Dawn patrol. Fumbling in darkness, stepping into gopher holes, cameras clanking, packs shifting drunkenly. Impossible to see much. Sometimes, there is a moon. Sometimes there isn’t. You pursue the path anyway. Trudging, stumbling, hoping for a perfect shot.
Pelican squadrons appear in the pre-sunup sky, flying in tailored perfection. The high cliff route is at exact wing level and one by one, they glide by, less than 5 feet away, giving me the eye. I look at their cumbersome beaks, they look at my cumbersome equipment. Tools, I think, making us clumsy. But tools necessary for survival.
The sun detonates over Valencia Peak and nothing is the same. Monster shadow-creatures turn into fences draped with vines. The inky ocean, so forbidding a moment ago winks and warms. As the morning heats, a magic temperature is achieved and the air erupts with millions of tiny yellow-dotted flying creatures and green florescent beetles.
Since the atmosphere has become a textured, fluttering curtain, I must actually put my hand out and part this living drapery to pass along the trail. A lone figure in black clothes wearing black cameras has been transformed, turning suddenly yellow and green, my body alive with fluttering, shimmering wings.
50º, windspeed 35mph= 27º corrected
Rainy morning, a wet surprise of sounds long absent– through the night thunder rolled over the sea and into the bedroom window. Reveling in the blowing gloom, I hike the hills, wading through a river flow of intoxicating perfume. A musty, rust incense, this last gasp of fall.
Eat, drink, sop up the season of glittery gold. It is autumn, the time of joy and death and celebration. We abandon ourselves to ease. Dance, weep, sing. Ceasefire. Walk on cement instead of eggshells.
The next morning brings a wind-scoured sky; the sea is the color of unpolished silver. Umbrellas have blown into neighbor’s gardens and yellow leaves crowd all the cracks. I use the binoculars to watch a lone white sail on the horizon, an optimistic sportsman riding the gusts.
I think about the currents of change. Of challenge and darkened clouds, yet I am under way, fully into the journey. On the deck of middle earth, witnessing a staggeringly beautiful November noon. Just me, the spanking storm and that lone sailor, far, far offshore.
Perched on a rock in Pacific Valley amidst crashing splendor, especially after the sun set and it was getting dark…all was shimmering light, yet strangely not. All was quieted, yet not. Feeling totally alone, yet not.
This central coast, this middle earth kingdom, is a lifelong destination. For years and decades where, in the course of time, the environment becomes who we are. So it’s a bit like looking into a mirror, chronicling the sea stacks, the restless wavebreak, the continent’s edge with her giant’s fingers reaching down to grasp the ocean bottom. Seeking a solid safety amidst all this eternal movement. Seeking identity here.
I know this landscape like my own face; grew up roaming the blonde hills turned briefly green in spring. The oak’s arms suggest a nap underneath her branches. Vineyards and orchards whisper promises of this land crowded with castles in the sky.
Often I visit in dreams and walk the cliff edges, smell the salt, sleep under stars that fall from blackness. I watch the sun shatter the horizon, turning the sky warm as peach cobbler and the sea the color of icebergs. Sometimes my rock perch becomes a kite and we lift off. Suspended, breathless, windblown, high, I survey this landscape as it is swallowed by the night, knowing I will return to middle earth again and again.
Low [minus] tide 16:38, -0.9
Doubt? Fear? It is trapped like a wasp in the closed car of my mind. Repeatedly buzzing with frustration, slamming into windows– it will die if given no air. So I wander though these days opening all the windows. In the heat, in the fogs, o p e n. Let out the bad thoughts; breathe in the air of new possibilities.
It’s fire season. Sulphurous air boils with ashes: falling bits of houses and horses and oak trees. Dead things accumulate on the courtyard, a grey ashpile of despair and memory. Yet even on this funerary urn of a day, windows are flung open.
After living an exceedingly flamboyant lifestyle, flying high in all directions, I have lately felt grounded. Instead of a honking Canadian goose flying 2,500 miles in magnificent migration, I am now a penguin waddling a few miles down the road, webbed feet on terra firma the entire way. Art and artists provide a lift. Rare souls who dare to take off in tempests, great blue herons tempting fate.
So here I am. A wasp, goose, penguin, heron. Sting, wingflap, waddle, glide. I am a contradiction: activist, hermit, girl, old lady glutton, ascetic. A seer with thick lensed, smudged eyeglasses. Forever bumping into things. Flying full speed into glass windows.
Santa Ana winds were blowing so we approached from the sea. The coast lay ahead, a pulsing, alive thing that looked like a space station, an outpost floating in a galaxy. Then the jet descended and that vision turned into piers and boats and freeways and backyards with swimming pools reflecting the flat yellow moon.
The flight from Dublin had produced a symphony raging inside my inner ear, clashing and irritating after the carefully tuned rhythms of Ireland. Rhythms so singular that I am helpless to explain to people here in California where voices lament and cry so resoundingly that I cannot hear my own tune, cannot speak my own voice, cannot play my red flute. The two-dollar tin flute I learned to play while sitting on Irish trains watching the rainy greenness roll by the window.
Here in south California the sun shines upon bone-dry hills and unheeding heads. I escape to photograph California’s central coast, where the land breathes and blooms even in the beige rattle of summer. I find a trail overlooking a lapping sea of dried grasses waving toward the cliff shore. This middle earth is brown but somehow conjures the blossom of springtide. Pointing the camera at this view, I am caught in the undertow and swirl away into the haunting requiem rising like baby ghosts from the abandonment of green.
Fog advisory. Visibility 15-30 ft.
LAX is deserted. She stands on the sidewalk in front of baggage claim, a skinny pole of a person, waving tiredly. We drive north in fog the color of dirty linen, shrouding soil that can grow cotton, grapes, lemons and oranges. Some hours later we arrive at the Packing House and stand in the doorway, uncomfortably aware of the spectacle we must be, two tall sisters, wearing city clothes. The office ladies stare.
Breathing cigarette-blue haze, we meet with tough-talking ranchers wearing big belt buckles. We plow through statistics on crop yields and refrigeration costs. Hieroglyphics. The meeting mercifully ends and we are escorted through some of our groves on the way back to Los Angeles. Dust devils swirl as the truck bores deep into the trees. The green fruit is soon to be orange and the men knife into crop fall to study the impact of a recent freeze. Our manager is pride-puffed, in his element out here in the mud amid the big bushy trees older than he is, older than I am. Trees growing year after year under different skies and temperature extremes, trees that quietly absorb rain and sun and love.
We were in a terrible hurry to get back to the airport. Traffic was undoubtedly building. Yet, I lingered. In that last grove, on old Highway 65, miles from anywhere, at the center of the universe. The fog had lifted and I saw the backside of Sequoia and Mineral King, the vista of childhood. Spinning ‘round and ‘round like I used to, I breathed in the smell of this dusty, grandfather grove. And something fundamental that had been missing inside clicked back into place. I remembered heritage and connection to the earth. I remembered a boxer dog and pickup trucks. I remembered that I always got teary at the first scent of orange blossoms in the spring.
Yearly high tide 7:32 am +6.9
Silver seas, silver horizon, no delineation no boundary, a loop of beauty and harmony; world without end. The seals on the buoy roll and bark, the sun sends an amber beacon across light years of space and time to warm us. To show us the way.
We’re sailing up the coast. Past places of intimate knowledge: the beach with the special tide pools, the cove with perfect homebody cottages, the inlet where marriage was proposed, the bay with crashing waves and razor rocks where we saw the whales, the rocky cliffs with fortune houses clinging like diamond barnacles…
All of us are a part of this place, landscapes hovering above the limitless ocean. Inhabiting our private planets, each on a tiny piece of earth that holds our footsteps, drains our tears in the sand, scatters our laughter in the wind. We live here.
Dolphins race below us in their world of liquid midnight. They see upward through the shafts of light that pierce the depths. Their eyes see sky and clouds. They see a boat sailing above with a brown-eyed woman leaning over the bowsprit, staring down into the blue-eyed sea. Watching, the dolphins know she is lifted with an ancient joy. And they swim beneath her wings.