Many years ago at the spot in this first photo, Mr. Glad and I watched a group of waterbirds playing. We were having a weekend at Big Sur to celebrate a wedding anniversary.
Here the Big Sur River flows into the Pacific Ocean on California’s central coast. On that day in March way back then, the birds would float down the riffles of the river, then fly back up to the jumping-in place and wait in line behind their fellows until their turn came; jump in, float down, fly back up, over and over. We watched them a long time, and they were still at it when we left.
The Big Sur area features such a profusion of plant forms, not to mention the animal life that I mostly ignore, that it is easy to understand why so many people want to live there where the ocean and trees and flowers make a dramatic but not agitating backdrop for solitude.
Everywhere we went for three days, the air was thick with the aromas of a casserole of natural ingredients, seaweed and sagebrush, redwoods and damp soil, a thousand essential oils in microscopic droplets bombarding my senses and reminding me that I should get out into the woods and the fields more often just to inhale this kind of nourishment.
If I did live near Big Sur, I’d want to go regularly to Soberanes Canyon, where the plant forms overlap in an unlikely and seemingly chaotic way.
|Old cactus with baby on Soberanes Canyon Trail|
I’ve never before seen redwood sorrel and poison oak growing together, or ferns next to cactus. Those are the most surprising things that jumped out at me, but if I went every month or so along the same canyon trail, other wildflowers or shrubs might eventually get my attention with the changing seasons and blooms. Whether I saw a scene or a tiny part of it in mist or sunshine would also make a difference.
|Redwood sorrel with poison oak and nettles|
This is a coastal steppe zone, my guide and son told me. The cactus were old and weather-beaten, some of their trunks resembling thick board platforms, but still producing new and fresh green sprouts.
|one of the smaller lupines|
Venerable lupine “trees” five feet across stood alongside the trail, with trunks four inches in diameter, still blooming mid-October.
Only a couple of minutes up from Highway 1, the trail takes you through dry hills with spreads of cactus all around. We got hot and sweaty pretty quickly, as it was mid-afternoon on what was probably the hottest fall day, but we didn’t grumble, being quite glad that the usual fog wasn’t dampening our spirits.
Before we knew it, we were descending to the creek, stands of tall, thick redwoods and carpets of sorrel, and after twenty paces the temperature had dropped ten degrees.
At the base of one of those huge specimens of Sequoia sempervirens, Mr. G pointed out to us the sponginess of the ground. It was not dirt, but many inches – or feet? – of redwood needles, making a duff that we all took turns bouncing on before we went on down the grade and back to our car.