Coastal Trail


June - Sept 2003


Chapter NINE.

Published August 8th 2003.

     As she predicted last week, Janette’s journal this week addresses in part the issue of natural erosion along the coastline and the efforts of property owners to thwart such erosion through unnatural means.  Many people, consciously or unconsciously, think of efforts to stop erosion as a solution to a problem.  But Janette’s commentary reminds us gently that erosion is not necessarily something that needs to be stopped.  Rather it is a natural process that we, as individuals or communities, choose to interrupt for reasons that have nothing to do with nature but that generally stem from a desire to protect private property and investments....

Tuesday, July 29 (just before dinner)

     “Part of my mission statement was to enjoy the natural environment and only glance briefly at the often crude structures man inflicts upon the earth.

     But how can I keep from glancing ... more than briefly at what happens on the left side of the terrain?  On the right we have the constant of ocean, the waves, the sounds, the birds, the sea creatures, the sun.  And when we are not walking along the beach, or on a trail overlooking the beach l am still aware that the ocean is to my right (approximately) even when I can neither see nor hear the song of the waves.

     It is what’s on the left that varies so much, the cliffs, the dunes, the lagoons, the forests, the hills, rolling fields sometimes filled with grazing cattle or planted with rows of crops.  When the coastline is a wild place, we see animal tracks across the sand.  Deer & elk come down to the beach.  Sometimes bears leave scat.

Monday (8/4)

     ‘Raccoons leave fingerprints all over our campsites, reminding us of their nightly visits.  Beaches connect the ocean to the hinterland.  All along, plants and animals adapt to the ever-changing geography.  But ever-changing geography does not suit the needs of most people, whose sensibilities lie with an urbanized mindset.

     Erosion of bluffs and hence the incremental loss of land along the edges of the marine terrace is a feature of earthly forces.  Some people are bothered by specific loss of land and its regeneration elsewhere.  Our system of private property anticipates the right to exclusively occupy and develop a proscribed parcel of land.  So when the force of the ocean threatens, or actually starts eliminating portions of that valuable commodity, owners go to great lengths to thwart nature’s consequences - often in the form of sea walls or bluff erosion control.

     Folks who see themselves as what I will call “Friends of the Earth” types abhor such engineering.  They see sea walls as only band-aid solutions - with storms forever eating at the footings and vertical terminations.  We see a minor example of this on the recently reworked stone-faced retaining wall below the foot path at Heisler park (near Myrtle) where surface run-off water has started to wash away the soft sandstone behind the edge of the stone work.  Sea walls also thwart the natural replenishment of sand to the beaches.  We are all familiar with stories of expensive efforts to redeposit sand on depleted beaches, to satisfy the needs and safety of beach and ocean users.

     Grandiose engineering solutions often start with a few scoops of rocks tipped over a bluff.  These piles of rock eventually become redistributed by the waves into individual units and are absorbed into the surrounding sand.  Then reinforced concrete retaining walls are specified and the ocean is challenged to another battle.  These solutions become progressively more visually ugly and obtrusive to everyone, except those who sit behind their protective barricades and deny their future and present consequences.  The result is a fully-engineered barrier along a shoreline so animal and human populations will be excluded.  Maybe we can visualize the Western coast as one unit, designate specific areas as urbanized and protect the rest as pristine and important wild life habitats - landscapes into which humans journey, but do not reside.

     Seen in the context of the inevitable future, Highway 1 is a tenuous ribbon of paving, winding past steeply cut hillsides and continually refilled gorges.  From our vantage points along the seldom travelled beaches, I often look up and think, ‘would folks drive with such abandon on the highway if they could see the many trestles and reworks  of each that hold outside curves from falling off the cliff?’ ‘They probably would,’ I say to myself.  A human behind the wheel of a vehicle is aware of little besides above the surface road conditions, leading to a destination.  So collectively we spend millions of dollars to continue vehicular access to those parts of the coast we hold most precious.  And none is more precious than the Big Sur coastline, south of Monterey.