Even to the familiar, the crossing of California’s famed coastal highway above Elkhorn Slough is ignominious. The estuary brushes against farmland and smokestacks; the roadway barrels through tiny vistas. But a bridge can’t see what a kayak can feel. At the paddle’s edge travel the unmuted forms of tidal ecology: pelicans, seals, otters, rays…

Strangely, the contrast between pathways is unceasing and unforgiving. On the slough, creatures eclipse the horizon; from the highway, only petty curses fill the windows. If the splendor of nature dazzles, it’s longevity is constantly questioned. Even the most majestic experiences leave just a modicum of memory when confronted with the scale of humanity. Wariness and suspicion return, and only vestiges of environmental perspective remain. Within minutes of hauling up onto the dock, Elkhorn fades from view – a few encounters remain, but any immersive perspective singes like paper kindling.

The cause of fleeting perspective is entirely human, not environmental. Therefore, the solution is likewise human, and parallels all other efforts to develop awareness. Repeated exposure ingrains the sense of place, without which life is an accursed moving-picture. A daily kayak, a weekly hike, a monthly climb, these are the habits that breed psychological artifacts: if ignorance challenges understanding, every individual can become an archaeologist, primed to unearth nature’s subtle ramblings.

[Photo: “Coastal Range, California”, Reeva Harrison, reevaharrison.com]