I’m new to the Bay Area, really. I went to high school in Sacramento, but that flat capital feels more similar to the desert or the mountains than the coast. I always feel like I’m crossing a distinct border when I drive through the gap to Vallejo: I’m getting closer to the sea.
I grew up with and have been living with tropical seas: the Florida of my childhood, the warm Southeast Asian waters of my post-college life. I learned to dive off Bali where a wetsuit is more of an anti-jellyfish formality than anything else at shallow depths: the Pacific Ocean off California, meanwhile, is considerably more intimidating. Cold as balls and full of kelp ready to entangle you, Great White sharks and rocky cliffs and gigantic, pyramid-like waves — well, it scares the living hell out of me, on a primal level, right under the skin.
That’s why I like to go stare at it as much as often. For that, I go to the tide pools at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Half Moon Bay. It’s about a 40 minute drive from Palo Alto if you hit the traffic right, through the winding hills and eucalyptus forests. You drive by Pillar Point, where tourists are milling on the jetty looking for Terrifyingly Large Waves, and surfers are actively pursuing them, and you just keep going until you see the turnoff for Vermont avenue.
There’s a little parking lot there and you can walk down to the sea. That’s where the tide pools are.
I’m a life-long tidepool aficionado. Sort of a snob about them. These are pretty good, when you catch them right. Electric green and unexpected sunburst anemones, that catch your finger for a second when you touch them then unhand you again. An abalone shell, flashing silver and hidden underneath of a rock — soon scooped up and shined and displayed on a rock by an old Mexican woman who is also combing through the flotsam. There are also bright red, shelled crab parts, likely deposited by the seals that occasionally pop up to look at the people on the shore: they are strangely beautiful for table scraps.
The cute park ranger in khaki tells me there are many-colored nudibranchs and even red octopi here but you have to look for them very carefully: sort of stake out a tidepool when the time is right, I suppose, and get lucky. This is the ethereal, random nature of tide pools. It is one reason why I like them.
It’s not just tide pools. You can walk left from the parking lot and there are trails leading through a stand of immense cypress trees — planted for a now defunct resort, in direct lines with light filtering through them that reminds me of something right out of Tolkien. You walk through the path here, usually quiet, or with just a few other people, through an arbor of vines that creates a natural roof. Some of the cypress trees have died long ago and are now bleached white, standing out against the tree in stark bone shades.
Then you can walk down some steep stairs to the beach at Seal Cove, where red seagrass washes up on stark white beach sand, and people who are considerably more cold resistant than myself swim.
Anyway, this is where I go to sit, and be disquieted by the sea, disquieted and also deeply fond of it.