Habit Coffee

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My first experience with Habit Coffee happened last fall, as an eager newcomer to Victoria. From the charming exterior to the well-lit interior, it seemed a likely spot for me to enjoy. When I inquired about WiFi at the counter (trying to deduce some good study locations) I was given a look as though I had just whispered Voldermort’s name to a wizard. “We. Don’t. Have. WiFi.”, the barista practically hissed. WiFi, it seems, is anathema to everything Habit Coffee stands for.

And yet, despite this initial rather acidic welcoming, Habit Coffee has somehow remained a place I go when I’m out of sorts, can’t stand to look at a computer screen, and just want to read or write at a small table with a cup of coffee or a hot tea. The vibe at the smaller Chinatown location is, like many Victoria places, eclectic, but simple. They’ve got great magazines to thumb through (I recently discovered the joy of Frankie magazine, a wonderful Australian creation!) and overall it’s a space that feels welcoming and warm, has decent and decently priced coffee, and offers respite from the busy streets downtown.

 

 

One Year Later in Victoria

One thing has remained constant here during my time in Victoria: the crows. Corvids cry from lampposts, make eerie noises from rooftops, and I quietly try to never disturb them. After reading books about the intelligence of these marvelous animals, I respect them and personally love it when many are seen on my walks, on my meandering, long, illogical wanderings around this southern part of the island.

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One year later, parts of Victoria still very foreign to me. It is September, still tourist season, roses are abloom, and I am constantly irked by the large buses that unload slow moving old tourists who group together like schools of fish and block the sidewalks. Although I can deftly weave through them, I prefer now to meander at dusk or dawn, when there aren’t so many humans awake and out.

Parts of town are still unknown to me- they are too far to walk, and the bus system is good but not good enough for me to risk taking one to some corner of the city. I try to avoid night walks on the weekends, as it is busier and groups of men hang around bars and cat call in an exhausting ritual I have known since I was a teenager. The smell of the harbor, intermingled with smells wafting from restaurants and cafes, is ever changing, and seeing lights reflected on the water will never cease to make me pause.

The blatant poverty present is still mildly shocking. People who need healthcare, a roof over their heads, and access to food are tucked away in doorways, seated on corners, and perched in wheelchairs. They have dogs tightly curled next to them, and a few have cats bundled up in their laps. Some who ask for help are moving through- buskers who don’t have an exact destination but offer music as a service- while others got stuck here, lured by the relatively warm winters. The chill that Victoria has in the winter, though, feels more severe than any Montana cold.

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One year later and many things I do here I do alone. It is very important to know how to be alone, to be comfortable with silences and gaps in social times. I know myself, and I am a fairly predictable, sturdy creature of habits, of black coffee and long walks and a slim book tucked in my bag in case I want to stop in somewhere and take a break from my own thoughts. I have friends here, delightful souls who work hard and make time for coffee, pho, muffins, and comradery, and I am lucky.

Victoria is still claustrophobic to me. The British habit of manicured, landscaped parks, lawns, and every green space makes my stomach turn a bit. Everything is trimmed, shaped, artificially groomed, never allowed to flourish naturally. This control of nature has gone too far, and the only truly natural feature in town is the ocean, which is terrifying and all knowing, and hems me in further onto this massive rock off the coast. I have never spent so much time near the edge of the water, and the primordial respect, fear, and appreciation I have for the sea grows each time I hear the waves and let myself be still for a moment.

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Victoria is, for the time being, another sort-of-home.

Mornings in the rose garden.

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Beacon Hill Park has a beautiful gated rose garden that you can enter and wander through. The high metal gates prevent deer and give it a mildly romantic feeling. To be really honest sometimes the smell of roses is a bit much but it’s still really beautiful to see them covered in dew drops and be in a garden all by yourself while the rest of the world goes about their day.

Tidal pools/Little ocean flowers

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I haven’t been sleeping.

I love sleeping. I love dreaming, REM cycles, I love knowing when I woke up that I slept well. Sleep and I are at odds right now, and it’s rather wretched.

I took a walk yesterday before going to campus to read because I was too tired and punchy to do good work. It was still low tide, and the beach smelled like it- lots of leftover, decaying seaweed, kept strands, and the wet smell of wood that has been in the ocean.

I carefully made my way across the black, slick rocks and found little pools of anemones and tiny tiny fish and crustaceans. Some of them were folded up because the water wasn’t quite reaching them. It was wonderful to take a break from being inside and working and being with the naturalia around me for a bit.

Working on it.

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Do you know how difficult it is to photograph people with a  50mm lens without feeling like a creep? Well, I still can’t do it very well. I feel invasive and rude. Nonetheless, practice makes perfect, and I fully intend this year to do better at photographing humans and not just landscapes or still lifes. People are wonderful and interesting and I would like to attempt to bring that out in my photographs this year more.

Here’s the first roll of 35mm film since I got my camera repaired- and not a spot of light leak on the film! I am truly giddy to be able to tote my Olympus out and about with me again.

Naturalia Tuesdays

I woke up after finally having what I would consider a good night of sleep. I have been tossing and turning for several days, experiencing odd, stressful dreams and awful fits of just lying on my back, seeing the lights of cars come in through the blinds.

This morning I walked a familiar path that follows the Strait and looks over it to Port Angeles. This morning I was able to see not only America but the magnificent Olympic mountain range, pink in the morning and jutting up so far away. The fact that I can look at my home country and yet feel so distant is darkly hilarious.

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There were quite a few crows out this morning. It was cloudy and dark, feeling much earlier than it actually was. I kept my headphones out this morning- there were too many songbirds hidden in the bushes that kept making beautiful sounds.

The seabirds here are amazing. I only have a prime lens on me at all times, but I think it’s time to hoist the behemoth, awesome zoom lens that Helen, a family friend who lives in the Netherlands, generously gifted me. The birds here on the Strait are too colorful and interesting to be ignored, but they are skittish and stay far from shore. If I get enough work done today I might go out tomorrow morning and make pictures of their oceanic cavorting.

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This morning geology and garbage alike caught my eye. I mostly walk on muddy or asphalt covered paths but this morning I found myself collecting garbage that had welled into some of the holes in the multi-colored, exquisite rocks along the shore. My cynicism towards humanity swells into a massive crescendo in my head when I see Pepsi cans and cigarette butts and pieces of Styrofoam (which doesn’t decay in landfills for over 1,000 years, curse it’s artificial structure) littering gorgeous granite and sharing space with seaweed and lichen. We are, frankly, vile creatures. We may bemoan pigeons and seagulls as “rats with wings” yet we, really, are just rats with opposable thumbs and large brains. The fact that we find other animals disgusting is ironic.

Regardless, I had a great time. When it’s cloudy, which is most of the time here, my eyes can appreciate color better, and the muted greens, purples, reds, and lovely black and browns all bounced out today, lush and inviting. I even admired the fearsome, dense thorn bushes that crowd on the cliffs above the sea. I finished my walk by hopping on a bus to campus to begin attacking the never ending readings that underline most days, feeling ready for any and all dense prose, for I had been invigorated by all the quiet flora and fauna around me.

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First visitor

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The gorgeous creative force of nature that is my friend Chelsea flew into Victoria one afternoon. I took the bus to fetch her from the airport. Bedecked in red rainboots and her fantastic smile, I immediately was infected with the biggest grin and couldn’t wait to hug her and show her my tiny apartment and this little city I am calling temporarily home.

Chelsea was my first visitor, and we both had lots of work to do, so much of our time was spent in pubs sipping various brews and finishing papers or projects. I didn’t give a damn- just having a familiar soul that I care about deeply was plenty to lift my pre-final spirits. We had some really amazing chats and spent evenings in the glow of various pubs and I insisted on making the last shot which turned out exactly as I hoped- with soft lighting showing just how beautiful this soul is inside and out.

 

Quiet moments & tiny portraits.

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I participated in Canadian Black Friday with the purchase of a single, soft light grey sweater that makes me feel like I can handle any type of weather. It’s unflattering and I want to give people hugs while wearing it.

I broke it in on a night walk last night down to a little village, past warm pubs and Thai restaurants. I skirted the edge of the park then walked into the loveliest dense grove of trees, feeling my boots sink into the decaying leaves and natural debris, then running smack into an enormous group of very well dressed people at a conference for something leaving a fancy hotel, who gave me odd looks as I emerged from the trees in the dark, red-cheeked and wild-eyed, walking at my usual fast pace.

This morning’s walk was crisp and frost-covered. I walked something like 7 miles along the ocean, feeling the cold Arctic breeze that has been blowing in for the last few days. I let the cold envelope me utterly, loving it far more than the seeping, creeping dampness that is so much more insidious and omnipresent here.

The tidal pools were crystal clear, full of anemones and seaweed waving with the currents. Sea glass was collected, rubber boots came in handy when I stepped into the actual ocean to retrieve a piece or two, and the sun seemed obnoxiously bright. Little sea birds cheeped and made noises like video games (I need to Google what kind they were, note to self). I saw some sort of dark hawk perched (also Google) on a branch and dozens of crows (technically, they were not together or I would have called them a murder with delight). There were pauses to take pictures of myself, as part of a years-long negotiation with my corporeal form, which has not photographed well for as long as I can remember.

 

]The sun rises fast, shines bright, and sets quickly, but does not imbue us with the warmth it did. It’s not even an argument of quality over quantity- we don’t get either. I feel like a fleeting shadow of a girl, living in various shades of darkness with the lack of present sunlight. My skin is growing paler and my freckles, which were so bright this summer, have begun their annual fade. I have constant hat hair due to rotating between 4-5 trusty caps, and the mittens my mother sent me have not yet been lost. 7 days until I pack up all these layers and move them back to Montana for a month.

Now, time to write papers and prepare a presentation for Monday. Have a great weekend y’all.

All Hallows Eve

I love October. The darker mornings and quieter evenings, the way that dawn comes later and the foliage looks so vibrant when it’s cloudy.

I shot these earlier this week while I graded papers and drank hot soup from a thermos, bundled in my enormous Icelandic wool scarf. I found mushrooms of all kinds- some looking like lace, others slimy and grotesque, some while and delicate. Leaves as small as a dime and as large as a serving dish of all colors, shapes, sizes. Montana is breathtaking but I cannot state enough how wonderful it is to have a full autumn to revel, ruminate, and appreciate. Weeks and weeks of crunching leaves, smelling the crisp mornings.

Insert owl pun here

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I love owls. I haven’t seen an owl in a long time beyond in zoos or rehab centers- the last time I saw an owl in the wild it was an enormous, quiet great grey owl that swooped out of a stand of dead trees near the Missouri while my father and I were pheasant hunting.

Well, today I got to encounter a barred owl! Barred owls are fat, fluffy, beautiful large owls that have imposing looking talons and beautiful faces that are slightly rounded so as to direct sound to their ears so they can hear everything even better. Owls, in short, fascinate me. Birds of prey in general do.

Blood Moon + Tidal Pools

The blood moon + lunar eclipse happened on Sunday night, and I felt that I had to go and see the moon change. I had never been down the beach alone at night, but I put on my rubber rain boots, put my best lens on my camera, and put on the heavy wool lopapeysa sweater I bought in Reykjavik. It wasn’t truly cold, but it was  bone-seeping, saturating chilly, at 8 pm. The air felt heavy, overwhelming. The closer I got to the beach the more I saw car lights- my poor dark adjusted eyes burned each time a car drove down the curve by the beach.

My idea to watch the eclipse was not original- far from it. I heard people before I saw them. Burly, coat-rounded forms of humans perched on various blankets and pieces of driftwood all over the smooth-pebbled beach greeted me- some bright phone screens, some spindly-looking creatures that were tripods holding up cameras far nicer than mine. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get any photographs- it was too damn dark to get anything of value without moving the camera one way or another.

Regardless, the moon was already beautiful, a rusty, eerie red sphere hanging out over the sound. I made far too much noise as I walked on the rocky beach, feeling horribly aware of my presence, but quickly found an enormous tree piled on rocks and other trees. It sat about 6-8 feet off the beach, but it was old and sturdy. I dangled my feet and buttoned up my sweater as the chill settled.

Watching the moon eclipse for the first time was a lonely experience, perhaps magnified by the cold, but the moon itself is a lonely thing, so it was fitting. The waves lapping at the beach and the light refracting on the water’s surface added to the beauty of it all. The symphony of the earth, unaffected by human presence, continued as it had for eons, and I was able to sit and reflect on a storm-tossed, smooth, enormous piece of driftwood and think about this.

Eventually the blood in my hands was gone and the persistent chill of the heavy night air drove me to head home. The moon was back out in beautiful, ivory and grey-flecked brilliance, and I walked home with some horrible pictures and a head full of wonder.

The photographs above are very near where I sat and watched the eclipse. I loved discovering that we have tidal pools here.

New haunts

Homesickness has me in it’s inevitable grip. Yesterday I ended up talking with a professor for over two hours and she asked me how I feel here and it took a lot for me to not just begin crying. You don’t break into tears in front of Oxford educated professors. I’m pretty sure that’s a rule. I did try to wear heels to class, for some reason that seemed like a good idea- my horrible ankles, ruined after so many injuries and falls, failed me shortly after I hobbled into the library, and thankfully the cynical side of me tucked some flats into my purse. It was fun being 3 inches taller for a while, though, and you never know until you try. They had free food yesterday on campus so I obviously took advantage of that. Finding optimism in the little things, like the cold air coming in from the open windows on the bus, or feeling how warm your sweater is against the chill of the rain, or the snug comfort of well-fitting rain boots- these are things to focus on and draw power from. How satisfying it is holding a warm mug of tea in my hands, seeing my little plants slowly grow, these are all beautifully worthwhile things to concentrate on instead of wanting to be elsewhere.

More meandering

It’s at either the beginning or the end of the day that I find the most contentment in walking around Victoria. People are nestled in their homes, either not ready to venture out into the world, intimidating as it is, or they are back home, after a day out and about.

I’ve found two awesome Gothic Revival churches, but I’ve walked by them during Mass both times, so haven’t ventured in yet. Gothic Revival is appropriately ridiculous but gorgeous all the same. I love pointed arches- they are hopeful, somehow. Gothic architecture was originally created in the medieval period to create shining, light filled spaces that were euphoric and very connected with God, and although I am not religious in that way, the psychology of Gothic architecture does have a piece of my heart. The buildings are so comforting to me.

The mornings have been chillier. I’ve been able to wear my outlandish, woolly Icelandic sweater, and accompanying woolly scarves, and have been pleasantly surprised by how damn warm they are. Classes are stressful, terrifying, but liberating. I am smarter than I think (I hope). Tomorrow is the day I go fetch 4 beautiful rolls of uncut negatives from Prism Imaging- 1 color, 3 black and white. I cannot wait- the tangibility of negatives, cutting them, pressing them gently into the scanner, are all deliberate actions in the part of making an image into a reality that I love. Even if I haven’t developed my own in a few years, I still find film entrancing in a way an SD card cannot be.

If I work hard enough today and get things done ahead of schedule, I could very well spend tomorrow evening with the lovely hum of my scanner and a glass of wine, and to me that seems like the best darn thing ever. So, I must be off so I can finish ALL THE THINGS…or at least, enough of them.

Near-miss

Once again I found myself up at 6 am, no feeling particularly sleepy, and grabbing my digital camera (I’ve got 4 rolls of film being developed, I get them Wednesday and am so excited!)

By 7 I was almost to the large park here in Victoria, when I heard a ruckus in the trees above me. I figured it was a few squirrels, and then to my extreme surprise two hawks fell out of the trees onto the ground! They were screeching and making horrible noises as they fought one another. I had my camera out and on already, and my lens cap was off (thank goodness) so I was able to get a few photos of their tussle. It was incredible being so close to them. Within about 15-20 seconds they separated and flew off, both fine, but without quite as many feathers as they had when they woke up.

Nature is incredible. I am so glad I just happened to be in this park at this time on this day- I’ve never seen anything like it and likely won’t ever again.