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, I head toward Park Ridge Trail in Morro Bay State Park. It’s nice to watch the ocean from a distance. The 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. Some plants are vivid today, but remind me that the wildflower season is past prime. 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 here next time I walk this path. Even today, weeks since the last rain, the hills are streaked with golden. A change has come about from winter’s green. The waving ends of aging grass and flowers sway over the crest of the hill, a fading 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.
Getting to know 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 years, in wonderment at this ocean home. Happily today, I am discovering a walking buffet to the east. 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.