Winter Sycamore

Sunny and cool in Sycamore Canyon


The Great Dune from Above

We hiked up the Outlook Trail to find ourselves perched on a rise between the canyon and the sea, looking down upon the big sand dune that hugs the hillside above Pacific Coast Highway at Thornhill Broome Beach.

I have climbed the dune often and have passed it more than a hundred times, but I have never seen it from this vantage. From here the dune is no longer dominant: you see it in context, a beach blown uphill at a point in the coast that is exposed to the prevailing northwesterly onshore wind. From here south Point Conception no longer blocks those winds, but only here does the rock face cup just enough to capture the sand and spray.

The view reminds me of my desire to study both geography and geology when I return to the classroom a few years hence. My travels and a lifetime studying politics and commerce have left me more curious than ever about the planet upon which we play out our temporal dramas.

Sycamore Canyon Sunrise

The Moon hovers over the ridge as it turns over the watch. Sunlight touches Outlook Peak at 7am, but down in the canyon we shiver in the cold and I regret crawling out of my sleeping bag.

(Especially as the new tent and cot gave me the best night’s sleep I have ever enjoyed while camping.)

Camping is pure therapy, an antidote to the tyranny of the to-do list.


Patch of the Month: NPS Centennial

I didn’t earn this patch in the same way as I did most of those in this column. Nonetheless, having taken my family to visit over a dozen national parks in three years, and having hiked a few National Parks, National Monuments, and National Forests, I figure I’d earned this anyway.


Goodbye, Beignets

On the way back from Gaviota we pit-stopped at The Cajun Kitchen in Goleta for a breakfast mercifully devoid of windborne clay dust. We rewarded the scouts with beignets.

I tried one, enjoyed it, and decided that I would not feel deprived if it were my last. 

No aspersions on the Cajun Cafe: I have of late, but wherefore I know not, slid quietly into “eat-to-live” mode. Food has become fuel, not fun, and while I still appreciate good food, I don’t give it anywhere as much thought as I used to beyond ensuring that a) I won’t go hungry, and b) I become increasingly Kosher in my habits.

Boring? Maybe. But I don’t think the world will suffer for the lack of one more foodie, and it makes weight management much easier. In the end, I might even live longer.


Gaviota Dawn

Gaviota Beach and trestle bridge.

An early fall morning, just before dawn, and Gaviota Canyon is doing yeoman service as a wind tunnel. The Sundowner winds peculiar to this area are magnified by the narrow pass behind me and they’ve been rocking cars, pulling tent pegs, and making campfires impossible for the past 12 hours.

A fine grit pervades everything, and I wonder how long it will take me to clean up.

But two months (or more, I’ve lost track) of nonstop work, travel, and “drama, not otherwise specified” have made medicine of a couple of days plotzed in a campsite. The waves crash, the squirrels, ospreys, and Monarch butterflies go about their business, and they catch me up in their rhythm, allowing me to reset my tempo and reflect in a way I could not last weekend in a Chicago hotel room.

So I will take the grit. And as the sun rises, I start to see the path forward with unaccustomed clarity.

I reach for my boots. It is time to begin.


Pocket Gopher

In the topor of the afternoon, Mr. Gopher pops by, inviting himself to tea.

Our conversation is interrupted by the distant shriek from the osprey nest under the trestle, and Mr. Gopher decides that tea might be best taken underground. Without so much as a “good afternoon” he leaves us. 

I reach for my coffee, toast the now-deserted tunnel entrance, and marvel aloud how Camping turns “pests” into “wildlife.” Somewhere, John Muir, Edward Abbey, and perhaps even the Almighty himself may be nodding in agreement.