Saturday, February 22, 2014

Beach at Sunrise

Several miles away from our perch on the edge of the Pacific are a row of cliffs that rise steeply from the ocean waters. They are a uniform purple, their thick shape emerging from the early morning mist of salted spray that hovers over the choppy waves like a silvery ghost. Behind the cliffs, the sky is pink with yellow undertones, a brilliance cast from the emerging sun still hidden behind the low hills to the east which promises the warmest of days.
The ocean stretches out for miles towards the horizon, the waves frosty blue with bright white caps which glow intensely, reflecting the brightness of the sky. As the dawn rolls in, right on time, the wind whips up a trail of moisture from the peaks, leaving an ephemeral white trail behind them which lingers for a moment then disappears into the water and air. The light above plays on the water's surface, casting a hint of pink  which creates a soft glassy hue. This is also true for the water left cascading backwards on the sand to the sea, though the shades of pink vary depending on the amount of water on any given area of cold beach.
I watch the tiny shape of a person on the sand, perhaps a few hundred feet away. They are silhouetted and black against the glowing ground.
Lines of seagulls hover just inches above the water line, coasting on the breeze, barely moving a wing.
We sit on a dirt pullout, a single fence of wooden posts spaced five feet apart and connected by two thick jute ropes spaced a foot and a half apart. A white van is parked to the right of us, the driver taking photos of the landscape with a black phone. To the left, a woman has a towel wrapped around her waist as she undresses and squeezes into a black spongy wetsuit.  Along the coast, about a hundred feet to the left are a row of cars where surfers are in various stages of undress with towels providing a modicum of modesty.
There are a few surfers in the water, about a few hundred feet away. They look smaller than the seagulls, like black pebbles amid the influx of the white capped waves and dark blue waters.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Village Rooftops

The room I stand in is bare, the cold floor made of a composite stone and concrete. The walls are cream colored and a very dim light shines, just barely, from the hallway behind me.
There is an open window in front of me, my hands are touching the cool white painted wooden sill. The single glass pane of the window is attached to the house at one of the vertical edges, opening to the outside like a fragile door. Outside the sky is mostly dark but for the touch of cobalt blue on the horizon, that thin line which shatters the darkness. The beaming moon above is enough to light the night and I can see the thick cluster of old houses with terracotta rooftops that are clustered over the rolling valley. There are a few birds in the air, already chirping before daybreak.

The vision out the window is one snapped up by every tourist that comes to this town.  3, 4, or 5 story houses all squeezed in together, the terracotta rooftop tiles looking like an undulating ocean over the wavy hillsides.
The walls of the buildings below me are old, some have bits of grass and weeds growing from the cracks in their sides and small clumps of dirt that have settled in the rooftop gutters have sprouted little tufts of greenery. 
On the very edge of the massive grouping is a more imposing church, its bright white-washed walls stand in stark contrast to the yellows, pale browns and beige of the terracotta houses, which in spite of their age still stand strong, proudly serving the life which carries on within them.

Chords of laundry lines connect neighbor to neighbor. They sit now empty, vibrating softly in the early morning air.
Planter boxes full of blooming red flowers hang off many narrow balconies or windowsills, there are dozens of satellite dishes protruding from rooftops or attached to wrought iron railings by the windows.
The houses are so close together I cannot see any roads or alleyways on the streets below, just visible are the chimneys and rooftops and the highest few floors of the buildings with their ample but small windows.
The structures are anything but uniform, though they roughly share the same dimensions, each has its own aesthetic, its own simple uniqueness which differentiates it from the ones beside it.  Their only common trait is the warm-hued terracotta roof, the sense of an ancient, but living structure.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Ocean Beach

The heat of the sun has warmed a billion grains of golden hued sand. They glitter, the multitude of black brown, tan and glassy white, which sparkle like jewels or stars against a pale sky.  Down low, at eye level with the sand, it is an endless expanse, a Sahara of pointed dunes and valleys and not a speck of green.

Ten feet away is a burned up 2x4, the last remnant of a bonfire. It is charred almost all the way through, black and speckled and white with ash, though on one side, the last three inches are untouched by flame.  The right angles are completely intact, as perfect as the day it was cut in a mill long ago.
To the left is a dark blue sea. Incessant waves roll in, not a moment of lag time between the breaking crests which create a constant roar drowning out all other sounds of children playing, seagull squawks or the cars along Highway 1.

Two small land masses sit just off the coastline just about 100 feet from shore. Birds flock to them en mass and cover them with fluff and droppings. Two black seagulls coast on the constant breeze while dozens more sit on the sand in a tight group.

To the right is a gray cement sea wall. Every 100 feet is a flight of seven stairs leading up to the street and the parking lot.  Graffiti speckles the hard canvas, dozens of tags in big balloon letters testify to a midnight voyage, a clandestine moment.
Past the parking lot and Highway 1 is a group of pale orange apartment complexes. To the right of those is a collection of multi-colored townhouses: green, blue, gray, pale gray, and a dull mauve. Behind the townhouses is a hill covered in deep green cypress and interspersed yellow-green shrubs, at the top of which is a small water tower. 
Highway 1 curves along the side of the hill winding out of sight.

Close to the water people walk together mostly in pairs.  Two teenagers, one of them wearing a Batman t-shirt with attached hood and bat ears, have picked up a discarded beach chair. They carry it towards the water, their shoes balanced on the plastic seat as they navigate the sandy terrain.
A flock of black birds takes off from the sand heading west, then quickly change course and fly east.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


The two lane black tar road clings to the side of the mountain. Below, a thousand foot drop is the ocean- wide and blue, stretching to the horizon.
Emerging from the frigid waters are small islands of rocks. They look like the dropped pebbles from a giant child. There are a few dozen, several covered in white bird droppings. They look massive and temporary at the same time- strong and yet susceptible to all the elements, to every bird and human travelling along the coast.
The beaches far below, inaccessible to those without wings, are covered in bleached white logs from long-ago felled timber. Strewn every which way on the white sand, they stay until high tide and then continue on their journey.
The road snakes through the inclines and down into the forested valleys, winding, creating switchbacks.  Pale, slightly overcast blue skies contrast with the deep dark blue of the sea. A slight bit of haze gathers at the horizon, promising more fog.
The cliff sides are rocks, jutting and made of slightly red earth that seems to be a combination of sand and stone. The mountains teem with life and vegetation. Bushes and shrubs cover it in every shade of green.  Wild flowers poke out from rock faces and at the edge of the road where the tar has crumbled back into sandy earth.
A mixture of pale yellow and bright orange California poppies spot the landscape. Tiny yellow buds on top of wispy stems rise several feet from the earth and look like a million bright stars, left somehow ignited in the daylight. A smattering of tiny purple and pink flowers are all mingled with the beige, dried up coastal grasses that sprout from every available surface.
The road coils like a black snake, up and down hills and mountains, through thick brush on either side, sliced through reddish earth. Wild fennel and mustard plants line up along the sides of the road like soft guardians. The fennel, bushy and soft like feathers, the mustard, bright and electric yellow buds sway in the salty coastal air. 
Only a few hundred feet from the road the forest begins, thick woods with pine and redwood and enormous ferns. Every now and then is a house, part of the ecology of the mountain. 
The moon, a thin crescent, hangs high above, still bright against the blue sky.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ocean Tunnels

There is a wide central chamber, it is the heart of the underground labyrinth with five tunnel-like offshoots that jut from it like gentle invitations for exploration. The offshoots themselves branch off into other tunnels that go on for miles. 
The chamber and tunnels are carved from thick stone. Though there are walls and an overhead roof, the chamber and the tunnels are filled with light which is clear and bright. It holds a pinkish, golden hue that is diffused and does not seem to come from a singular source, rather it seems to both emanate from and come into the space, like a continuous and simultaneous inhalation and exhalation that emerges from the plants and water and sand, from the overhead rocks and walls. 
The ground of the central chamber is covered in a thick carpet of sand. It is grainy and the color of butterscotch and holds the warmth of the pink golden light in each teeny tiny stone.
The ocean is here in this space. It is here, emanating and pulsing, dousing the space with the calm reverberations of constant trance-like movement. 
A row of lifeguards, seven men and women wearing matching red bathing suits, stand in a line, all leaning against a large blue van that faces away from the water source, they stare at the stone wall.
The bed of sand spreads out into the tunnels for several feet and then tapers off into smooth, worn stone.  There are engravings in the tunnel walls and floors. They are ancient and left by careful craftsmen several thousand years before. Dug from the ground, beside a fern growing from a crack, is a bowl in the shape of a sea-shell. The edges of the small pool are scalloped and inside is a bit of tepid water that has grown a bit of vibrant green moss that gently sways. 
The water is sweet and little birds use it for drinking and for baths. The tunnels are bright and just as light as the main chamber. The enormity and strength of the stone walls are balanced with a cool breeze and foliage and a sense of openness.
The chamber is soft and calm, the ocean so tranquil, the tunnels decorated so beautifully. I cry for the beauty I see.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


There is a nest of Monterey cypress overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The water is less than a mile away, buffered from the cypress patch by a series of low hills and sand dunes which are covered in succulents and low-growing shrubs. 
The ocean is dotted with white caps and shrouded by mist. From the cliff side it appears pale blue and ephemeral. On the dunes, wisps of sand are lifted by the constant ocean wind and sweep over the rich array of yellow, pale red, pink and green hues of the succulents and thin desert grasses.  The plants bend in the wind and seem malleable by nature and design, built to tilt, but they stay firmly rooted. 
The nest of trees grows on the edge of the cliff, the massive cluster of roots holds the sandy soil together with their weave of hardened lumber. The collection of cypress have grown over the years into a dome shape, creating a rounded shelter protecting the center from the ever present ocean breeze full of seaweed scent and salt.  The majority of the rough trunks are stooped from years of strong winds, some of them grow thick, yet almost parallel to the ground.
Within the dome, which is open and free of vegetation but for the blanket of brown, fallen cypress needles, the air is slightly warmer and nearly without breeze.  It smells deeply of earth and soil and just a hint of stagnant soil.
There is a small pile of wood on the ground just a few feet from center. It has been reduced almost to charcoal and only a few blackened logs remain. An empty 40oz bottle of the cheapest variety is lodged between a thicket of trucks along the edge of the living wall; the trees are cluttered around the periphery. Dozens of trunks grow almost on top of each other, emerging from nearly the same space in the earth, their branches compete for sunlight, struggling upward despite the force of wind.
A topless girl is dancing, protected by the wall of trees in all directions. She has on tight jeans so faded now that the fabric appears gray. Though her pale skin is protected from the ocean air by the shelter of green, her nipples are pointed, still reacting to the sunless sky. 
She runs back and forth from her camera to a wide space in the center of the dome, twirling her body as the green light on the camera blinks in perfect rhythm until it doubles in speed and then beeps and the flash ignites, lighting her pale skin for a moment of further brilliance.
She runs to check the camera, sets it again against a small fallen branch on the ground, then sets the timer once again as she runs to the center of the needled floor, waving her arms around her in a motion of ecstatic abandon. 
A seagull caws somewhere close by, its sound carried like the salt and seaweed scent. The girl swings her arms, juts out her hips, and looks once more at the camera.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sacred Park

The park is on a small corner lot.  If the streets had been laid out in a grid system, the park would be square, but the roads wind like serpents through the oak covered hills and the park is more of a wide triangle or a misshapen square.  A hybrid of sculpture and nature, landscape and native grasses, the designers decided to keep some of the original oaks and many of them line the edges of the park. Entrance is gained by the side which faces the street. 
A swooping black tar road hosts the occasional SUV or Mercedes- all of them gleaming and clean, freshly buffed and waxed.  Their sound is rushed and jarring next to the park where there is a muted activity. There are sounds there, the place is not silent, but the hum of bees and flies are completely overwhelmed by engines and wheels and a two-ton car speeding forty miles around a curve.  On its face the park is empty, but just a tiny bit of time and attention reveal the relentless activity- the wind and rustle of branches, nectar gathering, the click and pops of insects and endless bird calls that come in sporadic intervals.
From the street the park is reached by a path made of dirt and miniscule gravel just bigger than grains of sand. Down the tree lined path is a green and chrome water fountain with three spigots, one for adults, one for children, and one at ground level for animals.
Several steps more and the shaded canopy of young planted trees recedes. Here is the heart of the park, a series of concentric circles around a single sacred oak in the center. The entire space is designed around this oak, perhaps seventy five years old.  It grows from a raised bed about fifteen feet wide and three feet off the ground which is supported by a stone retaining wall made of dark, smooth rocks the size of human skulls. The bed provides ample space for the mature tree roots to extend into the soil and towards the water table.  The oak has a wide bushy canopy and its small spiked leaves are green and bright, its thick trunk is a pale whitish gray with many darkened scars. 
The main trunk branches into several smaller limbs before forming the thinner jagged boughs which sprout its shade makers. Planted around the tree are long green stalks of iris which rustle in the slightly cool breeze and several dozen rosemary shrubs, both upright and cascading low-growing varieties that act as groundcover. They also provide an endless release of perfume.  The plants are in full bloom and there are small, bright blue flowers all over the long, pungent needle-covered fingers.  Bees busy themselves, flying from flower to flower in glutinous indulgence.
Surrounding the circular raised bed is a recessed wider circle of slate stone which forms the smooth pedestrian walkway.  From the edge of the raised bed to the exposed earth at the edges, the circular walkway is about seven feet wide.  The large pieces of slate are laid in a non-symmetrical pattern, looking like a mosaic all made from the same pinkish hue of stone.  The man-made floor is littered only by a bit of dust and a few fallen oak leaves and it is warm from the strong morning sun.
At the perimeter, where slate stone and earth meet, are the benches.  There are five of them equally spaced around the central oak tree.  All of them face the interior, an open invitation to ponder the beauty of the sacred. The benches are worn and weathered, their luster gone except for the bronze plaques which are screwed onto the back. Between each bench is a single, yellowing gingko biloba tree.  They are young, perhaps only 15 years old.  Their trunks are still thin and their leaves hang downward, getting ready for the upcoming fall when they will turn a brilliant yellow and drop.
Behind the benches are the lavender bushes, their flowers are grayish purple and crusty from late summer heat, yet still give off a mildly sweet and cool smell which trumps the scent of wetness and mulch where the sun has not yet warmed the hill on the west end of the park.  There the earth is still moist from the morning dew and the small rosemary shrubs hold onto glistening droplets of water in their flower faces.
There is the sporadic click of an insect in the underbrush. Lawnmowers grind in the distance, some sounding louder than others and taking on the high pitched whine of flies. Several songbirds hidden in tree branches call back and forth in shrill voices- ahhh ahhh ahhhh.  Three crows fly by overhead, headed from the northwest towards the southeast. They are several hundred feet away, they glide like black angels. A white plane cruises from north to south, looking even smaller than the birds.
Filling in the outer edges are larger trees, some of them oaks.  The earth is a mixture of mulch and crispy tan oak leaves and fallen rosemary needles.