About Brooksong

I live in San Francisco, California, with my wife. We like to write, we like to travel, and I'm researching my family history. We're jumping into the blogosphere to share our interests with other like-minded souls.

Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver, BC

One of the highlights of our recent visit to Vancouver, BC (sometimes called “VanCity” by the locals in order to distinguish it from Vancouver Island) was a visit to Queen Elizabeth Park. Molly’s brother Don, who resides in Vancouver with his husband, John, was our tour guide. We took the train from Don’s neighborhood of Yaletown to the park (we love the public transportation in Vancouver, by the way!) This will be a post of few words and many photos as the visuals speak for themselves (click on any photo to see it larger), but here is what the official website (http://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/queen-elizabeth-park.aspx) says about the park:

Queen Elizabeth Park

Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver’s horticultural jewel, is a major draw for floral display enthusiasts and view-seekers, and as a popular backdrop for wedding photos. At 152 metres above sea level, it’s the highest point in Vancouver and makes for spectacular views of the park, city, and mountains on the North Shore.

The 52-hectare park is home to the stunning Bloedel Conservatory. There is also a gorgeously landscaped quarry garden, the arboretum with its collection of exotic and native trees, sculptures including one by internationally renowned artist Henry Moore, and diverse recreational offerings such as tennis, lawn bowling and pitch & putt.


As we walked into the park we were drawn to these metal scuptures. Close examination showed them to be a place where lovers can hang locks symbolizing their commitment.

On our way to the Bloedel Conservatory we walked through the gardens of the Quarry area. Some flowers were over for the season but others were in full swing. The rhodedendrons were stunning.

The views of Vancouver from the top of the hill, where the conservatory is located, were fabulous.



















The conservatory allowed one to get up close and personal with many varieties of birds, including a variety of parrots and finches.

So, Stanley Park gets all the press but Queen Elizabeth Park is pretty spectacular. It should be high on your list if you visit Vancouver.


Floodgates, Levees and Weirs

El Niño has recently kicked back into gear, and we are reminded California’s Central Valley was once a vast swamp and only the machinations of myriad engineers prevent it from returning to that status in a wet year. In Sacramento’s early boomtown years during the height of the gold rush, the city was wiped out several times by huge floods. The prevention of flooding as well as reclamation of land from the grasp of California’s major rivers has been an ongoing project since the mid-to-late 1800s. When I lived in Sacramento I became familiar with some of the infrastructure used to keep the city from flooding, infrastructure which is constantly being updated and modernized.

Molly and I were passing through Sacramento this week with a little extra time on our hands. I recalled reading that Discovery Park, located at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers, was under water, so we exited I-80 in my old neighborhood of South Natomas to check it out.

I lived in Sacramento from 1983 until 2000. During those years we had any number of wet winters, including some years of flooding—most notably 1983, 1986, 1995 and 1997. Discovery Park was designed to go under water when the rivers swell. There is no cause for alarm, the levees have not been breached. It is part of the engineered plan to keep the city of Sacramento from flooding, a task that has been ongoing for over a century.


Discovery Park is fairly large, at 302 acres, and seeing it underwater is a pretty cool sight. The park anchors the 32 mile American River Bike Trail (aka the Jedediah Smith Memorial Bike Trail) which follows the American River up to the town of Folsom. Discovery Park does not boast much in the way of infrastructure, as one would expect from an area designed to flood at regular intervals, but it does have a softball field, archery range, a boat ramp, and many picnic areas. It is a narrow, flat parcel bordered by Steelhead Creek on the north, the American River on the south, and the Sacramento River on the west. I-5 passes directly over the west end of it, giving one a bird’s eye view. To the east are levees through which Northgate Blvd. passes, necessitating a flood gate, one of 15 located in Sacramento.


The pin marks the location of the Northgate Blvd. floodgate.

We drove east along Garden Highway, (the rather poetic name for the road that runs for miles along the Sacramento River on the Sacramento County side—the river forming the boundary between Sacramento and Yolo Counties) and then south on Northgate Blvd. a short distance to check on the status of the flood gate. Along the way we could see where sections of the paved bike trail were underwater. Steelhead Creek was running very high, erasing the many unofficial mountain bike trails that typically run through the riparian habitat.


Floodgate at Northgate Blvd., Sacramento, CA

Open floodgate at Northgate Blvd., Sacramento, CA

We found the floodgate open, allowing free passage along Northgate Blvd., but I remember a number of different years when it was closed for months to prevent the floodwaters from Discovery Park to move any further east.During those months I had to take a different route to work, along with many others from the South Natomas neighborhood, and traffic would be thrown onto residential streets ill-equipped for that many cars. The roads have since been reworked and elevated, and I suppose it’s likely that no one even notices the flood gate anymore, as its closure would not be much of an inconvenience.

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Closed floodgate in a previous year.

Retracing our route along Garden Highway we searched for a place to park so we could get a closer view of the flooded park on foot. We eventually pulled in to the north entrance off Garden Highway which was gated shut. Feeling cautious because of the “No Parking, Tow Away Zone” signs we took turns sitting in the car while the other crossed the bridge over Steelhead Creek and walked down the road a short distance to view the scene. Now Molly understood why I insisted on a bathroom break at a fast food place a little earlier when she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just use the bathrooms at the park, our destination. It would have been a bit of a swim.


The north entrance to Discovery Park from Garden Highway.


Although closed to cars, the entrance was accessible on foot. 


…but one couldn’t walk far…

Here is a quote from the Sacramento County Regional Parks website about Discovery Park: During the winter, you might see Discovery Park underwater during high water. Discovery Park is part of the Sacramento area flood control system. It is designed to flood to take pressure off American River levees when there is a lot of water in the system.


The flooded park.


After taking care of the appointment that had brought us to the area in the first place, we capped off our afternoon with a longer drive along Garden Highway. The road is on top of the levee providing views of elevated houses along the river bank, each with its own boat dock. I recall that people started elevating their homes after the floods of the 1980’s when many houses were flooded along that stretch. On the opposite side of the levee one looks down onto small farms with orchards, field crops, cows and goats.


Looking east, away from the river, from Garden Highway.


A farm lies just east of the levee.



I-80 overpass, crossing Garden Highway and the Sacramento River.



We had lunch at an old restaurant right on the river that I had all but forgotten about: The Virgin Sturgeon. An enclosed ramp leads one down to the restaurant which is essentially a barge floating on the river. Well, I say down because when the river is at its normal flow the restaurant sits below the ramp entrance, sometimes steeply below. On this day, however, we actually were walking at an upward angle, the river was so high.

The Virgin Sturgeon has been around for more than 30 years and is a great place to have a meal or a drink on the open deck in the summer. Boaters tie up and come aboard to eat and drink. But on this cold, rainy day we were very happy to sit in a corner of the restaurant with large windows giving us a firsthand view of the rushing Sacramento River. The service was excellent, the food adequate, and they had beer on tap, so we were quite content with our mesmerizing view of the river. There was plenty of debris coming down the swift water, and at one point a grebe floated past at an alarming speed. It was the only bird we saw—apparently some species of thrill-seeking grebe.

We drove home in the rain, pleased with our unplanned explorations of yet another piece of the California water system. Just after we returned to the city we learned that for the first time in three years water topped the Fremont Weir and began flowing into the Yolo Bypass. When this occurs the elevated portion of I-80 between Davis and Sacramento appears to transect a vast ocean, so far does the water spread in some years. Sorry we missed that.


Lime Kilns, Beer and Art in Santa Cruz

Through no particular foresight or planning on our part we recently stumbled onto some interesting discoveries in Santa Cruz, involving a few of our favorite topics—history and the natural landscape. It started when we went looking for the headwaters of a creek that had created a large, steep ravine near the house where we were staying during a short getaway. (So, throw hydrology into the mix and we were in geeky grrl heaven.)

Molly has posted about the watershed discoveries (see previous post). After roaming around looking for the headwaters of Moore Creek we returned to the house, switched on our laptops and began investigating what we could learn online about the reservoir and water tower we’d found adjacent to the arboretum, not far from the UC Santa Cruz campus. In the process we came across information about the lime quarries and kilns that formerly dotted north-western Santa Cruz County.

The largest was owned by industrialist Henry Cowell, who acquired the land in the late 19th century. The Cowell Lime Works quarried limestone, and produced lime and other limestone products. Lime was used in mortar, plaster and stucco and was essential for all the building that was going on in California, particularly San Francisco, at the time. They also manufactured barrels in which to store and ship the lime. Eventually Cowell’s vast estate passed to the S. H. Cowell Foundation which in turn sold part of the ranch to the University of California to build UC Santa Cruz. The university opened in 1965.

So there is an intertwining of the Cowell Lime Works legacy and the UC Santa Cruz campus, and our experience of the juxtaposition was interesting, if by interesting we mean a little odd.

There is a Cowell Lime Works Historic District, which according to the city’s website, encompasses “some 30 acres” at the entrance to UCSC. We found a brochure online for a self-guided tour of about 20 old buildings or other structures that made up the lime works on the UCSC campus. The odd part was that none of the people we talked to who were associated with or employed on the campus had any knowledge of the self-guided tour or the history of the buildings—some of which are being used by the university and appear quite well maintained. The Admissions Office is in what used to be the cook house, and the Women’s Center is temporarily occupying what used to be the granary, where seeds and grains were stored. The people in the information and parking kiosk knew nothing. The young woman who greeted us when we walked into the Women’s Center knew nothing. When Molly told her we were there for the tour, she seemed a little surprised but proceeded to give us an impromptu tour of their space and told us about the programs they offered. (I eventually had to drag Molly away so we could continue on our intended tour.)

The former granary, now the temporary home of the Women's Center.

The former granary, now the temporary home of the Women’s Center.

The former cook house, now the Admissions Office.

The former cook house, now the Admissions Office.

We checked out the old stone building that used to be the paymaster’s headquarters, a beautiful old barn, and the remains of the cooperage—which awaits further restoration—and one of the kilns, in addition to the cookhouse and granary. All these buildings, as well as some limestone outcroppings, are just inside the entrance to the university. The various sites were situated on both sides of the road with no cross walks so one had to dodge some fast-moving traffic to get back and forth. It was almost as if they don’t expect anyone to take the self-guided tour. Odd.

There was more to see but our stomachs were growling so we headed off for lunch and a beer at the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery. They only offered one IPA but it was nice and bitter, just the way we like it.

Santa Cruz Moutain Brewery gets festive.

Santa Cruz Moutain Brewery gets festive.

We then took in the Museum of Art and History downtown. My favorite exhibit was the one that chronicled the history of the Santa Cruz area, from natives to surfers, including three Hawaiian princes who first introduced the sport of surfing to California. We learned about a painter neither of us had heard of, Henrietta Shore. She was a Canadian, born in Toronto in 1880, who lived primarily in Southern California. At one time she was quite well known and hung out with the likes of Edward Weston and Georgia O’Keeffe but her work fell out of favor and she died in poverty and obscurity in 1963. We walked a few blocks to the main post office where four of her murals grace the walls. They had been funded by the WPA and we thought they were quite impressive. She was influenced by Diego Rivera and worked with him for a time. The art features local laborers in the fields and fisheries and, yes, the lime quarries.


One of Henrietta Shore’s murals.

Museum of Art & History outdoor sculpture garden.

Museum of Art & History outdoor sculpture garden.

We’re looking forward to returning to Santa Cruz and making more discoveries as there is much more to explore.

Written by Holly Holbrook

Summer’s End on the Oregon Coast

We were supposed to be in Banff, British Columbia today. After learning that much of the smoke from the huge wildfires in Washington state is blowing up into BC, we felt it best to reroute our road trip. Substituting an idyllic drive down the Oregon and California coasts would be just the thing, we thought.

Here in Cannon Beach, Oregon we witnessed the end of summer as a big storm bringing lots of rain and blustery winds blew in overnight.

Images captured on Friday, the calm before the storm:

Woke up to strong rain and winds at 3am. Here’s what the radar map looked like.

Radar image at 3am August 29.

Radar image at 3am August 29.

And the morning after…

It’s always dynamic on the coast, with a capital D currently.

Cannon Beach is stunningly beautiful. We were lucky to get a place to stay on short notice as, unbeknownst to us, the Hood to Coast Relay is taking place this weekend with over 13,000 runners in 1,050 teams covering 198 miles from Mt. Hood to the town of Seaside, just north of Cannon Beach. Needless to say, the participants are getting more than they bargained for with the current weather conditions.

These crazy winds are supposed to die down around midday. Then we’ll continue our journey south along the Pacific. Next stop: Reedsport, Oregon.

By the way, for those unfamiliar with WordPress, you can click on any of the above images to see them enlarged and in a slideshow format.

Written by Holly Holbrook

Van City

What can we say about Vancouver? We love it! A city (almost) surrounded by water—the Strait of Georgia, English Bay, False Creek, the Fraser River and Burrard Inlet—with stunning mountains as a backdrop, its beauty is hard to beat. The many high-rise condos are separated by open space, with broad pedestrian and (separate) bicycling paths along the waterfronts.

It’s so beautiful I think it’s best said with photos.

We got all around the city without a car. Public transportation options are plentiful: the bus, two different trains, and—my favorite—the Aquabus. Oh, and we walked a lot.

There is a LOT of construction going on in Vancouver.

I like the Canadian bills. They feel kind of plastic-y and are partly transparent.

Funny money!

Funny money!

Of course there are many great restaurants and some unique food experiences such as the Japadog, hotdogs with various Japanese condiments. The Yaletown Brewery was within walking distance making it easy to refill our growler.

But my favorite thing about Vancouver is the water, the water, the water.

Written by Holly Holbrook

Birch Bay, Washington

We recently spent three days in Birch Bay, Washington, for a reunion of some of Molly’s cousins. Molly’s mother was Flo Wick. Flo’s sister Ruth had three daughters, and these three sisters, Sandy, Gail and Sue Ellen, were our reason for being in Birch Bay. Sandy and Gail were each traveling solo, while Sue’s entourage also included her husband Tom, daughters Kim and Kelcey, and grandsons Riley and Jack. We had a full house in our rented condo where we enjoyed catching up and sharing a lot of laughs.

I knew that Cousin Sandy had a friend who owned a condo here that was available to rent. But I had not realized that Sandy, Gail and Sue had a connection with Birch Bay dating back to their childhood. I was reminded of my mother’s attachment to the Mendocino Coast in California, as she spent many childhood summers there escaping the heat of the Central Valley, and my own relationship with Bodega Bay, CA, where I used to get away from the heat in Sacramento. Molly’s cousins were escaping the heat of Yakima, WA, (also Molly’s hometown) located on the eastern side of the Cascades.

Birch Bay is an unincorporated tourist destination 100 miles north of Seattle in Whatcom County, WA, not far from the border of Canada. In fact, I was surprised to learn that while we were in Birch Bay we were actually north of Victoria, BC, Canada!

A large sandy tideflat of several square miles, the shallowness of the bay contributes to the warmth of the water. It has one of the largest heron nesting sites in the state of WA and at any given time we could see several great blue herons standing in the tide flats snacking on the abundance of sea life. Birch Bay is one of 50 sites in the state of Washington classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA), especially for sea- and shorebirds, by the Audobon Society.

I was charmed by how people flocked out onto the mud flats when the water pulled back at low tide. At the peak of tourist season it was certainly not crowded by California standards, but adults dragged their beach chairs out to better supervise small children who busily flung mud into buckets or onto each other. Some beach-goers clammed while others walked the shallow waters with buckets and rakes seeking crabs, the season having just opened.


One thing that was a bit startling to us Californians were the ubiquitous Private Beach and No Trespassing signs, forcing us to get off the beach and walk on the road. In California there is no such thing as a private beach—the intertidal zone is public property thanks to the California Coastal Commission. IMG_2754We are grateful to the Commission and all the activists over the years that claimed the California coast for the Commons. It reminded us of the seldom quoted verse from Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land:IMG_2751

 As I went walking I saw a sign there

And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”

But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,

That side was made for you and me.


Written by Holly Holbrook

Grass Valley, California

Written by Holly Holbrook

Grass Valley, California, located on Highway 49 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, holds many warm memories for me. My cousins grew up in the town, and my sister moved there after landing her first job as a radiological technician back in 1978. So it’s a place I’ve visited for as long as I can remember, and I lived there myself one summer between college semesters in 1980.


Grass Valley sprang up during the gold rush as did many other towns in the Sierra foothills. The downtown retains much of the historic charm of those Old West days. The economic engine of the town was the Empire Mine, an enormous hard rock mine which occupies 5 square miles under the town, and reaches depths of almost a mile. This was an active and very profitable gold mine which operated just over 100 years, from 1850 to 1956, and many of the miners were immigrants who brought mining skills from their homelands. The Empire mine in particular employed a large population of Cornish miners. They brought technology in the form of the Cornish engine which operated on steam and enabled the removal of water from the deep tunnels of this mine. Mules were used to haul the ore carts, and the mules lived in underground barns until they became too old to work.

By 1879 the mine came under the management of William Bowers Bourn, Jr., a San Francisco native who was responsible for many of the improvements in the operations of the mine. Bourn Jr. and his wife, Agnes Moody, commissioned Willis Polk to build the “cottage” using rock from the mine. This also included gardens, fountains, and a reflecting pool. A clubhouse was added later on. The Bourns had used the same architect to build their Filoli estate just south of San Francisco.

The Empire Mine is just down the road from where my aunt and uncle and cousins used to live. It was restored and made into a state historic park in 1975 but before that we used to ride our bikes over there and just wander around the grounds. Now it is wonderfully restored. Molly and I enjoyed visiting the various exhibits, beautiful buildings and grounds. Many of the buildings used in the mining operations have been restored, and volunteers were working in the blacksmith shop. We capped it off with a short hike through the pines following one of several trails accessed from the parking lot.

In addition to their mining skills, the Cornish miners also brought the pastie, a cherished food from Cornwall consistIMG_7573ing of a turnover typically containing meat, potatoes, and onions. This continues to be a popular food in Grass Valley. We visited Cousin Jack’s Pasties in downtown Grass Valley to sample the goods (they also have homemade pie and scones with clotted cream, yum!).


We stayed the night at the historic Holbrooke Hotel, which is the oldest hotel in continuous operation in the California mother lode, established in 1862. This place brings back a lot of memories as I worked part of a summer bussing tables there until I was able to get hired on at a pear packing shed in Marysville. I spent the remainder of the summer driving an hour each way from Grass Valley to Marysville with a couple other young people looking to earn some money working ten hour days six days a week. It beat bussing tables, in my opinion. In any case, the Holbrooke claims to have had many famous guests over the years including Lotta Crabtree, Jack London, Grover Cleveland, James Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, and Lola Montez, who made her home in Grass Valley in 1853. Her home (actually a replica) still exists as a museum on Mill St. in Grass Valley.

IMG_7584Modern day Grass Valley has never been known for its night life, but we found a great tap room called 151 Union Square. They had 17 beers on tap, offer wine tastings and a limited menu of food. Comfortable couches as well as tables and chairs helped create a welcoming ambiance. A very hospitable husband and wife team runs the place, which has been in operation just over a year. We enjoyed a live jazz combo during the evening, and couldn’t resist ordering a pizza after getting a whiff of the seductive aromas coming from the kitchen. I texted one of my cousins who grew up here of our discovery. Her response: “Who knew Grass Valley had night life! I thought it was just hanging at the ‘Dump’!” (The Humpty Dumpty Kitchen, fondly known as the “Dump” by the teenagers of our generation—it was the place to go to meet your friends, and it continues to serve up good burgers and milkshakes.) The Holbrooke Hotel also hosted a group of musicians playing bluegrass on Sunday afternoon.

I haven’t spent much time in Grass Valley in recent years as family members have all moved to other locales. This visit was a fun journey into the past—my own as well as early California’s. My recent delving into family history turned up one of my great-great grandfathers, Isaac Newton Cain, as well as his brother, Worthington Newcomer Cain, in the 1850 census living in a boarding house in Nevada City, three miles up the road from Grass Valley, apparently trying their hand at mining. They later settled into farming in Colusa County, CA. The more I dig into my family’s history, the more I realize how it was shaped by the California gold rush which in turn increases my interest in California history. How wonderful to be able to visit many of the historic places where my ancestors journeyed on their way to a new life in California!

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