Point Reyes one winter
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I left Truckee for a few days, driving up over the summit through six inches of new snow. I went to Point Reyes. It is one of the world's most preciously beautiful places.
The soft feminine contours of the hills lie green under the grey sky. The scattered stands of Oaks and scrub brush give an appearance of wildness, like an Irish desolation. The rain comes down lightly, like a mist. The cows huddle on the far hills across the small lake stirred up by the wind. The mustard plants blossom yellow in patches, like paint on the hill, with the purple lupines above them.
There are some trees that don't fit in, bay trees, perhaps they mark the site of a homestead of years ago. The narrow country road clings to the hill above the creek bottom. The creeks here are wonderfully lush, full of brambles and nettles and willows and sycamores and oaks.
Living in the harsh aridity of the high mountains, I forget what it is like to be down in the Coast Ranges, on a north slope so overchoked with growth, it is nearly impenetrable.
I looked out over Inverness Ridge across the narrow valley, densely forested, tentacles of clouds over the green valley. In the foreground, cows glistened wetly in the rain, lupines and mustard are here also, scattered over the gentle hills. On the seaward side of the ridge, the great Pacific alternates between sandy beaches and surf torn cliffs.
Sir Frances Drake careened his ship, the Golden Hinde here, to clean and repair the hull before setting off across the Pacific to become the first Englishman to circle the globe.
Pt. Reyes is an area dotted with tiny villages built by New Englanders a century ago, Olema, Inverness, Bolinas and Point Reyes Station. The architecture is New England. The residents are left over from the sixties, bearded men in woolen shirts, the women in levis or long skirts, with a serene calmness that is beguiling. People here fish, going out upon the broad swells of the Pacific in little cockleshell fishing boats that bob and toss upon the water. There are dairies here, black and white Holstein cows, green pastures nearly treeless and great white barns in need of paint.
I feel such peace here. I stayed in an old ranch house tucked away in a canyon two miles from the sea. Other visitors were tourists from Europe, Ecologists, Environmentalists, Sierra Clubbers and Vagabonds from everywhere. We sat around the woodstove in the living room drinking wine and tea and discussing the world, the land, health, and always, the whales.
The Grey Whales migrate from Alaska to Baja, California, in early winter. They pass almost within rock tossing distance of the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Huge, slow moving, often in pairs, slapping tails and blowing spume from their blowholes. Intelligent and articulate animals, they move serenely south, leaving the watchers on the bluffs aching with a haunting loneliness, knowing that passing them by are not merely animals, but an entire culture that they can never be a part of. The effect of the whales on the watching people is profound, a quiet respect and awe. Sometimes on a good day you will see a hundred thirty-ton whales pass you by. In the spring, the whales will return with their calves born in the warm lagoons of Baja. The new babies will swim north 5,000 miles to the cold Alaskan waters carefully watched over by mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and by the quietly murmuring watchers on the bluffs, binoculars flashing in the sun.
We can only wonder what the whales think of us. "Look George, there they are again." "Yes dear, they stand up there every year, no whale knows why." . . .
Whales . . . I bought my son a whale mobile. These waters also breed the great white sharks, it is no place to go swimming.
I did a little running and biking on the trails which wander these hills. The trails through the hills here feel friendly and casual like an old and dear friend. I went down to the beach. The storm had blown itself inland to the east. The forested ridges of Inverness were hung in heavy clouds. On the beach the sun was shining, it had rained some, not a whole bunch. The waves were breaking small. I walked north into the wind, the salt spray hanging in the air ahead of me. White, brilliantly white foam from the breakers washes up onto the shore to slowly fade, only to be replaced by the next wave of foam. In the distance I saw the Point Reyes headland. This is just about the same view that Sir Frances Drake saw.
It is nice to walk, it is something I don't do nearly enough of, I spend too much time running and bicycling. It does me good to walk. There were pieces of old jelly fish broken up on the shore. My son would love it here. Years ago I walked this beach with a friend and Christopher, who was only two then. Away from the water about one hundred feet, stand three pine trees, hammered thick and short by the sea winds, until they looked more like Monterey Cypress trees. When Kimberley and Christopher and I walked this beach, there were half a dozen Buzzards sitting in those trees. He was very impressed by those great ugly birds so close . . .
I wish I knew how to transcribe the sound of the waves breaking against the shore. The steady murmur broken by moments of crashing thunder by each individual wave collapsing against the raw edge of the continent. Each wave breaks in its own time and order, never rushed.
Sandpipers, with their long beaks looking like old Scottish gentlemen with clay pipes, scurried down the beach ahead of me. I saw clouds, remnants of the storm, like great balls of fluff drifting in orderly rows, just seven or eight clumps of clouds drifting to the east of me. I wish that there was a way that I could convey to you . . .my feeling for walking in wild places. It seems like nothing is real, except for being out, just feeling the wind and the waves and the rocks. Or seeing the way the mountains dip and rise along the horizon. I feel as if jobs, house, security and all that, is not as real as just being on an empty beach looking back at my footsteps.
I walked out about two miles on the sand pit. On my right now, lies the estuary, on my left, the Pacific and straight ahead, the channel between the two. Right out at lands end there were nearly two hundred Harbor Seals! Some time ago my brother, Chris, and I were walking along an isolated empty beach on the north edge of Santa Barbara County. We found a pup sleeping all by himself in the great expanse of the wild sand. He woke up and looked at us with a perfect expression of, "Oh God, do I have to go in the water?" These Seals looked at me in just about the same way. "Oh, please don't make us get wet!"
The day after my beach walk, I rode the Bolinas Ridge Trail. It was a golden sunny day, a day like when I was a boy in the spring, the flowers bright among the rich green grass in the fields. A day that felt like the first day of the world, new born and ready to play. The trail climbed up through the green grass pastures to the fringes of the Redwood forest. I spent some time there sitting and absorbing the clean pureness of the rain washed land before the long drive back to the cold mountains and the non-reality of my work.
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