I usually head to the woods, and the redwoods is of course my favorite. However, being far from their natural habitat, and knowing that no other woods would give me equal pleasure, I opted to expand my church service to the sea.
We had done just about every beach and bluff around the 100 mile range away. Since it was a holiday, I thought we may be able to travel just a little bit further given even less traffic on Christmas morning. Pismo Beach looked to have the craggy outcroppings and dramatic cliffs I love, so at 180 miles away, we packed up and headed north beyond our usual beach and bluff haunts.
The hikes at Pismo were mainly beach walks, and most reviewers said that north of the campground featured RVs and roads and wasn’t anything to write home about. I wanted to check out the Monarch Grove, which seems like the half way point from south to north, so rather than starting at the Monarch Grove, I started at the southern point of the hike and headed north to the Monarch Grove figuring we could go further if it seemed interesting. But it wasn’t what I expected. Mainly because I had arrived not at Pismo Beach, but at Oceano Dunes.
Surprisingly, the booth to the California state park was actually manned (or, I should say wo-manned). I was a tad confused because the parking lot to the right was not after the booth, and there didn’t seem anywhere to go once I passed the booth. She saw the confusion on my face.
“Sorry, where do I park?” I asked.
“It’s $5 if you want to park on the beach, otherwise you can park right there,” she said pointing at the paved lot on the other side of the fence. “That’s free.”
“Why would I want to park on the beach?” I mumbled, thinking I had asked it internally, and thanked her, telling her the paved parking lot was just fine. It wasn’t that $5 was too much to spend; I just didn’t think taking my two-wheel drive truck onto sand was something I needed nor wanted to do.
The paved lot only held a couple dozen cars, and there were plenty of empty spots.
I had expected a bluff based on the photos people had posted, but perhaps that was in the north campground. Here, Oceano Dunes was aptly named.
As we approached the switchback up the tiny hill to the Monarch Grove, a man walking down said without prompting, “In years past there were butterflies everywhere. But you can only see a few flying around today.”
Thanks to his words, I had zero expectations. The website had photos of butterflies hanging off trees like bunches of bananas; now I was aware to not expect that. Perhaps the butterflies were being socially distant too. Only a few flew up near the tree-tops.
Tide was low, so in the compact sand there were pieces of sea debris strewn about: shells, rocks, seaweed… and surprisingly, I found two full sand dollars.
I generally don’t take anything from nature. I leave every pine cone, every stone, every shell right where Nature placed it in her art exhibit. But for some reason, I was compelled to take these two. There were plenty of them smashed in across the tide line, but these two, found a few yards apart, were whole.
From the descriptions online and the white beings in front of me, the panic ceased as I concluded these were indeed dead.
In all my life, having seen sand dollars for sale in shops and I think there was one in parent’s house (I have a vague recollection of shaking one and hearing the little pieces inside), I guess I always considered them to be fossils. Or shells. Or rock. I never thought of them as skeletons or just a deceased body.
Looking at videos of alive ones, I also concluded that I had never seen one not dead. I had never seen a deep purple, fuzzy-bottomed sea urchin making its way across the sand. I was relieved to not have damaged the eco-system but still felt guilty for taking something from the beach. I couldn’t take them back now. It seemed too late, sitting in the truck, the two sand dollars in my center console cup holders. I tried to rid myself of the guilt, and be delighted with the magic that I had actually found them.
Turning my attention to an encore hike, I searched a little online for those dramatic cliffs and rocky beaches I had yearned to see this Christmas Day and had not seen thus far.
A quick search brought up a walk along the cliffs only a few miles north, so Tucker took a quick nap while I drove us from the beach to… well… another beach.
The parking lot wasn’t for the beach but for some cliffside tennis courts. There was a path behind the adjacent hotel that seemed to be where we could find walk along and gaze out over the cliffs. I figured we’d do a quick a walk, and then hop back in, my fix taken care of, and we’d be done.
The sightline was exactly what I had been after today.
So down we went.
And there it was: the cove and dramatic cliffs, and amazing rock formations time and water had created.
Disengaging from humans to be in nature is what I need to recharge. Being isolated has been difficult this year as I love being away from humans—but only in nature. Being alone in my own house in the city… that doesn’t feel right. That’s for social time. But once in nature, the lack of humans puts life in perspective. Both Tucker and I enjoy people (Tucker probably more so because he gets belly rubs and treats from them, whereas it would be weird if I did) but we need balance too-away from humans to remember what life is all about.
I made sure to get in our 2020 Christmas photo, which Tucker kindly obliged wearing a scarf.
Usually I only have Tucker open one or two gifts to play with the toys, and then the rest he gets throughout the next few weeks. But instead this time, I just let him have at it.
So about ten minutes after this was taken…