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Changing Places: Vivienne McMaster on The Bay Area

Viv's special place


A few years ago I had the opportunity to spend a couple months visiting the San Francisco Bay Area. As a Canadian, the idea of California sounded like something out of a movie. Palm trees, sunny beaches, and perpetual summer. It sounded dreamy and I was in for the adventure.

Arriving in January, I quickly clued in that my romanticized notion of ‘California’ was hilarious. Of course, the Bay Area is in Northern California so perpetual summer it is not.

Yet from day one, I was in love. My senses were overloaded. With the richness of the light, the sound of the palm trees in the wind, the fragrance of the flowers blooming in what to me was still winter.

Having the chance to spend an extended amount of travel time in one place allowed me to immerse myself in the world around me. I was not going to be there permanently so I pushed myself to try to live to the fullest and fulfill my list of things I wanted to do and see.

Yet the extended amount of time allowed me to really engage with the community and the landscape.

I fell head over heels for Oakland, especially this gorgeous place called Mountain View Cemetery. Yes, it indeed is a cemetery but it also is 226 acres of gorgeousness.

Each evening, as the light became golden I’d head over there with a few props, changes of clothing and an instant camera or two to take some self-portraits and some photos. I’d wander those 226 acres finding new spots every day that I hadn’t seen the day before.

I am most changed by places when I explore on foot. Down the mural lined alley in the Mission, through the hills of the Castro, down the beautiful College Avenue as I’d walk from Oakland to Berkeley.

It was there, in those few months, with those daily wanderings in the Cemetery or through the gorgeous neighbourhoods of the East Bay and the City. It was in those wanderings and the dreaming that filled my thoughts that things changed for me.

I was able to step outside my life back home, which for the past few years was weighted by a depression, grief, self-sabotage and anxiety.

On those walks I let the heaviness fall away, slowly. These months in the bay area thawed me out, invited me to dig deeper into happiness and gave me the groundwork for the coming years where I finally learned to thrive and let myself manifest a life that I love.

Sometimes we need to get outside our hometowns, or forever homes and the daily habits and thoughts that are comfortably tucked inside those spaces. Sometimes we need to go where cherry blossoms bloom in February and the light shines extra golden to be reminded of the beauty in our lives, away and at home.



Vivienne McMaster is a Vancouver-based photographer.  She runs a range of superb e-courses as well as teaching in-person workshops.  She also shoots quirky and wonderful portraits and wedding pictures.  Find her glorious website here.

Changing Places is a guest post series about the power of place to change us.  You’ll find other stories in this series here.  If you’d like to share your story, please contact me for submission details.

Reader Comments (3)

Home and away, a fine balance of both... I like that, great message Vivenne shares. I LOVE her fun wedding photos! :o) Happy Day, Helen ((HUGS))

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTracy

I think visiting somewhere new gets you out of your own head and challenges you to be fully present. When we're so steep in the familiar, we stop seeing the beauty of it.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLelainia Lloyd

I count myself extraordinarily fortunate to have mostly grown up in the Bay Area (Sonoma and Marin). I don't live there anymore, but I try to visit "home" as much as possible. I took my five year old back for a visit in February, in fact, and the cherry trees were indeed blooming. It is the most amazing place.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlexis Yael

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