La Jolla, "the place of caves", was once a native Indian foraging area and then, in the mid 1880's, La Jolla "the jewel" became a bucolic picnic spot that was a two hour horse and carriage ride from San Diego. Once a flat and dusty green treeless expanse, it has grown lush with exotic trees and flowers. Water is a game changer the world round. Then, as now, La Jolla's magic was the ocean and the shoreline along which it bordered.
Many of the famed rock formations, much heralded in the 1800's as news of La Jolla spread across the country, are now gone. Alligator Rock at the Cove was still there when I was a child but wind and waves combined to erode the faces of the rocks and the caves into new forms. The dark gray sedimentary and sandstone rock cliffs periodically extend into the ocean. Between them the exposed beaches and underlying rock layers reveal tide pools when the sand has seasonally been swept out to sea and the tide is out. Long cracks that extend between uplifted layers and rounded pools shaped by sea urchins or wave action and pummeling sand, rocks and shells are home to many small creatures. I was introduced to the wonder of the ocean and it's shores when I was a year old, it has been a very long love affair.
Sea life in La Jolla's tide pools has the usual mix of flora and fauna. Anemones, limpets, sea grass, sea stars, sea lettuce, sponge, chitons, and algae usually cling to the sides of the pool with sculpin, fiddler and hermit crabs, periwinkles and opal eye ( a dark little fish with a light oval spot on each side of the ridge along it's back). I don't mean to be jaded, but those are the plants and creatures usually found. Occasionally something really special can be found. Through the years I've learned when to go to find lobster lurking in the shadows, where to find sea urchins, (spiny explosions of orange and purple), sea slugs, sea cucumbers, brittle starfish, or the many spectacular and varied fanciful forms of the nudibranch. For me, the number one creature to find, and as elusive as they are known to be, is the octopus!
I spent much of my youth among the tide pools and so to as an adult. I had searched and searched for an octopus. I spent quite a bit of time at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, learned about octopi, read about them, watched them, touched them in various tanks around the country. Now, as a jeweler, they are a favorite subject of pendants named for any famous association to the ocean such as Bowditch, Monk, and Ringo (try to puzzle that one out). I would sit and wait, unmoving, keeping my shadow off the water, hoping to see just a glimpse of a tentacle. Nothing. Year after year, nothing. Nothing until one day, one bright and gorgeous sunny southern California early afternoon when I took my children and a few of their cousins to the beach with me.
We walked down through the canyon amid the cactus, ice plant, wild anise, chaparral, sagebrush, lizards, dragonflies , stink bugs, bees and spiders to Nautilus then down to Windansea. There was a bit of sand on the beach so the tide pools there weren't very much exposed. Hopping from rock to rock, climbing up and over the sandstone walls we walked along the beautiful beaches to the southern edge of Hospitals, a surf spot. Here the sedimentary rock extends to the ocean and has been carved into a series of long and narrow alleys. The tide was out and the wide pools were about mid thigh deep on me. The kids thought it great fun and were more excited about splashing through the water than looking for anything interesting. With all the ruckus I had little hope of finding anything so I'd half given up when, crossing the second or third pool, a quick glance to my right brought my mind into focus. "What is that?" I looked back through the mirrored ceiling of the pool to the large rounded rocks scattered across the tide pool floor. My eyes settled on one rock, there was something....different. I looked. The children were gone, it was quiet. Hmmmmm. I looked, unmoving, and then the octopus looked at me. It was only the movement of the eyes, but I saw it and we regarded one another.
I slowly walked closer, not wanting to scare the octopus. It was a small octopus all wound up on itself across the surface of a smooth oval stone the size of a bread loaf. Slow steps, barely making a wake, brought me ever closer while the octopus never took his eyes off me. Standing next to him and slowly leaning over I did what came unbidden. Some will think it's foolish, that's their history, but I have a different view of energy, the world and all the creatures that populate it. And so, I thanked the octopus and just gloried in it's magnificence, to see one in the wild that allowed me into it's space and then, only then, did I ask to be able to touch it. Slowly extending my hand to it's mantle, slowly I let my fingers gently touch and feel the gelatinous, amorphous body. The octopus was there in form, but, as they are famously known, can squeeze through a one inch hole. Touching an octopus under water made me feel like touching something that wasn't there. It was fabulous, it was odd, it was exhilarating! Withdrawing my hand, I regarded him a while longer wondering about him then I asked again for permission but this time, as I extended my hand towards him, he lifted up his siphon (the little tube on the left side of his head) and blew a gentle stream of water at me. OK then, we're done! I thanked him again and left the pool hoping that others that came after me would not see him or, if they did, would be careful and respectful of him. I called the children over to see him, they were very excited but just as interested in getting further down the beach.
We left Hospitals for the pools of Shell Beach and over to the Children's Cove to see the seals, but that's another story!