"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever."-Jacques-Yves Cousteau
The feeling that I've slowed down to a recognizable pace over this holiday break (one of the joys of teaching high school in the US=vacation) allowed me to step back, take a breath, and evaluate my current perspective. To celebrate time off from work, Jacob and I were able to a.) go out to eat with my Aunt, Uncle and beloved cousins Mitch and Alex, b.) hike into Silver Peak Wilderness, a 33,000 acre terrain characterized by the Santa Lucia Mountain range which sharply rises from the Pacific Ocean-a powerful intersecting of the land and the sea with steep cliffs of massive rock layers-humbling, foreboding, and beautiful, and, c.) visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and take a stroll down that legendary Cannery Row and become reacquainted with my childhood favorite author, John Steinbeck.
Much like my previous experiences driving down the 1 on the Pacific Coast, I'm in awe of the sharp, rugged, and power of this coast. It is a stark contrast to my memories on the beaches on the outerbanks of North Carolina as a child. South of Big Sur, and the Ventana Wilderness, Silver Peak lifts to 3,590 feet in the northwestern quadrant of the wilderness.
We began our hike in the southeastern quadrant right off the highway, starting through a section with thick vegetation dominated by that devil plant, poison oak. The trail was poorly maintained, and required a fair amount of bush-wacking of the Tanzania kind. Unfortunately we didn't have a machete with us-so just had to bear it and hope that the potent and illustrious antigen urushiol didn't bind to the proteins in our skin. I had a bad bout a few weeks ago, so I was particularly conscientious and intentional in my identification. We hiked into a section that gave way to desert like plants after we made it over the protective barrier from the moist fog hanging over the ocean. 10 miles in on the first day and we camped at a site, appropriately called the Lion's Den. Appropriate
because of the company we found ourselves amongst. Now, being a pacifist and an eternal optimist I guess I still harbor the naiveté of one who thinks people can meet each other on a very basic human level. And I'm still surprised to find that sometimes, beyond my control, people just aren't going to like me because of the way I look, present myself, or because of their own ingrained prejudices. Silly, but I thought, even as a former Peace Corps Hippie/Vegan I'd be able to sit down at a campfire with three young guys in army fatigues, leather boots, and a hunting rifle. Andrew, who introduced himself with a stiff-handshake and a welcoming smile, sporting a death tattoo, didn't turn out to be the nice guy that I thought he was. Even though we didn't get to singing kumbaya, we did sit around the campfire for some brief pleasantries before heading off to bed. I awoke to the sounds of drunken banter a few hours later and was face to face, once again, with the ugly reality that we humans are not very kind to each other. Thinking we were asleep the drunken army guys were plotting how they were going to show us "rich privileged kids with our thousand dollar gear" what life really was like. With references to silver platters and the like their obvious anger towards us escalated, so I finally woke Jacob up with the images of their rifle imprinted in my hazy, irrational mind. Fear is funny, and I've been in some pretty spotty positions before, but I guess I didn't expect to actually be afraid of backpacking in the US. In any case, as soon as Jacob got up to check our bags, after some vomiting, they went off into their respective tents, and I stayed awake waiting for the ambush that never came. Needless to say, we headed out of the lion's den pretty early the next day. The continued hike was on an old fire road that separated an army base from the wilderness, and gave us a lovely panoramic vantage point to view Big Sur Coastline to the North, the Pacific Ocean to the West, and the Salinas Valley to the East. After a few miles, an encounter with a horny toad, a small snake (which didn't rattle), and spiky cactus, we veered back into the lush vegetation to make a loop back toward our car. This part of the trail turned out to be stunning, with gurgling springs, waterfalls, fern-covered canyons, and meadows of grasses and wildflowers. I actually forgot about the encounter at the Lion's Den, and took time to relish in nature's wonder and embrace. Although our intention was to backpack for 3 nights, we ended up covering the entire loop we set out to do in two days, so decided to head back home with a few free days.
Thus, our trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I would love the opportunity for everyone to go check out this place that seems to reconnect us, in a very real way, to the creatures that we usually don't get to see, except if you are swimming and run into the stinging tentacles of a jellyfish.
It is the human drive to explore the enigmatic, while simultaneously harboring fear for the unknown. And the creatures in the ocean represent a world foreign, alien, and more like another planet than what we recognize on land. They allow us to brush our fingertips against the unknown. While standing next to the Kelp forest, a 28 foot underwater aquarium housing a diverse array of fish and life that typically only divers get to swim with, I had a pull on my soul similar to what I feel when out in the forest. In my heart danced Rumi's words, "There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don't you?"
It was fun to see families, kids, and adults all interacting with the world that we understand so little of, yet which makes up 75% of our planet. When we allow ourselves, as people to view life through the lens of another creature, it reminds me that some of the blessings that God, or gods, or the spirit instilled in our world are found spread throughout the natural world.
Seahorses are one of the only creatures of the animal kingdom where males have the physiological structures to support developing young. During mating, females, which house the eggs, transfer the eggs to the male, who then provides all of the post-fertilization parental care. They are fully equipped with marsupial-like pouches, to keep the developing embryo warm, provide nutrition, and protection.
Collaboration, patience, solitude, tenderness, madness, ugliness, beauty, toughness, and a serene gentleness; nature is full of the qualities and characteristics we like to think are special only to our species. But a healthy glimpse into our world with all of the contributors reminds us that we are but one yarn in the colorful tapestry of life.
I'm grateful to explore this reminder during my spring break, and have a fresh dose of humility that I'll keep with me as I head back into the home stretch for this school year.