Sunday, January 8, 2012

California Zen

Friday, January 6, 2011

We begin the day with a visit to Morro Rock, the volcanic peak focal point of Morro Bay.  I watch birds, Dick watches waves pounding and frothing on the rocky shore, and we both agree we could stay here for hours more, but we have to get breakfast and drive on to the Hearst Castle, today’s main event.   

We find a little breakfast spot on the waterfront with a Morro Rock view, then head north. 

Now the zen phase of our day begins.  We realize that our experiences are falling into a pattern of balance and harmony, when we chance upon the perfect counterpoint to Hearst Castle along the way. 

This is Nitt Witt Ridge, a rambling folk art estate built high on a hill using recycled materials.  It took 51 years to reach this stage of completion.

This is the Hearst Mansion, a rambling castle built high on a hill using materials recycled from many European cathedrals, castles and estates.  It took 28 years to reach this stage of completion, and it is far from finished.

See what we mean—two parallel universes, ridiculous and sublime, viewed back to back.  Zen!

Hearst Castle is worthy of a closer look, so here are a couple more glimpses of grandeur:

William Randolph Hearst owned 250 square miles of land around the Castle, where he maintained one of the country’s largest cattle ranches.  Hearst cattle still graze in fields around the castle, but the ranch area has shrunk considerably.  The family donated thirteen miles of shoreline for state parks, for example.  Which brings us to another zen moment.

 After our tour of Hearst Castle, we stop just a few miles up the road at a state beach covered with over a thousand grunting, bellowing, squealing elephant seals. These huge creatures—males weigh up to 5,000 pounds and females up to 1,500—return to this beach every year, just as the delicate butterflies we saw yesterday return to their eucalyptus grove.  And, just like the butterflies, their life story is an amazing one.

The female seals come to the beach to give birth, and when their babies are born (no multiple births—you will see why as you read the rest of the story), they weigh sixty to eighty pounds.  The mothers stay with their babies on shore, nursing them for about a month.  In that time the pups gain weight fast—they weigh 300 pounds by the end of the month.  The mothers then abandon their pups and head back to sea—they are hungry, since they have not eaten since they gave birth, and they have been nursing for a month.  But before heading to sea, they mate with one of the males on shore.  The way things work out, the peak of mating activity is right around Valentine’s Day—go figure!

Meanwhile, the pups are on their own to learn how to swim, and they figure it out by about the age of 2 ½ months, which is a good thing, because they have to eat, and the only way to get their food is to swim for it.  At four months they have to be strong enough swimmers to migrate to Alaska, and then they will be back around here next year, hanging out with their pod, which numbers about 17,000 now (at any given time, only a small fraction of the group is on the beach).

It is cold and windy on the observation boardwalk, but it is hard to tear ourselves away from the drama of the seals below.  One mother had given birth at noon, and the pup still has not found her nipple four hours later.  The juvenile males are engaged in wrestling matches.  Gulls are gathering around a female who is sounding pretty uncomfortable and frantically flipping sand on her back—all signs that she might give birth soon.  Should we wait around to see it? 

 We leave, but we don’t go far--we find a great little family run hotel nearby, and we will go back to visit the seals again tomorrow.  

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