The Headington Shark

I was cleaning out the bookmarks on my browser (sort of) when I came across an article from April of 2019 entitled, “’It went in beautifully as the postman was passing’: the story of the Headington Shark.

Honestly, I have no idea how I let this one slip through the cracks. I love public art, and I love, even more, people who zig when everyone else is zagging. This was a story that screamed out to be blogged about.

It appears that much of the neighborhood of Headington, in Oxford, U.K. is a place where all the townhouses look alike. I personally couldn’t live in an area like that. It would drive me nuts. And apparently the late Bill Heine, a writer and broadcaster and former student at Oxford, felt the same way.

Heine, the owner of the townhouse, commissioned his friend, John Buckley, a sculptor, to do something to liven the place up. He proceeded to install a 25 foot long shark on the roof, which looks as though it fell from a great height. That seems rather random.

The simple answer is that Heine really liked sharks, but he also wanted to make a statement about war, and about feeling helpless when unexpected things drop from the sky. According to Wikipedia, the work was unveiled on August 9, 1986, which was the 41st anniversary of America dropping a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki.

I think it’s a delight, and apparently I’m not alone. Tourists flock to the shark to this day. But the Oxford City Council was not nearly as amused. They tried to get it removed for reasons of safety, but upon professional inspection, the shark, which weighs about 440 pounds, is structurally sound. The federal government then got involved, and there were some public hearings, in which it was made quite clear that the shark had become a beloved resident of the community, where it still resides to this day.

Heine died in 2019 at the age of 74, and by that point his son had already bought the place to keep the shark safe. He now operates it as an AirBnB. Naturally I had to pop over to the website and check it out. It sleeps 12. It’s a beautiful place, not far from the city center. I was disappointed that the shark’s head doesn’t emerge from the ceiling of one of the rooms, but I suppose it would be rather hard to get a good night’s sleep under those circumstances. The place costs about 220 pounds a night to reserve, with a 3 night minimum, but it would definitely be a fun travel memory.

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Little Free Libraries at Every Turn!

I just read an article that filled me with glee. A little free library has been placed at the South Pole! That alone is amazing, but it’s even more so when you consider that that means there are now little free libraries on all seven continents! Isn’t that wonderful? We are united, it seems, in a love of reading and sharing.

These libraries come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve seen little free libraries made of hollowed out tree stumps, vending machines, newspaper boxes, refrigerators, phone booths, microwaves, and all sorts of creative wooden designs. Some, like mine, have living roofs. Some are miniatures of the houses they sit in front of. Some come with benches. Others double as food pantries. These libraries are only limited by the imagination.

Interested in having a little free library of your own? Check out this website for more information. Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, here are some pictures of the little free libraries I’ve encountered, along with some from other parts of the world that were sent to me via the Pokemon Go app. Enjoy!

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Murals and Graffiti

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that public art is near and dear to my heart. So much so, in fact, that I’ve started a Facebook group about it. Feel free to join!

I think my all-time favorite genre of public art is easily murals. (I feel the same way about graffiti that is well done and well thought out, but I doubt property owners would agree.) It has something to do with starting out with a blank wall, and then turning it into something else. It’s magical.

Each mural is unique to its creator and its location and its message. Many of them tell stories. Some brighten up shabby areas with vibrant color and powerful images. Murals can also have a sense of humor and/or a sense of history. They can evoke emotions or inspire pride.

If they use depth of field, they’re basically creating space that didn’t exist before. Think about that. They create a whole new world. It’s amazing.

I consider murals to be delightful miracles. I really don’t understand why anyone would leave a wall blank when there is such potential for beauty. Our walls cry out to be canvases for our imaginations.

What follows are some murals that either I’ve seen or they have been sent to me from all over the world via the Pokemon Go app. Enjoy!

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All I Wanted

 I ripped my jeans today. 
 The kind of dry rotting rip that can’t be patched.
 And unless you have a slammin’ body, 
 you can’t buy jeans online. 
 You have to try them on. 
 You have to be able to see how your butt looks in the mirror.

 Even worse, these were work jeans. 
 I refuse to pay retail for work jeans 
that will only get greasy right off.

 So I went to the thrift store.
 Do you understand?
 I went to a thrift store, 
 Full of screaming, snotty children.
 In the midst of a pandemic.

 I found three possible pairs. 
 Not the ripped up kind that the young ‘uns wear.
 But not Mom jeans, either.

 Only to discover that the fitting rooms were closed.
 Due to COVID-19.
 I had risked my life for a pair of jeans.
 Now I couldn’t try them on.

 I hung them on the nearest rack (of shirts), 
 and walked out.
 I got in my car. 
 I drove home.

 En route, I thought about how everything 
 is just so damned hard now.
 You can’t eat out.
 You can’t hug.
 You can’t go to the movies.
 You can’t breathe freely.
 You can’t count on the government.
 You can’t go anywhere or do anything.

 We live in it daily,
 but sometimes it sneaks up.

 I sat in my driveway and cried.
 One of those hard, cleansing, chest-heaving cries
 that confuse and irritate men.

 Now I’m exhausted.

 And the pandemic still rages on, 
 grinding us all down without remorse.
 Leaving casualties in its wake.
 Things will never be the same.

 I’m scared.

 Still sniffling, I went inside.
 And then someone drove up to our garage 
 and stole some tools.
 Looked me square in the eye
 he drove away
 In his 60k, brand new SUV.
 Just like that.

 And all I wanted 
 was a stinkin’ pair of jeans. 

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Celebrating the Human Form

One of the things in life that brings me the most comfort is the fact that, even if we all had the exact same diet and exercise regimen, we would still all be different, one from another. Tall or short, curvy or angular, dark or light, with different hair types, eye color and hair color. Even our body hair distribution is unique to each one of us.

No one should shame someone else regarding any aspect of their appearance. It truly is a roll of the dice. I love that we come in infinite varieties. If we all were remarkably similar, like bottle-nosed dolphins, for example, this would be a boring world, indeed.

Sculptures of the human form bear this out. They are also unique. Some are so abstract they barely suggest humanity. Others tell a compelling story. Some are whimsical or humorous. Some turn us into mythical creatures.

All of them, though, make me stop and think. I often wish that they could talk. I think I’d be friends with some statues. I can imagine the sound of their laughter and the taste of their tears. Some kind of give me the creeps, but I’d like to ask them questions. I want to know more.

What follows are some photos of sculptures that I’ve received from all over the world via my Pokemon Go app. Enjoy!

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Public Transit Beautification

It’s no fun taking the bus. These days, it could even be deadly. But what I love about King County Metro, here in the Seattle area, is that they’re trying to make it as pleasant as possible.

Many of the bus stops in this area are quite nice, as far as bus stops go. A lot of them are sheltered on three sides from the wind and weather, and they include a bench. The upper half of the shelter is Plexiglas with a mountain and ocean abstract design that makes these stops easily identifiable from a distance, and they are really symbolic of this area.

But my favorite part is that many of them have art on the bottom half that is unique to that stop. You never know what delightful design you’ll come across. Some are photographs. Others are paintings. Each is a delight. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Any community that promotes public art is infinitely more desirable than one that does not.

Sadly, some people can’t resist vandalizing these bus stops, so often I have to resort to looking at them through my Pokemon Go app to see what the art used to be. What follows are some of the bus stops I’ve come across in my wanderings throughout the county. Enjoy!

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Artistic Utility

When I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, there used to be a rogue artist who would paint the utility boxes in my neighborhood. Everyone that I talked to absolutely loved this art. It was a brilliant way to beautify an otherwise ugly, grey box. But the city council absolutely hated it, to the point where they would have the art removed as quickly as possible, and I believe the artist was actually faced with legal consequences.

Jacksonville was an extremely conservative city at the time. (Not so much anymore, it seems. They voted blue in the presidential elections! Woo hoo!) They considered art to be very controversial. Oh, sure, the confederate statuary was just fine and dandy, but do not produce art that’s open to interpretation. Heavens no! Anarchy might ensue! So Jacksonville’s public art used to be thin on the ground. I was not at all upset to move west.

When I moved to Seattle in 2014, I was thrilled to discover that the art on utility boxes is actually part of a beautification project. Now I look forward to seeing what the various artists will come up with. I love that those dull grey boxes were viewed as an opportunity, not a scandal.

Since then, I’ve seen decorated utility boxes everywhere that I travel. It’s a delight, seeing how varied they are. It brings me joy. It’s like going to a museum from the safety of my car.

What follows are pictures of artistic utility boxes that are either in my neighborhood or the pictures were sent to me by Pokemon Go friends from around the world. Enjoy the creative freedom!

In the interests of full disclosure, most, if not all of the confederate statues in Jacksonville have been removed since I left, and good riddance. I was also told by a friend who lives there that they don’t decorate their utility boxes because it has something to do with the leasing of equipment from vendors. I have no idea. I just can’t imagine they couldn’t find a workaround for this when so many other cities do.

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More Sun, Another Crater

On the next to last day of my road trip, I was celebrating the fact that the trip as a whole had a certain symmetry to it. At the beginning, I went to Sun Valley, Idaho and then to Craters of the Moon. I visited Meteor Crater somewhere in the middle, too. And on this day, I was leaving Lake Tahoe, and heading to Crater Lake, and then would spend the night in Sunriver, Oregon. I had been calling this trip “The Great Western Ramble” in my mind, but perhaps “The Trek of Sun and Craters” is equally appropriate.

After gassing up the rental car and doing the daily ritual of debugging the windshield for better photo opportunities, I set out. Passing through valleys and past lakes, I reflected on just how vast and varied and majestic this country is. And then I passed the high school in Tule Lake. “Home of the Honkers.” That gave me a bit of a giggle. I didn’t  realize at the time that Tule Lake was also the home of another Japanese Internment Camp. That’s not the least bit giggle-worthy.

I also went through Klamath Falls, and stopped at their visitor’s center. When you enter this town, you quickly discover that the area is known for bird watching. There are birds everywhere. They’re on murals and sculptures and street signs and bill boards and they’re incorporated in business names. This place has embraced a natural asset, and more power to them, I say, especially if it motivates them to preserve said asset.

I then headed up to Crater Lake. I had been there before (and blogged about it here), but last time the rim road was closed due to snow. This time it was open, and I took full advantage of that. The views, as you’ll see below, were stunning.

I have to admit, though, that I felt a certain un-vacation-like sense of urgency while there. The dark clouds were rolling in. It was cold and rainy and the sun was going down. I even saw a few dustings of snow. I strongly suspect that the rim road was closed within a week of my visit. But the weather added to the photographs, I think.

North of Crater Lake makes you feel as though you’re slightly south of the middle of nowhere. That made me nervous, because it was getting late and dark and bitterly cold, and I was starving. Then, like an oasis magically appearing in the desert, I came upon a restaurant called Loree’s Chalet in Chemult, Oregon. It was a quaint, homey little place, and the waiter was charming.

He was also not wearing a mask. None of the staff were wearing masks. None of the patrons in the bar in the next room were wearing masks, either. This made me kind of uncomfortable, but I was ravenous, had the dining room all to myself, and my options were limited.

I have to say, the bacon wrapped steak was delicious. They boast the best ranch dressing in the entire world. I have to agree.

After that, it was just a matter of getting to Sunriver Resort. I got there in pitch darkness (more symmetry from the beginning of the trip) so there are no Sunriver photos below. You’ll have to wait until the final post of my journey for those.

I ended the night luxuriating in the bathtub. I have to tell you that if you prize a good bathtub as much as I do, Sunriver Resort is the place to go. It was by far my favorite place to stay on the entire trip. Nothing like a nice hot bath after a cold, raw day!

There will be one more blog post about this trip that will be posted the day after tomorrow, so watch this space! I’ll try to link all the posts about this trip together, so that you can start at the beginning if you find yourself in the middle and want to read the whole saga. Here’s a link to the first post in the series. And here’s a link to the last day of our trip.

Bears, Bears Everywhere

Idaho. Nevada. Arizona. California. Oregon. Washington.

In every state I drove through last month, there was a recurring theme: Bears. I saw evidence of them everywhere I looked. Bear boxes. Warning signs. But mostly, sculptures.

Bears carved from wood. Bears made of bronze. Humorous bears. Ferocious bears. Abstract Bears. Bears standing on their hind legs for all eternity. Bears holding signs, and most likely grateful to have a job in this economy. Here a bear, there a bear, everywhere a bear, bear. They even started entering my dreams.

The only thing I didn’t see was an actual bear. That’s probably a good thing. The only bears I’ve ever seen in the wild were in Alaska, and I was grateful to be able to observe them with awe from the safety of a vehicle. Bears are amazing and worthy of respect. I’m glad they’re out there. I’m also glad none have ever tapped me on the shoulder.

What follows are some of the postcards I collected from my Pokemon Go application while passing by all these bear statues. Enjoy!

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Mono Lake to Lake Tahoe

On day ten of our road trip, we got an early (for us) start. Before heading to Lake Tahoe, we wanted to explore Lee Vining and Mono Lake. I must say, for such a tiny town, there was a lot of delightful public art. There’s also a place called the upside down house, pictured below. It wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped.

The lake itself was pretty, and had unique rock formations, but hey, we were about to go to Lake Tahoe. Dear husband had picked up a fall colors map, so we decided to take the leisurely scenic route today and enjoy all the lovely yellows and golds.

Random things we saw on our route: A hot pink poodle, a fascinating mud dauber nest, a rock formation that looked like a plumber’s butt, and lots and lots of cows. Don’t believe me? Check out our pictures below.

When we reached Lake Tahoe, I was blown away by how clear the water was. If California and Nevada can do that, anyone should be able to. We all need to.

My first introduction to the lake was a lovely place called Sand Harbor. It was full of winding trails and little rocky coves. It would be a delightful place to bring a book and just read, while watching people play in the water.

We then went to dinner at Lone Eagle Grill. If you’re ever in the area and are in the mood for a bit of a splurge, I highly recommend this place. I had salmon topped with crab cake, and it was the best salmon I’ve ever had in my entire life.

Before you leave the restaurant, be sure and get your parking validated. We made the mistake of not doing this (it’s not spelled out clearly), and almost got charged $45 for less than 2 hours parking. Oh heck no! For that price I could get more salmon to go! We went back inside and cleared that up, believe you me. Crisis averted.

Feeling well satisfied and very content, we went to our time share, which was high above the lake, and so fancy that they even folded the kitchen towels for us. I was suffering from severe impostor syndrome.

It had been a lovely, leisurely day, and the next day was to be all about relaxing. I was thrilled. I’m getting sleepy just thinking about it.

Enjoy the photos!

There are a lot more tales to tell about this trip, but I’ll try not to post them daily, so as not to put off those who aren’t interested in travel blogs. So brace yourself for a good month of every other day adventures! I’ll try to link them together, so that you can start at the beginning if you find yourself in the middle and want to read the whole saga. Here’s a link to the first post in the series. And here’s a link to the next day’s adventure!

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!