Coastal Riches

On the long weekend, we made a trip down the coast for a few short excursions. We immersed our senses in all that nature had to offer, from soaring birds to furry critters to the intoxicating scents of wild plants.

Our early morning arrival was marked by little but silence. As we stepped out of the car, fog hung thickly around us, leaving minuscule droplets in our hair and on the windshield. The grasses stood still. For a moment, we doubted whether we’d find any wildlife here.

Nevertheless, we grabbed our bags and ventured onto the path. The crunching of gravel beneath our soles comforted us as we soldiered forward in the void. But it didn’t take long for the familiar calls of birds and the soft swishing of plants to join us. Eventually, the hum of insects would keep us company, too. Perhaps nature just needed a signal that someone was ready to enjoy its wonders, that it was time to wake from the night’s sleep—regardless of the fact that the sun hadn’t made its wake up calls—and display its charms to a willing audience.

The first signs of life

The first furry friends we saw were little Brush Rabbits sniffing at flattened grasses. They appeared in solos or pairs around bends of the path, eliciting murmurs of adoration from our company. They were quite bold for rabbits; they didn’t seem to be startled by our sudden appearance and our accompanying noises of excitement. They bounded away as we got closer, but in an easygoing manner. They were eventually overtaken by California Ground Squirrels as we made our way inland. When we arrived at the marshes, all signs of furry life gave way to their feathered cousins. Brown Pelicans and California Gulls were the most plentiful. The calls of Song Sparrows echoed in the air. Pelagic Cormorants crowded the rocks beyond our reach. Eventually, even they, too, were overtaken by the awe-inspiring sight of playful juvenile Southern Sea Otters and molting Elephant Seals, all passing their day where the land met the ocean.

Awakening life at the coast

As the day continued its journey towards afternoon, the breeze picked up and brought enticing smells with it. One moment, the slight but sharp scent of wild rosemary surrounded us. Sometimes the dusky, sweet smell of bright pink wild roses momentarily overtook us. Most of the time, I found myself inhaling soil’s bitter aroma deep into my lungs. Surprisingly, the salt of the ocean kept its distance unless we were within feet of the surf. Even if we could see the open water on the horizon, we probably wouldn’t have guessed its presence if we had embarked with our eyes closed.

Companions down the coast

One descent to the beach was accompanied by bright orange Saltmarsh Dodder, a variety of rushes and grasses, and little scuttling (crabs). The husks of shellfish were strung just above the tideline between wooden stakes. Tiny white flowers peeked up at us as we passed by in wonder. At another beach, we climbed sand dunes awash in vibrant Yellow Bush Lupine and bright red Indian Paintbrush, lush green Coyote Brush and perfect pink spheres of Coast Buckwheat. One wander along the tops of cliffs revealed endless fields of Wild Radish, whose petals ran the spectrum from pure white to deep lavender, Wild Mustard with its tiny yellow blossoms, and sprays of Golden Yarrow and Wild Yarrow. The inescapable Ice Plant followed us down a sandy canyon in broad washes of crimsons and emeralds.

Past the horizon

As the sun set, we shielded our eyes against the golden rays of the sun and squinted at the ocean’s waves between trunks of Monterey Cypress. A thin haze hung in the air, but the fog was nowhere in sight. Strong flurries of wind buffeted us. Brown Pelicans slowly flew past in stately small squadrons, keeping low to the water’s surface and undisturbed by the turbulence. By the time we turned the wheel for home, we were blanketed with remnants of salty ocean air and a peace that could only come from embracing nature’s riches.

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