John, the canine mountain goat and I have been frequenting a new spot on the beach for the last couple of months. It’s an exciting, wind-swept series of dunes that lead down to the rock-strewn water’s edge. The three of us pretend that we’re crossing the Northumberland moors as we trudge through the ice-plant. Cleo responds to the wind as to nothing else. You can tell that something is coming alive deep in her DNA. As it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever get her to her deepest roots in Bedlington, UK, we try to make the most of what we have at hand. If that’s some sand dunes and a freshening breeze off the Monterey Bay, so be it.
Another reason we love this spot is because it’s so private. Nine times out of ten, we’re the only people there. It’s even rarer that we see another dog, which is fine by Cleo. Isn’t that remarkable? I grew up on the East Coast. Several summers, we vacationed at Atlantic City (pre-casinos). Really, though, it hardly matters where you go. If you’re at the shore (which is what East Coasters call the beach), all you’re hoping for is an unoccupied patch of sand that’s large enough to lay your beach towel on. Here on the Monterey Peninsula, a beach is packed if there’s a person every hundred yards or so. Of course, the water is shockingly cold all year ‘round, and during the summer, you’re more likely to be fog bound than sunbathing. This summer has been an anomaly: We’ve had a stretch of several weeks of sun with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. Everywhere you go, you hear people exclaiming, “We’re having a real summer! This is so weird!” As we read about folks getting second degree burns from the sidewalks and pavements of what the newspapers call “the West,” we can’t help but feel a little guilty. Is global warming giving us a paradise as it makes conditions untenable for large swaths of the rest of the country?
Yesterday, the weather turned. As I write, it’s 62 degrees and cloudy, and my wind chimes are tinkling softly in an intermittent and bone-chilling breeze. The poor tourists are trying to figure out what’s hit them. You can always tell the tourists in Monterey; they’re the ones shivering in diaphanous sundresses or tank-tops and short-shorts while we residents are reaching for our down vests—which we pair with flip-flops, of course. There has to be some nod to the fact it’s July. Today, Cannery Row is jam-packed with blue-lipped families who gaze about themselves and ask each other, “This is California? I thought it was supposed to be warm and sunny here. And where are all the palm trees?” I want to buy them all some hot cocoa and wrap blankets around them. John, Cleo and I love our tourists, though for different reasons. How can we not appreciate what they bring to our local economy? Cleo just loves people, especially when they stop to admire her.
Yet even with hundreds of visitors and all of the population of the Monterey Peninsula, we can still find completely empty stretches of coastline just minutes from our house. I do admit that our favorite haunt is hardly what one thinks of when one thinks “beach.” As I say, the beach itself consists mostly of a jumble of tide-smoothed rocks. For us, that’s another of its draws. Cleo has developed a mountain goat-like sure-footedness as she runs atop the rocks, pausing to stick her nose between them and snork in a fascinating scent. There is a small open patch of sand, except during the very highest tides, where she loves to run at top speed, circling around us, feinting and doubling back, charging in to tag us, then flying out for another exuberant circle.
Her absolute favorite activity, though, is boulder climbing. Just off the beach are huge, craggy granite monoliths. Sometimes they are completely cut off by crashing waves, and then the three of us gaze into tide pools and wonder at the sea anemones, the tiny fish, the hermit crabs. When the tide is all the way out, we can walk to the granite giants and climb to the top point where we take in the Bay spread out before us and breath the air that has not encountered a human being for over five thousand miles.
The other day, we were at the halfway stage: The tide was coming in, but hadn’t yet completely cut off the granite boulders. However, it hadn’t gone so far out at the last ebb that the tide pools had emptied. They were deep enough that John and I didn’t trust ourselves to pick our way over the partially submerged and decidedly slippery rocks to get to the boulders. Lower to the ground and with four legs to give her confidence, Cleo didn’t share our caution. She started out across the tide pool. Hm, a little too deep. Veer right for a shallower path. Over and up she went, scampering to the highest point. She regarded us over her shoulder, looking perplexed. “Why aren’t you guys following?” With an almost perceptible shrug, she began to pick her way along the boulder, following her nose. Waves crashed on the far side, the spray flying straight up towards the sky. Cleo sniffed on. In my mind’s eye I pictured a rogue wave sweeping up the far side of the boulder and dragging my girl off the rock and out into the Bay. “That’s far enough!” I called to her. She turned to look at us. John whistled to her. She wheeled and bounded back the way she had come, plunging confidently, if barely in control, down the side of the boulder and leaping for a rock in the middle of the tide pool. Either she misjudged the distance of the rock or the depth of the water, because she belly-flopped into the tide pool. Completely unconcerned, she pulled herself onto the rocks and presented herself at our feet, excitedly spraying water in all directions.
Born of a line that sprang from Northumberland to a family living in Texarkana and transported across the country to become so completely at home on the Central Coast of California. What a wonderful thing it is to be so adaptable.
Here's video corroboration!