Monterey Cypress

Monterey Cypress

Walking through the native grove of Point Lobos 

“You can’t go in there,” a woman shouted from a silver Lexus as she rolled down the window. “We close at 4:30.” She shrugged her shoulders with a noncommittal ease—like she herds tourists every day.

We stole glances, nodded, waved, and pivoted back towards the truck.

“So,” once she was out of earshot, “how do we get in?”

The Mirai team huddled together, a familiar problem solving stance. I stole glances between Ryan, whose eyes circumnavigated the Point Lobos entrance, and Arthur, who seemed to grow lenses for limbs. We ducked, peering through the trees—the steward had abandoned her post.

With an eyebrow raise and no words, Arthur began walking down the path quickly, defiantly, camera straps dangling from available notches.

“These cypress literally only grow in a 10 mile radius and we drove from Oregon… so,” Ryan smirked, “we’re not not going to see this grove,” he punctuated, stepping quietly after Arthur.

I nodded and followed, tiptoeing into cover amidst the trees. We glided past the ranger station and banked right onto a trail. Dusk splintered light through the forest and onto our faces—casting us in a sepia-toned tunnel vision. We put our hands in our pockets, filed into a cadence impregnated with space, as if the forest called us into line like schoolchildren.


"Bleached bark splintered into diamond-backed deadwood, nudging elbows and twisting towards the sky in a suspended frenzy."
 

In between young conifers a cerulean glow emerged, a disorienting reckoning of the great blue breath beyond, forever crashing and receding. It’s the same feeling of space, like staring out a plane window at night. There’s a tension of inertia and propulsion, exposure and confinement—your heart quickens, eyes dilate. The Pacific coast’s titantic exhalations smacked treetops and punctured weatherproof layers, forcing my shoulders to crunch upwards as if bracing.

Ryan paused on the path ahead, Arthur lagged behind finding the light through his lens. The Nikon strap digging into his neck, Ryan gazed back, his jaw slack. From far away, he looked weightless, his red sweater outlined by the swirling infinite waves that seemed to take place of the sky.

Walking closer to the edge, my boots tickled color blocks of path, greenery, and jagged stones, a step-wise introduction to the churning miasma below. Jetties swirled in a current of foam and spray and salted momentum scraping away the land beneath our feet, particle by particle.

A tangerine glow rode in from the horizon, rolling over wave-sets with Promethean gusto, bathing our stunned faces in the last warmth of the day. Beneath us, the land gave way, as if the sea swallowed the Earth.

Igneous icebergs sat tall between rough coves, their algae-cloaked underbellies revealed with the receding surge. The landscape echoed a geological violence, forged in the fiery mantle, unearthed, and weathered away by wind and salt.

Time seemed to bend and expand. Erosive potency whipped against our faces, introducing a geological countenance molded by millennia. Amidst the Precambrian crags, we caught our first glimpse of the cypress—scarred silvery bark and flat-topped foliage. They clung perilously to the cliffside, like old warriors refusing to relinquish their territory.

“Those aren’t the old ones,” Ryan quickly stated, nodding to the left and continuing up the path.

Arthur plugged into his headphones and explored— taking a few steps, pausing, crouching to snap, swiveling his head alertly, popping up and jogging to capture the fleeting light.

I stood, transfixed by the incessant rhythm of the waves, the land absorbing the impact and the trees erect in their silent strength. If everything was born out of the sea as they say, this place felt like genesis. I half expected Botticelli’s Venus to rise up and present us with scrolls on how to transcend the material realm.



"Jurassic-era deep green foliage echoed the ocean spray in flat folds, creating lines sweeping the eye upward and inland."

 

Like little dots on the coastline, we independently trotted along the trails edge, mindful of our steps. In a cove, I eyed two otters playing amidst the kelp. They rolled in the sea-foam, taking dives into the sapphire water, dodging the umber outcroppings. The ocean pulsated with life.

Turning a corner, we were greeted with an unobstructed vista. A peninsular pile of rocks bravely extended into the sea, a grove of Monterey cypress huddling close to the land’s contours, securing themselves in stacks of fractured granite.

The hand of nature was unveiled—the unremitting ocean, scraping sediment-by-sediment back into its grasp, the all-pervading wind like sculptor’s hands slowly, artfully rounding the rocks, bending the cypress like corkscrews, pancaking their foliage flat and low to the ground as if demanding a bow.

We walked into the dimly lit grove together. Sunlight diminishing and yet growing brighter with each minute, saturating every hue like a Romatic-era oil landscape. I felt as if I had entered a warzone frozen in time, cypress limbs littered the ground, tangled knots in the trunks like gun-wounds. You couldn’t tell where one tree stopped and the other began.

“They look like they’re dying,” I commented.

“They probably are,” Ryan agreed. “Pretty sure they need fire to regenerate.”

We glanced over at Arthur, perched on a boulder. He smiled and snapped a photo of Ryan in a cluster of trees.

“That was the one,” he beamed.

We followed the path further, stepping and ducking through a writhing snake-pit of branches. Bleached bark splintered into diamond-backed deadwood, nudging elbows and twisting towards the sky in a suspended frenzy. Lace lichen hung on the branches like opalescent drapery, juxtaposing the burnt orange, carotene-infused algae amassing like some prehistoric plaque. Jurassic-era deep green foliage echoed the ocean spray in flat folds, creating lines sweeping the eye upward and inland.

The young trees courageously reached highest, the first line of defense to the elements. The old ones laid down on the hillside, as if resting in armistice. In their 200+ years of growing on this unforgiving vista, they know the ocean never gives up.

As the light squeezed into ochre threads that ran down coats and wind-swept cheeks, we were forced to retreat. I wandered behind Ryan and Arthur, savoring the roaring silence. Echoes of the coast whirred in my ears, waves advancing and receding, wind screaming through coniferous branchlets. With feet back on pavement, we walked quietly in the dark, blindly tracing an axis point between two unremitting worlds –nature’s existential vastness jutting against the cogs of modernity.



Notes: 

Written & Designed by: Kendall Strautman

Photography: Hero image 1 by Kirill Zakharov via Unsplash; images 1-6 by Arthur Hitchcock; image 7 by Ryan Neil 
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