Opinion: November, You Are So Laguna

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OK Denise Di Novi, I’ll take the bait. Because sometimes a Laguna day is so perfect you shout it out to everyone you see and they shout it right back at you and it cracks your heart wide open that life can be so beautiful. Such was the case on a recent Sunday. You remember, it was the best summer weather of the year! Certainly the first string of balmy, shorts-wearin’ nights. How delicious was that?

It was a weekend when the Santa Anas blessed us with light winds, and the fire angels kept Pele at bay. The California sun was fiercely hot, its reflection bouncing off an epically glassy sea. Laguna was shimmering, and people could feel something special was in the air.

Friday and Saturday were borderline scorchy. But oh Sunday, lovely Sunday. There was a perceptible shift in the Santa Anas, and now there was a lovely and brisk offshore breeze. You know, when the sun pulls you in and the breeze cools you just enough that you fall into a stupor that exhausts your inclination to think or speak intelligibly and you’re like a feral dog that just wants to lay down with paws up and roll around in it.

It’s not lost on me how blessed my life is when I can wake up with the intention to do donation-based yoga at Treasure Island Park, palm trees flapping above, birds chirping, enveloped in a gorgeous succulent garden, with that same radiating sun bouncing off the sea. But then on my drive down Temple Terrace I see how utterly still the ocean is, and suddenly pivot the other direction. To North Laguna, and kayaking. Yes, yes, I am bragging here. But is that not so Laguna?

Now I don’t carry a camera or phone when I paddle. I like the sacred sound of the sea, being present, and trying to lock the deets into my memory bank so I can describe them to you as if you were there. So here goes. The first thing you notice putting in is just how easy it is. You can move languorously through the surf zone without fear of a smack down. And that briny air hits your nostrils and you are instantly medicated as you head south to check out Main Beach.

No oil, thank goodness, but mucho kelp. You breathe a sigh of relief to see our golden underwater rain forests surging to the surface once again. Those resilient little buggers harbor all those microorganisms at the start of the food chain and signify a healthy ecosystem. The waves are small at Rockpile, but occasionally a set rolls through. One surfer sits patiently outside, while two others sit at middles. They seemed unconcerned over whether they’ll catch a wave all day. And as you survey the horizon, there are just but a few paddleboarders, some birds, and not a diesel-spewing vessel in sight. The faint sound of a city. And the gentle breeze that splays the surface with endless ribbons of texture. Stillness. Unhurried. You paddle up to a lone cormorant and languish 20 feet apart, sharing a moment, species to species. Paddle on to bird rock. What a prehistoric slab. Especially as you paddle through the crack – well, glide actually, as the surge picks you up and carries you through a peanut gallery of giant grey pelicans. Hold still. Don’t spook them. If they fly off you will definitely be pelted with poop. There must be 100 of them, with wingspans as tall as you, all staring down at the buoyant green dragon with the pink torso.

You shoot through, turn quickly, and continue south. Then you just stop and look at this beautiful village you landed on, or were lucky enough to be born in. You dawg! Nobody deserves this much splendor. This Spanish seaside village tucked into a steep escarpment of coastal sage scrub, with homes tastefully perched upon them. Even the Hotel Laguna is alive again, bustling with umbrellas and people. But from this vantage you don’t see crowds. The beaches are about 20% filled, and it all seems so romantically retro. There’s so much peace on this un-crowded place called the ocean.

A cormorant pops out, takes one look at you, and startled, scurries off. Oh look, there’s a lone seagull bobbing around. You paddle over. Have a moment. Then turn and head north, into barely negligible wind and current. You breathe in unison with your paddle strokes, still your mind, and sink into a meditation. Which is then interrupted by a lone, kindred kayaker ahead. You paddle over to say high and acknowledge your collective good fortune, but the paddler is spooked as if you’d approached her at a bar and she paddles off quickly.

Oh well. Take a hint. Don’t follow. Instead, shoot the narrow channel between Shaw’s and Crescent. Your favorite little adrenaline rush, where you can surprise people on the reef and look cool as you cruise through what looks like an impassable slot. You’re so Laguna! And then it’s straight to Seal Rock, to see if any sea lions have returned. Just one? What happened? How could they be starved for food if we are a protected reserve? So many questions. Meanwhile, it’s clearly a seabird habitat now. They must be finding lots to eat, especially without those ravenous sea lions around. Wait, what’s that? Dolphins splashing in the distance? Have they formed a circle and pushed their prey to the surface? You approach. No, stupid! It’s two swimmers, side by side, trunking it, with easy, graceful strokes. How freaking Laguna! You pass them with a slight case of envy. You too want to feel that brisk water refresh your body. You glance towards Emerald Bay. No boats yet. Thankfully, Newport yachters sleep in. The orange cliffs of Smith Cliffs are iridescently bright. You turn and look south along the entire rolling Laguna coastline. What a gorgeous vista!

On your way back you paddle past the bubbles of two scuba divers at Shaw’s. That’s all the encouragement you need! You pull your boat onto the scorching sand, grab your goggles, and head straight back in. It’s a jolt at first, low sixties. But you start swimming and your body adapts. You feel so alive as you cross each cove. With each stroke, you feel the warmth on your shoulders and arms. You dive through and under the golden kelp, past emerald seagrass, turquoise sand, and orange garibaldi. It’s electrifying and life-affirming and brings you that hit of serotonin that leaves you so chill after.

You emerge from the water invigorated and scrubbed clean of earthbound impurities. And cherish it, because you know it won’t last forever. But while it does, you’re thankful for all of it – every minute of every blessed day we exist in this form on this cosmic, wonderland of a planet. Happy Thanksgiving, Laguna. We are the lucky ones.

Billy hosts “Laguna Talks” at 8 p.m. on Thursdays on KXFM radio, He can be reached at [email protected]

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