Ebb tide. My calendar is packed, but I head down to the beach anyway, camera in tow.
At high tide, Goff Island is mostly underwater. The ocean heaves and swells, bursting into plumes of frothy waves as it crashes against its rocky edges. But when the water recedes again, hidden treasures come into view. I want to see them, name them, learn how these tiny creatures navigate their pocket-shaped homes.
Sunlight pierces the murky tide pools, spotlighting their strange and beautiful inhabitants. Sea anemones flourish in these underwater gardens, as do sea lettuces and coralline algae.
Snails graze on gently swaying seaweed, blissfully unaware of the predators that lurk in narrow crevasses, waiting for the just-right moment to pounce.
Shell fragments bear silent testimony to this oft-repeated drama, as do the oxygen bubbles, slowly rising to the surface. Here, a mirror image of the universe itself: a microcosm of constant change and perpetual motion, in which everything is interconnected.
I straddle the channel where the harbor seals haul out at mid-tide, pivot toward the shoreline and refocus.
Such an aha moment, to see the shoreline from the pinnipeds’ vantage point!
I don’t suppose the jagged rocks are any big deal—if you’re cushioned with blubber, that is.
But hmmm…Where do the tide pool creatures go, when they’re displaced at mid-tide by these larger animals? We’re dealing with water damage at my house, so I’ll have to save that question for another day.
Ahoy, me hearties! Gather ‘round, and I’ll tell ye about my jolly adventures at Victoria Beach, and a fantastical place we locals call Pirate Tower…
I traveled on foot with a merry band of tide pool docents, in search of sea stars and other ocean treasures. We met at Goff Island (near the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, California) and headed north. Not a strenuous hike, by any means, and what about that view???
When we reached the north end of Victoria Beach, we ventured into a small cove. Sugarloaf Point–magical name, don’t you think?
Like a turret on a storybook castle, a 60-foot-tall concrete structure rises from the rocky shoreline, tilted ever so slightly toward the affluent neighborhood on the bluffs.
Weather-worn roof shingles. Rusted metal grates. Tiny portals and a spiral staircase, battered by sea spray and never-ending tides. There’s an oversized entrance, too—bolted and padlocked, of course. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was inhabited by giants!
At the base of the tower sits a circular concrete pool, large enough for…well, lots of people. Word has it that this unusual swimming pool fills alternately with sand and seawater, depending on the tides.
Fix your sites on the ocean beyond, and you can almost picture a swaggering buccaneer staring back at you.
If you’re not into pirates, maybe this scene brings to mind a favorite fairy tale. If you tilt your head just so, and maybe squint just a little, you might see Rapunzel at at one those rectangular windows, blonde tresses flowing, as her handsome prince clambers over the rocks to rescue her.
Alas, reality is somewhat less romantic. Built in 1926, Le Tour (as it was affectionately called back then) afforded its owners a private access between the beach and their cliff-top residence.
French Provincial Revival. That’s what the textbooks call this architectural style. Enchanting. That’s what I call it. Admire for a minute the gabled roofline, the slate roof and stained glass windows. I think the original owner (Senator William E. Brown) built for himself a gingerbread house!
At some point in the early 1940s, Sen. Brown sold the property to Harold Kendrick. He was, shall we say, a bit of an eccentric. It’s possible the retired naval officer spent too much time at sea, because he fancied himself a modern-day pirate. Dressed as a seafaring plunderer, Howard (aka The Question Man) strolled the boardwalk, distributing nickels and dimes to children who answered correctly his arithmetic, vocabulary, science, geography and history challenges. According to local folklore, he’d also tuck coins into the nooks and crannies of his tower. Neighborhood kids loved to scour the facade for hidden treasures—finders, keepers, as they say!
Time passed. The house and tower changed hands, many times over. One of its most recent owners was Bette Midler, star of the 1988 film Beaches. Some of the most memorable scenes were filmed at one of Crystal Cove State Park’s historic cottages, just a few miles away. The Divine Miss M took it upon herself to return the house to its original glory, but the tower shows its age. Even so, it holds a special place in our hearts–a battered but unbowed sentinel, bearing witness to the past.
But our story doesn’t end there. We came for the tide pools, at the far reaches of the jutting shoreline. But Old Man Winter had eroded the sandy beach, leaving behind a rocky terrain for us to explore. So we did. Then we traversed the algae covered rocks, waded through chest-high sea water, and ventured out to the very end of this island.
At least some of us did. I’m not a strong swimmer, so I hung back and made pictures.
Like miniature treasure chests, the tide pools were filled with wondrous things: sea stars and anemones, mussels and more. My friend Gretchen discovered these sea stars–so lovely of her to share!
And that’s where this adventure ends… this chapter, but not the whole story. I’ll visit again s00n, and who knows? Maybe I’ll have my sea legs by then.
If you plan to visit: The tower’s accessible at low tide only, but that’s okay, because that’s also the best time to explore the tide pools. (Check the NOAA tide tables here, and find directions here.) Please note that this is a Marine Protected Area. Loosely translated, that means you should tread lightly. Enjoy but don’t disturb any creatures you find, and leave everything in its natural habitat. Take home memories, but leave the seashells behind.
One more thing. Okay, maybe two. Hiking shoes will serve you better than flip-flops, especially on those slippery rocks. And watch for wave surges–as per usual, I got soaked when I snapped these pictures.
“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
“Wanna go the beach?” I ask my sister, even though I already know the answer. I love walking along the windswept beaches of the Pacific Northwest, where she lives; and she loves exploring the tide pools in the calmer waters of Southern California, equally so.
It’s the height of tourist season–no matter, save for the bumper-to-bumper traffic. As my roadster crawls up PCH, we catch up on the latest. We land in Laguna Beach at low tide, and the waves have long since receded. Clumps of seaweed line the shore.
We clamber over rocks, poke our cameras into rock crevasses. Little by little, the ocean reveals to us her treasures.
When I spot my reflection, mirrored in the ocean’s shallows, I reposition myself and refocus my camera lens…slowly, carefully, so as not to to disturb the creatures that inhabit these small spaces.
Waves froth and then fold in on themselves. We linger in the tide pools as the water drifts lazily toward the shore.
Salty breezes whip our hair into messy curls, and our shoes fill up with sand. The ocean rewards our patience. Quietly, and without fanfare, she whispers her deepest secrets, presents to us the whole of her heart.
We are not alone.
We are witnesses to a miracle, a pageant that plays itself out repeatedly, here and elsewhere. I’m grateful for the opportunity to watch it unfold with Sheryll, and for the delight that washed over me anew, as I create this photo album for my blog.