Walking the “Sea Glass Festival”

Pitted, frosted, opaque and weathered. Bottles clash with the ocean – the waves always win. But I also take a prize today – a walk that isn’t what I expect or plan, but what life brings as a gift of happenstance.

The Sea Glass Festival is a spectacular weekend of sea glass-inspired art, music, food and fun that appears like the magical mermaids it celebrates every March in Cayucos, Ca. Just 4 miles north from my house along Highway 1 in Central California, it’s a perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon. But there won’t be much walking, and since a welcome storm is coming tomorrow, I should combine my usual daily walk with the festival visit, because I may be house-bound for several days of rain-rain-rain. Visit Estero Bluffs State Park on the way? Yes, please.

It’s a beautiful and short drive. The bluffs of Estero Bay are familiar places, where shipwrecks, walks and wildlife entertain us creatures fortunate enough to visit. I choose to begin at the northern-most point of the State Park, a place I have never walked before. The park follows the coast for over 7 miles, with a tangle of pathways, and my walks have always covered the trails closest to home.

With hillsides lagging behind in the usual intense green of March, I am glad for rain, but glad also for today’s sun. I can get out, stretch my legs, and enjoy the spectacular weather before tomorrow’s storm. I park the car and walk west.

Stubby green spikes peek out from the winter cover of dried grass on each side of the path. A break in the fence allows me onto the trails that zig and zag toward the edge of the bluffs. I look ahead to the ocean, a ribbon of tourquoise, then dark and brilliant green and finally a dull silver, the depth of the water and the rows of seaweed making water-colored changes in what I see.

I see also a black something, in the far distance from my first steps onto the path. It rises up from the water and slides back down. Fin? Tail? I decide the dolphins are swimming en masse today, and follow the quickest path to the land’s edge. I want to see the dolphin spectacle – a stunning dance of togetherness and talent. I quicken my pace.

But the dolphins – or whatever else might be in the ocean, black formed and reaching up from the water – disappear, heading north. I follow.

A fence keeps me from walking down to the beach. This is Snowy Plover territory and it is their breeding season. Tiny birds that live and reproduce at the water’s edge, California protects them from the likes of me while they go about increasing their numbers. Since I enjoy seeing their popcorn puffs on the beach and their thousand flashes of white into the sky, I am happy to give them space now, as they will give me a show come autumn.

I walk past the Snowy Plover homesite and arrive at the walking beach. This long, curving stretch reaches toward a rocky cliff that ends Estero Bluffs State Beach. A slow-moving seal rolls in the waves two lines of surf from me. Toward the rocks at the end of the beach, I spot three sea otters, laying on their backs to eat their meals off their stomachs. Cormorants dive into the waters and plop back out with their catch. Idyllic? Yes.

My eye is drawn out farther into the water. The black fin or tail or something rises out momentarily, between the dark green, the sea weed and the silver. Too quick to distinguish, some other sea creature teases me.

I turn my view to the beach itself. A flash of color pulls my attention to the sand. Then another. And again. Since all my home decorating involves such finds, I am engaged for hours, walking a peaceful beach and collecting the leftover of man-made glass fragments, sanded against the grindstone of the ocean and replaced on this beach, blinking against today’s sun and beckoning me to reach. Into my hand, time and again, come rounded, pitted, faintly-colored bits of yesterday’s bottles. I have found my Sea Glass Festival.

It’s not the one I intended, but as the afternoon passes and I am not ready to leave the beach, I realize next year will be soon enough to attend the people festival. Today is for me, the beach and the ocean.

I walk back to the car, marveling at the catch in my hand. I start the engine, look up and see the spouts of two whales, finally admitting to me that it was them, all afternoon long, teasing me from behind that line of tourquiose water.

 

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Walking with the Skyview

What price do you pay for a memorable walk? Most times, when I walk, my eyes are aimed safely downward. But I pay a price for that view: I lose that fabulous, here-in-this-moment-lost-in-the-next chance to see the spectacular view above. My reward is safety; my feet don’t trip and I maintain balance. I see most of those stubby clefts that might cause a fall. And since I fall often in life, it’s a good view for my well-being.

On my usual safe walks, looking down past my toes, I see the shore birds. They stroll along our plentiful tide line, arguing over food, but without a heartfelt clamor. Though the wind ruffs their feathers, their manners remain mostly in place as they pursue their natural tendencies. They may squabble, but in the end, they share the bounty.

I also see the glorious transition of rock to pebble to sand. On packed wetness near the rolling waves, with my eyes aimed downward, I take a geological journey through time – sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic laying themselves at my feet. It is nature’s best classroom as I walk along this learning curve of salty water licking the roughness from stone.

Strolling with my safe step, I see what I’ve seen before. Maybe the walk has become habit, but it still contains some little magic. Mist lifts from the incoming tides and floats past my feet. I step around the shore birds’ droppings, having been warned by past experience and present sight. Tangled ropes of Giant Kelp, Dead Man’s Bootlaces, Bull Whip Kelp, and Turkish Towel wrap themselves around the tide, which comes and goes everyday, just like me.

Because I walk this shore daily, a routine litany of views repeat themselves along my path. Stones, sand, seaweed, shore birds. As my eyes aim downward, keeping me safe, I see usual life-assuring sights.

Then the unusual call of a sea hawk interrupts me. I haven’t heard it before, and the sound itself pulls my eyes to the sky. There it is: a seasonal newcomer to the neighborhood.

I stop and watch as the young Osprey dives toward the water, at the same time flapping wings and stretching claws. This new king of the tide comes away with a shining, struggling fish, then flies away to the tall eucalyptus. As I continue to lift my eyes, I see the fish tail protest its tragedy, and the Osprey settle onto the tallest limb of the tree.

I change my trail and follow. ‘Lift up,’ I tell my feet, unused to this path. Since my sight is engaged in the sky escapade, I can’t guarantee my own safety. Am I willing to pay this price?

When I get nearer the eucalyptus, I see that the Osprey has begun its meal. Its head bends for a bite, pulls away with a satisfied tug. I see the fish’s silver flash and its tail still protesting. Then, against the skyview, I see another signal that our seasons are beginning to change.

Stepping into the cluster of trees, I am greeted by the first sighting of Monarch Butterflies. Into the tall branches they flit, in and out of the sunlight, delightful and light-hearted against the feast that is occurring three floors up in this small forest. I count 25 butterflies, and know this is just the beginning.

I have been aiming my sight skyward for quite awhile now, and haven’t yet fallen. At times, I feel dizzy from looking up and wonder if my neck will feel the strain. But nature’s action is happening against the sky today, so that is where I must look, regardless the price.

So often in life, the spectacular is mine for the moment, and gone too quickly. I won’t experience it if I always choose the safe route, eyes aimed cautiously downward, saving myself from the harm I think is there, but forever closing my view to happenings I may not even imagine. Fabulous happenings like Ospreys and Monarch Butterflies.

 

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.

Walking with Vultures

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very good vulture

When I was teaching, I would often ask students to classify nouns, adjectives and verbs. Thumbs up for a word that had a positive feel, thumbs down for the negative. Infrequently, there might pop up a word that was neutral, but – think about it – many words we use have a good/bad reputation. Vulture? Definitely negative.

But I keep encountering them in nature. They glide by me, sometimes far up in the sky, sometimes quite close, and I have decided that I can form my own opinion on their goodness. To me, they seem totally thumbs-up.

I look forward to walks with my vulture friends. Perhaps because I live where many creatures live (and die,) vultures entertain me each day on my afternoon walks. They have become my most reliable walking companions. I love to see the long spread of their wings as they hover over the sage. I had never known the effortless grace of their flight before my walks on the beach. They make me notice them with a persistent presence and a command of the salt-sprayed fog.

img_4968As I walk, they seem to play in the sky. And frolic on the land. Maybe they don’t see things that way, but as I have come to know these friends with feathers, I see their antics. Dipping and swaying with air currents I will never explore, they share with me their freedom. One came so close, I heard the push of a wing as the vulture coasted inches over a dune, just one more trick to make me wish I could be as playful in the air.

Beach weather can change fast, and even when the winds come up and blow the sand, I walk and the vultures glide. The spraying sand doesn’t seem to change their daily romp along the coastline. Nor mine.

They scavenge, but so do I. Maybe they pursue habits that many think of as grizzly, but can’t we just as easily thank them for keeping our trails and walkways clean? There’s a good side to picking at the bones of life, a sort of nature’s way to keep house.

Walking with nature can be surprising, but my walks with vultures have taught me lessons about what we must see and accept. I am grateful for their company, even when vultures are doing what comes naturally. My beachside walks have treated me with a new respect for the word Vulture. Thumbs all the way up.

 

 

Walking with Wildlife

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Rugged with a capital ‘R”

At times, I complain about our rugged American walking life. We have trails, not walking paths. We walk in rustic, remote national parks, not through our cities. I have even – a time or two – been driven away from a walk by nature itself. But today, I am offering a tribute to walking with wildlife all around. It can be a remarkable and reviving experience of renewal. Isn’t that exactly why we walk?

I take a daily stroll around my central California coastal neighborhood. After four years living here, it still is refreshingly new. It is also more rugged than refined. The first thing I do is cross the famous Pacific Coast Highway, State Route One, always on the list for the world’s most beautiful and dangerous highways. The second thing I do is head for my usual path to the beach, filled with sand and stickers and the changeable route through the dunes.

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just another rustic path?

Today, the third thing I did on this walk was stop in the middle of the path for this:

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S/he’s a beauty.

S/he didn’t move, and I worried. Should I just step around? Should I be concerned for its health? It wasn’t a rattlesnake, so I wasn’t afraid. It – a gopher snake? – looked to me like it had just eaten something quite big,

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there’s a big lump right there

so I knew it might just be in that after-glow of a good meal. Snakes don’t loosen their belts, they lull.

I retreated, and took a different path through the dunes.

Horses have accompanied me on every single walk I have ever taken on this beach. One or two or sometimes three ride along together. Today, a herd was there.

Look closely, some were riding bareback. They frolicked and circled and raced and the riders hooted and laughed. When there are twenty horses and twenty people involved in this amount of hoop-la, it’s noticeable, even above the thunder of the surf. And then the horses and riders actually did surf. Or very nearly.

My usual walks also include a lot of this

and that

And if I am lucky, I can climb the steps up the bluff at the turn-around point of my walk, sit for awhile and watch nature’s show. Today, the show was spectacular.

As I sat, I laughed at the antics of the dolphins: dance routines, couple jumps, splashes that looked like pure fun. I admired the skill of the pelicans: their patient search and precise spray as they entered the water for the catch.

I stared into the horizon, hoping to see evidence of those enormous creatures that inhabit our coastline in the summer. I know they are there. But sometimes, I have to be satisfied with that knowledge, and not the sight of the blue and humpback whales.

This summer, I have seen a lot of them. They have been almost too close to the shore at times, almost dangerously close. Today they stayed in the hazy distance, treating me with occasional evidence of their seasonal trip. Like the human vacationers who come in droves, the whales come also each summer.

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look at the very left hand side for the last bit of spray from the whale’s spout (and the whale, of course)
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These two are so, so much larger than the photo shows!

While I sat, a three-ring circus entertained me, including a pod of dolphins, fishing pelicans and whales in the distance. On the way back home, I checked on the overly-full snake, but found it wasn’t blocking the path any longer. Today’s walk was filled with the wildlife I have seen all my life. Not a city-life walk, but a walk peopled with creatures that have been my walking companions for a long, long time.