Walking the Plank

 

Shipwreck! Like a bold-font heading from the more excitable history books, full of swashbuckle, flashing swords, hook hands and bandanas, my friend Brian spoke the words. “A shipwreck in our own neighborhood, did you know?” His voice – adventurous, mischievous, pirate-like – made me reconsider the location for my usual afternoon walk. Instead of heading out to our nearby beach, I’d start-up the car and drive four miles north to the Estero Bluffs. Along the cliffside, I might walk into a fantastical relic of history. For it was there, several days past that a fishing boat went astray.

The long trail from the parking lot off Highway 1 to the bluffs has changed since my last visit. I remember sunshine, tall sparkling yarrow, cow’s parsnip and stout reeds of grass. Today’s view takes in a flattened and stick-filled landscape, surprisingly dry with the ocean so close.

Thin, empty reeds stretch up from the grasses, now brown and appearing as if Mother Nature has brought out a brush and combed the strands of pale ash blonde against the earth. The ocean hides. Even the sound of the waves lurks behind the stingy landscape. Today’s sun casts its warmth onto the unseen tops of the cloud cover. Gray sludge fills the sky. I strain toward the promise of warmth through the clouds, but there is little feeling at all. I walk in the absence of heat and of coolness. It’s almost a sense of suspended weather: not hot, not cold, not breezy, not still.

I walk the dry path, avoiding the long and deep crack of moisture-deprived soil and dodging the millions of snake holes. Where are the snakes? With so many holes, there has to be a population of snakes that this flattened grass and thin tall reeds cannot hide. In the earlier lush of spring, when creatures that wanted to hide were given their heart’s desire, I had stopped to watch a long, fat, dappled snake worm into its hole. But today, with an unaccomodating landscape, I see nothing that moves. Neither snakes, nor the friendlier ground squirrels, nor even any insects.

And then, suddenly, there is a boom from incoming ocean fronting an off-shore rock, the crash and crash again riff of the tide, and I step to the edge of the bluffs. The drop-off to the water is immediate, thirty feet or more. The earth gives way here and there, and I step back, remembering that me and quick drop-offs do not peacefully co-exist. There is a trail close to the edge and another a safe ten feet away. I choose the safer route, even with the possible companionship of snakes.

To the south, over the crest of a bluff, I see the very top of a fishing boat mast rocking in the tide. I have seen fishing boats before from this path, but to the west, plying their trade in the deep water, miniatures along the horizon. But this one leans against the cliff, bumping into land with each incoming wave. Too close. It shouldn’t be here and doesn’t belong. But there it is – the wrecked ship.

For twenty minutes I walk toward the site. I am losing Brian’s cheefulness, and wish he was here to remind me why this was a good idea. Along the way, I pass a small feeding frenzy. Pelicans and cormorants and sea gulls lunch on the usual menu. A seal raises its head from a nap, looking sweet and innocent. And well-fed.

There are two people standing near the shipwreck, looking, but not approaching. For the entire time I walk toward the tragedy, they stand paying their respects. For, suddenly, that is how I see the whole situation. Not an event from long ago, nor a paragraph in a history text. But a tragedy in a neighbor’s life. I remember a simple texted comment made by someone after the newspaper article: How did this boat get where it is? And another comment in response: Poor Piloting. As sudden as the boom of wave against rock, I remember that life isn’t about simple answers. Too often even the best pilots are lost.

Against a backdrop of unruly fun and whimsy, I am brought back to simple rules. We all walk the plank of life. I feel I should erase the exclamation point I put on the end of someone else’s tragedy. Shipwreck.

Walking Port San Luis Pier

Golden arms of seaweed wave in the lazy current of San Luis Obispo Bay. The waters turn from opaque moss green to shining turquoise and several shades between as the clouds and the sun do their daily trick of minute-to-minute change. Warm up two degrees with the sun, cool down one degree with the clouds. A bit of breeze refreshes us walkers for two minutes, then eases off to let the sun dominate.

I am walking the Port San Luis Pier. It’s a good thing that the distance is short. Today, the calm of the weather, the pleasant warm-and-cool feel of the air, the fresh of the breeze and the slow bake of the sun, all blend to make me lethargic. Shouldn’t every day be like this? Wait. This is the Central California Coast. Each day *is* like this.

Such weather might persuade residents to feel entitled to every-day perfection. All we ever get here is the push-pull of 65 degrees F against 70 degrees F. What did we do to deserve this weather bliss? Nothing. It is ours not because we are clever people or thoughtful or smart. All we did was manage to live here, in weathered perfection.

Summer heat from other places drives people away from their homes. Carloads and van-fulls and buses bring vacationers by the hundreds daily to this pier. Even though I am not from those places of hottest summertimes any longer, I join in with the crowd today, stay-cationing 40 minutes from my home. We visitors walk and bike down the pier and kayak around the pier supports. We stop by the dozens, leaning against the guardrails, to enjoy the sprayed water of a pelican landing, and the splash of a seal diving from a platform into the light-hearted waves.

A sea lion wakes up, disturbed by the seal’s dive or by the plunking down of another sea lion right on top of the first. The yelp is loud and we humans hear the complaint of the sound and we empathize with the sea lion. Who wants to be woken up in the middle of a nice summer’s sleep, interrupting the soothing mist and warm sun? A clamour sets up and a domino of sea lion voices rolls up and down the platform. We vacationers laugh and remark that the sea lions are not so different from us.

A fishing boat whose home port is where I live, just north up the coast, pulls away from the pier. Too late, I wonder what kind of fish they have sold to the fish markets here. The boat looks old, but tidy. I mourn the lost adventure of watching the catch lifted onto the pier, and the skill of how that is done. But, I am still in a haze of laziness, and glad that I didn’t have to expend even the energy watch such a demanding physical task.

The seal that had dived into the water swims alongside the fishing boat, arching up from the waves, watching for handouts. When no leftover fish is thrown overboard, the seal jumps completely out of the water, perhaps a last-ditch effort to beg a scrap. The boat moves away, appearing to be in that slow-moving summer haze that has infected us all, except the graceful and fast-moving seal in its artful act of begging.

The wood of the pier itself is a million connected heavy pieces of timber that look like they could withstand long bouts of inclement weather, unlike any they will ever encounter here. My steps are soundless on the enormous planks and I feel nothing that tells the pier of my presence. No rocking, no vibration. So many people walk this pier every day, my footstep has no impact – there will be nothing left for the pier to remember me by.

Individuals and whole family groups gather to fish off the side of the pier. I am tempted to stay and watch, soothed by the contemplative non-activity of fishing. I have always thought of fishing as a philosophical pursuit, maybe because I so rarely wait around to see the catch.

As I come to the end of my walk, returning to the point where the wharf embraces the shoreline, I see a cage where fishers who have been successful come to clean and store away their catch. Not knowing one fish from another, I hear someone say ‘rock cod’ and another wonder if the ‘ocean perch’ are biting. As we walk by a fish-and-chip restaurant a wonderful aroma comes out to tempt us, and – if I wasn’t so lulled by the weather – I might spend a moment pondering a fish’s existence.

But mine today is spent in bliss: one small walk in perfect weather along a pier that takes my footsteps as if they were nothing at all.

 

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Walking Harmony Headlands

 

 

Once – not so long ago – the tiny hamlet of Harmony, California was for sale. An idyllic bend along The Pacific Coast Highway between a velvet-covered ridge and a golden hillside, I wondered who had purchased this small patch of perfection.

Walk across the highway and over the hill, you find the Pacific Coast. Up the ridge is the pristine Los Padres National Forest. Mist in the morning, sunny breezes in the afternoon and foggy evenings wrap Harmony in what you may believe is fiction, too beautiful to be real.

But real people – 18 of them –  do live here. And many others drop in for browsing the wooden clapboard storefronts, shopping, eating at the cafe and watching the glassblowers shape their art. An appealing wine tasting room and restaurant are at the end of a picturesque winding drive.

Though my interest in the town is real, my true reason for driving the 12 miles north is to walk the Harmony Headlands Trail. One and a half miles over a hill from Highway 1, the Pacific Ocean pushes its salty spray again and again in tides against the bluffs. I could walk over, hillside to coastline and see what I could see. Many people have walked this trail, but until I do it myself, is it real? I want to see for myself before I believe.

Even though I live just a few miles south and the beach breeze cools me frequently throughout the day, I am always surprised to walk along a hillside path during the parched summer, then pass into cool breezes. Close to the hillside, you have sunny warmth; take one step out from the hills’ protection, crisp ocean coolness reaches out to touch you. Up the hill from the trailhead I go, stepping in and out of the freshest air on the planet.

The trail winds around and then up along the ridge of the humpback coastal mound. We call them hills, but these are really geographic waves of rock and earth with covers of wildflowers in the spring and dry grass and ground squirrels in the summer. The wide pathway makes for easy walking and I think that next time, I may test out summer sandals instead of hiking boots. Why not? In this land of near-make-believe, it’s hard to think that anything would come and bite my ankles and the weather surely does not call for anything hardy or wooly. Flips-flops would do just fine.

I crest the ridge. The sun is a hot-rock massage on my shoulders and the mist offers a fresh air salt scrub for my face. I might as well be at a high-price spa. But this is so much nicer, and costs nothing but footsteps. I pause at the top to relish the simple grace of feeling clean. As pleasant as all that is, though, the view is the real attraction.

Today, the purity of the sky, the time of day and the currents of the tide turn the Pacific Ocean nearly turquoise. A double line of white rolls against the shore, but lazily, as the waves find their way to the rocks and sand. The path lets me ramble down, an easy pace, to the bluffs that form the west coast of the North American Continent.

Cool offshore breezes blend with the sun shining its pleasant warmth. Even though I face a bit of a climb on the way back, I don’t worry about the heat or the cold. Mother nature has taken care of that for me. Am I just a bit too comfortable? Is this just a bit too nice for real life? The walk might make me think so, but this story I tell today is exactly the way it really is. If you tend to doubt me, remember the trail’s name: Harmony Headlands. I am at the apex of agreement between Mother Nature and me.

Harmony, California. The town itself may have been bought and sold and bought again. But the beauty here is a time-worn possession of Mother Nature. And now that I have seen it myself, I know that it is real. I’m a believer.

 

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Park Ridge Trail, Morro Bay State Park

Over the shoulder of the town of Los Osos is the Pacific Ocean. Shielded by a sand spit, Los Osos hides from that deceptive and ill-named body of water that is not peaceful even when it appears calm, as today. I walk at low tide east from the Pacific and watch the ocean’s fingers snake their way to the back of Morro Bay until the sand sucks out the sea water and becomes a soupy mess. It pulls your shoes off if you venture out in a kayak at the wrong time of the tidal day and need to step out to unstick your ride.

But today, as I walk away from the coast, away from home, I head toward Morro Bay State Park’s Park Ridge Trail. It’s nice to watch the ocean from a distance. The walking path rises and falls around a hill that gives a magnificent view of the saltwater marsh in the shallow end of the bay.

Imperfect wildflowers lay along the path and up the hillside. Taller than me, the golden yarrow shines bright and the tiny baby blue eyes brush my boots. The plants are vivid today, but remind me that the wildflower season is almost past. Cow parsnip, morning glory, sticky monkey flower, milk thistle and purple salsify are saying their goodbyes.

The hills today still carry the mist from the coast, making the air mild and my cheeks refreshed. The sun here is powerful and insistent, but waved away by the breeze. A green blush on the hillside won’t be there next time I walk this path. Even today, just one or two weeks since the last rain, the hills are streaked with golden. A change is coming about from this winter’s 3-D green. The waving ends of aging grass and flowers sway over the crest of the hill, a springtime pastel against the blue of a balmy sky.

I walk on a path that has been visited recently by a run of bicycles and many feet. A diligent maintenance crew has kept the main paths broad. Smaller, happenstance cutaways lead to places I didn’t prepare to see today. Most are made by adventurous hikers who know the area better than I. Once I get past the first hill, I realize how broad and expansive is this parkland. There are a dozen break-off paths, some posting legitimate signs: Quarry Trail, Crespi Trail, Chumash Trail. The named trails are blazed by the park maintenance crews, but many others are side-lined single walking jaunts that lure me to break the rules. But I know it’s best in all ways to stay on the cleared paths. Safer for me and safer for the creatures who live here on the hillside.

I see some of these: little rabbits, a couple quails, a buzzard flying above. I hear others:  a scampering away as I turn a bend, a swish around a tall bush, several bird voices I can’t identify. I also see many off-shoots of trails that these creatures have made, so small I am not even tempted to change my route. Running under, next to and through thorny vegetation, they seem to head toward a cleft of water that I hear but can’t see.

Since moving to this area, I have been so entertained by the sea: the constant sound, the soothing beach sand, the shallow tides I can slip my toes into every day year-round. I have been facing west for five years, in wonderment at this ocean home. Happily today, I am discovering a walking buffet east of my house. I can’t wait for my next ramble through these coastal hills, and wonder why my feet have been so long in walking this way.

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Walking Small

 

IMG_2031There are times when walks need to be close to home, maybe even just around your very own space. Has anyone taken a garden walk inside the fences where you live? Or around the walls of the place you call home?

The place I call home is so small that two steps takes me outside. But the weather here is glorious, so my small walks are almost always outdoors. It may take some practice, but when you walk small, a short step can be wonderfully filled with details to enjoy. It helps to look three inches from your nose, or bend down and really admire what is close at hand. It’s amazing what you can find close enough to touch, and familiar enough to be loved daily.

It also helps to take along a companion or two, creature comforts to remind you that it’s pleasant to stretch the moment out, enjoy what is right here at this one instant in time. Perhaps they will go along on the next small walk, letting you stop for a sip here and a pat there and a photo somewhere else along the way.

You can plan out future walks, and reminisce over trinkets brought home from past rambles. By the time your walk is coming to an end, your tea cup may be empty and your creature companions tiring.

Sometimes the views close to home, the introspective views that keep you in touch with little changes, are the best ones for slow walks. Count on them to refresh the soles of your feet as well as your very own soul.

I wish you a happy walk, whether close to home or far away. Susan

 

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Growing Up…

…sometimes it takes a long time, some times it never ends. I have been on a continual quest to become an adult. It seems now that it has become a coming-of-old-age story.

I’ve been tidying-up around the bungalow and adding to my wonderings until it became a book. As writers often do, I wanted to put it all together, get it done, place it on a shelf. Here it is now, in e-book form. Hope you enjoy my story.

Walking with the Spring Bloom

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Central California hillside

Native Californians, like myself, grow up with a spring bloom every year. For most of the year, in fact, we can rely on blossoms of some sort. But wildflowers adore springtime, and that is when we go searching. Off into nature I trek, with my hubby in tow.

I had heard of an area east along Highway 58 that we could get to without a lengthy drive. Though I wanted to see the spring bloom, I wanted to spend my time walking among the luster of new flowers, not riding in a car.

Even the drive there was spectacular. We stopped along the way to do a small bit of exploring.

Eagle-eyed hubby spotted a golden eagle and then its nest. We waited close by, but neither our presence nor the noise of the crows in the next-door tree persuaded the eagle to reappear.

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Golden Eagle nest

We continued down the roadway. I’d not really thought out this day with detailed planning. ‘A spot east along Highway 58’ is truly as far as my itinerary got. I figured that somewhere along the way, the place would present itself, and we would find ourselves among the spring bloom.

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a short side-trip stroll

This is the landscape I grew up with. As a young girl in Sacramento, as a young woman near San Jose, and later in Bakersfield and Fresno, these rolling hills and oak trees were always with me. I want to say this landscape is the most beautiful on earth, but I think that’s my familiarity with the natural decor talking. Much of the year, these hills are dry and forlorn. Your skin will crack with exposure and your eyes will strain with glare from the sun. This territory is synonymous with my life, and I consider it wondrous.

As do so many others. East along Highway 58 in central California, we came across this sight:

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Our neighbors

With such a stampede of people, I guessed we had reached our destination. We parked, grabbed our hats and walked to discover the views. Of course, there were wildflowers. Common tidy tips, several varieties of lupine, fields of mustard and yarrow.

But there were also many, many people, like myself, who wanted to see the spring bloom before it faded. With packed lunches, multiple generations,  friends and families, they came. They carried babies, backpacks, cameras and umbrellas. Out in the middle of a land far from any sidewalk, there walked myself and a swarm of my neighbors.

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Spring Blooming with people

The views I wanted were there.

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You can almost smell the fresh

The views I hadn’t anticipated made me laugh. I’d thought to bring my hat and camera, but I hadn’t thought of picnic blankets, folding chairs and Frisbees for the dogs. I hadn’t thought to bring my dog, either. But others thought of all that and much more.

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More than I expected

What a complete surprise my wildflower walk became. Along a creek bed, me and my fellow county dwellers watched a torrent of polliwogs writhe in a springtime dance. We clamored up hillsides. We dodged cars.

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Love ’em

At the end of a walk in the middle of nowhere, with nearly half the population of my county, a fitting sign pulled my attention as we left.

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Very generous 🙂

There we were, hundreds of central Californians, on someone’s private property. I am going to believe in the generosity of the owners, because I couldn’t have avoided this. On our walk into the area, there had been too many people milling around to notice the sign. Thank you, residents of a place east on Highway 58.

 

Jo’s Monday walk

 

Walking, Weather or Not

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Rain or no rain?

Have you ever looked out the window and wondered if you should postpone taking a walk because of what you saw? Today, I was presented with two views out my window. One, sunny and brilliant, encouraged my feet. The other told me in complete certainty that I shouldn’t be stepping out the door. Then a rainbow spread over the sky, which against the dark clouds, made my confusion even more perplexing.

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Looking south
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Looking north

Of course, I went. And, of course, the weather went with me. Down to the beach, one side of the sky filled with brilliant sunshine and the other, a flip-side of dark threatening clouds. Threatening what, I wanted to ask myself? More rain would be a blessing, even after so much wet this winter. Sometimes threats are really just promises hiding in over-used expressions.

Still, this hope for rain didn’t make me wish for it right here and now. Would the rain wait until I finished my walk? Nature honestly doesn’t care about my dry feet, so I wasn’t sure at all. Even so, that didn’t make me turn around and head for safety.

But thinking that perhaps I should find a dry place to perch made me pause to admire the tenacity of the shore birds along the way. The night herons lined up diagonally along the wave line, facing the wind as the weather began changing from coolly invigorating to perhaps cold and rainy. They might change their behavior with the weather, but they don’t consider leaving as I do. Brave creatures, staying close to the tide and waiting out the drop in air temperature from 60 degrees F to 52. Living along this coast, where creatures (all of us) have discarded the notion of seasonal migration, is a funny reminder that we live in a bubble of weather bliss.

But there is still the threat of rain. Even when it is a temperate climate, getting wet is still getting wet, and something my socks don’t want to do. At one point in the walk, the sky literally split, with one side being blue and the other cloudy gray.img_8603

Had we had enough rain this season? Since we moved here, almost five years ago, my walks at home have been mostly dry drought walks. Tip-toeing through puddles this last month or two hasn’t yet gotten old. Not for me and my damp socks, nor for the glorious life springing up from a wet earth.

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blooms in late winter

Before the walk ended, that threat had come true. My glasses spotted-over with rain drops. I remembered how important hats were – having forgotten mine for the hundredth time. And I felt the dampness seeping into the sandals I am lucky enough to wear every day. Here I am, loving the rain in central California. More, please.img_8470-1

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Seal Walk

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We all live alongside so many wonderful creatures. In my little corner of this world, I can sometimes hear the bark of seals from my kitchen window. The sound reminds me that there are more important things to do than finish washing the dishes. The seals are calling me to come walk…

but they’re probably all just laying around, enjoying the soothing waters between each rise of the waves. Whether all together on a communal rock or on a solitary perch that lifts just one seal out of the water, it can seem as if all they do is relax. For hours and hours, you can be mesmerized by their inactivity.

But, I have seen herds of them flying through the water near whale-watching boats. Propelling themselves through the waves the way they do on the open sea makes me appreciate their need to recuperate when they come home to the rocks. Just thinking of their ocean frolic makes me yearn for a rest. So, if the seals are in sleep pose while I walk, it’s just their very own restorative yoga.

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The sounds the seals make is somehow compelling to human ears. Who can resist the arf-arf of seals clamoring for a better sleep position. They seem to amiably push aside one another in their effort of settling in for a snooze. Sometimes I wonder how these rugged rocks can be made comfortable, but look how many are settling in below. I leave it to the seals to pick the best spot for an afternoon’s nap.

img_5570 Certainly, I won’t argue that they have chosen well in picking this spot for home. The weather is usually calm, the scenery gorgeous.

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As long as the seals continue to call, I am happy to walk. Sunny day or overcast, they entertain in a way that is calming.

2017

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Out the bungalow’s door

May the walk you take every day in 2017 be your favorite walk.

 

Simple things are so often the very best. I wish you the best of simple things this new year. Many thanks for your companionship. Susan

 

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Happiness at home