Monterey Bay - a field trip

"Monterey Bay is a rich ecosystem..." yadda yadda yadda. I've read this so many times, my eyes just glaze over. But I visited Monterey recently, and, well, it blew me away.

 Looking west from Point Lobos State Reserve, Monterey, California. Art by author.

Looking west from Point Lobos State Reserve, Monterey, California. Art by author.

A laundry list of awesome sightings - harbor seals, sea otters, sea lions, crabs (hermit and otherwise), snakes, pelicans, gulls, night herons, egrets. Cormorants flying with squid in their beaks. Black oystercatchers screaming like kindergarteners as they wheel in the air between the rocks. Tons of kelp (expected), poison oak everywhere (less expected).

Exploring the coastline at Point Lobos State Reserve, I found a tidepool, no bigger than a shoebox, full of snails moving with a purpose. As I lean in closer, and realize that what I'm seeing is dozens of hermit crabs, in shells ranging in size from fava beans to peppercorns. They're all scuttling about on impossibly delicate legs, as fresh, clear seawater sluices through their little canyon. No aquarium I've ever seen is as vital and intense as this; these crustaceans strut like Pearly Kings and Queens on parade.

 A few of the harbor seals and a sampling of their awesome noises. Art by author.

A few of the harbor seals and a sampling of their awesome noises. Art by author.

While watching a clutch of snoozing harbor seals on a beach in a cove, a chipper docent approaches and describes what we're seeing. "The pups are fat this year - all that in six weeks worth of milk." And the pups do look like plump sausages, already half the size of the adults.  More seals are swimming in the inlet, along with half a dozen scuba divers and some disinterested sea otters. The kelp is so thick that it buffers the waves, making the surface seems as viscous as olive oil.

Looking west, out towards the Pacific, scores of comorants skim the ocean, rising and falling inches above the waves. Dozens of brown pelicans bank in graceful circles over the water, hunting fish. Offshore, gulls squat on their nests, piles of dried grass wedged into craggy folds of granite. 

I'm giddy as I realize how thick the wildlife is here. And a bit embarrassed; all of this just two hours from my apartment. I have to get out more.