Carpinteria Bluffs in November

This is my idea of how to spend a chilly November morning: in the company of curious seals, exploring interesting, fragile rock formations while the wind whips the surface of the sea into white caps.  Dry sand snaked across the slick wet sand like wisps of incense smoke.  A sign said that the beach is closed during seal mating season around the beginning of December but Matthew and I observed nearly a dozen of them peeking their heads out of the surf to peer at us as we were leaving.  It seems best not to disturb them in November, either!

A seal peers at us from the waves.

Oil bubbles up from underground. This is what is referred to as “tar sands”… To extract the oil for commercial use, people steam the sand in order to separate it from the oil. This is very damaging to the environment because it tears up the beach and uses massive amounts of fresh water for steaming, a limited resource, and the yield of oil is relatively small at great cost.

Vibrant Jellies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

My first visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium inspired me to become a biologist someday.  My mother and I ventured there on a road trip together when I was 16 years old; we camped in the area and visited the aquarium and the nearby university in Santa Cruz.  Soon I plan on moving there so that I may actualize that dream.

This visit to the aquarium was Phoebe’s first.  While she gasped at the organisms found in the kelp forest tank, a kind older man commented: “It’s so nice to experience the aquarium from a child’s perspective.”  Neither Matthew or I could manage to pause very long to take photos because she was on the run viewing the many exhibits, weaving through the crowd in the dark hallways.  Her enthusiasm was infectious, though , so we didn’t mind exploring the aquarium as if it were a labyrinth, visiting many exhibits more than once.

Ripening Avocados on Gridley Trail, Ojai

Gridley trail is close to home yet provides me with a perfect sense of seclusion and serenity.  It’s amazing how close the perfect getaway can be.  The desire to find a peaceful haven begins at such an early age; I can’t imagine a child anywhere in the world who hasn’t tried to construct a fort with whatever resources available to try to get away from it all.

I still try to escape the world of grownups.  My years of work as a preschool teacher allowed me to go back in time by listening carefully to the thought processes of developing minds, softening the mistaken constructs I have formed as an adult and helping me return to a more open, imaginative state.  I take this mindset with me into the mountains where I look, listen and feel with my heart.

Here’s what I found today:


Thank you, Uncle John, for the new camera.  Your gentle heart and generous spirit never cease to amaze me.

Picturesque Californian Culture at San Simeon Beach, Cambria

Today I saw Californian culture at its finest.  I can’t tell you what the “California Dream” is because I’ve always been a Californian and that’s like asking a fish to tell you about water, but I can describe the moments that make me the most proud and happy to be a native to this state.

When Phoebe and I arrived at San Simeon Beach in Cambria, we were dressed in our usual attire of sun dresses, flip-flops and sunglasses.  To beat the chill of the sea breeze, I donned a light sweater and helped Phoebe into a  wind-breaker jacket.  I noticed others dressed this way, too: sporting shorts and sandals with fleece jackets.  The odd mismatch that is sensible to Californians is what differentiates us from tourists sometimes.

As we climbed down the weathered wooden staircase, I saw an idyllic scene: small children, older children and teenagers playing together with driftwood, arranging it into benches, bridges and tee-pee’s…  There were kids and adults surfing, boogie-boarding and wake-boarding.  People wore rolled-up jeans and wet suits.  No one was there to work on their tan or flaunt their progress at the gym.  Older couples held hands and leaned on each other as they sat on the driftwood and watched the waves.  Kids ran together with their shaggy, feathered hair peeking out of their beanies.  Everyone appeared calm, happy and patient.  I heard moms calling across the sand to kids with names like “Zooey” and “Cyrus”…as in “Zooey!  ZOE-ZOE!  Do you have to go POTTY?  There’s a POTTY up THERE!”  Some of the children scaled the rock formations that lined the beach and the adults nearby looked out for them, letting them know when they might not be safe.  One lone adult pulled out a reading book that he’d wrapped in a bag to keep it safe from the sand.  A little girl ran to her mother who swung her around joyfully.

Phoebe and I marveled at the monstrously large seaweed and explored the rocks and giant driftwood logs.  Then we played hide and seek among the cypress trees.  One day, it won’t be as easy as squealing “Oh my gosh, I found you!” to fill Phoebe with glee, but for now she’s just three years old, and we’ll play hide-and-seek as much as she likes.

How would you describe an idyllic scene at the place you call home?

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?





Furry Flowers on Cozy Dell Trail, Ojai

I had a little time before I needed to pick up Phoebe today so I headed out for a short hike on my own.  My huffing and puffing while keeping pace with Matthew has been shameful, so I had to “show my muscles who’s boss” as he suggested.  After charging up the hillside and collapsing on some perfectly curved rocks in the blessed shade, I paused at the summit to snap some photos and explore my environs more slowly on the way back…

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.


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