Since November when I wandered off to Hawaii and back again, I have noticed Christmas colors gradually seep into the vistas and fine details of Honolulu and Hanalei and back again to San Juan Bautista, Monterey and Carmel. Reflections of ochre and forest greens shine in window panes, wet streets, and metallic fabrics everywhere I turn. The colors have been a curious mix of subtly dark earthen hues and then quick flashes of hammered gold and pounded silver. The dashes of brilliance have been small, compressed, and vibrant, as if they were fire itself. The season is pulsing with a tempered organic vitality, a dampened but hardly suppressed vigor that wants to spring free and grow. There is possibility, a kinetic potential of poised energy awaiting its moment. A dancer feels it as the moment just before the first downbeat of the music.
It has been a visual feast of a season but a quiet one, one in which delicate sounds have been more noticeable than powerful ones. That very thing, though, emphasizes the feeling of coiled energy, as if the world has hushed to a whisper and rustle as it realizes the dancer is ready to begin.
I spent a good part of the day with friends in Carmel with Christmas glittering and shining in bits and pieces as we walked to town, and flowing before me on the beach at sunset.
Carmel is a very small city surrounded on three sides by scenery so beautiful it makes your eyes blur with tears sometimes. On the fourth side is a highway busy with traffic and human industry. In the middle of it all is a peculiar and unique collection of people, their homes and their dogs. Because it is all so unique and peculiar, it is odd. Beauty and oddity is eccentric and that is really what Carmelites delight in. Even if they don't delight in it, their peculiarities persist and they remain eccentric. They insist on doing so many fussy and unusual things, collectively, that it gets to a point that if they did not have their own little city to live in, they might not really be able to survive anywhere else. They, and their dogs, are rare breeds who require excessive amounts of attention and deference. But, they are good people nonetheless and care deeply.
All that being said, I still love Carmel. I don't spend much time in town even though it's very pretty. Instead, I get to points south of Carmel where I have more breathing room and can feast my eyes on the exact thing that has brought all those peculiar people to Carmel: The ocean and the land that meets it there.
At the end of the day my friends and I went to Carmel River State Beach. There, we breathed deeply and stood still. Christmas faded away from my mind and so did the rest of the universe. In every direction there was natural splendor, and I was a squeak, a twinkle, a dot. Then the forces of life and nature got on with their show, dancing with bright banners and pennants, flinging plumes and leaping spray, a booming shorebreak and hissing foam.
There's this thing about sunsets at that particular beach that I saw today: It is emblematic of change and transition. Far out in the western sky the blazing sun descends through layers of shifting cirrus clouds, sinking inexorably to the horizon. To the south, surf pounds and leaps against stalwart cliffs that gradually crumble. The flying surf atomizes into a drifting haze of mist that drifts inland. Nearby, the Carmel River flows sinuously but quietly across the sloping beach to meet the thumping waves. One form of water flows into another and then becomes cloud again, shifting and eddying, lifting and falling. Gulls and pelicans stitch between breakers and sky, all through time. None of it needs us to see it; it is fine on its own.
Millions and millions of people have come and gone from Carmel, admired its man-made beauty and determination to be different, but it would not be worth a red cent if it did not have that incredible ocean moving restlessly at its flank. I saw scarlet, crimson, gold and silver shining in the windows of Carmel, windows decorated with lights and expensive trinkets and goods. But the colors of life itself spread themselves in shimmering perfection at sunset. Life is kinetic energy represented in the colors of Christmas that I've been seeing this winter. Life is waiting, biding its time, signaling its presence in the colors of a golden sunset and every wet reflection and glistening drop of water.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way