There’s a beautiful natural state park near Carmel called Point Lobos – “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world” as the artist Francis McComas said. I like to think of it as my now secret park, even though it’s a renown public reserve.
It’s filled with sandy trails that lead into secret beaches and coves, eerily intricate trees with twisting branches and copper-colored moss, hollow caves with noisy sea lions, and rocky cliffs that overlook the ocean. I discovered it last month when my dad, stepmom, and younger sister invited me to spend the day with them in Carmel to celebrate my birthday. I’ve been to Carmel a few times now and visited sites such as Pebble Beach, the charming downtown scene where J & I shot our engagement photos at the L’Auberge Carmel hotel, and the coastal views along the 17-mile drive. I have never heard of Point Lobos. My sister and I were impressed that my stepmom had discovered the park and lovely Mission Ranch via a simple Google search. She was excited that we could explore the new scene together. My dad was excited at the opportunity to capture more landscape photos. I was excited to spend an entire day with them –an event that has not happened for several years.
We started with brunch at the Mission Ranch, which provided a beautiful countryside backdrop –sprawling green meadow, hazy ocean in the distance, and a herd of sheep. Sheep during brunch! I sipped my mimosa, sliced into the prime rib with au jus, and bit into my french toast while I watched 35 Scottish Blackface sheep idly resting beneath the shady tree. The scene was odd and comforting. Another odd fun fact: I learned that Clint Eastwood (former mayor of Carmel!) helped restore the Mission Ranch and were fond of the sheep, the popular pets of the establishment. A worker in the gift shop told me that after one of the sheep had surgery for its broken leg, he was named Clyde as an homage to an Eastwood film.
We spent a few hours meandering through the Point Lobos trails to counter our sleep-inducing brunch buffet. My dad snapped the polarizing filter onto his trusty DSLR Canon and slung the strap over his neck. It was a move as familiar to him as tying his shoes or adjusting his glasses. These days, my iPhone snaps more travel photos than my Canon Rebel XS or newly purchased Canon S95, so I admired my dad’s consistency and dedication for quality images. We stopped every 15 minutes to admire the scenery and attempt to capture the rich landscape with our devices – my stepmom and I with our iPhones and my dad with his more substantial camera.
I felt like I was wandering through the haunting and enchanted forest of a Tim Burton film. I imagined that the shadows of a headless horseman could very well have dashed across the ghostly thicket of trees. It was fun trekking down the path and turning the corner to be delighted by sights such as the Gibson Beach or China’s Shore. It was an enclosed spot that invited lingering, long talks on the soft sand or dipping your toes in the chilly water.
The photos could not capture the blue-green water of the coast, the way the fog gently draped above the mountain top, the earthy smell of old rock, seawater, and trees, and the delicate cobwebs of moss adorning the branches. It also couldn’t capture the pure elation I felt rising in my chest.
I loved the sight of my dad with his camera and excitedly leading the way down the path. An adventurer in worn jeans and brown walking shoes, his khaki baseball cap turned backwards. I wanted to be next to him, peek over his shoulder and wonder how his world looked through those heavy lens.
Perhaps taking me and our family on these fun trips and vacations was his nonverbal way of sharing that perspective and excitement with us –with me. My dad and I don’t engage in a lot of deep, ongoing conversations. We love each other, but our exchanges are usually affectionate and light in nature. For lack of speaking, my dad made up for it with small acts and grand gestures of family trips.
When my sister, brother, and I were kids up until our tween years, my dad and stepmom planned family trips every year. Childhood summers brought road trips to Los Angeles and Disneyland, camping in Yosemite, weekend stays in Reno and Las Vegas, and one time, a trek to Phoenix, Arizona. I would rest comfortably in the backseat and drowsily stare out at the left window to see the sunset and night air fall. Sleeping to the sounds of the moving car along the freeway and my dad and stepmom humming along to a CD was a safe, familiar place. My dad led our family through thousands of miles, steering with his hands and tired right foot. This was my dad’s way of communicating his world with me. I just wasn’t listening carefully.
And like we had done so many times for several years, my sister and I nodded off in the backseat while my dad contentedly drove us home from Carmel. As we were headed to get pho for dinner, my stepmom spontaneously decided to take me somewhere new. My dad turned around and drove to a Vietnamese restaurant in a ubiquitous Asian plaza where she ordered the staple dish cha ca –sizzling fish with turmeric seasoning and dill. The fish was perfectly crisp and charred on the outside. At the light touch of chopsticks, it easily came apart. It was meant to be devoured with small bowlfuls of cold rice vermicelli, shredded mint, basil, and parsley leaves, and a plentiful sauce of nuoc mam and mam — fish sauce and shrimp paste. It was my first time that I could recall eating and enjoying cha ca. It’s been a long time when I had felt completely at peace sitting around the table with my family after spending an entire day together. The flavors were all familiar, yet the combination surprising and satisfying.