Sitting at the bay, buying a car and playing with whales

The sun is about 20° over the horizon looking out onto the Pacific Ocean past Morro Bay. Does that mean about an hour until sunset, or two? I will have to study that. The solar eclipse will be happening in a few days. The moon will be moving in front of the sun and if we were up in Oregon day would turn into night for a few minutes. Down here it will be partial. I did get to witness that once. It was in Germany perhaps 20 years ago. My son Julian was with me up on the hill overlooking the valley where Tübingen lies. It rained like crazy and we were all cowering under a huge tarp when all of a sudden it got dark. Right in the middle of the day. It was weird and kind of scary. I didn’t really like it.

Not sure why I mention that now while sitting here on a park bench on the shore of Morro Bay. There are a few sailboats anchored out in the bay and more moored at the two little piers here south of the marina. It’s a peaceful evening. There’s no wind, at least not over here. Over at the beach on the ocean side it might be windy. It’s also sunny here which is not always the case. It gets foggy and cloudy here in Morro Bay and Los Osos a lot in the summer. That hasn’t bothered me a bit. It’s still warm and the clouds give you a bit of respite from the strong sunrays.

Just sitting here looking out onto this large blue bay is a perfect moment and kind of symbolic. I have, miraculously, taken care of the endless challenges of getting here and now I have arrived. A school of screeching seagulls just flew overhead and I hear the barking sea lions off in the distance. A boat’s horn is howling and the sea water is gently patting the columns of the dock. I have arrived.

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Sand spit visibe on left

The soft afternoon sun is warming my cheek as I gaze out to the sand spit (Nehrung in German), a 3 mile-long (5 km) deposit of sand forming a finger of land at the western edge of the bay. It starts in Los Osos and ends just before Morro Rock and has a series of rather high dunes. I have never been there and even though they are but a kilometer from my park bench it seems like a dream to be able to walk up and down those mountains of sand in the sea. I plan to walk all the way out and back but looking at it I am not sure if I can even make it in one day. I will have to bring sufficient water and a cell phone.

 

Just sitting here looking out onto this large blue bay is a perfect moment and kind of symbolic. I have, miraculously, taken care of the endless challenges of getting here and now I have arrived. A school of screeching seagulls just flew overhead and I hear the barking sea lions off in the distance. A boat’s horn is howling and the sea water is gently patting the columns of the dock. I have arrived. The soft afternoon sun is warming my cheek as I gaze out to the sand spit (Nehrung in German), a 3 mile-long (5 km) deposit of sand forming a finger of land at the western edge of the bay. It starts in Los Osos and ends just before Morro Rock and has a series of rather high dunes. I have never been there and even though they are but a kilometer from my park bench it seems like a dream to be able to walk up and down those mountains of sand in the sea. I plan to walk all the way out and back but looking at it I am not sure if I can even make it in one day. I will have to bring sufficient water and a cell phone.

Cars, Whales and Community in Arroyo Grande

There is so much to write about and so much to say about my first two weeks in California. Where can I start? Perhaps I could tell you about my car search two days ago. Being in California it quickly became obvious that I needed a car. I have been looking for many weeks and had focused my search on four different offers: a Toyota Sienna minivan, a Honda Civic, a Ford something and a Kia Sedona minivan. Funny enough they were all in Arroyo Grande, a city about 20 km south of San Luis Obispo.

I borrowed my sister’s 30-year-old Ford van and headed down the highway. The van has a giant motor and driving down the highway felt like driving a big semi-truck (LKW for the Germans). The highways are great to drive on here; wide lanes, not many cars, speed limits between 90 and 110 km/h. Very relaxing and in that big van it felt like steering a ship.

Curving through the gentle, dry mountains south of San Luis I reached the coast near Pismo Beach and was astounded to look down the coastline and see a long peninsula of sandy dunes reaching out into the ocean. It reminded me of some movie with images of the Saharan Desert meeting the sea. Even though I grew up in California and had been on that highway many times, I never remember seeing this odd peninsula jutting out into the water. Perhaps it was the way the evening sun was illuminating the white dunes or the way the light reflected off the deep blue water. The dunes stretch what looked like 10 km out into the water, they looked to be 100 meters high.

I got off on Halcyon Blvd to get to the house with the first owner. At that point, I didn’t know what Halcyon referred to, but more on that later. The owner of the Toyota Sienna was a recent immigrant of South Africa. After the removal of the Apartheid government and the economic downturn 2010 he had lost everything and came to America with his wife and three kids with only “the shirt on my back”. We struck up a nice conversation and he let me take a test drive all by myself. The three other owners, all Americans, wanted accompany in the car.

The second car was a small Ford sedan with a manual transmission, both very unusual in this country. The owner and I took a drive around town and also struck up a great conversation. He told me about the beaches, the dunes, local soccer clubs and bicycling. He asked if I wanted to see the beach so he pointed me in the direction of Pacific Coast Highway. He led me to a parking lot at the bridge with a gate and a guard. He told me to tell them that we just wanted to take a quick look. Well, he didn’t let me through but I saw with my own eyes that there was actually a long stretch of beach, maybe 10 km long, where people are allowed to drive their cars right on to the beach. I couldn’t believe it. I think it’s the only one in California. You have to pay five dollars a day or fifty for a year and you can drive all the way down to that fabulous dune peninsula. Much to my chagrin, the Ford owner also explained that the dunes are open to cars, mobile homes and dune buggies. I will have to go there with the girls and check it out, but I do hope we won’t see cars and campers all over the place.

After looking at the other cars, I had pretty much decided on the Toyota. On my way home I drove by the beach again, but a few miles to the north of where cars are driving on the beach. I parked and walked over on a narrow, wooden bridge along the sand and noticed people shouting and staring out into the water. I looked out and saw huge spouts of water about 300 meters off shore. I didn’t know what it was at first but asked someone who told me they were whales. I couldn’t believe it but then I saw one. A huge whale’s back came curving elegantly up out of the water. Then more spouts of water, then a gigantic whale tail waving up into the water. There were hundreds of seagulls flying above and for about ten minutes we watched and cheered on as this natural spectacle unfolded before our eyes.

I guess they were either Humpbacks (Buckelwal) or gray whales (Grauwal).

The following day I drove down to my South African friend’s house and purchased the Toyota Sienna. My nephew dropped me off near the owner’s house and on the short walk over I stumbled upon the City of Halcyon, California. I had seen something on Google Maps about a “People’s Temple” but I didn’t understand what it was. Luckily I was able to discover it on foot, the best way to move and experience. I walked down South Halcyon Blvd which is a typical city street, straight with wide lanes and built solely for the purpose of transporting motorized vehicles. Then I turned onto Temple Street and entered a paradise right smack in the middle of the very “normal” city of Arroyo Grande. The streets were narrow, the houses set back and sparsely spaced. It was the trees that caught my attention first. Huge eucalyptus, overgrown redwood and other tall, poorly trimmed trees. In the empty fields around the homes, fallen trees were lying around and degrading in peace. Unkempt bushes were taking over land on their own free will and a mood of serenity was prevalent.

In the 30 minutes that I walked through the small community I saw about four moving cars. I met Annie who was walking her old dog without a leash. While Annie was telling me that the place was 100 years old and was the oldest intentional community west of the Mississippi, doggie just lied down in the middle of the street. As a car approached at about 5 km/h Annie yelled lightly and told the dog to skedaddle over to the roadside.

The homes were mostly older, smaller places. Some looked more like cabins. None were fancy or ornate. It looked like they had a radical restriction on new housing. In fact none of the homes looked like they had been built in the last thirty years.

Halcyon is an incorporated city on 125 acres (50 ha) and was founded by the Theosophical Society in 1903. I don’t know anything about it but Rudolf Steiner was a follower before he founded the Anthroposophical Society. The community has public meetings every week and invite people to visit their library. It may be a bit too religious or spiritual for me, but the place has a powerful, attractive, warming energy that will certainly draw me back again soon.

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