Thursday, January 28, 2010

CATARACT FALLS: Big Water Tumbling Down Mt. Tam Ravine Effects Mysterious Influence over Mind and Soul

With rainy weather abating, and skies clearing temporarily from the latest blasts of El Nino powered storms to hit Northern California, there's no better time to head for the hills and be blown away by how the recent downpours have transformed Mother Nature. And what better place to witness the miracle of drought vanquished - the dry and brittle landscape turning into a lush waterscape -- than at Cataract Falls, Marin County's premier destination for a nature outing during the wet season. Cataract Falls, where, as Thich Nhat Hanh put it, "water flows from high in the mountains, water runs deep in the earth, miraculously water comes to us and sustains all life." Cataract Falls: now showcasing daily matinees of miraculous water crashing through a narrow, steep ravine cutting a boulder-choked, log-strewn watercourse down the lushly forested northwest flanks of Mt. Tamalpais. If this sounds seductive to you waterfall and cascade lovers, you're in for a special treat at this time of year, right after the first big rains drench and saturate the earth. But of course, every waterfall and cascade lover in nine counties and countless countries - it's touted as the place to check out in all the tourist guidebooks - has the same notion as you. . .and let me tell you! - the two-legged critters -- pole-wielding, fleece-wearing, techno-obsessed -- are out in droves! Everyone and their aunt and uncle is side-stepping and jostling their way past one another, waiting to take their place in line at the best viewing perches. If what you're craving is a genuine get-away, then don’t bother coming first thing on a Saturday morning after big rains. (Or, go check out Steep Ravine or Carson Falls instead. But, no doubt, there's plenty of foot traffic at those delectable natural settings as well.) Parking is quite limited along the pull-out at the trailhead, but no matter, people are squeeze-parked a mile up and down Bolinas-Fairfax Road. Sure, you expect crowds, but this is more like an amusement park. In days past, you might get positively riled up over it - wanting the place selfishly all to yourself, of course. And who wouldn't? But on this day, you don't let the chaotic overflow of humanity betray your spirits, because you realize you're just one of 'em, merely a part of the procession paying homage to the brilliant and ephemeral spectacle, just one of 'em making the pilgrimage in queue with, oh, two hundred dozen other people who have come to ooh and aah along with you. Thankfully, everyone's fairly respectful and quiet enough, as quiet as noisy jibbering people in groups can be; mostly, they seem humbled to be witness to such raw, powerful, sublime beauty. You think, c'mon, it's just water flowing down a ravine, after all! Well, it's a lot more than that, which is why you're here, after the same thing as all the others – scenic respite from urban harriedness, appreciation of pretty wild lands, the thrill and joy of discovering big water. In droves you've all come out of the woodwork to worship at the shrine of Tlaloc, or some other mystical Water God, at a place where pure white water crashes over rock shelves and pours relentlessly over carved pool lips from on high, torrentially gushes down whoopy chutes, races through swirling channels and drowns out all the world's clamor with its lulling sound of meditative white noise, hurried along by the inexorable pull of gravity's relentless tug. Cataract Falls attracts throngs of onlookers, gawkers, and admirers for the simple reason that its beauty is so accessible and the payoff is instant, as the best of the falls are appreciated right off the bat, no matter if you’re hiking from Rock Springs trail off Ridgecrest Boulevard from up top, or starting your hike from the bottom of the ravine. A few hundred yards either way and you're in waterfalls heaven. Don't forget to give thanks and praise! But what is it about water that draws you to it, that fills you with surges of primeval energy, envelopes you in pristine ecstasy, hijacking your central nervous system for the day? D. H. Lawrence observed that "Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing, that makes water and nobody knows what that is." Maybe that's Helen Keller's "mystery of language" that was revealed to her in an epiphany when she suddenly knew that "‘W-A-T-E-R’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, joy, set it free." Yes, despite the madhouse atmosphere of kids running and jumping and screaming and playing, everybody, including your normally irascible self when surrounded by so many yapping people, appears to be very happy and carefree, the sagging burdens of life lifted merely in the presence of this water. Attribute it to the soothing balm of negative ion energy saturating the air and permeating your core with the unseen molecules’ beneficial biochemical reactions which elevate and lighten your mood by raising serotonin levels and increasing oxygen flow to your brain. Add to that the natural abundance of oxygen produced by photosynthesizing trees, and it really is that simple. Being in nature really does makes you a better person. Ah, yes, you're thinking: everybody should be required to get a dose of this natural elixir as often as possible! And got to give props to Whitman, for his timeless sentiment, "Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.") . . well, we’re getting there, Walt, bit by bit. Beginning at the pull-off on Bolinas-Fairfax Road, the trail twists and ascends to the top of the ridge, up at picnic haven Laurel Dell, covering about 1.6 miles, which isn't much in terms of distance, but elevation-gain-wise, you’d better be prepared for a knee-knocking and ankle-wrenching experience – it's relentlessly up, up, up, and then down, down, down, or down, down, down, and then up, up, up, depending on where you begin the hike. All told, you'll end up doing about 2000 killer ft. of total elevation in just over three miles – the good news is, even if you’re just in so-so shape, you can still get a taste of what Cataract Falls has to offer. If you're adventurous, and have good wheels, you can add on loop trails that take you high up on the ridge's flank, where you'll see about zero dozen others, then the roller-coastery descent, with numerous creek crossings, back down to Alpine Lake's placid shores, where Cataract Falls spills into. Options abound. Excitement awaits. Get off your lazy duff and join the crowds! Or make your own crowd! The trail immediately begins to climb a series of switch backing wooden stair steps built into the ledge of the hillsides, your only railings being the occasional branch to grab onto. Pity poor you if you happen to latch onto a bramble of poison oak! The steps are slippery as hell now, so watch your footing. People do get injured. Most people use hiking poles. You, not being the sensible accessorized type, go without, and later regret it as you limp back to the car, although your ailment is nothing, probably, that could be ameliorated by simple hiking poles. It's a short hike to the top, but it takes a while to get up there, thank Goddess - you wouldn't want to rush this experience! You're forever stopping to admire, gawk, take pictures, rest, eat a snack, check out lichen and fungi, hug a tree, sit in peace and quiet - if you can find it - and engage in small talk with a fellow hiker. ("Oh, my, we are blessed, aren't we!") Let’s face it – you're not out here to get away from it all, to escape the crowds, to find the shelter of peace and sanctuary of sanity – if you were, it would be Tuesday morning - because you and I’m guessing a thousand other people are all seeking the same thing today: nature’s eye candy. Even so, you manage to find quiet nooks of respite here, serene crannies of solitude there, just by diverting a bit off the autobahn to traverse a snaky little footpath leading somewhat treacherously down to an overlooked bend in the creek. . .which is why you have this little slice of paradise all to yourself, this sublime spot that is all yours to revel in, however briefly, before joining forces with the hoi polloi again on the dirt conveyor belt. The near verticality of the trail – 1000 ft. over a mile or so – exacts its achy toll on bodily joints, that’s for sure, but it’s so charmingly beautiful and refreshing and the adrenaline's flowing through your body like the water flowing through the ravine that it doesn't matter, doesn't hit you squarely until you stop to rest at the top and suddenly feel that bum ankle of yours, those creaky knees and arthritic hip, maybe - you spit in the face of age – why, you're just getting younger by the minute in this rejuvenating setting! The cataracts are six or seven series of waterfalls, really, with only one stretch where Cataract Creek flattens to remind you of a simple mountain brook flowing ever so gently toward some enchanted destination. Up top, at Laurel Dell, two branches of the creek's origins merge, neither amounting to much, seemingly, and yet together, once a bit of altitude is lost and gravity begins to do its thing, their combined force galvanizes in a tremendous payload of water . . .then it's simply an amazing miracle of nature what the architect of water does when left to its own blueprint, evidenced by the bedrock-carved ravine, deeply scoured pools, and series of slides, chutes and drops that roaring Cataract Creek has sculpted over the years. The falls plunge anywhere from 25 ft. to 50 ft. – master photographer and California waterfalls authority Leon Turnbull of lumps four of the falls together and pegs this section of the aqueous tumult as being a single 230 ft. falls, making it "the highest waterfall in the SF Bay area." You have no reason to quibble – it is a jaw-dropping sight that makes you giddy with excitement. . . until you’re elbowed out of the way by a group of six tourists speaking three languages setting up their elaborate photography equipment as you catch an out-of-place whiff of something acrid - is that actually a cigarette he's smoking!? Boo! Hiss! Mt. Tamalpais, rising nearly 2800 ft. above the bay, shelters healthy forests that exude dampness and radiate a lushness and sensuousness of color and impart a strong olfactory ambrosia for the senses to delight in. The red in redwood trees stands out with surreal, heightened tones; the green of moss is otherworldly bright and velvety luscious to the touch; bay trees exude a mentholated scent that is almost intoxicating; and other great trees abound, such as Douglas fir whose height and girth exceed most of the redwoods in the forest. Nutmeg, tan and canyon live oak trees round out the forest primeval, whose bark scintillates with life, whose branches are smeared in chartreuse lichen tones and festooned with strands of pear green stringy moss. Fallen logs and branches, maculated with algae and mushroom growth, are works of art there at your feet. Freshets come spilling down from the hillsides. At once cathedral, museum, arboretum, and botanical garden of Eden – the forest is sacred and inspiring. Winter and Spring is the time to experience the power and sublimity of Cataract Falls, but come Summer, when flow is reduced to a trickle of its former glory, you will have the place to yourself. Imagine! Guidebooks have actually written it's only worth checking out after big rains. I suppose if you're Leon Turnbull coming from the Sierra foothills three hours away, and used to spectacular sights, “it won't be worth your time to come here," but if you live within a short driving distance (45 min.), why wouldn’t you want to visit Cataract Falls, regardless of the season? Discover for yourself that it is no less awesome of a sanctuary to escape to during hot summer days. The coolness of the shaded forest draws you in to seek out pretty spots to plop down, take your shoes off, soak your tired feet, and kick back and listen to the soft sounds of the forest - Thoreau's "vibration of the universal lyre" - a woodpecker hammering away, the "chance note of some arriving bird," or a visiting breeze gently rustling the treetop canopy. Close your eyes and let the sing-song gurgle of the trickling water lull you into a meditative state, where, like Chuang Tzu 2300 years ago, "the sound of water says what I think." You become rapt in reverie, and "the voice of the wood" is at long last heard, and the tickle of the wood nymph once again comes to titillate you in your dreamy idyll.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

PT. REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE: A 9.4 Mile Hike to Fog-Cloaked Tomales Point, with a Brief Stopover to Visit Another Place of Power - McClure’s Beach

About a mile in, atop a small crest known as Windy Gap, a swooning cleft in the hillside provides perfect pasturage for two dozen elk hanging out at one of their favorite spots – a tranquil and pastoral redoubt sheltered from wind and just far enough down slope to be sufficiently removed from the threats and hubbub of gawking humans. A big antlered adult bull, standing about five feet tall, measuring the length of an NBA center, and adorned with a massive set of antlers that must add thirty pounds to his third of a ton bulk, unleashes a piercing bugle cry - perhaps signaling his preference for a mate. Several females (cows) look up and move away, disinterested. A second bull comes honing in, emitting a screeching bray, and the two appear set to engage in a display of rutting dominance, but instead both back off and go about their business of sniffing and snorting harmlessly. One of them might be lucky enough to defend the harem and claim bragging / mating rights, but not on this day, and perhaps never, since only ten percent of bulls in the breeding population actually end up passing on their genes. Talk about tough love.

Vast herds of tule elk once roamed the central valley and coastal plains – accounts handed down from early frontiersmen tell of a migratory biomass comparable to the dense bison herds that once roamed the Great Plains before an epic slaughter in less than a generation's time reduced their numbers to a relative pathetic few. Like other animals native to California – grizzly bear, condor, eagle, wolf – by the late 19th century the elk were hunted to near-extinction by over-zealous marksmen and bounty hide hunters. Come 1874, it’s believed that only two remained in existence, saved from eternal perdition by a cattle baron named Henry Miller.

In 1978, two bulls and eight cows were brought in to Pt. Reyes National Seashore from San Luis Island Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos to begin a breeding restoration program, and today the population approaches 600, which, according to some, places a strain on the land’s carrying capacity. So successful has been the re-introduction of a native species on the brink of disappearance, that today eco-managers must figure out creative ways to thin the excess numbers! One solution: cull some of California's 4000 elk, in twenty-two separate herds scattered around the state, by allowing hunting, such as they do at Grizzly Island Wildlife Area in Suisun Marsh near Fairfield, where herds are kept at 100 to 150 in number.

Watching the heavy-bodied but elegant megafauna roam and graze unperturbed in the protected reserve at Tomales Point in Pt. Reyes National Seashore, it's difficult to imagine seeking the "thrill" of the hunt, stalking the peaceful, sociable elk, and then pumping them full of lead shot and dragging their bloodied carcasses from the kill zone to a designated "animal processing area" for "successful hunters to hang, skin, and/or butcher their elk for transportation off the wildlife area." I suppose if you enjoy blasting harmless creatures to smithereens, posing proudly with your “trophy animal,” and engorging on the victuals of the mutilated remains, such an approach to "ecological wildlife management" makes perfect sense and constitutes "good fun." It is not, though, Gambolin’ Man’s idea of entertainment or harmonious co-existence or the ethic of doing least harm . . .but what to do? What to do? The dilemma is allow hunters to keep populations in check, or allow for the severe implications of overpopulation and let “nature, red in tooth and claw” do her own “cruel” job of keeping numbers down. Who am I to say? Perhaps hunting is a more “humane” approach than letting them agonize and starve to death when resources go scarce. It's not a pretty dilemma either way. (Let's bring in more mountain lions and wolves, why not!)

Heavily tramped Tomales Point trailhead begins where the long and winding Pierce Point Road ends. Here, trails lead down to blustery stretches of McClure’s Beach, or head out to a remote finger of land at the edge of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore peninsula. The Pt. Reyes landscape along the drive in is an undulating tableau of gentle rolling hills dotted with historic dairy farms and ranches. Along the route, diversions include stopping off at a hidden marsh, or pulling over at Abbott's Lagoon for a mile stroll to a beautiful beach and sand dunes to explore and play around on and bird watch. If you’re lucky, you might spot any number of nearly 40 species of birds and waterfowl at this avian hangout – including (can you identify them?) the endangered Snowy Plover, Red-necked Phalaropes, Red-breasted Merganser, Pacific Golden Plover, Heermann’s Gull, and Elegant Tern. Driving onward, you might have to pull over again to catch a glimpse of the elk grazing off the roadside. Drive slowly, for there's lots to see, and what’s your hurry anyway? A mischievous fox might wander in your path, or a Northern Harrier might suddenly swoop down, talons outstretched, to snatch up a kingsnake crossing the road - adding magical highlights and enhancing an already whimsical day filled with the promise of simple adventure and heartfelt joy just to be part of the great unfolding pageantry of existence and mystery of life!

On a warm sunny day, with patchy fog drifting over hills and hovering above valleys, doing its best to not burn off but instead create meteorological drama and mystique, my sister Cat and I set off on a 4.7 mile foot journey to land's end. It’s my first hike to Tomales Point since ten years ago (that long already!?) when I completed the identical loop with her identical twin sister, Col! We stop to read the informational signs posted, alerting us that we are entering "mountain lion country", the broad coastal swathes of grassland and scrub that comprise their stalking territory and partial domain range. We are interlopers, so we’d best know how to react should we encounter one. However, that’s a highly unlikely scenario - I’ve seen a grand total of one mountain lion in thousands of nature outings spanning my half-century plus lifetime. (But it only takes one episode, and like a rattlesnake bite, you’d better know what to do!) Another sign informs us of endemic flora, sea animals, avifauna, reptiles, amphibians, and other prevalent but elusive critters we might come across, but again, probably won’t ever see, such as bobcats, coyotes and foxes. (Some claim to have spotted the elusive cryptozoologic phenom, the black panther.) The message of the medium? We are in a special wilderness, a land preserved chiefly for the benefit of non-human beings, so count it a privilege and honor to enter into their kingdom, to be invited into their world of which we are a respectful part. In this preserve of 100 square miles, every creature large and small, every blade of grass, every shell, rock, flower and dirt clod is protected and meant to be enjoyed, left alone, and preserved for all time.

We cinch our packs and set off past the big white barn - an elegant structure at historic Pierce Point Ranch, like something out of a dynastic Indiana farm. We continue past the photogenic row of battered old Monterey Cypress trees, nearing the end of their hundred year lifespan. The next big storm could do them in. The path then climbs modestly - there is very little elevation gain the entire length of the hike - to a crested hill at Windy Gap affording views of, on one side, the rolling countryside of western Marin County, and off to infinity on the other side, sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, McClure’s Beach, Driftwood Beach, and the curving shoreline of the peninsula with its rugged buttresses of dramatic cliffs dropping down from 300 ft. on high to the sandy beaches below, and farther beyond to Bodega Bay. At the right time of year, count on seeing pastel meadowlands ariot with yellow and purple Coast bush lupine, blazing orange California poppies, Monkeyflower, Foxglove, Douglas ' iris, Shooting stars, Checkerbloom, Cow clover, Columbines, Indian paintbrush, Forget-me-nots and dozens of other coastal, dune, scrub and grassland wildflower species. This is when watercolorists and photographers turn out in droves as well as non-artists who also appreciate the aesthetic transformation. Turning our attention to the weather, it seems like a blue sky day, but some patchy fog blots out parts of the landscape – then as quickly begins to lift, allowing muted sunlight to filter through a blanket of layered cloud cover, recreating a distinct English countryside-like effect.

A Tomales Point hike virtually guarantees a sighting – maybe up close and personal to the extent possible - of Cervus canadensis nannodes, a sub-species of elk unique to California. I tell Cat to expect California’s version of Namibia, where she and Col had recently taken a safari and were awed at the presence of so many big animals right in their midst. At about three miles in, we get another glimpse of the tule elk, coming upon a sizeable herd of over fifty individuals, casually grazing and foraging, hanging around a drying-up water hole, lying down, standing up, stationary, slowly wandering here and there, occasionally looking up at us nonchalantly from a viewing distance of about a hundred yards. We spot two or three loners off on a hillside. A big antlered buck seems interested in getting something on, but seems stalled, or frustrated, or maybe just too young to assert his dominance. It is surely one of the great wildlife sightings one can experience in the Bay Area, or anywhere in California, given that massive ungulates or congregations of any megafauna are generally are not found in large concentrations outside of protected reserves.

Well beyond the midway point of the hike, we pass through areas of bush lupine and come to an arboreal oasis comprised of a few gnarled Bishop Pines and Eucalyptus trees, planted maybe a century ago. These are the extent of the trees on this fingertip of the peninsula – most everything else that grows is waist-high bush plants or ground-clinging shrubbery. The sculpturally expressive trees provide some measure of visual relief. A short 100 ft. spurt up a sandy hillock next leads us to a post with directional markers pointing straight ahead and indicating about a mile and a half left to the point. “Straight ahead” turns out to be any which way, however, as the overgrown trail branches off into multiple segments and false spurs, often meeting back up every fifty paces or so. The key is to keep trudging in the direction of the “point” – stay the line, and don't veer too far off to either side or you'll wander perilously close to treacherous cliff edges.

The terrain for the final mile is sandy, making navigation more of a challenge. But the lay of the land, despite being “nothing more” than flat coastal scrub plains with no apprehensible reference points, provides highlights of the narrow blue band of Tomales Bay to one side, and the Pacific on the other; it is beautiful and intriguing in its own small charm way. It takes your mind off the travails of hiking, the pain from an inflamed ankle. Wispettes of fog hover and vanish, revealing ‘neath the shroud of liquid smoke snippets of land formations, small rises and hummocks, and hints of beach and shiny reflections off a few rock outcroppings. Dillon’s beach is viewed through rising fog as a scimitar of brown, curving shoreline, where Tomales Bay kisses the great Pacific - a roiling area of strong undercurrents and turbulent tides where great whites roam searching for anything they can swallow whole - including errant kayakers who might get swept out to sea. Once, such a scenario nearly happened to a friend and me as we were out paddling around and got caught in a nasty downwind late in the day that forced us to abandon our craft somewhere below Marshall’s Beach on a rugged purchase of land and then bushwhack for three hours up and down gullies and hills before finally coming to L Ranch Road - not having a clue where we were - and finding a ranger, who, on hearing our story, congratulated us for not having been swept to the sea’s outlet - where, he intoned with dead seriousness, we would have been little more than "shark bait."

Finally, our first glimpses of rocky cliffs at the tip of the world – Tomales Point. Weather conditions have changed suddenly and dramatically - we're blanketed in a chill of wind-swept fog which limits visibility. I'm perched precariously at the edge of a cliff, barely peering out at sharp defiles slashing down and rocky promontories falling away a dizzying 200 ft. below to the swirling waters crashing foam and spray onto jumbles of black boulders splotched white with bird guano. Farther out, visible in fog like a mirage, is a chunk of rocky earth, sitting cut off from the mainland, known as Bird Rock; it is white-coated from years and tons of avian droppings. Pelicans fly by in formation, gulls swoop and loop, and cormorants come to rest. At the tip itself, small rocky outcrops break away from the mainland – I christen the biggest one Sea Lion Rock, in reference and homage to the dozens of pelagic pinnipeds congregating one on top of the other in close, near orgiastic, confines.

It is a wet, blasted world unto its own, terribly inhospitable and forever unwelcoming to the human spectators - me, Cat, and another party of three hikers. From the safety and comfort of our cliff top perch, we find shelter from the wind and enjoy a snack and sit back to watch the unscripted drama on the nature channel, taking it all in, trying to fathom the unfathomable wildness of it, gazing in silence, watching in awe, as gigantic swells build up and come crashing repeatedly over the rocks. . . but it barely raises a ruckus among the fifty or so endangered sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) hanging out at what may be one of their prime rookeries. Observing closely through binoculars, I notice several of them have big scars - are they the result of run-ins, close escapes, from great whites? It's easy to see why German naturalist Wilhelm Steller named them sea lions - their tawny hides and leonid-like bellowing weirdly approximate doppelganger status. Protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, Stellers can live up to 20 years or longer, grow up to 11 ft. in length, and weigh more than a ton, and, though generally they prefer an onshore habitat, they regularly travel 250 miles in search of marine edibles (fish, squid and octopus). What a reward, right here in front of our eyes - privy to yet another fantastic wildlife viewing opportunity - imagine that! - two sightings of megafauna in one day within two miles of each other, one if by land, two if by sea! This is truly what makes Pt. Reyes National Seashore extra special. (And consider the astonishing reality of the total constituted biomass of unseen insects - ants alone! - which surpasses in magnitude the weight of all the elk and sea lions combined!)

Before our muscles tighten up too much, and lest our creaky bones mutiny against the chill setting in, we pack things up and begin the hike back....I'm dreading the several miles of slogging it on my inflamed ankle, but what choice do I have? Away from the point, the wind abates and the sun comes out to brighten prospects. The scenery, conversation and company are wonderful - Cat is relating her perspectives and adventures at her first Burning Man experience - and the miles tick off one by one until finally we crest Windy Gap, round the bend and the old Cypresses and white barn come into view - a welcome sight. Cat has taken off ahead the last mile, charging along on an aerobic pace I cannot keep - I'm limping by the time we get to the car, but recharged enough to suggest a brief diversion to McClure's Beach to get a healthy dose of big, wide, open, wild Pacific surf in our face - it is truly all that.

McClure's Beach is a cove that curves gracefully, is backed by rocky cliffs, and lacquered with soft brown sand. It brims with bird life, is studded with sea boulders and artfully sculpted beach rocks and is littered with driftwood and humongous strands of kelp and all manner of flotsam and jetsam - it is a beachcomber's dream and nature lover's delight. Big swells, ripping undercurrents, and frothy surf pounds relentlessly, and high winds add to the drama. Rogue waves crash over giant rocks, pouring forth ephemeral mini-waterfalls, as riptides swirl deliriously, making it a dangerous place to do anything but admire from a distance - it is awesome and scary and glorious to behold. There may not be a wilder, more pristine stretch of beach along the entire California coastline, with the notable exceptions of Big Sur in Monterey County and the fabled Lost Coast in Mendocino County.

It is another magical payoff moment - famed outdoor writer Tom Stienstra attributes it to the "power of place" - and the ineffable beauty draws me back here time and time again to bask in the visceral sensations, confront primal elements, and experience raw nature in a soul-baring epiphany, an all-encompassing realization, that no matter how humble or insignificant of a being I am in relation to my surroundings, I am one with it, a part of, not apart from, it - an integral cog in the mystical machinery of Mother Nature. Not that I would ever wish such a thing to happen, but if one of those rogues waves were to sweep me off my feet and out into the engulfing waters, I would surrender to my fate and accept my death as a homecoming.

Check out other Gambolin' Man explorations of Pt. Reyes National Seashore: