• Otter Views: High Tides and Tall Trees

    by Tom Stevens

    The Year of the Sea Snake opened appropriately as six-foot tides surged and receded along the old Chinese fishing grounds. The massive tides wowed AT&T visitors and sent beachcombers home with soaked trousers. While December’s seven-foot “king tides” still rule, this week’s events merit “queen tide” status.

    Every morning, offshore rocks that normally delineate the coast submerged like U-boats to lurk unseen until the ebb. Viewed from the recreation trail, the foamy ocean looked “fat” and torpid, but wise sea birds sought refuge atop pinnacles. At flood tide, the beaches narrowed to crescents no wider than the silvery grin of the new moon responsible for all this mischief.

    At ebb tide a few hours later, it looked like an entirely different coast. The surfaced U-boat rocks now stood well out of the water. The beaches had widened to maximum girth. Sea birds pecked startled crustaceans from the newly dry shallows. Near Monterey wharf, even the most junior harbor seals reclined on sunny boulders.

    On Sunday morning, the Pacific Grove shoreline hosted walkers and runners in a benefit event for women in crisis. The 9 a.m. bullhorn start sent hundreds of 5-K and 10-K runners surging forward. Seen from the trail below, they formed a bobbing, dancing Chinese New Year lion of colorful shirts and Spandex tights. Only the firecrackers were missing. Gong Hee Fat Choy!

    As the racers strung out along Otter Cove toward their diverse turnarounds, a meaty north swell wrapping into the bay beefed up the morning’s high tide. Runners wearying of the pavement view or the legs just ahead could look seaward. There, sparkling blue waves with foamy backs thundered into the rocks, salting the air with a sunlit mist as fine as the morning.

    Beyond the cove, the queen tides swept in and out with equal spectacle. At Asilomar and Spanish Bay on Monday, workers stacking AT&T fencing atop flatbed trucks had to shout to be heard above the ocean’s roar. As surfers zig-zagged across steep, overhead waves, the tide-fattened surge sent rocks and flotsam tumbling, clashing and grinding up the beach. It was not a good day for wading.

    On Tuesday, hiking boots replaced the waders, and tall trees supplanted the queen tides. A friend’s suggestion prompted a rare excursion away from the coast and up into the redwoods above Santa Cruz. Our destination was Big Basin State Park, but the first stop was a specialty cupcake place in downtown Santa Cruz. It is Valentine’s Week, after all.

    Provisioned with cupcakes, carrots, egg sandwiches and water, we set out on the winding mountain road that dips and swerves through Felton, Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond. Somewhere, the Sea Snake was smiling, especially when a Tibetan Buddhist monastery appeared at a sinuous curve in the road.

    The Santa Cruz Mountains have long welcomed spiritual seekers and practitioners of the devotional life, so this monastery seemed a fitting complement to the Hindu and Vietnamese Buddhist sanctuaries on Mount Madonna. A ribbon of chimney smoke suggested the monks were at home in what looked like a repurposed vacation inn. A fanciful courtyard wishing well bespoke 1950s vintage.

    The Buddhists have occupied the property long enough to build a hillside memorial temple and a large stupa, both glinting with intricate spires and gold-colored adornments. The walls of the memorial display scores of hand-painted floral tiles, each dedicated to a sponsor or loved one. The lofty stupa sits beside a bamboo grove higher up the hill. Storms and lightning surely beset that place, but on this morning all was tranquil.

    At length we reached Big Basin, which became California’s first state park in 1902. Against long odds, conservationists headed by one Andrew P. Hill convinced Sacramento politicos that 300-foot redwoods would prove more valuable as a standing forest than as building supplies. Area loggers were not amused.

    A granite monument to A.P. Hill rises trailside at Slippery Rock, where he and his group camped in 1900. Shallow holes bored into a nearby boulder reveal where Ohlone Indians ground acorns into flour long before the campers showed up. In contrast to the thunderous seas just a few miles downhill, water could barely be heard trickling down a small waterfall near the acorn holes.

    Hill’s unpopular championship of the redwoods eventually manifested in a 3,500-acre park, a setting spacious enough to provide near-monastic tranquility, at least in winter. We hiked for a few hours through the forest, hearing only footsteps and bird calls. At dusk, we paid our respects to the Mother and Father of the Forest, a pair of 300-footers overlooking the park entrance.

    Then it was time to serpentine from the tall trees back down to the land of the queen tides. Happy New Year to all snake people.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 15, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views


    You must be logged in to post a comment.