N is for National Parks Service

As a self-proclaimed nature addict, I take no shame in my love for the pretty places on the earth.  I have extolled the virtues of the National Parks Service in previous posts (here, here and here, for example).  The national parks figure prominently in my “Happy Places” posts and are the last bastion of primal America as it once existed for millenia.  They are capsules of another time, ambassadors (both human, animal and vegetable alike) to the environment and, in general, a prescient gift to us from important forbears such as Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir.

If you haven’t been to a National Park recently, find one that is nearest to you.  Many countries have National Parks now–which is fantastic, in my opinion!  There should be more.  On top of that, there are UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well.


If you enjoy visiting the U.S. National Parks, be sure to pick up a National Parks Passport and fill it with stamps and pictures from the places you visit.  I promise you that you will come back from your “world tour” a changed person.


If you have children between the ages of 3 and 15, there is also the amazing Junior Ranger Program at nearly every National Park, World Heritage site and (in some states) at State Parks as well.

Last summer, we hit four nationals parks on our family vacation: Glacier (Montana), Yellowstone (Montana/Wyoming), Grand Teton (Wyoming), and Golden Spike National Monument (Utah).

This spring, we visited Joshua Tree and will visit three more parks this coming summer: Sequoia, Kings Canyon and, one of our favorites, Yosemite (all in California).

We are truly lucky to live in such a beautiful world!

Pick up the Chimani apps for your mobile devices.  They feature some stunning photography, a trip planner and many facts and bits of history about all the parks.

ETA: Also, don’t forget the “National Parks: America’s Best Idea PBS documentary.  You can see clips here.

Going to My Happy Place: Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

The first National Park ever established in the United States, Yellowstone actually sits atop the caldera of a “super volcano” that may or may not erupt.  If it ever does, it will take out most of the western states along with it.

It’s an amazing, unique place but I’m just going to write about one small facet of our visit there last summer.  We had the good fortune to stay at the hundred and ten year-old Old Faithful Inn, located just yards away from the iconic geyser that everyone lines up to see when they visit this amazing place.

Our room was about fifty yards away from the geyser and we could hear it erupt regularly throughout the night.  In fact, on our first evening there, Mr. Aubrey and I tucked the kids into bed and wandered out to the bleacher overlooking the best viewpoint for Old Faithful in the wee small hours of the morning.

It was an impulse but it ended up being a truly magical moment shared with my cherished partner in life.  I’ll never forget it.  Above us curved a dome of stars in the blackest field, unencumbered by city lights, traffic and other interference.  We spent muted moments picking out constellations we both know–finding Polaris, the North Star, or gaping at the jaw-dropping streak of white, the Milky Way painted across the midnight sky.

The air was brisk–all the more excuse for us to draw close to each other and share body warmth.  But the magic didn’t end there.  As if sensing our deep admiration and appreciation for the natural world around us, the geyser responded at 1 a.m., giving us alone a show that we will never forget.  It was an experience for all the senses.  I could see the steam rising from the mound in the near distance, I could smell the musty earthiness and feel the damp heat on my skin as the water rose from the bowels of the earth no longer able to contain it.

Nature had decided to pull out all the stops for us that night and give us a moment we’ll always remember.  I still get chills thinking about how I felt, so insignificant and yet so closely tied to the natural world around me.  I felt the connection immediately and it will not soon release me.

I must go back to this place some day.  There was so much to see and so little time to see it.  I am so thankful for our amazing National Parks service that seeks to preserve these special places for us and our descendants.  If you haven’t visited a national park recently, I urge you to get out there and see one, or many.

Since I did not want to use someone else’s photos on my blog without permission, I will link the following image, probably one of the most stunning I found and what comes the closest to what we saw.  Milky Way over Old Faithful

I’ve added some more stunning photos (via repins) on my Happy Places Pinterest Board.  Have a look!

You can see more of my Happy Places posts by clicking on the category link “The World According to Bren.”

Going to My Happy Place: Boundary Bay

On the furthest stretch of western coastline along the edge of the contiguous United States lie a series of three bays: Birch BaySemiahmoo Bay, and Boundary Bay, a scoop of calm, blue-green ocean that extends between the USA and Canada.  Places like Drayton Harbor, Blaine, Semiahmoo First Nation Reserve, Surrey, White Rock, Crescent Beach and Ocean Park all skirt the coastline here.

I spent every other childhood summer here and in many ways it feels as home to me as the place I grew up, over a thousand miles away.  Memories entwine with images and as I glance over the snapshots I took as a teenager, many of them center around this portion of coastline that connect my two countries: the USA and Canada.

This stretch of seashore reflects me and who I am.  I am American and Canadian, among other things.  Just like these bays.  Throughout the summers of my childhood and adolescence, I dug for clams and collected driftwood at Birch Bay, built sand castles at White Rock Beach, photographed stunning sunsets at Drayton Harbor, hunted for sea treasures at Crescent Beach, played in the shadow of the Peace Arch, and crabbed off the pier in Semiahmoo Bay.

The connection for me here is as simple and as a part of me as breath and heartbeat.  I truly was lucky, but for me it was normal.  It was our typical summer break visiting Grandma and all our other relatives in the north.  Looking back, it was a gift.  One I’m willing to share with you.

Boundary bay is comprised of communities in the state of Washington and the province of British Columbia.  A historically significant monument, the Peace Arch, calls this bay home. The Samish first peoples once had lands here and now own a luxury resort off Drayton Harbor.

The border between U.S. and Canada and a distant view of the Peace Arch
From Blaine, WA, looking out over Drayton Harbor
In my childhood idylls, I have many memories of this particular pier that faces the Semiahmoo spit.  We used to lower crab traps and spend hours here.
The tide washes in, devouring sandbars at Crescent Beach, B.C.
The next generation discovers a magical beach: My boys could have played at Crescent Beach for hours on this gorgeous spring day.
Plenty of rocks to throw here.  And shells to collect.  Per my instructions, they were only allowed to take two things each.  Be sure to visit my pinterest board Happy Places for these and more choice views of Drayton Harbor, Birch Bay and Boundary Bay.

Going To My Happy Place: Sentinel Beach

The world according to Bren…

I continue one of my blog  features with a description of my “happy places.’    Every creator, whether writer, visual artist or peformance artist, needs to recharge his/her batteries.  Creative energy is not infinite.  It is not fair for us to expect to be able to continue creating/writing/sculpting/etc. without inspiration.

For me, getting out into nature whether physically or mentally, really helps me with this challenge.  My existing “happy places” are shown here through descriptions, stories, history and pictures I’ve taken.   

Sentinel Beach on the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California

In my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful places on the planet is Yosemite National Park.  Apparently many of my fellow citizens of the planet Earth agree with me because it is unarguably the most visited national park in the U.S.

I could write fifty blog posts extolling the jaw-dropping wonders of this beautiful place.  The valley, of course, is the most accessible and “in your face” about the marvel that is Yosemite.  After all, who could ignore a five-story high waterfall (followed by at least three more just as high or higher) or massive sheer cliffs of granite all around you?   Even the yellow meadows, which now stand in the place of the ancient lakes that once dominated the valley, are breathtaking.

I am fortunate enough to live within a day’s drive of this amazing place.  And as often as we can, my family make it a point to go camping here.  We usually choose to stay outside of the valley “on the the rim”–our launching point often near Glacier Point, which affords the most breathtaking vistas of the park and a front-row seat to Yosemite’s unforgettable and signature monument, Half Dome.

Here, however, I will talk about a feature in the valley, on a small beach located on the banks of the ancient Merced River, which flows through the valley.  If you’ve ever visited Yosemite, you have no doubt rafted down the Merced.  It is one of the easiest ways to get an hour long tour of the park while lying on your back and gazing upward.

After floating down the meandering Merced, your raft trip comes to a stop at the golden-tinged Sentinel Beach, a narrow stretch of sand that faces majestic El Capitan.   It is here, that, after an hour and a half long trip maneuvering the river, we settled for lunch on a picnic bench.

Afterwards, the boys enjoyed some play time on the beach while I sat under a golden-leafed aspen and soaked up the energy and beauty of this place.  It was a perfect summer day and the fresh breeze blowing through the valley made a person glad to be alive.   I pictured what this place might look like in the dead of winter, that same tree devoid of leaves, the whole place silent and covered in a thin veneer of ice and snow.

It was a peaceful place, even with all of the activity going on around me.  Those yellow-golden leaves swaying in the wind, the easy gait of the river and the cold indifference of El Capitan surveying me from on high.

My current work in progress (which was in its nascent stages when I was last in Yosemite) takes place in the Lakes District, which I consider to be England’s equivalent to Yosemite.  It was very inspirational on that level as well.

For more amazing pictures of Sentinel Beach, go here and here.

Stay tuned to this blog for more of my happy places–which range from Europe to the West Coast of the United States, to Alaska, to the Northwest.

To see my other Happy Places, click The World According to Bren under the categories

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