Around the Bay

High gray clouds yesterday loomed over most of the Monterey Bay. The higher mountain peaks, Mt. Umunhum and Fremont Peak, looked as if they had trapped lingering rain clouds. Too many days this month have passed me by and caught me sitting in an overstuffed chair when I should be outdoors on a late winter/early spring inspection of green, rain-soaked hills and wildflower-dotted meadows. I am sure that the first wild poppy of the season has popped open somewhere close by. So the wife and I took a drive south to the Monterey peninsula and to Carmel yesterday morning, to get a better feel for how this late winter weather is doing with the land and water that spreads out before us.

I noticed that only half of the strawberry fields around Watsonville have been planted. The Pajaro Valley is a perfect spot for growing berries and lettuce, but this year either part of the land is being left fallow, or the threat of drought has made the ranchers less enthusiastic about risking the expense of a crop that will not mature. What is planted is being meticulously groomed by the men who regularly work this ground, mostly immigrants from Mexico, who are so good at taking care of the earth, even though the society that feeds off their labor does not pay them very well. Some see the land only in terms of dollars, while others find their identity in it.

We wrapped around the southern end of the bay, from where we could look north across the water to see the Santa Cruz Mountains in the distance. The morning fog hung low and blocked part of our view. The highway dips down close to the ocean in Seaside, where I could see that the waves looked rather small today. When I pass through Seaside I think of my grandmother, who moved here from her ranch in eastern Oregon in the 1940s. Normally if I see waves here, I see the surfers out, but today nobody was in the water. A few hundred yards down the road afforded me a view of a point of land to my south, Point Pinos, where submerged rocky reefs serve as a launch point for large splashes of white water. I suddenly saw one of these large splashes from a distance of five miles or so, and knew the surf was big, but coming to the bay in an erratic pattern. The surfers call these “sneaker sets”. They are the ones that catch people by surprise and sweep them off the rocks and beaches.

The highway led us down into Carmel Village, where we stopped in front of a little breakfast cafe, and split a vegetable omelet and slurped down several cups of strong coffee. I hobbled up and down the sidewalk for a block with my cane, stepping gingerly with my foot. The stabbing pain of gout still lingers enough to make me cautious how I walk. I had seen an art gallery up this street that had some interesting abstract paintings in the window, and I wanted to go back and get a better look at the brush strokes of one of the larger pieces. The wife went in the gallery and asked how much this one particular big blue piece was. $7800. The gallery sitter followed her out into the street with anxious intention. The sitter must have thought she had a sale. I suppose some people can look at a painting in a gallery for five minutes and shell out that kind of money. I saw it happen once in a gallery in Santa Fe.

The main beach in Carmel is rimmed with homes tucked into the hillside above the road, which makes for an interesting drive around the perimeter of the village. The homes sell for several million dollars each, but nobody seems to live in them. The local contractors are constantly updating them with the latest fashionable hardware–counters, floors, doors, windows, and the like–but the homes remain vacant nonetheless. I suspect they have been purchased purely for investment or prestige, and not for coastal living. The desire is not to enjoy the beauty, but rather to own it. I could never buy a home with a view of the ocean and not live in it.

To the south a few more miles we go into Point Lobos–Wolf Point–a state-operated park and preserve–where I can get up close to watch the wild action of the waves pounding the rocks and producing the most amazing and constantly changing array of color and form. It’s a photographer’s paradise, but I didn’t bring my big camera today, and a cold wind has begun to pick up and cause the beach hikers to clench their coats tightly to their chests. I would not do well on the trails today anyhow with my foot still sore from gout, so we sit in the car in a couple of the pull-outs along the road and wait to view a few of the bigger splashes on the rocks. The sea is pretty wild today, and very few people are in the park. The three-day weekend, President’s Day, has just passed, and the tourists have left, giving it back to the local gulls, pelicans, and retirees.

Back home in the early afternoon I sit to read the latest book I have queued up on my Kindle. The air is almost warm enough to sit outdoors in the sun to read, but passing clouds quickly shift the temperatures up and down. I could put on something warmer and sit outdoors for an hour or more, or stay inside and watch the rest of the sunlit day go by me from my overstuffed chair. I choose to stay indoors. The book is pretty good. It’s about being aware of one’s body and living in the moment, which is a way of life I need to better adopt, as I tend to drift into spells of escapism and afternoon nap-time dreams. This painful foot I’ve had for a couple of weeks has caused me to withdraw some from the real world. The trip down the coast has reminded me to stay alert and be engaged with living.

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