Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dana Point

This summer I read Richard Dana's Two Years Before the Mast.  It held me in its grip--so much so I was saddened when I reached the end.  He describes a California coastline full of natural beauty, untouched by the hordes of people who poured into the state a mere twenty years later.  It is one of the few books we have that gives us an accurate slice of life in the 1830's.  When Dana returned to California in his old age, he was dumbfounded by the changes.

 Dana Point was named in the author's honor.   The passage in his book describing these headlands is so beautiful, I want to share it with you here: 

San Juan is the only romantic spot in California.  The country here for several miles is high table-land, running boldly to the shore, and breaking off in a steep hill, at the foot of which the waters of the Pacific are constantly dashing.  For several miles the water washes the very base of the hill, or breaks upon ledges and fragments of rocks which run out in the sea.  Just where we landed was a small cove, or "bight", which gave us, at high tide, a few square feet of sand-beach between the sea and the bottom of the hill.
Today, the tops of the cliffs are lined with million dollar homes.  The view, however, is still gorgeous despite the mass of humanity surrounding it.  My travel buddy and I bought sandwiches at the Tudor and Spunky Deli and walked to the gazebo and had lunch.  A replica of the Pilgrim is anchored in the cove below.

We tried to imagine the mission's inhabitants throwing the hides over the cliffs to the sailors below.   Vessels from the east coast of the United States sailed up and down California in the 1800's, filling their ships with hides.  They took them back to Boston where they were made into shoes, belts, bags and saddles.
We then drove down the hill to the rocky beach he describes.  It's a little easier to understand his rapture when you are looking out at the ocean than it is from above.  There is nothing but water, rocks and birds--possibly the very scene Dana witnessed.

I separated myself from the rest, and sat down on a rock, just where the sea ran in and formed a fine spouting horn.  Compared with the plain, dull sand-beach of the rest of the coast, this grandeur was as refreshing as a great rock in a weary land.  It was almost the first time that I had been positively alone--free from the sense that human beings were at my elbow, if not talking with me--since I had left home. . . Everything was in accordance with my state of feeling, and I experienced a glow of pleasure at finding that what of poetry and romance I ever had in me, had not been entirely deadened by the laborious and frittering life I had led.

A magical moment!

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