Saturday, August 29, 2015

Point Lobos: Nature's Healing Power

Nothing refreshes the mind and cleanses the soul more than wilderness, be it the wilderness of the woods or of the shore. Point Lobos, a California State Nature Reserve about eighty miles south of San Jose and covering approximately 9 square miles, is one of those rare places where visitors find a merging of the woods and the shore, timeless trails lined by ancient pines and colonies of seals and cormorants on rocks shaped by wind and surf over millennia.

It is difficult for any photographer to comprehensively capture the haunting beauty of Point Lobos across the seasons, although Edward Weston, one of the earliest (1886-1958) and among the elect, tried. His lyrical black-and-white prints of unusual rock formations at the reserve have inspired scores of nature lovers to flock to the California coastline over the years.

With a summer of record-breaking temperatures in drought-stricken California winding down, I recently found myself approaching the Pacific from a pinecone-strewn trail at the Reserve.
The tide was coming in, watched over by a preternaturally calm gull poised on a rock. Colorful pebbles, green, brown, white and red, glistened in the sun, as did pink and white corals shaped like miniature trees.

Most striking were the tide pools reflecting bits of the sky and filled with the flower-like sentient anemones that closed and opened every time some seawater food got inside it while surging waves crashed on the rocks around them, sending white spray skyward.

Hermit crabs seemed to appear from nowhere, some falling awkwardly trying to scale the slippery slopes of the rocks. Others met headlong only to sidle away in opposite directions. Snails were out in force as well, crawling from nooks and crannies to approach the tide pools. Limpets, barnacles, and starfish used their suction-like holdfast to add to the diversity of the shore. With each wave, the starfish seemed to change its location.

The predator-prey relationship that had evolved over millennia was in full exhibit everywhere you looked. The tiny creatures looked fragile but there was an element of resiliency and fierce fight for survival in them that was palpable.

A tangled forest of kelp and rockweed farther out sank and surfaced as the tidal surge washed over them. A flock of gulls wheeled over them. Next to the kelp was an oystercatcher, a real work of art. Its deep-black body, bright red bill and yellow feet made it look both pre-historic and ultra-modern. It was feeding on the ocean flotsam that had washed up the shore and emitted a piercing cry that stopped me cold in my track when I tried to approach it. I did the only brave thing I could do: I quietly withdrew.

In a rock island farther out in the sea, saw hundreds of birds preening and, well, socializing. And farther beyond were seals talking up a storm in their rocky habitat, a combination of grunts and exclamations, punctuated by what seemed uncannily like the sound of laughter.
As I stood back to take the whole elemental scene in, I smelled it, the pine-scented breeze wafting in from the ancient grove nearby, and I thought: The music of the forest is lapping at the shore of eternity!

The sun moved across the sky with an urgency rarely witnessed on a normal day. And when it set in a blaze of yellow and crimson, with a flock of pelicans flying in formation across its golden orb, I knew I had gotten what I had hoped for: the gift of a fresh perspective and the appreciating the blessings of being alive.

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