What a lovely name for a beach: Heart’s Desire. This one is tucked into a bay near the Point Reyes National Seashore, within spitting distance of millions of people but so little known that we were almost the only people there on a summer Sunday morning. I sketched to the odd rhythm of a gopher chewing roots beneath the leg of the picnic table – just like Gopher in Winnie the Pooh’s cast of characters, this buck-toothed fellow was all business, scattering dirt to the four winds as he carried out his responsibilities. Which I guess were to excavate tunnels, spew up mounds of dirt, blink, frown in disapproval at human activity, and make a lot of chewing noises.
The first people to join us slid up to the beach on their paddle boards, standing upright on what looked like a surf board and paddling with a kayak paddle. It looked so smooth, that easy motion. But you can’t fool me – I once attempted to wind-surf, which also looked very easy and smooth; I’ve never been more exhausted.
The next folks to show up were a large and very loud bunch, most of whom were speaking Russian. There were a few children who spoke perfect English, but the rest never stopped talking at top volume and maximum speed in their native tongue, puncutated by prolonged laughter when hilarious things happened, like … the bowl of chips tipped over.
A shy Latino family followed about 20 minutes later, quietly lugging coolers and blankets and boxes to the table beside the one where I had set up to sketch. I told them I would be leaving soon so they could use my table too. The children understood and translated for the parents, and asked to see my sketches. I enjoy sharing my work, especially with children, who are such honest critics.
From the beach you can hike up an informational trail about the native Miwok tribe of long ago. (I keep thinking about what a funny word Miwok is, which rhymes with Ewok (from Star Wars), which kind of look like bears and gophers mixed, and wondering if that was the origin of Ewok…) Signs are posted every few hundred yards, sometimes near the things they describe, and sometimes, nowhere in the vicinity. I personally think they should move the Poison Oak description right to the beginning of the trail, because if you don’t recognize it by the time you get to the sign on the trail, you’re already going to be itching! And among other things, I learned that what we call myrtle in Oregon is known as bay laurel down there, and the name of the bay is Tomales, which I read is the Spanish pronunciation of the Miwok word for bay, so technically the name of the bay is Bay Bay. Hee-hee!
The sketch was an exercise in learning about Bishop Pine, also known as knob cone pine according to our friend Brett. At this beach, and from the windows of the house we stayed in, they look like Japanese Bonsai trees, sculpted by wind, leaning out from the slope. I got a little frustrated because my hand knows exactly how to draw a fir tree after living in Oregon so long, but not these big pines… I could picture those Japanese watercolors with layers of spiky branches, but I never quite got it right. And the “knob cones” are called that because the cones are actually growing right on the tree trunk, embedded in the bark. They will only open to release their seeds after the extreme heat caused by fire… so there aren’t many baby Bishop Pines any more, not since white men decided that this peninsula would be such a great place for dairy cattle. Once that got started, they put out any fire that happened to ignite. A biological dilemma, another among many in our world.