Lake Casitas and Meditation Mount, Ojai

For years, I yearned to go kayaking on a lake.  Nothing looked more peaceful than a kayaker gliding across still waters with his rhythmic paddle grazing the water.  My wish was fulfilled yesterday at Lake Casitas when Matthew and I rented kayaks from a nice older man who jokingly told us that the paddles he had given us were the fastest he had and not to exceed 5 MPH.  I took to the water in mine and waited while Matthew hopped into his.  Within moments, he was off and I was trailing behind, eyeing my paddle accusingly.

The considerate man that he is, Matthew paused often while I caught up.  It seemed effortless for him; he would barely swish his paddle in the water and be off in a hurry, then rest it on his lap and gaze at his beautiful surroundings as he waited for me.  Swish, swish, swish… pause and reflect.  Swish, swish, swish… pause and reflect.  I even asked if I could trade paddles with him and he obliged.

We headed for an island in the middle of the lake.  Since Lake Casitas is a drinking reservoir for the city of Ojai and the land is sensitive habitat, we were not allowed to land on the shores or have bodily contact with the water but there were many beautiful birds for us to see.

“The Audubon Society recognizes Lake Casitas as part of a global network of places recognized for their outstanding value to bird conservation. Bird counts in the past have identified over 160 different species. The Recreation Area and surrounding watershed is also habitat for a vast array of wildlife including deer, foxes, squirrels and the like.” (1)

The pirate in his element

On the way back I abandoned all grace, leaning forward and digging the paddle into the water, trying to make each stroke count to its fullest potential.  The main focus of the excursion became improving my upper body strength; if that happens, then grace will come later.  I figured I could enjoy the serenity of the lake another day from the shore.

We brought our life jackets and paddles back to the man in the rental shop and he laughingly told us that we had gone 6 mph, breaking the rules.  Matthew insisted it must have been me.

Since we still had plenty of time in the afternoon, we ventured to another beautiful spot in Ojai: Meditation Mount, a non-profit organization open to the public for rest and relaxation. (2)  At the mount, we slipped off our shoes and relaxed in the small quiet room, lighting a candle to gaze upon and focus our minds.

Matthew’s “spirit hands”

Kneeling on a cushion is nice, but I find my greatest sense of peace while lying on the floor.

Many people have said to me that there is an “energy vortex” located at meditation mount, specifically in this small meditation room.

“I consider Ojai to be California’s very own “Spiritual Mecca”. Nestled amongst breathtaking scenery, it lies on a female energy vortex, making this little country town a truly magical place. When I want to connect with nature and find peace, tranquility & Spirituality, I go to Ojai.” (3)

–Connie Costa, life coach and motivational speaker

I grew up with many strange, esoteric things said to me as if they were perfectly normal.  If you’re having a bad day, of course you should know how to “ground and center” your energy.  If people are fighting at home, have you cleansed it with sage recently, preferably on the new moon?  The full moon would work, too, but the new moon is better, especially if it’s in a water sign like Cancer or Pisces.  The movie “Easy A” which heavily commercializes the beauty of Ojai pokes a little fun at this in one of the intro scenes.  My mother used to entertain superstitious beliefs such as these but later rejected them, saying she needed to “simplify her beliefs.”  I simplified too by becoming atheistic.  Meditation and relaxation techniques will always have their place, though, in helping to effectively manage stress.

We ventured on, exploring the new “tea room” which sells a variety of beautiful gifts such as crystals and silk shawls.  I thought it was strange at first to see items for sale there.  It had been over a year since my last visit and I had never seen that before.  However, I knew that they have been doing a tremendous amount of work cultivating the garden and all the money raised would go into the facility.

One of the recent developments of Meditation Mount’s garden is the lily pond which is operated by a solar powered pump.

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Matthew enjoyed the peaceful view from one of the stone benches.  I found some shade on lush green grass (something rare in Southern California!) and lay on my back again, gazing at the fern-like branches swaying above me in the breeze.  Much of the garden is composed of native plants that do not need much irrigation; the grassy area is a special indulgence.

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

A few feet away, someone was sitting on a stone bench with her eyes closed and a cockatiel in a cage beside her.  I thought it was terribly sweet that she wanted to bring her bird out to get some fresh air, but the poor little thing was making distressed sounds while its owner seemed to be nodding off.  I wondered if it was concerned about the many raptors circling overhead.  Its little squeaks sounded like, “Shit!  Oh shit, mom!  Why’d you bring me here?!”  Maybe she thought it could use the “energy”.

Have you ever had people close to you try to sell you on ideas that you found a bit odd?

Sources:

(1)    http://www.casitaswater.org/bird-watching/

(2)    http://meditationmount.org/

(3)    http://www.conniecosta.com/index.php

Oodles of Abalone at Gaviota State Beach, Gaviota

On Phoebe’s bookshelf rests a red box with a flower print lid; inside are her treasures from past outdoor adventures.  From time to time, she gently takes out each specimen, arranges them in a row and examines them with her magnifying glass.  Today, she asked me sweetly, “Mommy, can we gather more sea shells for my collection?”  After an hour of the usual hustle and bustle to get out the door, we were driving up Hwy  101 past Santa Barbara on our way to Gaviota State Beach.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a gregarious park ranger who gladly showered me with pamphlets about the natural history of this beach and a few others nearby.   He suggested some hiking trails and told me about a 95-degree hot spring in the area.  I listened and visualized his directions for future reference, but today was a day for shells.   When I venture out with Phoebe, I strive for simplicity.

The ranger informed me that the beach was named “Gaviota” after a seagull killed by soldiers on an 18th century sailing voyage to find the port of Monterey.  I wondered what could be so spectacular about the death of a bird that it would inspire someone to name a place after it.  Looking through the pamphlet, I saw a surprising number of habitats listed: oak woodlands, grasslands, chaparral, riparian, freshwater aquatic, freshwater marshes, coastal strand, coastal salt marsh and marine. (1)  Sixteen of the wildlife species and six of the plant species that occur in the area are threatened or endangered. (2)

Incidentally, I came across the website of an organization called the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County which states, “Guarding against over-development of this last rural stretch of coastal Southern California is our biggest challenge.” (3)

After changing into our swim suits and slathering on sunscreen,  we walked under the railroad trestle and out on to the pier.  There, we were treated to a nice view of the beach on one side and rugged rock formations on the other.

The sediment is a part of the active Santa Ynez fault and was uplifted approximately 5 million years ago during the Miocene epoch. (4)

A friendly stranger offered to take our photo before we headed down to the sand.

I became a bit distracted with snapping photos of wildflowers before Phoebe tore me away to fulfill our intended purpose.

There was little variety of shells to be found in the area we settled in, but what we lacked in diversity we made up for in quantity, unearthing dozens of shiny blue abalone shells.   One piece featured a spectacular blend of colors and had a natural hole in it, perfect for use as a necklace pendant.   I fell in love with it and tucked it away in my beach bag.  That was the only shell that ended up coming home with us; Phoebe was happy to use the rest to decorate the sand castles she dreamed would be permanent.

Abalone

What was is your favorite “treasure” found in nature?

 

Sources:

(1)    http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/606/files/gaviota.pdf

(2)    http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/980/files/GCT-DMND-part1.pdf

(3)    http://www.sblandtrust.org/gaviotacoast.html

(4)    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Ynez_Mountains

A Bird’s Eye View at Point Dume, Malibu

An extreme heat warning was issued for Ojai yesterday.  Luckily for me,  Matthew had invited me to head to Malibu and explore Point Dume State Beach, a healthy ecosystem on the bluffs that overlook the shore.

“Two miles of scenic trails through grasslands, coastal bluff scrub, and southern foredune areas allow visitors to view an island of delicate biological integrity….The Native Californian Chumash tribe inhabited this coastline for thousands of years and used this area as a sacred space….The incredible vistas here at the point provide an opportunity to view sea lions, harbor seals and dolphins in the surf only a few dozen feet away.” (1)

Westward Beach

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Point Dume is a coastal terrace formation dating from the Pleistocene age, 104,000-230,000 years ago. (2)  The tip is the western edge of the Santa Monica Fault, which runs 40 km to the east. (3)  At 150 feet and rising by 1/1,000 ft per year, the bluffs tower over the sea life playing below, allowing adventurous humans the opportunity to walk along the summit and gaze down on soaring pelicans and barking sea lions. (4)

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

The viewing platform is said to be wheelchair-accessible on the state parks website.  There is a parking lot at the top of the bluffs, a dirt path, and then a wooden path that leads to the platform.

“Some disabled parking is available along Cliffside Drive, adjacent the bluff-top park area. For viewing platform access, negotiating a slight grade will be necessary.” (5)

Sea lions bathing in the sun

We found beautiful igneous rocks which are remnants of basaltic lava from an ancient volcano. (6)   The green strata are formed by melted light green sandstone. (7)

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Sources:

(1) http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/623/files/PtDumeBrochure.pdf

(2)http://gmw.consrv.ca.gov/shmp/download/evalrpt/poid_eval.pdf

(3) http://www.tectonics.caltech.edu/outreach/local/dume.html

(4) http://www.malibugeology.com/rising.html

(5) http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=623

(6) http://www.tectonics.caltech.edu/outreach/local/

(7) http://aapgbull.geoscienceworld.org/content/43/1/222.abstract

Pelican Feathers at Schoolhouse Beach, Ventura

During a heat wave, the residents of Ojai have the fortunate option of winding down through the mountains to the shore, where the temperature drops by as much as twenty degrees.  The drive takes twenty minutes, which provides just enough time to relax and clear your mind without feeling cumbersome.

A few days ago, Phoebe came home from preschool touting a long, slender black feather that she had found in the play yard– probably from a turkey vulture.  This prompted me to ask her if she would like to search for feathers at the beach.  She was greatly enthused by the idea.

I decided upon schoolhouse beach, a nice neighborhood beach in the Pierpont neighborhood of Ventura.  Finding free parking anywhere near the beaches on the weekends is chancy, so I was lucky to find a spot along the road in short walking distance of the sand.  The informal name of the beach is due to the local elementary school that is right on the shore.

Choosing a neighborhood beach has the nice advantages of:

  • free parking
  • less crowding
  • more surprises to be found on the shore before someone else scoops them up

The disadvantages:

  • it takes a bit of effort to find a nearby restroom.  If Phoebe were to tell me she needs to go potty, I would either have to walk about 10 minutes across the wide, sandy beach with her or drive a few minutes to use the restroom of the nearby Vons grocery store.  With a bit of forethought, this isn’t much of a problem
  • no lifeguard on duty

Upon arrival, we left our sandals and Phoebe’s stuffed kitty by the stone wall separating the sand from the asphalt, since I didn’t intend on planting ourselves anywhere along the beach.  I became quickly distracted with a swath of sand covered in small stones.  The tide would have had to have reached unusually far to deposit those stones there.  I wanted to show Phoebe the myriad colors and striations of these, but she was more interested in the two little girls she spotted building a castle a few yards away.  I gave her permission to join them and collected bits of seaweed  myself in small containers, hoping she would examine them later with her magnifying glass and add them to her science collection.  Glancing at the parents of Phoebe’s new playmates, we exchanged polite smiles of social approval.

After a little while, Phoebe joined me among the clumps of seaweed and examined some unusually bright pink pieces with a magnifying glass and a smooth piece of driftwood.  The color for seaweed that commonly drifts on to the shore is bright green or brown… sometimes a deep red.  Every time I glanced up, I saw the few families around us watching.  Everyone has a natural curiosity to explore our environment.  How many of us feel free to do so?  A little boy ran up and asked what we were looking at.  I responded, “See how pink this is?  What do you think this is?”  He gave his opinion and ran off again.

I asked Phoebe if she would like to walk with me up the shore and she followed.  I began spotting large brown feathers among the sand which look to have come from pelicans.  We gathered several and placed them in the large plastic bag, one of which was so long that it stuck out the top of the backpack.  I pointed out some sand pipers on the other side of the jetty rocks and then suggested we head back.  From that point on, Phoebe was struck with awe by every stone she came across.  I was concerned that we had insufficient sunscreen coverage by that point, but appreciated that she was learning the lesson I wished to instill: to observe and marvel at her surroundings.  Eventually we returned to the road and found Phoebe’s stuffed kitty safely where we left her, guarding our sandals.

Pelican feathers arranged in terra cotta plants at home.