A Good Day

Donald Shephard

My bad habit number seventeen is saying to Colleen, “What a cold, wet, foggy, miserable place you have brought me to.” It is a bad habit compounded by bad grammar. She laughs at me in between her hot flashes. Meanwhile, I have perpetually cold feet and my gardening project is on hold. So I grouch. Changing from an area with fourteen inches of annual rainfall to one with forty inches takes some adjustment. I now have several socks made for arctic explorers. I suggested that we take a trip on the next sunny day to give us a break from our rain-induced confinement. I did not expect to be traveling any time soon.

The next day was heralded by a pearly-red sunrise as we took our pre-prandial stroll. It was a clear, bright day, perfect for a trip down the coast. As we walked along the cliffs of Caspar South, we noticed the sea lions surfing in apparent panic. They seemed to be fleeing predators which we could not see. Could they be running from orcas? Perhaps that was the case. Or perhaps the sea lions were just having fun in the waves. The previous day, we had seen a raft of sea lions with flippers raised out of the water. Maybe they were California Sea Lions rather than Northern Sea Lions. We have much to learn about our new surroundings.

After breakfast, we packed our bird books, binoculars and camera and headed south. At the Mendocino Headlands we saw a raft of fifty or more sea lions “jug-handling” close to the rocks. What a life, hanging out with your buddies, flipping off the world.

Looking further off shore, we saw the columnar spouts of Gray Whales. My marine mammal book says sixteen feet and three-quarters ton at birth. Even underwater that sounds painful to me. It also says forty-nine feet and forty tons at maturity. That would be the equivalent of about forty Clydesdale horses. In the past, we had seen the backs of Gray Whales roll out of the water; we had seen their spouts; and we had seen one flipper raised regally in the air like a queen deigning to acknowledge her subjects. But this was a special day. We saw the high tail of the deep dive six times. We were watching the whales through our binoculars saying, “…spout …and…tail, tail, tail!” Onlookers may have wondered about us.

The sun stayed with us most of the way south. We stopped at the Garden Center in Elk housed in a strange piece of architecture built around a cast iron, spiral staircase. It was not a geodesic dome, it was not quite a yurt and yet…it was a unique structure. There appeared to be no plants for sale but there were many imported statues and gongs! We are gong aficionados. I beat them all, several times. I made a joyful sound with gongs from Java, Bali, Indonesia and China. I felt like a silverback gorilla beating his chest.

We told the proprietress of the non-plant garden center that we were going to Point Arena harbor to see a Laysan Albatross that had been blown off course in 1995 and had over-wintered there ever since.

“Does it have a name?” She asked.

“Al B. Tross,” I answered, cringing.

“Do they know it’s a male?” She asked.

“Only another albatross could tell,” I said.

“Perhaps it is Alice B. Tross,” she ventured.

We asked about good eating places and were advised to go on to Point Arena. We drove down Highway One which alternately climbs one or two hundred feet up to the cliffs then dips down to sea level. Atop the cliffs, it gives panoramic views of the Pacific and the occasional Gray Whale spouting.

I pulled into the parking lot at the Point Arena harbor and listened for a while to a bilingual rant from a gentleman the Scots would call a “worthy.” Our rather sterile phrase is “a homeless person”. This “worthy” seemed to be repeating old conversations in both Spanish and English. He seemed educated and harmless. He too had been blown off course somewhere along the line. He was a kindred spirit of the albatross, friendly to, but not one of, the locals.

After an excellent crab cioppino at the harbor restaurant, we settled into some serious bird watching. It was a good day. The Laysan Albatross came within the limited range of my camera and posed beautifully under the wharf. On the cliffs above, an osprey, too lazy to migrate south, shared a tree with a raven. Western Grebes, with their lobbed feet set ridiculously far astern, sat primly on the water. The smaller Eared Grebes, their red eyes belying their gentle nature, put on a synchronized swimming and diving show. A steer, with less that the average amount of bovine brains, stood on the edge of the cliffs above.

On the way back, we were entertained by the hawks in the area. We saw some American Kestrels, White-tailed Kites, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. Just north of Irish Beach, I spotted a bobcat crossing a pasture. The road curved and dipped perilously but we are intrepid birders (read bad drivers). We stopped and studied the stocky body, the mottled fur, and the pointed ears with white patches below the tips. That is only the second time I have seen a bobcat in the wild.

We wandered home and the inevitable rain came as we picked up the mail in the village. Still, it had been a day full of eye-popping wonders, a happy day on the coast, a memorable day in our retirement.

Now, as I sit writing this for you, I am listening to the rain pounding on the roof as it has been doing all afternoon. Yet there are two White-crowned Sparrows at our feeder. They are braver souls than we. We have planned another escape. We are going to a drier climate, to a place with fourteen inches of annual rainfall, not forty. We are going to London, where fog was outlawed fifty years ago. We are going to London to get out of this cold, wet, foggy place.

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