• Otter Views: Sifting for Moonstones

    by Tom Stevens

    Pacific Grove was in the grip of its annual three-day heat wave. Temperatures soared into the mid 70s. Aloha shirts, flip-flops and Bermuda shorts appeared brazenly on the streets. The smell of grilled burgers filled the air. The sky was a blinding blue.

    “I can’t take it,” I winced. “No más.”

    My friend nodded in sympathy. “What do you want to do then?”

    “Let’s go someplace foggy. I need to feel a rush of chill gray air and hear the mutter of unseen surf.”

    “Big Sur, then,” she said. “I’d better drive if we’re going to make headway.”


    The headway comment smarted a little, but I had no right to say anything. I drive so timidly and so rarely that spider webs cling to my truck in all seasons. She probably noticed that.

    As a Big Sur rookie, I was also happy to defer to a veteran. I’ve only driven that stretch four or five times in my life, and it’s always a white knuckler. Even so, I can understand the urge to clutch the wheel. Whoever’s driving doesn’t have to look down over the edge.

    “Where are we headed?” I asked. “What should I bring?”

    “Let’s try for Moonstone Beach,” she said. “Bring everything.”

    Moonstone Beach sounded exotic and far away, like a destination Joel McCrea and Dolores Del Rio might visit in some ‘20s Hollywood fantasy with Duke Kahanamoku as the high priest.

    “I like it,” I said. “I’ll be ready Sunday morning.”

    All Saturday night I dreamt of moonstones, whatever they were. I awakened early as unaccustomed bolts of sunlight seared into my room. When a spider web-free vehicle pulled up, I tossed my stuff in the back and hopped in.

    Soon we were whipping through the Big Sur fog, or I should say, in and out of the fog. It was one of those days when the marine layer blankets the ocean and sends white fingers up the cliffs. Near sea level, all was ethereal fog. When the highway rose, we broke into bright sunlight. It was like a roller coaster in heaven.

    Every so often the moist white cloud would part to reveal some wide, surf-swept beach, a slowly turning gyre of raptors, or a distant headland topped by a lighthouse. The waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer state park was invisible in the fog, but we took pictures anyway.

    When we finally pulled up to Moonstone Beach, I felt the fever all prospectors know well. “Is this it? Are we here?” I yammered, snatching the small purple velvet bag I had brought especially. “Show me the moonstones!”

    She held up one hand. “I have a confession. I’ve only heard about this place. I’m not even sure what moonstones look like.”

    “That’s okay,” I said. “How hard can it be? We just go down on that beach and look for moon-shaped or moon-colored gemstones of incalculable worth. Then we scoop them into this velvet sack.”

    An hour later, our pant legs soaked by the inrushing tide, she had picked up one possible moonstone and I had found several flakes of milky translucence that looked like chipped teeth.

    “These are definitely moonstone.” I said proudly. “Or possibly fool’s moonstone.”

    Another hour passed, and by then moonstones didn’t matter, because there were so many brilliant, glittering, multi-hued pebbles of other types. The entire beach was a carpet of small, surf-smoothed stones that hissed and clicked as each wave withdrew. The wet stones felt cool and springy underfoot, like walking on chilled caviar.

    At length we surrendered to the beauty of the stones. Seated on a wave-washed knoll, we dredged through the wet pebbles with both fists, tumbled them down our arms and legs, and laughed with sheer glee. I remembered comic books where Scrooge McDuck dove into his swimming pool of money. Now I know how he felt.

    At length we had to go, back through the Big Sur roller coaster of fog and twilight. As the miles passed, the sky darkened to cobalt, the crickets chirred in dry brush, and the stars winked on.

    The full moon edged over the mountains as we neared Nepenthe. Reaching into the velvet sack, I withdrew a handful of glistening pebbles and held them palm upward under the silver light. That’s when I realized what we had. They were all moonstones.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on October 5, 2012

    Topics: Otter Views


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