Day 75, Vacation, Yosemite

Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jul 29, 2011

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Not much by way of travelogue to report today. We visited Yosemite, but got a bit of a late start, which turned out to be okay, because we got to look down the valley from Glacier Point at sunset, which was spectacular.

There is a caveat to visiting Yosemite, though: everything is Very Far Away. There are few roads into Yosemite, and the drives are long, even if you don’t get stuck behind an RV for several miles. From Mariposa where we were staying, it’s an hour to get into the Yosemite Valley and an hour to get to the Mariposa Grove. From either of these places, it’s an additional hour to get to Glacier Point. So, looking at the beauties of Yosemite from Glacier Point at sunset (a real plus) means a 2 hour drive back to the hotel, after dark, on hairpin curves (one of the low points of the vacation so far).


Day 74, Vacation, Alcatraz & San Francisco

Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jul 28, 2011

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[28 July 2011] This morning we got up early and made it to the ticket office for Alcatraz by 7:15. Alas, the line was already long, and the office didn’t open until 8. So we stood in the cold, foggy morning until 8, not knowing whether or not we would be able to get tickets. YES! We got some of the very last ones to be sold; we heard the announcement that they were sold out while we were walking away from the window.

So Alcatraz is the No. 1 tourist destination for visitors to San Francisco. It was a good tour, with great personal audio sets and a lot of information. Beyond that, there is nothing to report.

After we got back from Alcatraz, we were starved, so we found some lunch, then collapsed for naps, because we sometimes wear ourselves out on vacation seeing things and going places.

In the evening, we set out for Fisherman’s Wharf again, because we remembered that there was a comedy club at one of the Italian restaurants. We got reservations on line, laughed our *sses off at routines, then wandered around Fisherman’s Wharf afterwards for a while, just people-watching. I have never seen so many Interesting People all together in one place.

I have to comment on one of them. He’s in the pictures above. This old black man had a big green branch in each hand and was hiding behind them on a little stool. Now, this is on a sidewalk, where there aren’t any bushes for yards around, but people would go by, paying no attention, and he would yell Boo! and wave the branches at them, and scare them out of their wits. Now here’s the cool part: they would all throw money in his can. There were several of us standing behind him, watching this happen time and time again, and sure enough, every time somebody got scared, they’d throw money in his can. Not that any of you are hard up for cash, but I’m just sayin’…

Very, very interesting people in San Francisco. If you’re a people-watcher, like I am, I don’t think I’ve been in a better place to see folks and what they do.

But that was about it for San Francisco. Tomorrow: Yosemite.

Day 73, Vacation, San Francisco & Muir Woods

Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jul 27, 2011

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[27 July 2011] BTW, for anybody planning to go to San Francisco and is unfamiliar with the city: it is cold. And foggy in the morning and in the evening, which means “cold and clammy.” Rather like English beds, now that I think about it…

Today we took a bus downtown and caught one of the cable cars, because you have to ride a cable car while you’re in San Francisco. We later saw the Cable Car Museum, which actually has the big engines that move all the cables for all the cable cars in the city, all of them, right there for you to see; so the museum was better than we expected it to be. Worth a few minutes of your time if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

We got off the car near Nob Hill, visited Grace (Episcopal) Cathedral, because it’s big and beautiful, and I had seen it years ago when I was in San Francisco for an AAA/SBL (American Academy of Religion/Society for Biblical Literature) conference.

We wanted to eat Chinese food in San Francisco, so we walked downhill to Chinatown, called up the appropriate app on my Droid phone to find local restaurants and discovered we were right across the street from Sam Wo’s. We didn’t even know it was a restaurant, given the outside appearance, but the on-line reviews raved about it, so in we went: through the greasy kitchen and up rickety narrow stairs to the tiny second floor dining room. Apparently Sam Wo’s is a Chinatown legend, with extremely surly waitresses, service slow as molasses, and cheap, plentiful, outstanding food. Also, it was a famous hangout of the Beat poets back in the day, so Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Allen Ginsberg once sat at these very same tables (Lord knows they were old enough for the poets to have sat at them). The service was not so slow or surly, but the food was indeed divine and cheap. Jeremy noted that it was the first time he had eaten Chinese food and not been hungry half an hour later.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel and got the Jeep and went to Alamo Square, to look at  a few of the beautiful old Victorian houses, locally called “the painted ladies.”

We then went to the neighborhood around Haight-Ashbury. This was my idea. (Verily, it’s true.) Chris proclaimed the place “half-past cool,” which, of course, I already knew, but he didn’t. For all the aged hippies out there reading this, however, I have to say that the Flower Children have sold out. They’re all a bunch of money-grubbing capitalists now (what I paid for a t-shirt for Chris, yikes!). Sell-outs, just like Abbie Hoffman joining The Establishment. Sham freedom-loving lay-abouts, sham environmentally-conscious lovers of the earth (read: shills for Greenpeace eco-terrorism), sham peddlers of mind expansion (read: sellers of the latest over-priced New Age fake “energy” enhancers). But Chris was amazed, Jeremy was offended, I was amused, and Annette just shook her head (a $69 price-tag for a tie-died skirt opened her eyes to the scam). I count that a smashing success.

After Haight-Ashbury, being very near the Golden Gate Park, we went to the Japanese Tea Garden, because I wanted to see it, and walked around. Now that’s a beautiful place, meticulously kept, and exquisite in that perfectly Japanese way. I could visit it every day.

After the Tea Garden, we stopped very briefly at Our Lady, Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral, the one of Geary Ave. that St John (Maximovich) built, and where his incorrupt relics lie. I got one of the workers in the bookstore to let me in, and I had a few minutes alone with St John, to present to him in person all the specific things I had been praying about for a long time. Alas, the time was too short. But I did get a couple of bottles of oil from the lampada which hangs over his relics, so I’ll have that for everyone when I get back to St I’s.

Regrettably, the day turned foggy again by mid-afternoon, so none of us ever got a good picture of the Golden Gate Bridge, but we drove across it anyway, and seeing a sign for Muir Woods, we went there late in the day, and saw the giant California cypresses that grow there. Very fine trees, if you’ve never seen trees of that size. Only sequoias are bigger

From there, we were beat, so we went back to the hotel and crashed.

2011-07-30 Yosemite

Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jul 30, 2011

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Day 72, Vacation, Monterey, CA

Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jul 26, 2011

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Tickets to Alcatraz sell out weeks in advance. We did not know this. Hoping to get tickets by going to the ticket booth early tomorrow morning, we drove down to Monterey today and visited the aquarium and Cannery Row (of John Steinbeck fame). We also took the beautiful “17-mile Drive” around the coast at Monterey, goggled at the mansions of the filthy rich, and saw natural beauty, sea life, and the famous “lone cypress.”

Day 71, Vacation in San Francisco

Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jul 25, 2011

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Got the family from the airport okay, though they were ravenous after a 5 hour flight. In-N-Out Burgers, which I was told was a local favorite, sated everyone’s hunger.

Our hotel was on Lombard Street, a few blocks from the “crookedest street in America,” so we walked there first. Alas, city maps of San Francisco are not topological: it was very much uphill. Very much.  Uphill. We shall have calves of steel by the end of the trip.

I’ve got several pictures of interesting people scattered throughout the photos: people taking a Segway tour, the odd guy with a green mohawk, new friends in Haight Ashbury,  street theater, that sort of thing.

Made it to Fisherman’s Wharf, which wasn’t too far away from the hotel; had dinner at an Irish pub, then found our way to Chinatown around dusk.

Not bad for our first few hours of vacation.

Monastic humor

A couple of things I saw around the Monastery in Manton. These don’t fit into a regular post, but I thought they were cute and worth passing on.

On the coffee maker in the Holy Trinity room

And this from a shelf in the pantry.

Pantry label

Days 64-70, St John’s in Manton

Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jul 20, 2011

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[20-24 July 2011] There is and there isn’t a lot I could write about the week I was at St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Of all the time I’ve spent on my sabbatical, this week went by the fastest.

The brotherhood numbers some 22 monks, if I remember correctly, but not all of them are in residence at the monastery now. A few are manning the hermitage in New Mexico, a few are looking over a large plot of land north of Bozeman, MT, they expect to acquire, others are on assignment to various places and responsibilities.

There is a constantly changing assembly of visitors, which I sort of expected, but my impression was that this monastery is remote and I assumed not so many people would make the trek. I was wrong. There were priests who came with their families for a day or two, to confess to Fr Meletios, the Abbot. There were families from Washington and Oregon who stopped by en route to southern California for vacation, and southern Californians who stopped by heading north.

There was also a semi-stable population of young men, mostly 20-somethings, who were inquirers, catechumens and recently-minted Orthodox, who were staying at the monastery for a week, a couple of weeks, a month, or for the whole summer. These young men had obediences in the monastery and were basically living the life of the monks. I talked with them all, and everyone was enthusiastic about the change it had made in his life to spend time at the monastery, even if it was only for a few days.

I will say this: I hadn’t been here a whole day before I was wishing I had my boys with me. I think they would both have enjoyed it: the services (well, maybe not all the services), the work, the wooded environment, and especially the interaction with the monks and the other guests. And I will go further and say that if there is a man, young or old, who has the means to spend some time here, I would encourage him to do so. I think it is a healthy, wholesome, sober and inspiring place to be.

I had asked Fr Meletios if he could say why his monastery attracted young men the way it does and he flatly said no. But the brotherhood itself is a good mixture of men of all ages: some elderly retired or widowed clergy who have taken the veil, a few older monks, a few of middle age, and quite a number of younger men in their late 20’s and 30’s, many of them postulants just beginning their monastic life. The monastery also runs a “summer novice program,” which allows young men to stay the summer and live the monastic life and explore a monastic vocation or simply to deepen their faith in Christ.

The services here are a kind of combination of the usual Orthodox monastic office and the recitation of the Jesus Prayer that is practiced at the monastery in Essex. Most services begin with 20 minutes of silent prayer with the prayer rope, followed in the morning by Matins and in the evening by Vespers.  Liturgy is served on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Monday is set aside as a “desert day,” on which no services are held, but the day is spent in private prayer and solitary reading and meditation in one’s cell. I was asked to serve Vigil on Saturday evening (which was the first time I’ve stood in front of an altar since 15 May), and to concelebrate Liturgy and to preach on Sunday morning.

The music which they sing in church is a modified Kievan and Znammeny chant, one line of melody and one line of harmony, which is hauntingly beautiful, especially when sung by a male chorus. One of the monks has exceptional musical skills and has been arranging and composing music for their use. Here is a link to the monastery’s music page:

Meals are both formal (with the whole brotherhood together, eaten in silence to spiritual reading) and informal (meaning food is set out for an hour, most of it leftovers, and you stop by to eat when you want). This being a California monastery, we, of course, had Asian stuff, but their pantry was well-stocked with all kinds of things and boasted a large number of cookbooks, and the cooks here do an excellent job with variety and skill. In short, the food is fantastic. On wine and oil days (the Orthodox know what I mean), they actually set out a bunch of bottles of wine and beer half an hour before dinner. I found this to be a very popular practice.

Both the guesthouse and the main monastery building had common rooms, the one in the monastery being called the “Holy Trinity Room,” because of the Icon of the Trinity in it. If you wanted to see people or had free time, or simply wanted to chat, you went there to the Holy Trinity room, which is also where guests are received. Good coffee, tea, and a few snacks were always available, and there was a good ambience to the place: it encouraged sitting and talking. I did a lot of sitting and talking in the Holy Trinity room: people like to talk to the visiting Priest. As we got to know each other over the course of the week, I had very good conversations with the priests and young men who were staying around for a while.

It was because my days were taken up with praying, eating, and talking about spiritual stuff that I fell behind in my blogging.

Apart from daily walks about in the woods on the monastery grounds, I went on three excursions during the week. I attempted to find my way to the “butte,” an elevated place with great views of Mounts Shasta and Lessen, but I got lost on the logging roads and drove my Jeep rental over “roads” that I’m sure were never envisioned by the contract. I went on the usual Sunday afternoon wine-tasting with Fr Nectarios the Guest-master and a couple of the other guests, which, I found out, is a regular (and popular) weekend excursion. Fr Nectarios got to drive after our first stop—and we made four… And the third excursion was to visit St Herman’s Monastery in Platina, which I will write about in another post.

All in all, it was a fine week, and a fine conclusion to the set of monastery visits that made up the bulk of my sabbatical. Very early on Monday morning the 25th, I crept out of the guest house and drove 4 ½ hours south to the airport in San Francisco to pick up my family for vacation.

Day 63, on to St John’s, Manton

Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jul 18, 2011

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[19 July 2011] Today was simply a day of travel. I left home at 7:30 am and discovered just how bad Cleveland Hopkins Airport could be. Security took me over an hour to get through. Barely made it to the gate before we started boarding the flight. There was a couple of hours layover in Denver, which was not bad, both because it gave me time to get some lunch, and there are good restaurants at the Denver airport, and also because it’s a pleasant airport to sit in, if you have to sit in an airport.

The flight to Sacramento wasn’t too long. We flew over mountains still covered with snow, which surprised me, but there they were. Got my mid-sized Jeep rental from Alamo Rental and headed north on I-5 to Manton, which was about 2.5 hours away.

There are a lot of nut groves north of Sacramento, and fields of sunflowers, as well as fields of I don’t know what. But there was a whole lot of I don’t know what being grown. And there were mountains, too, off to the distance to the east, and off to the distance to the west. (Maybe it’s why this is called the “central valley”?)

En route, once I got off the interstate in Red Bluff and headed to Manton along the country road, the scenery got really pretty. There were mountains, some with snow off in the distance, and rolling fields up close. These fields were a nice light brown color, but they were all covered with black rocks, like God had made a valley full of brown gravy and seasoned it with pepper. I found out later that Mount Lessen, which is one of the snow-covered mountains many miles away, is volcanic and had exploded in 1915 and strewn all of this black rock, causing tremendous damage. There were vineyards, too, which surprised me that there should be vineyards this far north, but there they were.

Miss Moneypenny (my Garmin GPS unit) did me right, and I got to the Monastery of St John not long after Vespers had begun. Another guest saw me drive up and directed me to the guest house, where I figured out which room was mine. I changed into my cassock and sat on the front porch of the monastery with the bull mastiff until the brotherhood came out of church for dinner.  Being expected, there was a place for me at the table. After the meal, which was taken formally (meaning it began and ended with prayer and was eaten in silence while a monk read spiritual literature), I met a few of the other guests. We talked a long time before we all turned in. Morning prayer here starts at 6 am…

Days 57-62: home

[11-18 July 2011] The flight back from London to Cleveland, via Newark, was completely uneventful. Annette arrived to pick me up not five minutes after I got to the curb with my bags. I had been looking forward to being home. It’s been twelve years since I was away from home for so long, and I was genuinely homesick.

It was not a restful week, however. For those who aren’t part of to St Innocent’s, you may not know that my Deacon’s son was killed in a car accident a few days before I got home. I returned just in time to concelebrate his funeral with several other local clergy and the members of my grieving parish. Please remember the Servant of God Jonathan in your prayers.

On Friday, Annette and I went to Michigan for a couple of days, to visit with her family. We have a new nephew whom I saw for the first time. Also, Annette’s father, who has developed heart trouble, has been put into hospice care. So it was well to visit with family. But it also meant that I had only three days at home in which to recover from jetlag and wash my clothes before I was to leave again.