By Susan Vasquez
Once, not so long ago, the tiny hamlet of Harmony, California was for sale. An idyllic bend along the Pacific Coast Highway between a velvet-covered ridge and a golden hillside, I wondered who had purchased this small patch of perfection.
Walk across the highway and over the hill, you find the Pacific Coast. Up the ridge is the pristine Los Padres National Forest. Mist in the morning, sunny breezes in the afternoon and foggy evenings wrap Harmony in what you may believe is fiction, too beautiful to be real.
But real people, a few, do live here. And many others drop in for browsing the wooden clapboard storefronts, shopping, eating at the creamery and watching the glassblowers shape their art. An appealing wine tasting room is at the end of a picturesque winding drive.
Though my interest in the town is real, my true reason for driving the 12 miles north is to walk the Harmony Headlands Trail. One and a half miles over a hill from Highway 1, the Pacific Ocean pushes its salty spray again and again in tides against the bluffs. I could walk over hillside to coastline and see what I could see. Many people have walked this trail, but until I do it myself, is it real? I want to see before I believe.
Even though I live just a few miles south and the beach breeze cools me frequently throughout the day, I am always surprised to walk along a hillside path during the parched summer. Close to the hillside, you have sunny warmth; take one step out from the hills’ protection, crisp ocean coolness reaches out to touch you. Up the hill from the trailhead I go, stepping in and out of the freshest air on the planet.
The trail winds around and then up along the ridge of the humpback coastal mound. We call them hills, but these are really geographic waves of rock and earth with covers of wildflowers in the spring and dry grass and ground squirrels in the summer. The wide pathway makes for easy walking and I think that next time, I may test out summer sandals instead of hiking boots. Why not? In this land of near-make-believe, it’s hard to think that anything would come and bite my ankles and the weather surely does not call for anything hardy or wooly. Flips-flops would do just fine.
I crest the ridge. The sun is a hot-rock massage on my shoulders and the mist offers a fresh air salt scrub for my face. I might as well be at a high-priced spa. But this is so much nicer, and costs nothing but footsteps. I pause at the top to relish the simple grace of feeling clean. As pleasant as all that is, though, the view is the real attraction.
Today, the purity of the sky, the time of day and the currents of the tide turn the Pacific Ocean nearly turquoise. A double line of white rolls against the shore, but lazily, as the waves find their way to the rocks and sand. The path lets me ramble down, an easy pace, to the bluffs that form the west coast of the North American Continent.
Cool offshore breezes blend with the sun shining its pleasant warmth. Even though I face a bit of a climb on the way back, I don’t worry about the heat or the cold. Mother Nature has taken care of that for me. Am I just a bit too comfortable? Is this just a bit too nice for real life? The walk might make me think so, but this story I tell today is exactly the way it really is. If you tend to doubt me, remember the trail’s name: Harmony Headlands. I am at the apex of agreement between Mother Nature and me.
Harmony, California. The town itself may have been bought and sold and bought again. But the beauty here is a timeworn possession of Mother Nature. And now that I have seen it myself, I know that it is real. I’m a believer.
Susan Vasquez has taken walks in many of the world’s most interesting spots, but especially enjoys her strolls around Estero Bay. She is the author of four books and blogs at One Small Walk.