On the left side of the United States, at the very top of Southern California, the West is graced with a prized corner of magical shoreline, Point Conception. Half of the Gaviota Coast is above, trending north into the wind and weather, and half below, facing south, turned east to the sunrise and warmth angled 90° to its upper self.
For perhaps 13,000 years, in the presence of native people and their gods, Gaviota’s biodiversity climaxed. That accord ended 200 years ago, destroyed by Spanish missions which crumbled within 50 years of founding. Gaviota is today subdivided into a bewildering array of competing interests and destinies. For now, though, Gaviota at times feels whole and intact, bound by ecology and culture firmly rooted in exceptional geography.
Most folks know the Gaviota Coast from a car. But that experience is unlike a ride along the Sierras, down Big Sur, through Canyonlands or other keenly sculptured country that remains sharp and clear regardless of one’s pace. Gaviota’s ethereal qualities easily blur. Her rhythms and beauty are most evident from slowed-down sojourns to individual spots, returned to year after year, again and again; her details and moods are then best engaged, brought into focus, appreciated and enjoyed.
The sense of place I hope evident in these essays did not materialize overnight or by chance. It is the product of my intent to show that an intimate, passionate connection with home ground—and one’s lifelong curiosity about it—can open up worlds, reveal richness and shape one’s stewardship and self.
Gaviota attracts me in understated, but profound ways, and by so far having remarkably, but not wholly, escaped the thrashing given the full length of California’s coastline south of here.
This, the very top of Southern California, is not “pristine,” “hidden” or “undeveloped,” though unfortunately, it is often characterized as such. Our true appreciation and grasp of the place (and its future) becomes confused by these simplistic, misleading, romantic notions.
Beleaguered for decades, Gaviota continues to be threatened with decisive change. Perhaps the integrity of no such enchanting and ecologically outstanding area of California, one profoundly meaningful to so many, is so utterly challenged and the subject of such intense debate. Proposed development, population pressure, and the inevitable chipping away by “progress” may soon consume the very heart of Gaviota.