Finger pools


They do reach up like fingers between the ocean’s wet salt and the pebbly sand. Fingers that trap pools of survival filled with hermit crabs, sea-greens, and mollusks. Spring break families wandered up and down the rocky piers searching for surprises — kids screamed “look what I found,” and adults were more interested in the view beyond than the movement near their toes.

One girl showed me the rock she said she “caught” in a tidepool and her “shark,” which swam in a bright pink bucket whose bottom moved with black hermit crabs. A pinky-finger sized fish swam with fan-like opaque fins, sandy-colored with three or four white and black bands running around its body. It was shark-like in shape, but looked more catfishy than anything else. It darted around, odd within the hot pink walls that came away from the two inches of salty water that was its temporary home.

Fine, white sand gradually became pebbles that grew larger with each step south along the beach. The water lapping the shoreline was muted with the lines of seaweed-covered rock that came between the ocean and sand. Miniature waves soaked in through the pebbles with a whoosh and were sucked out with the tide, softly the sound of air being forced out  from the open space between tiny rocks broke my silence.

It was perfect except for the afternoon sun, which caused my eyes to squint and obscured the horizon, but the brightness made me thankful as I looked south to see the line of fog that was creeping into Pismo Beach and had already engulfed Guadalupe.


Mammals for humanity

It was me, a gawker, who arrived at the scene of an otter in distress with a couple of Marine Mammal Center volunteers debating the best way to go about their rescuing business. And then I thought, oh I should take pictures and people will think I’m a slimeball, but I did it anyway.

The poor thing was crying out and writhing, rolling from one side to the next with its little paws squirming around and reaching out. Its mouth opened and closed and its whiskers twitched. It was wild and helpless on a Sunday afternoon at Pismo State Beach with people, kids, and dogs running by screaming and oblivious. I can tell you my dog was well aware, as was the husky with the family standing next to me as we watched and recorded a small scene of struggle.

All the dogs wanted to do was run over and sniff it, after all it was furry and making funny noises. I wanted to run over and take pictures of it, because I thought it would be good practice, which sounds terrible, I know. I resisted the urge. This young lady with a red t-shirt stood over the top of it, arms folded with a look of worry on her face, and an older lady came with a white towel and what looked like a dog crate. Then they scooted it into the crate and carted it away, up the beach to Pismo and into the back of some waiting vehicle.

Just like that it was over, and the gawkers like me disbursed. It seemed an odd thing to experience on a Sunday walk. All the hubbub and stress over a little creature stuck on the beach. I wonder if we stressed him out more than being stuck halfway up a beach did.  But then its gone, and it slowly faded away into the background of surf, laughter, and sun.

The point of my day that seems most poignant to me now, was gone with the snap of a crate door and drove away with the crowd that followed the red t-shirt. After that all I could think about was myself and the sandy sun that lit up the flowers, how much I wanted to capture them with a photograph.

Just like that, my thoughts were absorbed into the life around me rather than the life of mine.

Dirty sand

Trash hung onto the wire fencing that wrapped around protected habitat the folks at the California State Parks are trying to invigorate. The fencing starts where the sand becomes unsaturated with vegetation and signs are zip-tied every couple of steps to warn walkers about the endangered snowy plover, the least tern, and plants that needs a reprieve from human traffic. Ropes welcome visitors to the beige carpet of  sand that opens onto the beach at the end of Oso Flaco Lake’s boardwalk trail.

A huge red stop sign obscures the view of Port San Luis, Avila, and Pismo Beach to the north and 50 meters from the shoreline rope with signs keep visitors within the wrack line, which is the highest point the ocean’s tide reaches up the sand, evidenced by a line of shells and seaweed that looks like a two-dimensional line of hills that crest and valley on the beach.

Tar — sticky, malleable, and stinky — sticks out black and big against the tiny grains of pale sand. They’re remnants of a time when oil drillers and refineries could do what they wanted to the landscape without fear of reprisal. A company called Unocal started operating the Guadalupe oil fields in the 1950s and leaked 18 million gallons of petroleum from busted pipelines under the dunes for the next 40 years. The company was fined $44 million and forced to clean up the 2,700-acre site in 1994. 

California State Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are still trying to restore habitat to what it was … before cars, trucks, oil, and people. The area is closed off to beach traffic from the Oceano Dunes Off-Highway Recreation Area, now that a vehicle killed a snowy plover. The plovers are an endangered species that nests in the area from March to October. Areas weren’t roped off until State Parks was sued by the Sierra Club after the vehicle-ran-over-a-plover accident.

It seems like a battle for man and nature to work in unison within a landscape that will forever be torn up by wind, salt, and sand, while constantly scarred by industry and footprints. And now I hear there is something wrong with the fish … they’re missing.

Oso Flaco

The parking lot sign says HOURS: 8 AM TO 6 PM, but the chain for the lock on the open gate is full of cobwebs, and that tells me HOURS: ALL DAY TO ALL NIGHT. Fog hangs low, just above the short tree tops of arroyo willows and wax myrtles that roof the dirt road to the boardwalk that takes hikers across Oso Flaco Lake.

Bears, mountain lions, and fish infested with the pesticide from local agricultural fields are noted along the trail as things to not run into. Metal rails sticking out of a break in the trees signifies that maybe I should have brought my camera because there’s still an hour of daylight left and I’m already at the lake.

A steady stream of water interrupts the creaking of tree limbs and constant echo of my brain railing away at today. Pseudo darkness gives way to the open light of water that is alive with wings. White pelicans roam in packs, lifting off the water with a gentle whoosh, moving from one spot to the next. Wind ripples into the wide-breasted outstretched chest of little brown I-don’t-know-what-they-ares that disappear with a flick of the head into the brackish lake to search for food. The ocean’s salt spilled from crashing surf comes in waves that rustle the reeds and the sudden ebb of sound gives way to chirps, honks, and whirs of chatter from cormorants, mallards, and other birds I can’t name.

The boardwalk thuds across the water and onto the dunes, switching from false blue wood to real rotting wood and back again. It stretches and buckles with the dips in the sand, continuing its hollow echo all the way to the beach, which thanks to the signs, the waning light, and the fact that no one knows where I am, I fail to conquer.

Greens of silver lupine shoot out purple petals from their bushy sage. Coyote bush and deer sage wait for their white and yellow flowers to show with spring and evidence of off-boardwalk trailblazers is pushed in footprints on the pale sand. As I turn back the wind picks up its steady whir and the ocean reveals itself in rhythm with the clod of my tennis shoes on the walkway.

All I notice is the wind that moves green on branches and leaves, forgotten is something that 20 minutes earlier was pushing between my eyes. I can’t even put it in words, it’s gone and the water once again comes to view. I can feel the movement of lake water under my feet on the planks and the wind makes my body sway and my hands cold.

The path back to the parking lot is much darker and I can make out the grumble of a tractor working away on the pesticide infested ground that leaks through the fish in the lake. The light comes through a hole at the end of the trees and gradually the orange and white lights of the Phillips 66 oil refinery on the Arroyo Grande mesa outline the pale gray of metal that disrupts the feeling of where I came from.

It’s abrupt and snaps my attention back to the present, away from the thoughts that told me what a great walk I had and back to the path that led me back to my car. Dunes gradually fill the horizon above green fields of broccoli stalks and point directly toward the cracked windshield and paint-chipped bumper of my white BMW.


What they don’t tell you in journalism school is how much time you will spend waiting for people to call you back. Waiting and then forgetting who you actually called and whether it’s been two hours or two days since you called them.

And then when you finally do hear back from somebody, that they will usually direct you to somebody different who can “answer the questions better than I can.” And then you wait for them .

Right now I’m waiting for a call back from a school district superintendent, a high school science teacher, a public affairs person from the California State Auditor, a elementary school principal, and an email from the district guy who works on construction projects. All for different articles.

Each phone call hopefully holds the string I need to tie the article into a nice, neat little package for our readers. And I’m still waiting.

Yea for waiting.

The Plan

I’m not sure what the plan is, at least for my future, but I know there is one somewhere deep down. There is some direction, some sort of path that I will follow. Sometimes, I get distracted by the shiny objects that are or that should be a formulated plan, laid out with precision, dictating steps.

My house is cozy. The house isn’t actually mine, I just rent a place to sleep and all my stuff is in a house somewhere in San Jose, stuffed in a room that I don’t live near. I live in a room with my pooch and a twin sized bed with a crappy fitted sheet that comes off the mattress when I toss and turn at night. In the morning I can smell dog, which is not always what you want to smell when you first open your eyes. My cloths hang in the closet, I have internet, my taxes sit in a folder on the floor because I have now done them in three different ways that all end somehow with me owing the big feds a few hundred dollars, some of my jewelry sits on a dresser that’s painted blue with white clouds, and my car that has yet to pass smog takes up space in the driveway.

My roommates are nice. One older, one middle-aged, and both full of advice that I’m all ears to hear. One says I should start to think about buying a house because it gives me something that I own, something that contains equity, the other says I should figure out where I want to be in 10 years so I can take the steps I need to get myself there. Both sound like viable options, good options, options that somebody in my situation should totally take steps toward.

But being me, I just can’t wrap my head around it. I would like a house, I think. It would be nice to have someplace that is mine, someplace to put my money into and call home. I like it here, the Central Coast is pretty amazing and it’s cheaper than some other places I’ve looked at. Ten years is a long ways from here. It might as well be 30 years. Who would have thought that at 30 I’d be living on the Central Coast in this woman’s house in Guadalupe working as a staff writer at the Independent weekly in Santa Maria bitching about the photographer and going on stilted, slow runs with my pit bull and a gimpy knee.

I can tell you I certainly didn’t even think about writing as a serious career, I always thought it was just an emotion, something that came and went when I felt the need to get something out of my head. I’m not sure I even consider it a serious career at this point in my life. I can’t see it really pushing me into anything lucrative, but I do enjoy it. I mean really it’s quite a gig. Phone calls and meetings turn into words on a page, in a paper mind you, that people actually read.

I can’t believe my luck. And then I turn around and can’t believe myself, working for money that doesn’t really sell the job as anything more than a labor of love. But I don’t want to give it up. I guess I’m not sure that I ever knew where I would be in 2 years and to be honest I still don’t. That kind of longevity doesn’t exist in my mind and I’m fighting it because it can drag you down into a world where you aren’t good enough and will never be good enough.

Nothing will be enough, ever. It becomes more about the next step than the process and that is not good enough. I think I get overwhelmed because money has certainly been an issue the last few months. But I forget that sometimes life does have a way of conspiring to work out, especially if you want it to. I wouldn’t give up my try at a career I actually like for a shot at a real salary. I don’t want to, it doesn’t feel right. It would be giving in.