Near the end of 2016, I rolled La Tortue into a nearly deserted campground at the mouth of San Simeon Creek, near Cambria, on the central coast of California. Surrounded by the undeveloped landscape of the Hearst Ranch, this place harkens back to a long-ago sort of California: uncrowded, more sparsely populated and filled with natural mystery.
At the mouth of the creek, I watched the tides push their way up against the flow of a recent rainfall. As one form of gravity met the other with fluidity and grace, gulls and plovers danced along the adjacent sand. On either side of the creek’s mouth, the surf roared and pounded against the rocky shore. I was so close to Highway 1, yet so far…..
Later, I walked beneath a canopy of Monterey Pine, Pinus radiata, a tree native only to the central California coast and two small islands off the coast of Mexico. Monterey Pines have a posture misshapen by drought and Pacific winds. Their cones hug the centre of the tree and often stay closed until the heat of a fire or intensely hot weather opens them to scatter the seeds into the wind.
Millions of years ago, cones dominated the plant world. An early form of seed that predated the development of flowers, the ancient cone is now rare, found on only three percent of all plants. As I explored a large grove of Monterey Pines, I wished for a comeback. The reproductive organs hold seeds in a spiraling geometry that often feels otherworldly. I am not the first to think so. Pine cones have shown up in Assyrian palace carvings from around 700 B.C. and as the Egyptian staff of Osiris 500 years before that. A symbol of potency and symmetry, they never cease to fascinate me – both for the many seeds they contain and the elegance of the ordered casing that holds a tree’s future.