children giddily running across the sand to splash their toes in the sea.  How can it be both cloudy and sunny at the same time?  It was an aesthetic combination.  I shared some pizza with a seagull.

The sea both beckoned, and said “Stay away.  This is my territory.”

As the seagulls swirled about, a group of kayakers paddled out to make a circle in the sea.  It looked more like a class than a paddle out to honor the death of a surfer.  But, just in case, on a large rock in the sea close by, the many birds stood quietly in respect.  Then, one by one in a very straight line, each kayak paddled to another spot where they stopped once again.

Was it the sun, the grass, some blossoming plants?  They all became my enemy on this otherwise perfect warm and sunshiny day.  A massive allergy attack made me miserable.  A handkerchief held against my nose that had turned into a faucet blocked the expansive view where a pseudo traffic sign on the cliff read rightly, “Infinity Clearance.”

The sun shimmered in a path on the sea top.  That always makes me think of trying to walk across the sea to … where?  The horizon?  Another country?  Outer space?

In the company of seagulls, hummingbirds quenched their thirst in the flowers that beckon to them.  I read recently that flowers know when the birds are near.  Nature is much more clever than humans can imagine.

Sneeze, sneeze, sneeze, sneeze.  Damn, damn, damn, damn — the double edged sword of so many things that can both thrill us and make us miserable.

Gotta move.

After drenching 2 handkerchiefs, I suspected that my allergy wouldn’t follow me into a building.

I went to the Laguna Art Museum.  I knew they were planning a talk that evening and I thought I could hang out there while looking at the new exhibits.

Turns out that there was only one small exhibit available for viewing because they are gearing up for their annual auction to raise money for the museum.

The small exhibit had a  corner where I could sit on the floor and listen to the video while waiting to see if my nose would stop torturing me.

I had time before the evening lecture to walk out again to the beach to watch the sunset – I have grown old, but watching a sunset never grows old.  I knew the perfect place to watch the sun dip behind Catalina Island down to the sea.

The clouds that had been there during the day had dispersed except for one area around the ball of the sun.  They lent an artistic touch of dark sweeping lines that I imagined as Chinese calligraphy.

A small crowd of people had gathered there, including a special touch at sunset — a guitar player quietly accompanying the dipping of the sun.  The addition of music enhanced the spirit of the setting sun as a lone seagull turned a gentle gold color as it flew past the sun.


September 24, 2015

I go to the sea like others go to their gods — for peace, for comfort, for beauty, for timelessness, for renewal, for mystery, for connection to the unknown and the unknowable.  Whether on holidays, in times of sadness and grief, or of ebullient joy, the sea draws me.  Although I mysteriously lost my sense of smell in 2009, every other part of my body senses the sea as I come closer.  Perhaps it is because I was born by a sea, grew up by another sea, lived close to other seas, and retired by yet another sea.

Today the Pope celebrated Mass in the U.S.  Today Jews bare their souls, ask forgiveness for their sins, and remember their dead.  Today some Presidential wannabes argue whether Muslims should be U.S. Presidents. Although religions up to the present time divide humans much more than unite them, there is actually rather little that differentiates one from another.  A pity really that all the human race has the same basic needs for religion, but use religion to distance “us” from “they.”  But the seas connect us all.

Even though it’s a Wednesday on the first day of fall, there are more than just old, retired folks at the beach.  Why aren’t the young people at work?  Why aren’t the children in school?

I notice with some frustration that I can’t walk the beach as far or as quickly as I used to.  I climb the stairs holding onto a railing instead of easily ascending to the next level.  Ah, but it’s still so good to be by the sea.

I always want to stop at my special resting spot.  One sunny day long ago,  I fell asleep there.  In that in between of sleeping and waking, I saw the tall palm trees overhead, the green of the grass, the light blue of the sky meeting the incredibly deep blue of the water.  I was sure I was in heaven.  And so I was.

It looks much the same as it always has since then except that most of the grass is more brown than green.  The sea is filling up and California is getting drier and thirstier.

Some waves unfurl tantalizingly slowly.  Others smash their way through and crash noisily on the rocks.  Little children screech in excitement and fear as the waves get closer.  The waves roll in, the waves roll out, carrying my disparate thoughts with them on this sunny Yom Kippur day.

June 15, 2013

It’s a jolt to realize I will soon turn 10 years younger than you were when you died.  I wonder what you would think of the past 13 years I’ve lived without you.  What would surprise you, shock you, delight you?  It would be interesting to have your view of what’s been going on without you.

You and mom were the first ones to introduce me to Laguna Beach when you lived in San Diego years ago.  There, with the bright blue sky dotted with pelicans, the creatively landscaped cliffs going down to an incredible expanse of the Pacific Ocean, I had a thought that I had never had before — I could be happy here for the rest of my life.  And, years later, after mom died, you and I moved to a large retirement community then called Leisure World only 6 miles from Laguna Beach.

I was then among the youngest in the retirement community, but even now I’m still “a kid” compared to some of our neighbors whom you would still remember.  At this point in my life, I no longer wander the world.  I eventually adapted to a small, simple,  and sweet world combining friends, a wide variety of activities, chances to ponder the sea as I walk in the smooth sand of the beaches,  warmly wrapped in a year-round gentle and happy climate.

One of the main attractions of this retirement community was a bus system that would enable you to stay active without driving.  Three years ago, I gave up your old car and now use the community bus system, subsidized taxi vouchers, and the county bus system.  With careful pre-planning, I can get where I want to go, plus my legs are stronger from walking more.

I’ve made some changes in the house, but it would still be familiar to you.  Our patio and yard have improved with more flowers and plants than you would remember.   I still take joy puttering in the garden, but gave up trying to grow anything the rabbits want to eat.

The death of my brother in 1996, mom in 1998, you in 1999, and my son in 2003 have made me very aware of my mortality.  Your sister lived to 88 1/2 — the longest of anyone in our family.  I am very aware now that I am the last limb on the family tree.  I am the one my younger cousins turn to for family history and to identify people in the old snapshots.

I’m so sorry you can never read the book I just published called “Out of Step:  A Diary To My Dead Son.”  Nor the one I wrote of my 16 years of wandering the world published in 2006 called “Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird.”  Nor my blog as the Senior Hummingbird.  But you and mom did get to share a bit of my traveling life by visiting Israel and China when I was there, as well as through my many letters.

You would most likely be pleased that I often say thank you to you for bringing me to what is now called Laguna Woods Village.  Since you lived here with me for 4 months, I still feel your presence in our home.  You were a good man, and a loving dad.  Happy Father’s Day!


Your daughter



January 7, 2012

I heard the sea call to me, and like a faithful servant, I come.  Date palm fronds reaching out in a wide circle partially obscure my view of the long stretch of beach as I perch upon a bench above the sea.   Otherwise, my view is unimpeded to the sea and beyond.  Though the tide is low, the waves are quite high and break loudly.  The far view is flat and goes to a fog bank on the horizon waiting its time to creep in.

But the calm and flatness of the sea is an illusion.  So much is happening within its depths.  There are whales, dolphins, and fish even within the small portion of sea I can see.  I know that seals and sea lions are also living within my view.  Black-clad swimmers bob expectantly with their surfboards.

Thousands upon thousands of shells house a myriad of sea creatures.  Within the waves I can see, there is a swatch of algae and seaweed.  Although I cannot see it, spread throughout the water is the pollution of nitrates, phosphates, infinite and permanent beads of plastic remains, and DDT that is slowly leaking from the barrels dumped into the sea many years ago when DDT was banned. Sad, so sad.  The sea has become a wastebasket, a gigantic toilet bowl, a mix of unsea-like stuff.

The sea is powerful beyond our paltry human imaginations.  Intermingling, infinitesimal drops of saline and fresh water are changing the composition of the sea.  Climate change is in the air, and in the sea below.  This small section of sea, connected to so many other sections of the sea, responds to many forces.   Humans and tectonic plates are only part of them.  The sea has no morality as shown by the rush of the tsunami in Japan less than a year ago.  Only luck saved those that survived.

I walk to my favorite part of the beach to see sunsets.  It is like meeting a precious old friend again.  The hummingbirds are filling up on the flower nectar, the birds are standing like sentinels on their accustomed rocks out from the shore, the sun makes a sparkling path between it and the cliff where I stand and watch.

But only minutes before the sun can set, at some invisible cue, the fog bank does not creep,  but rolls in quickly.  Within a couple of minutes, all is obliterated by the fog — no sun, no moon, no islands, no rocks.  It has changed moods, preferring to hide from human eyes.  Only the sound of the waves and brief moving  bands of white froth tell us the sea remains.  The drama of the sea never disappoints me.

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea.  There is no more majestic, mysterious, unpredictable, and strangely inspirational place on our earth.  It is a strange comfort to know that no matter how much we abuse it, the sea will remain long after humans are only an unpleasant memory in a speck of time.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

September 5, 2011

I’ve always believed that surfers had to be in the best physical shape possible to get out there on a long, thin board, stand up, and ride on the wave.  So, I was surprised to read about Taylor Saige Ross of Irvine, California, who is passionate about surfing for many reasons — one of which is that it helps her breathe.  Taylor has cystic fibrosis, and surfing makes her cough incessantly.

In Taylor’s case, the coughing is life-saving because she is finally able to cough up thick and sticky mucus that coagulates in her lungs.  There is no cure for cystic fibrosis, but surfing has made her quality of life better.  Why?  According to doctors, “inhaling saltwater mist has a powerful effect on rehydrating the lining of the lungs, which allows cystic fibrosis patients to more easily cough up bacteria-contaminated mucus.”

Then there are the other beneficial side benefits of surfing.  According to her mother, Taylor, now 10, “feels a sense of peace and calm, and it helps her get connected with her body.  It’s a place she needs to be able to go.”  In fact, Taylor speaks publicly about Cystic Fibrosis to help raise money for CF research, educating the public to understand the disease and how it affects 30,000 children and young adults.  Huntington Beach (CA), where Taylor surfs,  recently held an annual Pipeline to a Cure fundraiser.

This perky 10 year old’s short term goal is to compete in her first National Scholastic Surfing Association junior competition.  Her long term goal is to become a marine biologist.  In the meantime, she surfs once or twice a week,  and practices mixed martial arts that brought her a silver medal in her weight and age class in a recent MMA tournament.  For 4 hours every day, she has breathing therapy and takes about 20 pills.  Her lung capacity is presently at 84% normal functioning.

I have a cousin who suffered from serious asthma as a child.  Her mother told me that the only place she could breathe well was at the beach but she couldn’t explain why the sea air was her best medicine.  In fact, in our family lore, I remember a story of how my grandmother was a very sickly baby expected to die.  When she was two years old, her mother took her and her other 7 children on the long boat voyage of immigrants from Eastern Europe to America.  Her father had expected his youngest daughter would never survive the trip, but there she was when the boat docked – healthier than she had ever been.  The sea had somehow cured her too.

The sea has always been an emotionally restorative part of my life too.  I was born by the sea, and found various places in the world to live within easy reach of a sea.  Now, living in my little patch of paradise in southern California, I often go to the sea at Laguna Beach.  I love the anticipation of my first sight of the ocean, etched in shades of gray or blue as it meets the sky.  I’ve spent hours at my favorite view over the ocean, happily entertaining myself with watching the variety of people who also come to see the sea, the wild sea lions on the rocks, the scuba divers practicing, the dolphins occasionally passing by, the gulls, cormorants, and pelicans.

Close to sunset, with my binoculars, I distort the gleam of the sun on the ocean into thousands of moving cell-like creatures rejoicing in a dance over the water.  Toward sunset, the shining, shimmering path the sun makes across the water and all the way to the cliff where I’m standing connects me to the sea and the sun.  Soon, the sun throws out flames of red and yellow across the blue sky as it sinks gracefully behind Catalina Island.  I feel at home.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

August 29, 2011

Signs of summer ending make me sad.  The first phase of summer leaving is an earlier sunset.  That’s very important to a night owl because, not only do I love the night, but I also love the daylight.  Although my hours awake and asleep don’t change, I feel like my days are happily extended.  I revel in late sunsets that color the sky so prettily.

Although the seasons don’t change in southern California as drastically as in most other places, summer weather has its own identity with certain plants blooming and different smells wafting around us.  Unlike most of the U.S. this particular summer, our weather was generally quite delightful.  Sizzling hot days didn’t last too long.  And even then the evenings were cool, so no sticking to the sheets as I remember from humid childhood summers in the east coast.  And, while we have a large range of insects, mosquitoes are thankfully rare.  Like most southern California summers, the sky was deep blue and rain was nowhere around, although fog often layered Laguna Beach and sometimes reached us.

Living in retirement also gives a sameness to the seasons.  However, this summer I purposely changed my schedule to less of a schedule.  I reached back to childhood summers where my days were mine to do with what I wanted.  Although I could not stop exercising every day as usual, I did different exercises at other times of the day.  I also returned to swimming and realized how much I had missed it even though I wasn’t sure why I had stopped swimming.

I often craved just sitting on my patio in my dad’s old reclining chair catching up with the newspapers and reading interesting books on new subjects.  If one can’t actually do something, the next best is to read about doing it.  When not at the ocean’s side, my second favorite place to be is right here on my patio surrounded by my plants.  Summer is also my time for visits with two of my Chinese families who live in the U.S.  And, this summer I had a totally new experience joining one family on a cruise to Mexico.  In all my travels, I’ve never traveled like that before.  My only disappointment on the cruise was that I was hoping to see zillions of stars, but night time fog on the sea hid them from me.

Fewer activities and fewer obligations seemed to free my thinking.  In May, I started another book.  And I kept up my blogs and was rewarded with more readers.  I also settled down more contentedly than before, noticing more of how much beauty is around me, and making a choice toward concentrating on the positives in life.  It’s so easy to get dragged down by the negatives.  But now I am seeking out more friends like Pollyanna, those special people who always look on the bright side of life.

So, it’s been a good summer for me.  Thankfully, there are still summer fruits in the supermarkets.  And our weather here stays quite summerish through September.  That gives me more time to transition to cooler weather,  fall colors, and apple cider.  The craft festivals and the helpful trolleys in Laguna Beach will end; a good percentage of the tourists will leave.  But the ocean will stay to delight me throughout the year.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

November 8, 2010

I am curious to know how you are feeling today.  I started thinking about you when I read an article about the big Breeders’ Cup Classic race at Churchill Downs that you lost by literally only inches.  It said, “One can only imagine how confused she must have been when they led her off to the barns, not the victory circle.”  Were you confused?  Disappointed?  Devastated?  Did you know that you lost the chance for a perfect 20 out of 20 races?  Perhaps you were sad because you sensed the loss through the tears of your loving jockey and owners.

I have never had a close relationship with a horse, but I remember when I was sad and crying,  my dog came by my side and quietly laid her head on my lap in sympathy.  My dog could sense my moods, and I could sense hers.  We were loving companions.  I know from cowboy movies and from a horse stable right  in my retirement community that horses and humans also develop very close relationships.

My connection with wild animals has mostly been through my weekly volunteering at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.  The sick and injured seals and sea lions brought there for treatment are intelligent, sentient beings that I have been able to observe over the years.  I am not one of them, but I am somehow related.  Although we humans have an annoying tendency to attribute human behavior to animals, I have sensed a level of communication between humans and pinnipeds that is as exciting as it is mystifying.  For one magical afternoon in Scammons Lagoon in Baja California, I interacted with wild gray whales that came up to play with us from our small boat.  There was no doubt it was an intentional encounter on both parts – human and wild sea creature.

Cultural ecologist and environmental philosopher David Abram in his book, “Becoming Animal,” laments how distant many humans feel from nature, including  wild creatures.  Instead of rejoicing in our connections with nature, we deny them or simply don’t see them.  Language has been one of the many ways we have closed our human selves off from the rest of nature.  Neuropsychologist Karen Shanor tries to illuminate for humans the sensitivities of animals in her book, “Bats Sing, Mice Giggle” to appreciate what mostly has remained unknown and unacknowledged.

So, dear Zenyatta, can you find joy and contentment in being  a “once in a lifetime athlete?”  You will undoubtedly continue to be loved and very well cared for.  You have achieved fame and glory in the eyes of humans.  Yes, you are a winner as  well as a loser.  I can only imagine what you feel, but I have no doubt that you do feel deeply.

Sincerely yours,

Another Sentient Being

I generally read or listen to anything about whales. So, when I saw a picture of a whale on the local news tonight, I stopped to listen. And then I saw a couple of familiar faces talking about cutting off clumps of fishing lines to allow the whale to swim freely.
They were two of the 80 volunteers from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach (CA), and they were freeing a 40-ton gray whale stuck in Dana Point Harbor hopelessly entangled in fishing nets.
I first visited the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in 2001 on my way to somewhere else. But the unusual sounds drew me there. A docent came out to speak to me about the wild animals at the rehabilitation center. I was fascinated, but when she said she was a volunteer, my jaw literally dropped and I said, “They LET you volunteer here.” And I signed up. I was already too old, slow, and weak (plus at that time I had no medical insurance in case I was bitten) to be an animal care volunteer, so I became a docent.
I have spent most Sunday afternoons for the past 9 years at the Center, talking to visitors about our patients and doing presentations to any groups that wish to come.
We cater to mostly three types of pinnipeds — sea lions, elephant seals, and harbor seals. Their worst enemies are humans. Humans have transformed the sea — their home — into treacherous territory. Survival is getting more and more difficult as we muck up the oceans in so many intentional and unintentional ways.
It is at the Center (www.pacificmmc.org) that I have personally met a variety of people that I admire most in the world. Ages and professions vary greatly, but I’ve seen a dedication from these volunteers and the small staff we have that is remarkable.
I’ve also come to know some pretty amazing animals too. So, when the news commentator pointed out that the whale stayed calm and seemed to know that people were trying to help him, I had absolutely no doubt that was true.
When I spent one of the most memorable afternoons of my life in Scammons Lagoon in Baja California surrounded by gray whales, I had no doubt that the whales that came up to interact with us were doing so absolutely intentionally. Everyone on the small boat knew the huge whales could easily overturn our boats with a flip of a fluke, but we had no fear. These highly intelligent animals knew exactly what they were doing, and we felt so honored that they wanted to play with us.
I can never forget that afternoon with the gray whales any more than some divers a couple of years back who spent hours freeing a whale from fishing nets. Before swimming away, the whale went up to each diver and thanked him. The divers never doubted it, and neither do I.
Volunteering is supposed to give one a feeling of satisfaction, but being one of the volunteers helping to save sea animals is particularly poignant at a time when the BP oil spill is indiscriminately spewing destruction in a vast area.

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