Now And Then: Spending Black Friday at the beach

"When one walks, one is brought into touch with essential relationships of nature." — Attributed to John Gustafson, retiring city official

The question arises each holiday season: shop 'til you drop, or maintain a semblance of normalcy during a season of joy and expectation? The pent-up desire to spend has been difficult to restrain and although the Thanksgiving turkey had barely begun to digest:

INCREDIBLE SALE BEGINS @ 3 A.M. TOMORROW! And can you believe it; shoppers were actually queuing up even earlier, to be at the front of the line.

Only meters removed from the malls and crowds, the beach at Crystal Cove beckoned with a different possibility. It has long been a favorite of mine, a magical walk that gives me great pleasure to share with Catharine and close friends. I generally prefer company, so it felt strange to find myself walking alone past the distinctive, renovated bungalows; unaccompanied save for a few fellow walkers, sea birds and my scattered thoughts.

I waded through the shore break on the early, Black Friday morning, allowing the chilly water to reach my knees. Bands of straw-colored seaweed wrapped around my calves and I could feel countless grains of sand swirling past me. On a cool, cloudless morning, I felt invigorated and unleashed.

This stretch of beach can be a never-ending source of activity during pre-winter: sailboats, sea gulls and early, migrating California Gray whales are atop my list of favorite sights. On this particular day, I could even tolerate the whirl of distant traffic heading into the shops beyond.

The rugged cliffs that separate the beach from the intrusions of the highway seem dry and taciturn at first glance. If one takes the time to study them a bit more carefully, the plants that cling tenaciously to the rocky face form a community. They protect the thin layer of soil from erosion and provide a safe haven and food source for small mammals, birds and insects.

Although just beyond human habitation, this beach environment can be harsh and forbidding. Only a few species tolerate the combination of wind, sand, salt and scarcity of water and call it home. Imagine yourself living at the seashore indefinitely without shelter, food and water.

The grayish foliage of Salt bush (Atriplex spp.) is the most common member of the Crystal Cove plant community. It will grow where less hardy plants stand no chance of surviving. Physiologically adapted to tolerate high levels of salinity and alkalinity, it will even grow in the sand.

The showy white, bell-shaped flowers of Jimson Weed (Datura spp.) contrast sharply with its drab surroundings. The dry cliffs are a preferred locale for this hardy species. Watch out for this one; it is poisonous.

St Catharine's Lace (ostensibly named for my little surfer girl), is a native Buckwheat (Eriogonum giganteum), from the islands of Santa Catalina and San Clemente. It has migrated down to Crystal Cove Beach. Its needle like leaves fight off the extreme environmental conditions and its roots hold tenaciously to the soil. Its pinkish-white flowers are a welcome source of food with a number of pollinating insects.

The yellow flowers of Scotch Broom (Cytisus spp.) are easily recognizable as members of the pea family. Exotics that have ventured from home landscapes, they are another important source of food for birds and insects.

Castor bean (Ricinus communis) seems out of place by the beach, but it is tough enough to naturalize itself along my walk. Commonly found in extreme conditions throughout Laguna, it has also happily migrated down to the beach.

The last year has been personally challenging, a time of contemplation and self-examination. The walk along the beach was a safe place to question myself about love, life and the future. And gird myself, of course, for the prospect of the never-ending holiday season. Happy holidays, and see you next time.

Steve Kawaratani is a local, a plant guy and he always will be. He can be contacted at (949) 497-8168 or plantman2@mac.com.

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