As the radio blares KGO Talk Radio, I wonder if I'm going to be able to make it through another hour in the car. My step-dad and mom sit up the front, him driving, her knitting. Beside me sits my 15 year old niece who actually manages to look more distressed by this experience than myself. It wouldn't be so bad except the constant right-wing dribble issuing forth from the speakers, punctuated by ads selling things that no one actually needs.
The further we get inland, the crummier the weather turns. By the time we reach Half Moon Bay the weather has shifted from warm and sunny to downright cold and grey. At least we've arrived.
We grab from the car the provisions we'll need to camp out at our neighbor's second house for the weekend. Once we've settled in, argued over who will take which room and watched half an hour of 'America's Funniest Home Videos' (is this really the best we've got America???), we all don our flip-flops and head to the beach. No one bothered to bring swimmers, this is Northern California and none of us hold any illusions about the chance of a dip in the ocean.
On the walk to the beach I spot some passion fruit flowers. On such a grey day, they're a welcome spot of color.
I know we are nearing the beach not only by my eyes, but my nose also gives it away. The tangy cool air given off by the beaches of north-west coast America is a smell I didn't even know I'd been missing until this moment. I pause, close my eyes and just savor the aroma.
Out of habit once I hit the sand I kick off my flip-flops, despite the chilly temperature and pebbly sand. Somehow this doesn't compare to the soft, white sands of Thailand or Australia. That said, what is that I see just down the way? Lounging on the rocks are a mother and baby sea lion. They allow us to get so close. For half an hour I watch, spellbound by the baby: his sleek, brown body and facial expressions are captivating. And those eyes!
Once the damp cold settles into my bones and the mist has covered my camera lense, I reluctantly head back to the weekend's home.
The next day we make our way to a beach lined with tide pools. My mom used to visit these when she was a kid. She remarks how happy she is to see them still intact all these years later. They are positively teeming with life: sticky sea anemones with small pebbles stuck to their outsides; sea bushes in dusty rose; deep red starfish cling tightly to rocks; seaweed that ranges from scaly, squat and green to long, thin and red; white, segmented coral that resembles delicate bones; muscles growing from every spare crevice; and hermit crabs crawling over and amongst it all.
Today the sun shone for a couple so the sand is warmer. The sun has done nothing to soften it up though, sharp bits of seashell crushed by rolling waves stab my recently pumiced tootsies. Ouch! Inexplicably there are long-stemmed yellow roses randomly strewn about the beach. Perhaps there was a wedding a here yesterday.
Further down the beach, there's a little rocky island, about hundred feet off shore. "Oooo, oooo!" my niece shouts, indicating the rocky outcrop we'd all but overlooked. Amongst the grey skeys, sea and mist, the harbor seals aren't easy to spot, but they're definitely there and look as if they're really enjoying this weather. Crazy sea animals.
I'd forgotten how much life cold water holds within it. I've spent the last five years living in Australia where much of what's alive in the water, you don't want to know about (sharks, jellyfish, blue bottles). It's a surprising treat that while the water is too cold for this little monkey to swim in, a day at the beach is still a lovely experience.