Sea Ranch god beamsHey Portland! It’s raining in California. Wait, I’ll take that statement back. It’s POURING in California. I dream we’re making way up the BC Inside Passage, but I wake up to our drenched Alameda moorage.  Ah yes.  We’re in northern (not southern) California.  Rain happens here and can fall with quite a lot of drama.

My cousins Ellen and Mike rescued us from our wet morass, inviting us to their cozy Sea Ranch home for the weekend before Christmas, 2012. This special place, located on the northern California coast between Bodega Bay (known for Hitchcock’s “The Birds”) and Mendocino. Never mind that rain was expected … 70% chance at least … oh, high winds too.  We needed a break from the incessant boat projects, traffic, crowds, city noise.  Loading the car with rain gear, camera equipment, an errant folding bicycle which came in handy later and some fun food items, we raced towards Highway 1.

An ocean-side environment in winter is not just wet and wind driven. Imagined background music evokes Vivaldi, Beethoven, Stravinsky … um, maybe a little Dave Matthews (i.e., “Where are you going?”). We are in the presence of nature at its most fundamental and breathtaking. Enormous waves crash to shore, dragging along and depositing uprooted sea vegetation and organic detritus. Mysterious, sculpted pieces of wood that have (perhaps) traveled the world (if only they could speak) lay everywhere like lonely overturned beach furniture. It is fascinating to be “at the beach” during winter.

After the rain has subsided a bit, we head for the beach and marvel at the mysterious treasures left behind by the storm-driven Pacific surf. Tangled lengths of monstrous bull kelp lay like coiled yellow anacondas looking for unwary prey.  Huge pieces of driftwood are strewn across the sand.  Rainbow&Kelp The Gualala river pours – no, floods – over rocks back to the sea. A rainbow appears like a bright contradiction to the bruised purple and black sky. We are all entertained by this wonderful assemblage of color and odd collections. It’s as though the storm is trying to decide whether to rage yet again, or, just leave its successful party.  We scramble over rocks and logs to the cliffs overlooking the rugged beaches that complement Sea Ranch.

harbor seals at Sea RanchNext day, the clouds drift southward and the sun begins to come out. We stroll along and look over the cliffs to the sea. In a protected inlet, harbor seals and their pups recline in their established rookeries. We learn that during the birthing season, dedicated Sea Ranch volunteers guard the rookeries and warn visitors to control any inclination to “make contact.” The seals enjoy their fleeting solar exposure, perform comic yoga-like positions and, with enormous effort, lunge across the sand to the water or other, unknownable destinations. A youngster peeps at us amid the prostrate bodies.

We continue our walk above the beach.  The cliffs draw us close and we peer down an incrediblySea Ranch stairs steep, almost fantastic stairway leading to an isolated portion of beach. Did this structure inspire Mr. Hitchcock when he filmed “Vertigo” I wonder.  It’s time to head back to prepare dinner but what stories this image conjures!  I’ll have to keep this one around for later inspiration.

Our last day at Sea Ranch, the sun is out, the seas are calm. We take a final walk to the beach, now transformed by the calm winds and seas.  It is all gentle and sparkling and inviting. Seabirds, vultures and a harrier hawk search for prey in their separate haunts.  A lone deer forages among yellow grasses blanketing Sea Ranch. Offshore, a fishing boat trawls for what we do not know. Everyone and everything is hunting and searching for something they need. We take in this breathtaking sky, the golden land and the turquoise sea. All is good.

Sea Ranch looking south