We took our leave of the Wine Country of Sonoma and headed westward, to where the sun sets. In this case, it sets over the Point Reyes National Seashore, a stunning landscape of rolling headlands on the ocean. Before we arrived there, however, we made a brief stopover at Bodega Bay.
The name of this place cracks me up. I’m not sure why it’s “Bodega” Bay, but a “bodega” where I come from is a kind of a shop, somewhere between a fruit stand, a convenience store, and a packy. The Bay has nothing in common with this. It is, instead, a strung-out series of fish shacks, touristy beach shops, a handful of gallery-type outfits, and a seemingly endless stream of marinas. These aren’t your marinas of New England. New England marinas are generously stocked with pleasure craft of every conceivable size and style, all of them outrageously expensive. The place where your non-pleasure watercraft go is a pier. Or a dock. But not really a marina.
These marinas were generously stocked with Serious Fishing Boats. More than I can describe, or count. I’ve never seen that many hard-hitting fishing boats in one place. These boats would give a black eye with a pair of knuckle dusters to the kind of boats I’m used to in Maine. They’re the boats you want on your side in an ugly bar fight. The kind of boats that knew where to buy bootleg likker during Prohibition. The kind of boats that have mug shots in the family photo album. And the roads were lined with the kind of trucks I’m used to seeing horse trailers hitched to, frequently with gooseneck attachments, only these were hauling empty boat trailers. Because the boats, presumably, were…out to sea. Interspersed with the marinas were a variety of RV parks, occupied by the kind of RVs that are obviously owned by the kind of people who have hard-hitting fishing boats and use them for pleasure.
We drove past all this, deferentially and respectfully, and moved on away from the bay, across the headlands, to the open sea. Thus, I got my first ever look at the Northern California Coastline.
Everyone knows this coastline. You see it in every television ad for [name your luxury sportscar here]. It’s in films all over the place. Huge, craggy, rock-strewn cliffs, with dramatic surf crashing and booming at the base. Wind-lashed, warped, and twisted evergreens here and there. Fog piling up in the distance. The glaring light of an overcast afternoon, reflecting in the foam spewed up on to the rocks by the angry churning surf. It’s Deeply Atmospheric.
All of this I expected, having been exposed to television and having a penchant for luxury sportscars of any type. Also, my late aunt, a flight attendant by trade, and artist by spiritual inclination, lived in this region for most of her life and spent many many many hours in her youth executing landscapes in oil, featuring these very cliffs. I would swear I recognized one of the twisted little trees from the painting that hung over my grandparents’ television.
What I didn’t expect was the wildflowers. The top of these cliffs is anything but barren. They’re covered with a wild array of succulent and evergreen groundcovers, each of them sporting a riotous array of colored flowers. A sea of some spiky and unfamiliar succulent gives rise to the wholly unexpected splash of a hot pink flower buried in among the fleshy stems. This sea gives way to something that looks like dianthus, with low dark hummocks of feathery foliage waving in the incessant breeze, and a small light pink and purple ocean of sunny flowers floating just inches above.
Everywhere I looked it was flowers. Flowers all the way down.
And they were flowers all the way down, too. Once I was able to overcome my vertigo and persuade my shaky legs to carry me close enough to the edge to see the cliffs falling away in sheer faces of gnarled rock, I saw also that any spot that was a 50-degree angle or less sported a small bundle of bright decoration. Yellow, orange, buff, pink flowers smiling brightly away in every crevasse, hump, bump, and miniscule ledge. A laughing cascade of life and color pouring down the cliff faces, and welcoming the sea winds with bobbing faces. Life, where it looks like life could not be. I don’t know how those tiny little cracks managed to attract and keep enough dirt for even one little weed to germinate, let along to support entire hummocks of blooms. Life, where it looks like life could not be. Some odd and unexpected miracle to greet me. I didn’t expect the flowers.