Now that I am deep into my fall installs where 15 hour days are the norm, it seems like ages ago when we took some time off and headed down to California. In fact, it was just a few weeks ago. We attended a family wedding in Montecito, then drove up the coast to Carmel where we stayed for a week. Then up to SF for a quick spin around town before flying back to Seattle.
I love long drives through changing landscapes. Watching the terrain and plants shift, noting where water must be (much more evident in the dry CA hills) and seeing the effect of agriculture on the landscape. The bare and golden hills in CA are soothing, albeit an indicator of a harsh environment for plants. Not all plants though. Having last driven Big Sur over 15 years ago, I was shocked by the Cortaderia jubata (aka a form of pampas grass) that is rampant in this area. We all have our invasives, but it was incredible how this grass is marching over the rugged terrain of Big Sur – wave after wave of plumes. It was a bit surreal, actually. I can’t imagine how they would begin to control this weed that has taken to impassable slopes. In areas where the density was lower, you could see it beginning to spread down what were obviously drainage swales. All and all it was a sobering experience and a good reminder for why we need to vet plants before unleashing them into an environment.
On a more positive note, our time in Carmel was wonderful. My high point was a visit to Point Lobos - if you are in the area, this is an absolute must stop. Point Lobos and north of Carmel are the only two remaining spots where the Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) naturally grow. This is the quintessential California cypress – craggy, twisted and hanging off of a cliff over the sea. Not only are there plenty of cypress in Point Lobos, some covered in bright orange lichen, but many other interesting native flora including monkey flower, Ceanothus and my favorite – a succulent called “cliff lettuce” or Dudleya farinosa. All of course cloaked in the ubiquitous fog. Places like Point Lobos humble me as a designer – - I could spend a lifetime creating natural spaces, but I will never come close to matching the emotion of this landscape.
One evening, it was warm enough to eat outside at the Cypress Inn in Carmel. The warm air enhanced fragrance, and all evening we were treated to wave after wave of a scent we both recognized from where we met, UCLA. We asked the hotel if they knew what it was, but were met with amused but not helpful responses. We came back during daylight to hunt it down, but could not find the source. A trip to the Carmel Mission answered our question, as the fragrance again came at us in waves with the breeze. We traced it to an unassuming evergreen broadleaf, and positively identified it when we sniffed the tiny, white unassuming flowers. Based on my photos it appears to be Osmanthus fragrans…too bad we can’t grow it up here. It is amazing how powerful fragrance can be, immediately taking you back to a single moment in time. It was a perfect fragrance for that evening.
It is calming to just think about this trip and the beautiful landscapes we encountered…
OK enough of the mini-vacation…back to work.