Life along the central California coast has gradually revealed itself to us as we slowly walk its beguiling beaches. Since our arrival, we have wandered the sinuous high tide line from Point Sal to Morro Rock and beyond. Along the way, we have stumbled upon strange novelties, been awed by natural wonders, collected beautiful and interesting objects, and even assisted in a daring ocean rescue.
Walking 1,000 feet above the highest tide, our first discovery was a weird white spherical object. In the distance, it looked like an errant golf ball resting in a giant sand trap. As we drew closer, we thought that Jack might have recently lost his head. Turning it over, we could see that it was a lost buoy blown improbably into the back dunes by a storm of hurricane proportions. Before leaving it behind, we had fun rolling it down a steep dune and dressing it up in a hat.
Back on the beach, millions of mollusk shells rolled in the surf. We found spiral gastropods, grooved cockles, and numerous other pelecypods including the legendary Pismo Clam. Made famous by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Bill Gannon of “Dragnet”, Pismo Beach is known as “The Clam Capital of the World”, thanks to this large edible bivalve.
The most impressive natural object we found walking the beach was the skull of a grey whale, bleached white by the sun. With considerable effort, I was able to roll over the five-foot wide bone to expose the foramen magnum, the hole on top where the spinal cord connects with the cranium.
Two of Esther’s favorite things to do on the beach are searching for beautiful objects in the sand and picking up ecologically hazardous trash. Combining these dual pleasures, she delights in collecting multicolored sea glass, smoothed and frosted by the surf. By removing these broken beer bottles and other glass fragments, she has fun treasure-hunting while fulfilling her sense of coastal stewardship.
To add to her sea glass collection and look for chalcedony moonstones, we made a side trip to Cambria and Moonstone Beach. Rounded and polished as if by a huge rock tumbler, we found pieces of vibrant sea glass and numerous white iridescent moonstones. As in real life, not all of our experiences walking along the central coast beaches were as exploratory as collecting sea glass and moonstones, and as cerebral as identifying sea shells and marine mammal skeletons.
By chance, as we walked the inaccessible north end of the Morro Bay Sand Spit, we participated in the ocean rescue of an 8 year old girl. About 500 feet offshore, an 18-foot pleasure craft had just capsized in 10 to 12 foot seas. Unaware of the mishap, we were startled to see a 47-foot U.S. Coast Guard response boat offshore and the harbor patrol on a jet ski racing toward us with a young girl in tow.
The patrol officer left the terrified and trembling girl in our care, and hurriedly returned to the high surf to continue the hunt for survivors. Esther wrapped the shivering girl in our extra clothing, and held her tight against her warm body. I waded out into the surf and scanned the breakers with binoculars to aid in the search. I spotted the overturned boat bobbing in the ocean, and followed the jet ski as it dashed desperately between the waves. Thankfully, in the end, the harbor patrol returned to the beach and reported that all four onboard had been safely rescued.
After the girl was reunited with her family on the Coast Guard vessel, we stayed behind to retrieve items still washing up on the beach. We found a floating two-way radio, empty ice chests, and anything else buoyant enough to come ashore. Eventually the boat drifted close enough for us to retrieve its gasoline tank, which we carried high into the fore dunes. The boat itself, still upside-down on the beach, had to be left behind for wrack and ruin.
With breathtaking intensity, life along the central California coast has exposed itself to us in strangely curious, naturally magnificent, and extraordinarily beautiful ways. Just as John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”.