Salty Seascapes

I love this picture, mainly because I can smell it.

Although your nose would pick up on the traces of salty humidity before you saw it, if you were to wander the sandy path through the trees, you would come across an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean.

The California coast often surprises people who tend to think of it as a sandy strip full of bikini clad sunbathers. That image may prove true in the South, but give me the wild, rocky shores of Northern California any day, with cliffs that tumble down into the sea, with cypresses and ice plants that cling to the rock face and grow through the strangest cracks and crevices, with sea lions, otters, and the relentless pounding of the surf under a misty grey sky of an overcast morning.

I also love the Pacific for the particular smells around the area. The smell of the sea has been often described, but the cypresses change the character of the experience. Piney sweet and almost citrusy, they freshen up old coves full of dead water and filter the mist through their needled fingers. There is another scent—I have yet to figure out what kind of plant it is—that I will forever associate with the ocean, probably because I have yet to smell it anywhere else. It is sweet and spicy, almost like maple syrup or cinnamon, and deeply aromatic. It is pervasive along paths like this, a sort of incense welcoming royalty back into their kingdom.

The Northern California coast is a kingdom I yearn for. While I can see the picture and describe the scent, it is not the same as breathing in the cool air myself, my lungs growing stronger with the thick blend of oxygen, salt water, pine and aromatic herbs.

The other reason I love this picture (which I realize on its own may be nothing special) is that the ocean is not pictured, but I know it’s there. That is where the path leads; you must take my word for it. It is no good pretending otherwise because once you are there, it is impossible to do so. The evidence is all around you, the crashing waves filling your ears and the rich perfume of the Pacific filling your nostrils and lingering with every breath you inhale. Yet still the ocean hides from sight, a majestic but shy beauty. The sounds and smells are foreplay. But round the bend and let your eyes feast on what your other senses knew all along. The vast enormity of the sea stretches out like an untold tale, waiting for an adventurer, a wayfarer, a storyteller.

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