This is the best time of a summer day in California’s Traverse Ranges. A trickle of sea breeze sneaks in from the West, and the desert to the east has not quite made its influence felt. At 64F at 6am, the temperature will rise one degree every twelve minutes for the next six hours, and the humidity will drop below 20% and stay there until long after sunset.
I am as yet the only one awake in camp. I sit in my chair and enjoy the cool and quiet, planning the day, grateful that kind colleagues and spotty coverage ensure that flow of emailed trivialities shan’t interrupt it.
A last coyote protests the dawn in a far hillside. A blue jay darts across my view. The yellow jackets hum in the water buckets. And the trees hum with that distinctive sound made only by a mountainside of conifers catching a rising breeze, sounding like the distant roar of a cheering crowd.
The camp stirs. Alarm clocks go off in six tents within a few moments of each other. Groans, yawns, and farts emerge from the tents long before their sources do, but the troop is waking. I pull on my Keens, straightening my field uniform, and pull my protesting bones out of my chair.
“Good morning, two thirty-four,” I say at a low baritone.
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.
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.