Asked Hadi where he wanted to celebrate his 50th birthday and he chose the Pacific.
We had been working in two states and decided to head a little south, because forecasts called for better weather.
Oh, America, I wish you could see what I see.
In Northern California, temps topped 60F and the Pacific was alive with surfers, sea kayakers, and fishing boats by the dozen. It’s crab season on this coast, so we — and the feral cats — feasted on fresh crab.
We met fishermen (no women) with hands as rough as pine cones, but soft hearts. They were wary to speak to journalists at first, but then spent a lot of time explaining what they were catching (only crab), how they were fishing for it (all day, all night), and what they would be fishing for next (salmon).
They pointed out their boats, rocking gently in the harbor, and explained how they left their homes in Oregon to fish for crab in California because conditions were so good. The promise of a healthy harvest warranted the expense of another state license, and the travel time for these Oregon fishermen, far from their families for work.
We noted Oregon plates on a few idling tractor trailers. Dock workers explained the Oregon and California truckers would deliver the crab to Washington state. We figured that’s because many of these crabs are headed for other countries.
The crab were alive — we could see their claws stretching from plastic bins being loaded by forklift onto the trucks.
The next morning, everything the fishermen and dock workers had told us about a great crab season was confirmed. The wide beach where we walked each morning was covered with the red shells of dead crabs.
We were out soon after daybreak, yet the gulls already had feasted on crabs washed in with the tide. Carcasses and crab bits were scattered along the beaches for miles.
The weather was so good, and the sun so welcoming after days of frost elsewhere, that we stayed two days.
We met commercial divers, a couple on their anniversary, and a woman catching feral cats (41) so they could be neutered and released. These wild cats sit by the fishing boats, confident they’ll get tidbits. The volunteer trapping the cats said they’re likely domestic pets abandoned by their owners, but are too wild now to be touched.
We met many dog walkers, families, and an Oregon man who “worked the line” — fighting wildfires in summer — and was now working on building trusses for a slowly reviving housing industry.
Everywhere we went, people seemed content. They were happy in their retirement; they were happy to find work again; they were happy to welcome January sunshine to the beaches of Crescent City.
This is a working community of 8,805 (according to the welcome sign). Framed by charcoal beaches and great redwood forests, Crescent City has lost logging jobs but watched its population double in a decade because artists and others are settling here, away from California’s big cities.
We’ve stopped here several times in the past two years because it’s a good stopping point for travel between states. We also like the organic, vegetarian menu at the Good Harvest Cafe, recommended highly by fishermen and redwood hikers.
Like many walkers we met in the past two days, we’ve also left home just to drive 100 miles west to see the Pacific here.
There were many Oregon license plates in Crescent City this weekend. We spotted Minnesota, Texas and Alaska plates too — and plenty from British Columbia.
We chatted with every dog walker (we don’t have pets, so ask everyone about theirs), and many were Canadian. Met a sweet RV-camping couple from B.C. with their dog, a Jack Russell-whippet mix with the energy of a perpetual motion toy. She played fetch for awhile with Hadi, who marveled that one small dog would dash so far just to bite on a hunk of driftwood and bring it back. The terrier soon tired of humans with less energy.
It was a glorious weekend, blessed with the best that nature can offer, from giant redwoods dripping in coastal fog, to California lilacs already in bloom near the beach. (Lilacs! In January!)
Returning home, we were enthused after days of walking on the beach.
But it wasn’t just the sunshine that made us rejoice.
It was meeting Americans and Canadians, confident about the future, despite family and job struggles. Everyone seemed optimistic, from the young fishermen describing their hopes for prosperous salmon seasons in 2013 and 2014, to the overworked-but-happy staff at a months-old hotel.
Life is good, and America is reviving. Everywhere we go, we hear about hope.
Yet a new poll shows 52% of Americans aren’t convinced.
Oh, America, I wish you could see what I see.
I wish you could see what I see is a new series at living in gratitude.