May 30th, 2017
“We spotted the ocean at the head of the trail
Where are we going, so far away?
And somebody told me that this is the place
Where everything’s better, everything’s safe.”
From Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Walk on the Ocean”
We had time to kill. We planned to meet with Jody in Buellton at about 4:00 PM, and it was only a little after noon time. We were driving along US101, where the road starts to hug the coast just south of Ventura. The temperature dropped and the sky became overcast with thick clouds. The ocean was over to our left, occasionally visible from the highway.
Karin and I planned on going to the seashore. That was mandatory. It had to happen. Somehow, some way, we were go to the water. We had driven too far, for too long, not to visit the Pacific Ocean. We had not been to the beach on the in California since 1988, and we were due, overdue. Karin had thought to visit Monterey, where we had lived all those years ago. It didn’t matter to me where we met the ocean, as long as we embraced it.
Karin was driving. She asked, “Do you think we should stop somewhere?”
I saw a sign, as we breezed along, that said, “Channel Islands National Park.”
“You wanna got to the Channel Islands?”
“Sure. Do we have time for that?”
“Hell yeah. We’re on vacation. Let’s do it. Next exit.”
A mile later, we pulled off of US101 and went down some side roads to the coast. We passed some berry fields and then we arrived at the marina. There were boats to our right and dunes to our left. We saw a sign for the National Park, and pulled into a parking lot near the shore.
It hit us as soon as we opened the car doors. There was that pungent smell of the sea; that fishy, salty scent that whispered to us, “You’re home.” We both breathed in deeply. It has been sooooo long since we had smelled the ocean. The air was cold. The wind whipped us from the west, and clouds blocked the sun. We both wanted a sweater. It was just like summer in Monterey. It really did feel like home.
Karin and I stared out at the ocean. Fog made everything indistinct. Somewhere, out in the distance, were the Channel Islands. We couldn’t see them, but we could see the offshore oil platforms. Closer to us were the breakwaters, and protected by them were kids playing on the beach. A long spit of land extended into the sea. On the right side of it were the breakwaters. On the other side, the waves rolled in, white-capped and fierce. They slammed against the tan-colored sand and then withdrew in frustration. They did it over and over again. There was that endless roar of the waves. A sound old beyond reckoning, but somehow fresh to our ears. I loved it.
Karin and walked past the oleanders to the welcome center for the park. It was a small building at the marina. We went inside to look at the different displays. Some of them described the flora and fauna of the islands. Some of the displays explained the effects of the cold ocean current. There was a salt pond filled with crab and fish. There was a garden outside with a variety of plants from the islands. There was the ubiquitous gift shop, where we bought a couple postcards.
I asked the park ranger if they had excursions to the Channel Islands. He told me that a private company offered all-day trips to the islands, but the Park Service did not. This kind of sucked, because Karin and I had not planned to spend an entire day in Ventura.
The disappointment that Karin and I experienced concerning a possible visit to the Channel Islands was something that we experienced often during the trip. There were many opportunities to see and do things, if we just hung around a little bit longer. The problem with all these chances for new and life-enhancing experiences was that they all cost money. We are retired, on a limited income. Actually, we are on no income. Also, if we had said “yes” to every opportunity to expand our horizons, we still would not be home. Maybe that would be okay. I don’t know. I do know that there is just too much out there. A human cannot possibly take it all in. A person has to choose, and sometimes that means choosing between two things, each of which is very attractive. We wanted to visit with an old friend in Buellton. We wanted to see the Channel Islands. We decided to go to Buellton, but not right away.
Our next decision was to find a place to get lunch. Off to the marina. We found a tiny restaurant that just happened to be open. Karin and I split a plate of fish and chips. She drank a glass of water, and I nursed a bottle of Modelo Negra. The sun came out, ever so briefly, while we ate. The boats floated and rocked against the pier, and we could hear the gentle sloshing of the water underneath their hulls. We looked at the palm trees and the mountains in the distance. We watched the clouds skid across the sky. We took pictures and texted our kids. It was good.
We walked back to the beach after we got the camera out of the car. The kids were still playing in the surf. Karin and I walked past the life guard to the part of the shore that had no breakwater. Patches of ice plant held the sand in place. The beach was littered with bird feathers, drift wood, and bits of kelp. The wind whistled through my t-shirt, and blew my beard over to one side.
I looked out to sea, and I saw the just the barest outline of an island. Yes, I could see one of the Channel Islands, like a ghost in the distance.
“Karin, look! Out there!”
“Where out there?”
I pointed at the ghost in the mist. “There!”
“What ‘there’ are you talking about?”
“That ‘there’! The ‘there‘ with the island!”
Karin squinted. “Oh, I think I see it. Let me take a picture.”
“You’re going to take a picture of fog?”
“It might turn out.”
I took off my sandals and rolled up my trousers above my knees. I stepped into the ocean. Damn, that water was cold. The waves rolled and crashed against the shore. When the waves receded, the heels of my feet sunk into the wet sand and I nearly lost my balance. I dipped my hand into the seawater. It felt slick, almost like oil. I touched my index finger to my tongue to taste the salt. Another breaker came on strong, and it soaked my trousers. I didn’t care.
I was happy. Truly happy. Little-kid-playing-in-the-surf happy.