Fire and Fog on the California Coast

It’s summer on the Northern California coast—fog season. The fog moves in dramatically as an aerial waterfall flowing over the tops of the hills. It’s the only source of moisture during the extended dry season, and it’s what nurtures the growth of the coast redwoods found nowhere else on earth. The fog provides the temperature contrast with the intense summer heat inland and while the frequency varies year to year, it sees us through until the winter rains.

It seemed to be a relatively foggy summer until it wasn’t. Just still warm air, and then high winds bringing freak storm clouds shooting down dry lightning that ignited thousands of fires. And still no fog to slow down the flames.

Where I live is not in the fire zone but the smoke is intense. Seeking cleaner air and the comfort of nature, I headed toward the coast in Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the late afternoon. Traveling through the Marin Headlands, I spotted a coyote.

And the coyote spotted me.

I arrived at Rodeo Beach. Walking on the sand toward the waves, I looked across the ocean as I have countless times. But never had the sky looked like this. There was the fog, hovering over the water miles away. A thin strip of blue sky was visible above it, and on top was a giant layer of smoke drifting above and heading out to sea.

I watched the seabirds coming and going from appropriately named Bird Island, silhouetted against that strange sky. The cormorants traveled alone in straight lines, the solitary gulls meandered, and brown pelicans gracefully circled in groups and glided just above the water. I was watching a moving painting that was simultaneously ominous and beautiful.

I lingered to take in the fresh salt air. Before I left to sequester indoors with my air filters again, I watched the sunset with the eerie orange glow that only smoke can create. And willed the fog to come ashore.

Within the Buddhist teaching of Metta, translated as loving-kindness, is a phrase one says on behalf of all beings—may you be safe. For all affected by the fires, known and unknown, this is my wish for you.