Friday, December 8, 2017

Elkhorn Slough

Waning Gibbous Moon

A twenty-five minute drive west from San Juan Bautista is the entrance to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Operated by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the 1,700 acre reserve has five miles of hiking trails within one mile of the Pacific Ocean at Moss Landing, CA.

On a good day, visitors on the hiking trails might see a harbor seal or a sea otter, a heron or a pelican, a turkey or a bobcat, any number of ducks or gulls, and perhaps an a occasional deer. Today on a four-mile afternoon walk, I saw everything but the seals, otters, and deer. See the turkey?

The bobcat did not let me get close enough fast enough to take its picture. It calmly stood up from its trail side sunbathing position and slipped away into the bushes. That bobcat  sighting was much more of a thrill than the turkey sighting was.

Heading past the barns toward the Main Channel, I just made it across the bridge on the South Marsh Loop before high tide covered it up.

From there I walked toward Whistlestop, over the tracks to Hummingbird Island.

Hummingbird Island is right on the Main Channel of the slough. The island is my favorite spot on the Reserve because it is the most removed from the busy, civilized visitor center. It has lots of trees and cool places to sit and watch the rising tide make ripples on the water's surface.

An energetic team of high school kids was busy collecting samples and taking pictures for their school research project on the South March Loop. I didn't disturb them other than to ask briefly a few questions about what they were doing. They acted like they had been conditioned not to talk to strangers and their teachers were so young I could barely tell them apart from the kids.They did not talk much either. I must have been a genuine fossil to them - it is sort of surprising they didn't try to collect me and stick me in a vial. They were more than a little shocked, though, when I passed them on the way back. They walk slow - like really old people walk.

I wish I had a picture of the bobcat. That guy was really cool.

Peace, Love, and Sloughs,

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Route 66

Waning Gibbous Moon

They say it's my birthday and I feel pretty good, having just completed 66 years on the big blue marble.

I feel like I have earned the right to do some more exploring and what could be more appropriate than to bicycle Route 66 from Santa Monica to Chicago?

So I am in the beginning stages of planning a ride. Get in touch if you want to come with me for parts of it. I am not looking for a partner for the whole thing, but it would be fun to ride and/or camp with folks for short segments. Probably a Spring time thing.

See you on the road.

Peace, Love, and Dean Moriarty,

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Christmas Parade

Full Moon

My favorite community event in San Juan Bautista is the annual Christmas parade and this year's rendition did not disappoint. In fact, it might have been the best one I have seen yet. There were more participants, both paraders and watchers, than I can remember from previous years and it seemed like every person I saw was in a great mood. I wish I had better pictures, but these few are the best ones I could get with my phone in the dark.

There were two marching bands, at least ten horses, innumerable antique cars and hot rods, the usual fire trucks and emergency vehicles, and lots of hay trucks, all lit up with LED lights.

My favorite "float" was the Brewery Twenty Five truck. I think it kind of looks like one of those animated trucks in the movie Cars.

The float with the Christmas dragon was pretty cool, too. I don't know if I have ever heard of a Christmas dragon before, but then again, I could be way behind the times. For all I know, Santa Claus could have traded in his reindeer.

This was the best car, I thought, but man, was it ever LOUD. Throaty. I named it The Guzzler.

Grupo Folklorico was a great dance group, but my picture of the best one didn't come out too clear.

Oh well.

The Christmas bonfire will be December 15. That will be wild and crazy. I hope I can get good pictures!

Peace, Love, and Jingle Bells,

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Moss Landing Respite

Waxing Gibbous Moon

About 25 miles west of my humble camp sits tiny Moss Landing, CA, a simple village in the center of Monterey Bay's crescent-shaped dent in the central California coastline. Directly offshore is the famed Monterey submarine canyon, deeper than the Grand Canyon, but underwater. In the diagram below,  the mouth of the canyon (the shallow end) points right at Moss Landing.

I like to go to Moss Landing State Beach to walk along the sand dunes and contemplate some or none of life's conundrums. Once in a while I spot a whale or two, frequently I see harbor seals and sea otters, and every time there are more pelicans, seagulls, and snowy plovers than I count. I love this place.

Yesterday, I met my walking pal Captain Chem for lunch on the harbor at a new restaurant owned by my friends Veronica and Bruce from San Juan Bautista. Called the Pacific House, it is perched just opposite the entrance into the harbor at 2420 Highway 1, with great views of the water and the dunes that form a protective jetty for sailboats and kayaks. Sea otters pretty much rule the waterway, but gulls pester them for treats when they surface with snacks on their chests. That must get to be annoying. The lunch menu is affordable and varied. I tried the catch of the day fried up as fish and chips while Mike opted for a Calimari sandwich. An overall pleasant experience and I will definitely return.

Poor ole Captain Chem is still recovering from a mishap with a step ladder and had to hustle over to his physical therapy appointment. I took a little solo stroll around the harbor to stretch my legs and get the full fresh sea air treatment. The dunes were looking good, as were the boats, the gulls, and a few shy otters.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) is just south of this location, also in Moss Landing. Once or twice every year they have an open house event for the public to see what critters they are working with and to visit the submarine explorer vessels. That is one of my favorite things to do here. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would extend my education one more step to earn a doctorate in Oceanography and try to work at a place like MBARI. It completely fascinates me. Maybe in the next  life!

Maybe I will bring the real Rachel Carson back with me to coach me up.

Peace, Love, and the Pacific,

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Waxing Crescent Moon

It's a tossup, really, as to which year was the shittiest, 1963 or 1968, but since today is November 22, I am going with 1963.

I will skip the part where my Dad died that July because, well, I am still not over it. Sometimes I think I am over it, but not really. Wakes and funerals and kitchens full of well wishers' leftovers still make me sick to my stomach. I was eleven going on twelve, getting ready to go into sixth grade at St. Monica School in Dallas, Texas. It was like a bomb went off in my heart. Dallas, Texas. I hate that place. I will always hate that place.

Shortly after that, right about when school started, the father of my sister's best friend died. She had a little sister who was in my grade, but I hardly knew her. I would never get to know her. We were tragic, walking zombie-kids. Shocked to the quick.

I had a cool "lay" homeroom teacher, Miss Chiles (not a nun), who liked me and tried to cheer me up every day. She rubbed the back of my crew cut head when she passed down the aisle and nicknamed me "Minkhead." The other kids stared at me and at the little-sister girl with kids-whose-Dads-died stares, with sad, uncomprehending, that-must-suck stares. I just sat there, a desk-trapped, crew cut, tragic zombie.

Then November 22 came along. It was an exciting day. In every classroom, somebody brought a portable black-and-white TV to put on the teacher desk. President Kennedy, the Catholic president, was arriving at Love Field in the morning. We got to watch him and Mrs. Kennedy get off the plane and shake hands with the crowd. One of the girls in our class was there with her family. Her parents let her skip school that day so she could see the President in person. That was cool, really special. We tried to spot her in the crowd, but we didn't see her. Then it was back to business - reading, writing, and arithmetic until lunch time. After lunch, the teachers were going to turn the TVs back on so we could watch the motorcade.

The boys were playing an empty-headed touch football game on the playground when the rumors started buzzing. Some girls came up and said the President had been shot. It didn't seem real. Nobody really even believed it and some of the kids started making jokes, like "yeah Jackie shot him, she was mad and pulled a gun out from her purse and blasted him good." Everybody laughed it off.

But teachers were everywhere all of a sudden. White as sheets. Nuns in black, as grave as caskets. We all lined up and filed inside in silence. We sat in our desks in our English teacher's room. We didn't know it then, but later we found out she was the one who played the big fat prostitute in The Last Picture Show. The TV was on. The President was dead.

The whole school went into solemn, grevious lockdown. Circle the wagons. All those doomsday drills, walking out into the hallway and lining up against the wall and crouching down with our arms over our heads, none of that prepared us for the black cloud of pure evil that settled into our lives that afternoon.

They herded us into the church and mobilized the priests and altar boys with incense and gravitas. We prayed the rosary over and over. Loudly. Together. Eight grades of kids, four full classes per grade, fifty kids per class, an army of baby boomers and their teachers booming Our Fathers, Hail Mary's, Glory Be's - soul weapons against the madness. Crying parents trickled in, joining in on the ringing, sorrowful wails. What the bleeding hell.

At home, Dad was so not there. The rest of us, the remainders of us, the sad, scattered, exploded bits of us, sat and watched the TV. Over and over. This awful, putrid stuff actually happened mere miles away. It felt like if you opened the door to the house, the shots would still be echoing, the gun smoke would swarm onto your clothing, the President's blood, the buoyant, handsome, Catholic President's blood, would be there, flowing slowly down the street.

Time crept by and we were still watching the TV, over and over, a day or two (a month or two?) later, Oswald was in the station and we watched it live, I'm pretty sure we watched it live, as Ruby just walked up and shot him, the wincing, handcuffed idiot, in the stomach. Just like that, our lives were ruined all over again.

And Caroline and John John, days (months?) later, we were still watching, the freaking horse, the freaking casket, the freaking widow, the freaking D.C. procession.

1963. There is no limit to its sadness. Innocence sterilized.

Peace, Love, and Remembrance,

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ahoooo Werewolves of San Juan Bautista

Waxing Gibbous Moon

This place goes wild around Halloween. There are the weekend Ghost Walks around all the old Mission-era buildings. Los Jardines de San Juan has a totally nuts Saturday night tequila-tasting fest with a Dia de Los Muertos theme. That comes right after an all-day party at El Teatro Campesino.

For less adventurous, but nonetheless game retirees, the Mission Farm Campground pulsed with aging corpses Saturday night in the barn. And tonight the kids get their turn at candy and gore at the Community Center, followed by a procession around town in costume. It's a strange combination of Druid witches, Mexican curanderos, and post-American capitalism. I am too old and anhedonic to participate fully, but I do enjoy absorbing the various spectacles from the safety of my trifocals and fuzzy hearing. I like to watch and report.

The annual potluck and costume contest at The Farm may have set a few records. The crowd was fairly small, but some of the get-ups were really funny, and there were more freaking excellent decorations than ever. Where do they get this stuff?

The barn is the perfect place for a shindig like this. It's spacious, essentially dark, it has a great sound system for classic Halloween rock, and it's so old that it feels haunted year- round anyway.

The details of the decorations really got to me. I wandered around with my Smartyphone taking pictures for an hour.

And then, of course, there were a few pretty funny costumes on display. It seems that beer and funny costumes go well together.

Tonight I will stroll into town and bear witness to the cuteness of parading children carrying out the costumed customs of their ancestors. Nobody knows what death is like, but one thing is for certain. It is a greatly invigorating to spend a fun night acknowledging it.

Peace, Love, and Pumpkins,

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Life's a Beach and I Like It

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Friday was the perfect day to chug over to Moss Landing State Beach and go for a walk. Sunny t-shirt and shorts weather, light traffic, and almost no other people on the beach combined for all systems go. So I went.

Path through the dunes to Moss Landing State Beach

It's only about a 25 minute drive to the beach under these conditions, but first I wanted to go to Aptos to check up on my friend Mike "Captain Chem" Carroll. A normally cautious, learned, and logical person, Mike decided to ascend a ladder one step at a time a few weeks ago to do some work for a local homeowner. That part was fine, quite noble, actually. The other part, the descent from the ladder, was a little problematic, quite sudden, and wholly unintentional. You could add accidental to the list.

Now, after the fall, the good Captain is recovering from a few cracked ribs, a fractured humerus, seven stitches in his chin, and that nagging feeling of dagnabbit, I know better than to stand on the top step and lose my balance like that. Really, it could have been much worse, but that is no consolation for the fact that now he can't go with Sultry Sue on their planned trip to Thailand to visit their son. He has temporarily been assigned a new trail name: The Captain of Calamity.

I ate breakfast with Mike before I went to the beach. Poor guy can't walk very far yet without considerable pain, but at least we had a little fun together hashing out the news and making fun of the powers that pretend to be.

Fairly good surf this day, but the water was a little murky.

Grey whales are migrating back south along the coast right now. I hoped to spot one spouting some spray in Monterey Bay as I pounded along the sand between the jetty and the mouth of the Pajaro River, but no dice. There were lots of pelicans flying in formation, though, and some sandpipers poking around at the edge of the surf, so everything was copacetic.

See the pelicans in formation?

A very cooperative sandpiper

Somewhere in there, I found time to park my hiney in the sand and stare toward Hawaii for several minutes, vegetating like driftman next to all the driftwood and kelp strands. It was simply and beautifully rejuvenating.

Driftwood on beach, duh

Either a desiccated piece of kelp or what's left of my brain, not sure.

Nice little wavecut terrace.

I do recommend the beach.

I strongly recommend it, to tell the truth.

Peace, Love, and Vitamin Sea,