Where I’ve been living and what I’ve been loving.

With only a week left in the US, and less than that in Santa Cruz, I have reached the time for goodbyes.  I’m eating last meals with friends new and old, and savoring finite excursions in this fine town. (No, I’m not ready to say goodbye to the cat yet. I refuse! I will not go gentle into that good night. Do cats need passports?)

One of the coves on Westcliff

One of the coves on Westcliff

One of the pieces of Santa Cruz I will miss the most is Westcliff Drive, the road and bike path that wind for three miles along the coastline from Natural Bridges State Beach in the west to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the east.

Nearly every picture I’ve posted since coming back has been from there, and in the last three months I have ridden and/or walked along it more days than not.

Benches carved with dedications are a great place to sit and watch the strollers, strutters, and stallers work their gradual way past low sandy cliffs and erosion-controlling rockfalls. A series of inlet beaches frame waves swirling into each other, tide pools scruffy with tenacious seaweed, and egrets grazing on sand crabs.

More about these guys later

More about these guys later

Ice plant covers the slopes with its waxy spikes and martian flowers. There is a particular spot that is the favorite rolling spot of a particular pit bull, who thrashes on his back in pure canine bliss, long pink tongue hanging out the side of his muzzle. His owner is among one of the groups of middle-aged Santa Cruz men whose clothes and pot smoking habits remain unchanged since high school. (Santa Cruz is known for its “Peter Pan” style of adult manhood. It’s one of the few places on Earth where a vagabond like myself looks positively mature.)

People go by foot, bicycle, roller blades & skates. There are skateboards, unicycles, and a daily segway tour at 3:00, whose participants demonstrate the appropriate level of embarrassment at being seen on a segway, though I’ve seen stone-faced people of all ages subtly sweeping back and forth in long curves, the way I do on a bicycle when the music, sun, and universe are all working in harmony.

It's a distinct sort of beautiful in the fog

It’s a distinct sort of beautiful in the fog

Foreigners, Americans, and locals walk here, though the first two are much the same to the lattermost, in a town that honors and despises those who grow up here and stay.

(Santa Cruz is hard to leave, and some in the mob of those who come
for the university and never leave refer to it as “The Velvet Rut.”)

Expensive houses pack the nearby neighborhoods, but the front row with the view is nearly uninhabited. These must be among the world’s smallest multi-million dollar homes, and mostly belong to wealthy people who work too much to come enjoy them more than a couple weekends a year. One of them has installed fake hawk noises to scare pigeons off their roof, and it’s ridiculous enough to be more entertaining than annoying, though the squawking clashes with a beautiful sunset. The petulant egocentrism of the hyper-wealthy, on display.

The borderBut no one looks towards the houses, since the other side faces straight out on Monterey Bay. Just offshore the bottom drops off to a mile deep, but from there the Monterey Canyon delves an additional mile down, the depth of the Grand Canyon. So at its deepest, the bottom of the bay is twice the maximum depth of the Grand Canyon.

Given the geography hidden below it, the surface of the bay, for all its celebrated waves, seems eminently modest. But knowing what’s down there makes the saltwater in my blood sigh in liquid awe.

This deep ocean conduit brings cold, nutrient-rich water into the bay and fosters the thriving kelp forest and marine wildlife that we take for granted by necessity, because fully appreciating it would take all day, every day, and druid robes besides. And they’d probably have to be made of kelp, which sounds heavy.

More on the wildlife in my next post…