Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Contrasts in Gray and Gold

Along Alisal Road, towards Solvang.

Along route 101 near Gaviota. Fog rolls over the now golden hills, July 7, 2008.

Photos: by/COPYRIGHT Ross Care


Speaking of contrasts, yesterday we drove up the coast from Ventura to my favorite country north of Santa Barbara along the Gaviota coast.

There was (and is) fog in Ventura. What’s commonly known as “June gloom” is a bit late this year, in keeping with the general and disturbing scrambling of seemingly all the natural elements on the planet.

We hoped it might disperse as it sometimes does in an unpredictable coastal region but the fog, so thick that you could see it drifting in soft gray clouds over the now golden hills, held out until we passed through the great red rock formations around Gaviota.

But once through the tunnel it was, almost startlingly, all bright golden hills, dark green oaks, sunshine and blue skies. We stopped at our favorite park, Nojoqui Falls, always a pleasant setting for a picnic and a walk in the charming woods there.

The stream, which runs off from the falls, is (predictably) dried up but the falls are still trickling. In spite of the dryness the woods remain green, if a bit dusty (and buggy). They are a riparian combination of dark oaks, California maples and sycamores, and profuse, still green undergrowth including some ferns on the hillsides.

There are also a variety of other trees and shrubs, which I still cannot identify among the profusion of natural life that flourishes in this secluded yet accessible environment. (We once saw wild turkeys wandering through the picnic area!)

I have visited this area in all seasons and yesterday recalled how the big leaves of the maples turn bright yellow in autumn and how the trail along the main stream is alive with side streamlets and the musical sound of running water in the spring.

The park is off Alisal Road that runs on to Solvang, the area’s appealing, if somewhat Disneyland-ish Danish village. The road there is a fascinating microclimate as well, unusual in that the oaks and other trees along it are festooned with pale mint green Spanish moss.

The ghostly moss on the live oaks also suggests, to me at least, the similarities between this section of southern California and the southeastern United States, particularly Georgia and northern Florida.

That’s rather odd, considering we are a dry, almost arid environment, and the southeast is so damp, humid, and swampy. But there is definitely a similar look to certain aspects of the landscape that I’ve also noticed in the Ventura river estuary. By the river there is a low scrub woods of oak, bay and underbrush, and the look and dim, tented feel of the place is very similar to the tangled palmetto groves of coastal Georgia and its sea islands (without the palmetto of course).

After a loop through the beautiful rolling wine country of Solvang and Los Olivos (seen in SIDEWAYS, and where a few of the vineyards still tout their appearance in that film) we drove back down 101 to a favorite secluded beach.

Once through the tunnel you’re back in the persistent fog that did not, however, stop us from enjoying an impressionistic, if somewhat chilly late afternoon of black gulls and gray Pacific on a beach that, remarkably, we had entirely to ourselves.

Always wonderful to discover that isolation is still possible, even in southern California.

To be continued……

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