Californian Faces

The teens of Newport

Beach blond. Eyes bright. Moving in small packs. Clustered around the octangle at Balboa, they congregate.  I marvel at them.  What is it that intrigues me so? I watch as more and more roll in: many wheels.  I listen to conversation snippets.  I get the feeling that as tenuously as this peninsula is connected to the mainland, so too is their connection to a world outside of here.  A microcosm of lost identity.  Kids dress like adults; adults do themselves up to keep looking younger and younger, stave of ageing and keep up with the kids.  Million dollar houses and million dollar haircuts.  Everybody is  beautiful.  Nobody presents their own awkward face to the world.  Here I sit amidst this.  Trying to look cool, too.  Well ok, not that but trying not to stand out too much. Well ok, not even that, just sitting in the corner, wild hair windblown and filled with sea salt, eating fried cheese on a stick.  With a funny sort of smile on my face, watching.


The otter of Monterey

The water was too still.  I kept checking myself and thinking no, I cannot be at sea.  Then looking up and out over my shoulder I saw the horizon that lies drawn out forever and on, the most delicate of lines, telling me that yes, this is ocean.  I am in a stubby open-topped kayak.  These are perhaps my favourite kind of boats, for they are the closest one can get to the water without being in it.   I am at the same level as everything else.

This evening, everything else in an otter.  He looks at me looking at him.  Both of us we’re just eyes.  His face is round and furry. Long whiskers poke out from under his squished up nose.  Floating on his back, toes pointed out towards me, he cricks his neck to get a better view. My paddle lies in my lap, fingers on it softly.  The cramp I felt from a long day of driving is gone, all the dust washed away.  The expansion from car-box to here, where I stretch out beyond this boat, beyond the soft swell and the kelp seaweed arms and my new friend to some place that is allplace, it makes me giddy.  It takes my breath away.

A breeze is sending me past him obliquely, we’ve passed our closest point now.  Like at the end of an embrace our fingers are slowly separating until only their tips touch. Then nothing. Just me, the Pacific, and the departing light.


The park ranger of Marin

“You need some help?” His government-licensed four wheel drive pickup pulled up beside my bike.  I was surprised to see him.  Up until now, the road had been completely deserted.

“I’m looking for the best route up to Stinson beach.”

“Helluva ride that is.” He squinted at me.  “Helluva ride.”

Each ‘e’ he spoke was way drawn out, lazy, like a day on the beach.  He turned his back, reached into the truck and pulled out a trailmap. And with a sigh he spoke,

“Well. Up Milwok, past Wolf Ridge then all the way on over Bobcat.”

The park ranger handed over the map then squinted at me again. “Long way that is”, he said, “real long way”.

“Ok” I answered, “well, thank you”.  

I paused; he waited.

I saddled up. “Thanks again” I called over my shoulder.

“Or I suppose you could hike over Mt. Tam” came his reply. “You’re talking hours though. Hours.”

But his voice was already fading away, being replaced in my ears by the delicious noise of tires crunching over gravel.

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