Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ano Nuevo State Park

We are lucky enough to live 30 miles south of Ano Nuevo State Park, a preserve comprised of pinniped rookeries, native dunes and coastal terrace prairie habitats, and various inland plant communities, including old growth forest, freshwater marsh, red alder riparian forest and knobcone pine forest.  (So says the website.  My knowledge of the outdoors is limited to impressions related to weather [hot, windy] and smells [grassland: fresh, loamy; elephant seals: really, really bad].)  Today we drove up, passing participants—some in masks, one sporting a pink feather boa—in the AIDS/LifeCycle bike ride—on our way.

We got a map at the Visitors’ Center, a converted dairy barn, and headed out, through fields edged in cattails and bordered at their far edges by thick pines.  To our left: the ocean, littered with whitecaps, an impossible blue.

We passed a pond, the nesting ground for red-winged blackbirds and marsh wrens.

Lots of mock heather, lupine, lizardtail and coyote bush.   (Again, thanks to the website.  When it comes to plants, I [to quote my mother] know from nothing.  I think these yellow flowers are mock heather, but I’m not sure.)

Halfway, we stopped and spoke with a genial ranger, who advised us to stay 25 feet away from the elephant seals.
The path gave way to sand dunes.  We trudged on, hearing the bellow of the seals, which convinces you before you ever lay eyes on them that you would have to be some kind of prize idiot to ignore the 25-foot rule.
The seals themselves were sunning on the beach.  They are quite enormous (an impression not well conveyed in the picture).  Occasionally, one of them raised a flipper in the manner of a royal wave.  I wanted to wave back.  The presence of thirty Japanese tourists was inhibiting.

We stood at the viewing stand for a while, reveling in the sun and the sea, the proximity to magnificent animals, the sense that the natural world is glorious beyond description. 
On the drive home, we were quiet, and I knew without asking that we were thinking the same things. 
That we are lucky to live where we can breathe in such beauty. 
And that people—who can turn away unmoved from pictures of pelicans suffocating in oil, who expect their need for fossil fuel to be gratified no matter the costs—can break your heart.