Royal Guests on Gaviota

Migration Patterns of the Western Monarch

On Tuesday, I received a text from Charis van der Heide, asking if I wanted to join her for the Xerces Society’s Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count the next day. I jumped at the opportunity to visit this property on the Gaviota Coast located near Jalama. Charis flew all the way from her new home in the Netherlands to participate in the Count which she has been helping with for over a decade. Her calling with monarch butterflies began 20 years ago with an encouraging project offer from a professor in the biological science department at Cal Poly where she graduated.

Charis tracks the Western Monarch Butterfly with the Thanksgiving and New Year counts, and her work is focuses on Santa Barbara County, an area spanning from Vandenberg AFB to Carpinteria. As a volunteer with the Count, she trains and enlists the help of volunteers to count the dozens of monarch sites in the county that are visited every year. She is also an environmental consultant.

Charis at Naples

Charis at Naples

We set out from Goleta at 7:00am. It’s optimal to catch the monarch clusters before the sun hits their wings. Heat sparks their metabolism and they can disburse in flight when the temperatures reach above 55 degrees F. We hoped to find large clusters clinging to the eucalyptus branches in the cool morning. As we turned off Hwy 101 toward Jalama, the fog shroud magically disappeared. It was a crystal-clear day all the rest of the way. Once we left the truck, the sounds of hawks screeching among other bird calls reminded me of how different this remote location, devoid of traffic, is from our urban existence. Several mule deer munched on grass in the nearby pasture.

Janet with New Binocs!

Using the New Binoculars

Armed with a new pair of binoculars, I felt confident about locating monarch clusters as I had been taught to do in this same place last year. We spotted a few encouraging flyers but as we walked around, looking high above, our spirits were dampened. Where were the clusters?

We may have spent a half-hour searching and found absolutely no clusters. Charis is an expert at spotting these royal winged ones. She knows they like to congregate in certain “cathedral” overhangs with an opening in the center or over a damp area. Our total count was 12 flyers – not a good sign. Then we hopped into the truck and drove to the next site further up the canyon. Our second location was dry and eerily devoid of monarchs. Our hearts sank. We counted three flyers.

I asked Charis what was happening with the other counts. Her explanation mirrored information posted on the Xerces Society website at  The Xerces Society has released this recent blog post and press release about the monarch count so far this season and unfortunately, it is not looking good for the monarchs locally but throughout California as well.

Monach nectaring on Rabbitbrush

Xerces Society:Monarch Nectaring on rabbitbrush - Photo Courtesy of Stephanie McNight

“Historically, western monarchs have made a spectacular annual migration to overwinter in forested groves along the coast of California. Each spring, the butterflies fan out across the West to lay their eggs on milkweed and drink nectar from flowers in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Utah.

That migration is now in crisis. In the winter of 2018, and again in 2019, the western monarch overwintering population has reached the lowest level ever recorded—less than 1% of historic populations, and a dizzying 86% drop from the year prior. In response to this, the Xerces Society has spearheaded the Western Monarch Call to Action, working in partnership with universities, government agencies, other organizations, and communities to stabilize and recover this imperiled population.

These actions are building upon the Xerces Society's decades of western monarch conservation work. Western populations have been less well-studied than their eastern counterparts, and have unique conservation needs. To that end, the Xerces Society conducts annual surveys of overwintering populations; assesses the status of overwintering sites; provides guidance for the management of breeding, migratory, and overwintering habitat; advises on habitat establishment and restoration; and researches the distribution of monarchs and milkweed in the West.”

Monarch Cluster on Gaviota

Monarch Cluster near Gaviota - Photo Courtesy of Charis van der Heide

I asked Charis if there was a glimmer of hope to leave readers and monarch fans with. She explained that insect populations naturally fluctuate and it’s possible that in the right conditions one strong reproductive season could facilitate an increased population. And so, we encourage you to go to the link, the “Western Monarch Call to Action” to learn more about these magnificent creatures and how we might help. Pay attention to their journey when you see a monarch in flight.






Gaviota and the Land Sea Connection

One of the great assets of the Gaviota Coast -- and of our work to preserve it -- is the biological richness created by its combination of sea and land features. As a volunteer board member with GCC and as a conservation advocate with Ocean Conservancy in my day job, it's my privilege to promote protection and sustainable use on both sides of the high tide line.

Another personal benefit is the chance to pay the natural world back for the endless recreational value I receive from it, favoring both sides of my endless middle-child Gemini dilemmas over wet or dry off-duty pursuits. Here are some observations, issues and recommendations for fully appreciating Gaviota's full palette of salt, sand and sage.

Underwater Sea Kelp

Naples Kelp (photo by Jeff Waibel /

Many conservation supporters recognize the importance of diverse, complex wildlife and habitats to sustain natural areas. Gaviota's natural health is served by and dependent on vibrant populations of wildlife interacting in adjacent saltwater, terrestrial and intertidal (wet, dry, and in-between) habitats. A fantastic illustration of this is the osprey making a breakfast of what I believe is an olive rockfish in Kris Mainland White’s piece that appears a bit lower on this page.

Formal conservation efforts along the Gaviota Coast have begun to recognize this, as in 2012 a string of marine protected areas were established along southern California, including three along Gaviota. Naples Reef state marine conservation area, for example, protects a rare and outstanding set of underwater pinnacles located about three-quarters of a mile off Naples point. The conservation area also includes the kelp and seagrass-dotted areas inshore, and connects them to the shoreline, which itself features dramatic, exposed "hogback" rock formations visible on the beach on lower tides. Together with a patchwork of State Parks, private land easements and other land use designations, the marine protected areas are a strong start towards an interconnected system of formal protection for our coast. 

I've often felt that if I could give every person a snorkel and mask, policies for greater ocean protection would be unanimously supported. And actually, a kayak, surfboard or SUP tends to do the same thing: creating a personal connection with a place builds an unbreakable bond of support for its protection.

This is why Gaviota Coast Conservancy sponsors guided hikes along both the beach and bluff top areas along the coast. Please watch this site for opportunities to join in! We also hold kayak trips supported by local outfitters that are an easy, safe and fun way to observe the coast and kelp forest alike. Underwater exploration of Gaviota's wonders requires a paddle, swim, or private boat under current circumstances, but the rewards of a visit to Naples Reef, Tajiguas Reef or Refugio Cove -- to name just a few -- are well worth it.

A major conservation issue affecting coastal health also has a very personal set of solutions: plastic litter and pollution. Plastic does not disappear once it enters coastal ecosystems, and damages them at every level. Large plastic objects disrupt habitat. Smaller pieces cut or choke seabirds, fish and sea turtles. Very small plastic bits and fibers mix with plankton and enter the food chain when eaten along with it. Individuals can play a crucial role in mitigating plastic impacts while large organizations and governments work to reduce plastic packaging, production and increase producer responsibility for the products they produce. Reduce the plastic packaging you purchase, carry reusable bags to collect litter whenever you see it, and join groups like GCC, ChannelKeeper and Surfrider in beach and creek cleanups.

Support local, sustainable seafood by favoring fish bought at the Saturday fisherman's market or the Santa Barbara Fish Market. Choose great local options like black cod (sablefish), trap-caught spot prawns, or many other locally caught options. Acting with your food dollar supports conservation and our important, historic fishing community. Or try catching your own by getting a fishing license, observing all fishing regulations and area restrictions and wetting a line.

Above all, take personal advantage of the many aspects of the Gaviota Coast, aware of its many treasures as well as its challenges and threats. I'm betting this will deepen your desire to learn about and to protect our world-class coast, just as it has mine!

Greg Helms

Land Sea Connection Kayakers

Gaviota Coast Kayakers, with Greg Helms in the rear (photo courtesy of Greg Helms)


Naples from the Sea

Looking Towards Naples

You never quite know what you’re going to get when you sign up for a paddle up the coast from Haskell’s Beach and that was true for the nineteen of us on a guided kayak trip on Saturday, October 3. The previous days presented ocean conditions that were a mix of calm and windy. There were reports of possible 3’ surf which doesn’t sound too daunting but can be challenging for kayak launching. Trusting we were in the good hands of Santa Barbara Adventure Company and their experienced guides, we all showed up at the water’s edge. Excitement rose when we saw the predicted surf. Haskell’s waves can be steep and carry a good punch.

Us ... and Mother Ocean

Some of us were in tandem kayaks and most were in singles. Guides skillfully timed the wave sets and shoved us off accordingly. Paddlers were skilled at punching through the waves. The sun was shining and the water was glassy once we got through the surf. Off we proceeded toward Driftwoods, Seals, Naples, and Dos Pueblos. The sea flaunted good visibility and glorious kelp beds. At one point we stopped in the water and observed a seal that seemed amused by and unafraid of our company. The glossy dark creature hung around for several minutes.

Seal at Seal's Beach

Some folks noticed the deeper water swell before others with slight signs of sea sickness. Guides suggested getting off our kayaks and floating in the water if we felt at all nauseous. With many years of seafaring adventures under my belt, I had never heard of this treatment for seasickness. Become one with the wave.

Sea Otters?

One person reported that this, indeed, helped. Others of us found the water so inviting that we jumped off our kayaks to cool off in the kelp. At this point, we watched the surfers from behind the waves and realized we would have to face some good surf if we were to land on shore. The tide was very high and there was not a lot of sand visible. As a group we took a poll and most decided it would be best to head back to Haskell’s.

Frisbee on Gaviota Glass

The migration back to our starting point was calm and silky. We certainly lucked out with these conditions. The surf seemed to have come up a bit for our exit to shore. As we lined up outside the waves, guides were on shore giving us signs to paddle fast on the back of a wave or paddle backwards to avoid getting caught in the face of the “monster”. It certainly was fun to watch as, one-by-one, individual kayaks succeeded to land upright or get dumped in the surf. Then came our turn. I was in a tandem and thought that was to our advantage in providing stability. We got mixed messages. “Paddle HARD!” then “Paddle BACKWARDS!”

Retrieved Plastic from the Sea

As I looked behind us, it became obvious that we were in for a good ride. The wave broke on us and we managed to keep our vessel pointing straight ahead and upright. That was a nice adrenalin rush! We only tipped over In the last 2 feet of water as we were hopping out.

A good time was had by all. Santa Barbara Adventure Co reported excellent evaluations from everybody and then made a healthy donation to Gaviota Coast Conservancy. This amazing day proved successful in increasing the desire to protect Gaviota Coast. Thank you SB Adventure Co and all who took the trip.

See you on the Gaviota Coast!


Osprey Sightings on the Coast

Osprey with Flying Fish


There is just something about the way it flies, that bird cruising overhead. You think it's a gull, but the beat of its wings, and the angular, “M” silhouette cause you pause. If the bird is close enough, the dominant dark color, snowy underbelly and hooked black beak tell you it's not a gull, but an osprey! This is the fishing hawk, and a cool bird of prey found along the Gaviota Coast. 

You can spot the Osprey in flight, or perched near the sea in a tree or on a line. From there, it can take flight to pluck its prey, almost exclusively fish, from the water and rotate it so that the fish is aerodynamically arranged in its talons. The Osprey is somewhat unusual as a single species of land based bird found so widely distributed. From Scandinavia to Australia, Alaska to Florida to Argentina, the Osprey is found nearly everywhere except Australia. There are only a few other single, land-based species so widely distributed. 

For those who struggle to distinguish between our feathered brethren, there are some things to watch for. The Osprey is slightly bigger and heavier than a Western Gull, which is the common gull around the Gaviota Coast. The Osprey is dark brown on top, and streaked and white underneath, and up close, it has a mask across its eyes, and black talons rather than the pink webbed feet of the gull. Its head bears the classic curved beak of a raptor, not the straight one (with dot) of a gull.

Osprey Perched Peering Down


Cool Osprey features include nostrils that close on diving, backwards facing barbs on the talons to retain its slippery catch, and dense, oily plumage that prevents water logging. While the Osprey can be prey of the largest raptors like the Golden or Bald eagle, kleptoparasitism more common. Bald eagles steal the Osprey's catch.

The Osprey fell victim to the pesticides of decades past, but have made a substantial recovery. However, they still make Audubon's list of the birds designated as Climate Endangered, those whose populations may decrease by are 50 percent of their current range by 2050 if climate trends continue..

Keep an eye out for the Osprey along the Gaviota Coast, harbors, and county beaches.

See you on the coast!


A Walk on the Wild Side

Wild Fennel, Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed

Nature can be cruel and nature can be kind. Take the wild fennel plant for example. It’s seeds and young stems are edible and can be steeped into a tea which can be very good for the digestive system. If you are experiencing bloating, fennel can be your friend. The wild hemlock plant looks very much like fennel and can be irrevocably deadly if ingested. It could be easy to confuse the two plants in the wild.


Emily Sanders, Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed

Emily Sanders, founder of Artemisia Academy, explained where her infatuation with plants and their medicinal properties began. She was not brought up by botanists who taught her to love wild leafy things. She preferred shopping malls over wilderness trails.

As she struck out on a new backpacking experience, Emily was thrilled to learn of a new environment beyond fashion and pretty clothes. In fact, she told some of us on an herb walk at Baron Ranch, that she got violently sick on one of her new wilderness experiences. She didn’t go into gory details but I could only imagine giardia which comes from water contaminated with bacteria with animal feces. It can render one helpless like when you have food poisoning. On that trip she met some people who showed her how to make a tea from mint which would help alleviate much of her digestive discomfort. It worked! She was impressed and decided to learn more about the power of medicinal plants.

As an employee of Gaviota Coast Conservancy, I am always looking for new ways of experiencing the valuable resources we have available to us in this majestic area. I had heard of Herb Hikes and so I embarked on a Google search for the Santa Barbara area. Artemisia, a Santa Barbara herb school, popped up and I contacted Emily. She was excited to offer a walk and we decided on Baron Ranch as a starting point.

Our small group was confronted by National Forest trail closures due to the high fire danger. We hadn’t thought this would affect the coastal areas. Never the less, we were there and nobody wanted to turn back. Clad in our Covid mask armour, our hearty group decided it was worthwhile to proceed down the frontage road which led to the closed trailhead. We were encouraged to see small flags marking native plants that are part of a restoration project.

The lovely minty fragrance of purple sage caught my attention. Its essential oils contain antibacterial properties and can clear congestion in the nose, lungs and throat. It can be used for an expectorant and can stimulate circulation. Coastal sagebrush, also known as “cowboy cologne” has a fun wild fragrance but is very bitter as a tea which can stimulate digestion. There are many non-native plants that also contain beneficial healing properties.

Emily expressed a valuable lesson she learned from some Chumash friends. It is as important to give as to receive. She encouraged us to plant medicinal herb plants in our yards and other surroundings, especially the native varieties.

If we harvest these plants in the wild, we can deplete our resources. If we learn to identify the invasive yet medicinal plants like the yellow mustard, then take what we want. It is important to maintain a balance in all we do. Give and receive.

Hemlock at Baron Ranch, Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed

This was just the beginning of our introduction to the wild medicinal plant world.

I look forward to the next journey. We have a walk planned for Gaviota Wind Tunnels on October 24 and another to Gaviota Hot Springs on November 21.

Contact Emily at Artemisia Academy if you want to be included on these trips or if you want to learn what the academy has to offer.



Geology Investigation on the Gaviota Coast

A Work of Art or Ancient History?


A Conversation between Janet Koed and Susie Bartz

Janet: When I saw this formation on a Gaviota beach stroll, I saw an amazing sculpture created by the great Mother Nature, a gift for anyone passing by who happened to look up. Then I became curious to know how the Wizard Mother’s work might be explained in scientific terms. Because I had been on a beach walk with Suzie Bartz and knew her to be a geology buff, I sent the photo to her for interpretation.

Susie: In the photo, we’re seeing the rich variety of layered sedimentary rock in the Monterey Formation. Those are the wavy white and dark gray layers of the background.  Into this is nestled a perfectly rounded rock, in contrast to the linear design of the Monterey rock behind it.

Geologically speaking, the multi-colored Monterey layers in your photo show three features (folding, faulting, and fracturing) caused by the stresses of tectonic compression acting in our region.  The S-shaped fold is called a drag fold, formed when the rock was deformed from its original shape as a stack of flat layers. A nifty little fault rising up from the bottom and leaning toward the upper left corner, may provide a slippage plane on which the fold is riding.  And the very faint rusty lines probably are tiny fractures filled with iron.

In contrast to the contorted Monterey rock layers, the rounded rock probably came from the sandstone cliffs of the mountains, carried in storms down a creek to the beach. Here the sandstone would have gotten rolled about and abraded to a beautiful smooth shape by the surf, contributing loosened sand grains in the process. It’s this erosion of sandstone, mostly from our mountains, that supplies the sand of our beaches. 

Quite a story in a picture. As they say, one picture is worth a thousand words! Thank you for sending this one. ~ Suzie

Janet: I had to know more so I asked Suzie to give me an estimated timeline regarding Monterey Formations

The Monterey Formation is a sedimentary marine organic mudstone (aka shale). It collected from gazillions of microscopic marine organisms, whose bodies died and fell into the ocean basins off the west coast from about 20 million to 6 million years ago (Miocene age).  It’s found in the sea cliffs, with a lot of it along our central coast. Much of it is also found inland along the ridges of some higher mountains, like Little Pine and Zaca Ridge, Hurricane Deck, and others. 

This whole area was underwater until the San Andreas action began to affect us, about 18 million years ago. The resulting and ongoing compression has deformed the coastal borderland, including the offshore continental shelf, and has pushed it up. 

out of the water and up to thousands of feet high. This tectonic compression formed our Santa Ynez Mountains including the Coldwater and Gaviota Sandstone cliffs that supplied your pretty little rounded rock (50-60 million years old) as well as the uplifted Monterey mudstones that form the sea cliff. ~ Suzie

Janet: I wish to thank Susie Bartz and Mother Nature for this story. 

Now, can anyone give me your interpretation of this one?  I call her Pangolini.

What's Your Interpretation?


Interested in learning more about Gaviota Coast geology?

Join us for a geology hike on Saturday, October 17 from 2:00 to 5:00 pm at Haskell's Beach. We are limited to 14 people and ask for a $10 fee to reserve your place. Call Janet at 805-683-6631.


Coastal Cleanup Month Diary

For several Years, Gaviota Coast Conservancy has been in charge of trash pickup on Refugio State Beach on Coastal Cleanup Day. In so many ways, this year is different. We are encouraged to go visit our favorite beaches, pick up trash and avoid crowds. And so, I set out with a friend or three each week to do my part.

DAY 1: First, I was invited to sail to Santa Cruz Island with Rich and Jane. This was not necessarily a trash reconnaissance.  We had our eyes focused on looking for whales, dolphins and other ships as we navigated in and out of the fog. Seas were calm and glassy. “What is that up ahead?”, I asked. “it looks like a buoy” Jane replied.  “But what’s it doing way out here?” Rich said he thought it was a bird. As we got closer, we realized the object was neither a buoy nor a bird. It was a bundle of mylar balloons! Aha, trash! Captain Rich steered toward the plastic discards and handed me the buoy hook. Alas, we fetched the unicorn-embellished balloons out of the ocean. Hopefully, we prevented a seabird or mammal from getting tangled up in someone’s celebration. Ocean trash is not only unsightly but can be dangerous to sea life. And yes, we did get to see pods of those playful dolphins and a majestic blue whale on that trip.

Unicorn Trash

Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed

DAY 2: It being a whole month of Coastal Cleanup, I set out with Jane on our kayaks from Goleta Beach on Labor Day weekend. Knowing we could not stop and linger on this holiday because beaches were only open for those activities that keep your person in motion, we paddled up the coast. The search was ON for tidbits of plastic and other manufactured discards that did not benefit birds and sea life. Those Explore Ecology kids must have been there before us as pickings were slim.

Cleanup via Kayak

Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed

DAY 3: The next Coastal Cleanup session took Kris, Sally, Nancy and me to Naples Beach even though we suspected there might not be much trash. This stretch of Gaviota Coast is more remote where the occasional visitors tend to respect the pristine nature here. It was an opportunity to take in some beautiful scenery, jump in the water and check our trash intuition. We hardly found a remnant of undesirable rubble.

Naples Cleanup Crew

Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed

DAY 4: Max, Elizabeth, Dianne and Carell contacted me to enlist in the GCC Volunteer Cleanup Core. We met at Refugio State Beach and headed east and west sweeping the sand for treasure and plastic doubloons. This scenic, well-used beach gave us a sense of purpose. We encountered more rubbish than at the other places we scoured. We also discovered a pretty bush with pink flowers growing out of the side of the cliff. I texted a picture to Dr. Lisa Stratton who identified it as the highly-invasive Tamarix! Perhaps we should go on an invasive plant cleanup one day. Meanwhile, we ended up at Naples again for a picnic on this rewarding day.

Refugio Cleanup Crew

Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed


Tamarix Plant

Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed

Nancy and Rich took trash initiative on themselves at Hendry’s

Nancy and Rich's Cleanup Adventure

Thank you to Explore Ecology, Surfrider and ALL volunteers who helped clean up our beaches this month. May each of you help continue the project, on a daily basis, indefinitely.

Janet Koed


Earth Kanji

Earth Kanji

Kanji with black seaweed by Greg Karpain

Kanji: a Japanese system of writing that utilizes characters borrowed or adapted from Chinese writing also: a single character in the kanji system – Merriam Webster Dictionary

What is “Earth Kanji” and what does that have to do with our beautiful Gaviota Coast? This is a blog post inspired by my adventures and explorations on the Gaviota Coast.  I’ve been up in the otherworldly rock and manzanita formations on top of the coast range, all over the Naples ocean bluff, and all the way down along the beach and streams of the coast itself. Every outing brings a thousand new things.

I started viewing and appreciating the Gaviota Coast from both the big vista point of view as well as the “micro” vista point of view.  Every big vista is made up of countless micro bits, very like the strokes of paint on a work of art. 

One day, walking along the beaches, I noticed that the last tide had washed up and “arranged” many different “pictures” consisting of twigs, or seaweed, or a combination of seaweed and colored stones, etc.  When looking at some of these arrangements, I noticed that many of them resembled Japanese and Chinese kanji characters.  A kanji character, in a nutshell, is a language character that has a unique meaning in both Japanese and Chinese. I suddenly had fun thinking that each of these arrangements I found on the beach was, perhaps, a way the earth was speaking to me with its own “Earth Kanji” characters.  So, I began calling them “Earth Kanji” and taking photos of them.  I also noticed that many of these micro arrangements I saw all around me made some of the most beautiful abstracts I had ever seen. 

My Introduction to Kanji

On my 14th birthday, my Mother gave me a copy of a book called the Tao Te Ching written by Lao Tzu. It’s a book of ancient Chinese wisdom. This book was full of lovely old Chinese drawings with these beautiful kanji characters written on the page. The English translation of these fascinating kanji characters was on the facing page. I was so impressed with the “art” of each kanji, that I even made up fake kanji characters on some of my early attempts at painting. Some of my friends asked me where I had learned to write Chinese.  Ha!

As I looked down at these arrangements, those old kanji images came to mind.  What I was actually looking at was a small group of ocean-worn sticks in an arrangement, one that looked like someone put it together that way on purpose. Then I realized that each of those sticks originated up at the top of the range, fallen from a manzanita, or oak, and washed down one of many streams during a storm, and then was bounced around and cleaned and bleached by the ocean, and then put together by the tide and washed up where I happened to walk that day on the Gaviota Coast. A message just for me – right?

Since then, I have had a LOT of fun, noticing wherever I walk, all different varieties of Earth Kanji and taking photos of them.  Of course, there’s no seaweed up on top of the bluffs, or up a hiking trail, but the same kinds of arrangements can be found literally anywhere one looks.  Perhaps a kanji photo could consist of colored stones in the bottom of a clear stream pool, or the colored algae on a weathered orange and brown sandstone boulder, or in the nook of a burned manzanita which is half brilliant Indian red, and the other half black and charred from a fire.

A fun fact: Unlike our alphabet that has 26 letters, the Japanese and Chinese kanji systems have 50,000 kanjis! Just imagine a spelling B using kanji. 50,000 separate characters is admittedly a lot to learn, but we all know that the earth has a lot more than 50,000 kanjis. So far, I haven’t run across the same arrangement twice, and I don’t think I ever will. But I have discovered that there is amazing beauty in all the little Earth Kanji bits that make up every large vista on the coast.

To help you visualize an actual Japanese kanji, here is a chart of some common kanji symbols:

Exercising Our Appreciation Muscles

I continually exercise and expand my “appreciation muscles” by appreciating the ten thousand little bits that make up each “big picture” on the Gaviota Coast. It’s like picking out a favorite painting in a museum and then slowly walking up to it, until my eyes are about 5 inches away from the canvas. The big picture disappears and all I can see is a marvelous and intricate scrabbling and scribbling of magic little lines and colors that are fascinating designs in and of themselves. Each of these little scrabbles and scribbles I think of as kanji.

One day, as I was looking at these mini parts that make up the Gaviota Coast, I thought that perhaps the Earth also is using a kind of Earth Kanji to say things to me, unerring and unassailable things of beauty and love and life. As I “read” the kanji below, this is what is said to me:


The moon makes its own meaning,
perhaps, by not asking.

I have asked,
and then, years later,
learned to listen:

Leaves don’t merely rustle
on a still, hot day
full of raucous light,
they say things,
like the moon,
unerring and unassailable,
simply, by not asking.

With the idea of Earth Kanji now firmly set in mind, I went a-hunting and gathering for some more Earth Kanji to “read.” What was the Earth saying to me today, I wondered?

Below is the next Earth Kanji message I found. I’m still working on the translation. Remember, a kanji isn’t just a letter, it’s a thing, or a concept. Maybe you can figure it out?


After a bit of contemplation, I sensed that the first kanji of this message, the kanji made up of the tar and the rock, was the Earth telling me something about slowing down to “smell the beauty”. Slowing down helped me see the rest of the kanji in this particular message of three. After some time quietly sitting on a boulder cradled by a manzanita, I finally deciphered what it was saying to me:

as this vast peace
consumed me, i turned.
i felt your presence,
as if you were a standing oak,
as if the stream,
singing and giving life
was your love, and my love,
as if the single cry of a bird
was all i have ever known of you

I had my lunch and pondered this new way of hearing and seeing the Earth speak to me.  Then I remembered that magic trick I learned at the museum, that if I simply walk back a few feet, the big picture, which is made out of all the ten thousand little bits, can be seen.  This is what I saw:

the endless going and return;
when the days are this hot,
when the wild grasses are as
much their scent as their form,
we all do reap as we sow.

father, mother, small birds in the sky:
help me to sow myself,
grow me and cut me and grow me
until I am nothing but this red earth
from which I came.

this is my desire.

Returning Home

As it was getting late, and the hot August days were shortening the light, I started back toward home. But I wanted to listen to the Earth tell me one more kanji story before I left.  So, I slowly meandered, randomly peeking here and there, until I saw the next kanji message.


Filled with this final message for the day, I drove home to Carpinteria.  I felt this particular Earth Kanji message keep circulating and refining itself inside me. This one merged itself into me, telling me something I knew I wanted and needed to hear.  But I wanted to be sure I got this one right.  I slept on it.  First light cleared away the marine layer in my mind:

If you place yourself
exactly who and when you are,
as rain blossoms earth,
love will find itself to you.

Be still as sagebrush,
river, stone, and sky.
Think like them.
Open your eyes to moon
until outside comes in.
It will find itself to you.

No matter if you pray,
or not, speak from heart.
Yearn and live in love.
Become a prayer.
It will find itself to you.

Love finds itself to God,
blood flows through veins,
and tears bloom hearts.
Reside inside of love,
and It will bind itself to you.

A Gaviota Coast Conservancy Invitation

I’m pretty sure that many of you reading this have noticed all of the above on your travels. If so, you know how fun it is, and how it fills you up with beauty. I invite you to pass this great way of listening to, and hearing what the earth has to say to us, to your kids on hikes. Photos with phones are fun, but just seeing these Earth Kanjis is as much fun as taking photos. No camera needed. Maybe you, and / or your children would like to send in a blogpost to the GCC website too.  Of course, the Gaviota Coast is a great place to explore. But these days, if it’s too far, don’t let that stop you.  After all, the beauty found on the Gaviota Coast can, and should, be found everywhere around us.  

Finding Earth Kanjis can be as much fun as searching for shells or driftwood on the beach. And now I look for messages wherever I go.  The Earth always answers me. 



Paddle Paradise on the Gaviota Coast

Paddling Paradise, photo courtesy of Ken Pearson


Imagine stepping out your front door, driving to a nice beach on the Gaviota Coast and launching through the small surf to the glassy waters beyond. Does this sound like a Covid-19 fantasy dream? You can do it in REAL life REAL time! We have figured out a safe way to make this happen. Well, “safe” is a transient word in our vocabularies, these days of pandemic, fire and smoke. Just stepping out our front doors involves some risk. If you’re curious about kayaking with us on the Gaviota Coast, read on.

Kayak Launch at Haskell's Beach, photo courtesy of Ken Pearson


On Saturday, October 3, Santa Barbara Adventure Company is offering a guided paddle from Haskell’s Beach to Driftwoods or Seals and back. They deliver kayaks to the water’s edge and shove us off with all the necessary gear. Their experienced guides will stay with us as we paddle up the coast. If the tide allows, we will land on Seals Beach, talk about Gaviota and the work of Gaviota Coast Conservancy, then head back to Haskell’s. The roundtrip is about four hours.

I have made this trip with another outfitter three times, and can tell you it has always been exciting and magical. Once the surf was a bit larger than the usual rolling curls, but we all got out with the help of our guides. The ride back in was very exciting and a few people fell out of their sit-on-top vessels. Those on shore cheered them on and paddlers came up laughing, no worse off than when they started, but wetter. Another time, the water was extremely glassy and the kelp forests flaunted their magnificence. Dolphins appeared! I was most impressed with an 80-year-old woman’s stories of kayaking in Alaska with her son in years past. Yes, she was paddling with us. 

This will be an adventure! Conditions are dictated by Mother Nature. I can tell you it’s a treat to have competent guides deliver all the gear and the safety knowledge they have accumulated with training and experience. I am not a young woman, but I trust these people to get us out there and back in this beautiful place. SB Adventure Co follows procedures for keeping guests distanced and Covid regulated. They instruct all on basic paddling techniques, and help us launch if we want. Call them if you have questions or concerns. Participants should be able to swim, and comfortable in the ocean. Children must be five years or older, and accompanied by a parent or guardian.


Gaviota Coast Conservancy Benefit

Guided Kayak Trip

Cost: $122/person 

Cancellation fees apply 

At least 50% goes to Gaviota Coast Conservancy

Saturday, Oct. 3, 9:30am to approximately 1:30pm

Registration through SB Adventure Co, call 805-884-9283 or click

Mention that your're with the Gaviota Coast Conservancy trip

See you on the coast!


Sea Kelp! Photo courtesy of Ken Pearson


Scenic Trash

Gaviota Coast Conservancy Scenic Highway sign

Gaviota Coast Conservancy Scenic Highway Sign


When you’re driving up the Gaviota Coast you probably don’t notice much trash along the side of the road. That might be because you’re looking at the majestic mountains, the expansive ocean with its alluring islands, or the dreamy clouded sky. In 2016 Gaviota Coast Conservancy worked to get the Gaviota Coast section of Hwy 101 designated as a California Scenic Highway. This designation affords some protection of viewsheds by establishing them as “Scenic.” GCC has adopted 2 miles of this area as trash pick up guardians. One Saturday a month, you can see two or more Board members out there on the side of the road, with their lime green vests, collecting unwanted discards.

When I heard that Richard Hunt and Warren Powers were on volunteer trash patrol August 29, I decided it was a good time to lend a hand. These folks always have good stories to tell about trash. And besides this allure, Warren offered to take me kayaking at Refugio after our work was done. Off I went to meet them at Farren Road where we would shuttle one car up to Dos Pueblos Canyon Rd.

Roadside trash

Roadside Trash


Warren and I head out on the east section of the highway with our “grabber” tools and collection bags. At first, the trash situation looked rather light. As we proceeded up the coast, it became apparent that there were many plastic bottles, fast food cups, black plastic pieces as well as assorted papers like a traffic citation, some home remodel invoices! The abundant black plastic seemed to be parts from old cars or other vehicles.  Warren spots a green racer snake we hope is moving toward the foothills rather than the road. Richard and Skyler have sad reports of owl and hawk carcasses, no doubt victims of the highway traffic. Their bags are filled with trash similar to ours.

The prize on our stretch of highway is a dollar bill Warren found. He has a knack for turning trash into treasure so I can’t wait to hear what he does with the money. Next time you hurl something out of the car on the Gaviota Coast, please include donations larger than $1. Most likely, if you’re reading this, you aren’t someone who casts trash out the car window on purpose. You might prefer to make your donation on our website at Gaviota Coast Conservancy

Trash dollar

Treasure Found


Our bags are left for Caltrans to pick up and deliver to Tajiguas landfill. Warren fantasizes we might return the trash to the doorsteps of those who tossed it out the window.  Our work done, we head for Refugio. The kayaking off Refugio is glorious and we only find one plastic bag out in the ocean. Hurray for only one plastic bag!  The dolphins we see appreciate us keeping our human rubbish in the landfill and keeping single use plastics to a bare minimum if we must use them at all.

September happens to be Coastal Cleanup Month and we encourage you to visit your favorite stretch of coastline and bring some trash back with you. We would love to receive photos of you and your trash to post on our website. If you have a good story, please send that too.

Thank you Gaviota volunteers and supporters!


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