We survived the holidays after all. There was family galore and friends and no end of gift giving or of food. The boy got the secondhand Italian accordion he desperately wanted. The girl got the metal detector she is sure will make her rich. Despite the cold snap of two weeks before, we had nothing over the holidays but clear skies and sunshine. It felt like a very early spring.
On New Year’s Eve my daughter wasn’t feeling well so we stayed home and played chess and read books and watched Jeremy Brett in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. On New Year’s Day we packed up the car and drove to the coast. As the bird flies our destination was maybe twenty miles away, directly west. But automobiles do not fly and the winding highway over the Santa Cruz Mountains runs to nearly fifty miles.
The coast at Pescadero is one of my favorite places. It’s never crowded, unless it’s crowded with birds. The warm sun and chilly Pacific welcomed us back without a second thought.
The girl went to work with her metal detector but only found a few scraps of tin foil. Soon she and her brother were building driftwood forts instead. We had an outdoor lunch of bread and cheese, almonds, apples, and chocolate. Walking the shore, we found numbers of mussels and other shells, and the remains of innumerable crabs of all sizes that had washed up the beach with the tide.
At Pescadero you get two days out for the price of one. When you’re tired of the gulls and shorebirds at the beach you can walk inland along sand trails to Pescadero Marsh, a state wildlife preserve. In order to get there you must first pass under the weathered concrete bridge where Highway 1 spans the lagoon.
Hiking the marsh with a pair of binoculars you will spot all kinds of birds, waterfowl and shorebirds as well as passerines and raptors. Even in the supposed depth of winter here in Northern California, there are always birds singing.
You could almost imagine that the landscape is untouched, it feels so wild. But the massive grove of Australian eucalyptus on the north side of the marsh was planted there more than a hundred years ago. The South African ice plant (Hottentot fig), which turns orange this time of year, was probably introduced more recently, to keep the dunes in check. Both are considered “invasive species” and unwelcome now, but the birds and deer aren’t xenophobes, and neither am I.
The wind kicked up. It got cold and it was time to leave. The traffic through the town of Half Moon Bay and over the pass back into the more populous lowlands of San Francisco Bay was just horrible. The prospect of returning to work after a break of more than ten days was no less so.
“Just a shack on a hill nearby here, with a fireplace and a little garden,” I told my wife. “And room for plenty of books, of course. That’s all we need. We could retire and walk around every day and never have to see or talk to other people. I don’t think we’d ever get tired of it.”