A Morro Bay Love Story

by Louis Bartfield

The first time I saw Morro Bay, I was sure I had been there before.

“Clash by Night,” a 1952 *** movie, was about an Italian fisherman with a restless wife (Barbara Stanwyck) who has an affair with a cinema projection operator (Robert Ryan) with a roving eye. Meanwhile, the breadwinner (the Italian fisherman played by Paul Douglas) is bringing home the bacon (fish).

It was a good movie, but I fell in love more with the fishing village than with the movie. Where the fisherman docked his boat, it looked just like the docks in the estuary lagoon at Morro Bay. And I loved the choppy waters and the swooping and squawking gulls and pelicans and hard-working fisherman at their smelly, oily chores. And oh, the swaying boats on which I longed to sail away, into the South Seas of the Mutiny on the Bounty.

A hundred or so years after I saw the movie, a real estate broker who knew I owned two motels in the Santa Cruz area phoned to tell me about a good deal in a town called Morro Bay. Morro what? I hadn’t even seen it on a map, but the name made me nervous, it sounded so romantic.

What did Morro mean? Why did the word “Bay” make my stomach quiver? I suddenly had visions of that romantic movie buried somewhere deep inside me.

Not only had I never been near the place, but when I checked I found out that “Clash by Night” had been shot in Monterey. Oh, well, Monterey Bay. A bay is just a bay, isn’t it? Morro Bay is just another place on the ten-thousand-mile-long Pacific Coast. Right? Still, maybe it was a good business opportunity.

As I turned off 101 that first time and found myself on the beautiful curved road heading west through amazing hills on the unimaginatively labeled Highway 41, my heart was under control and I hoped the hotel wouldn’t be a dog (expression for bad real estate – I really like dogs).

Then the last glide down, and the three smoke stacks of Duke Energy hove into view, which, contrary to political correctness, I rather like as an expression of modern art and our human ability to transform the world, for better or for worse.

Then, the hills seemed to open up and I saw Morro Rock; my heart stopped and I’m sure I gripped the steering wheel tightly. I saw the Bay and the fishing boats rocking peacefully, waiting for their time to go to work, waiting patiently for their skippers.

Seabirds were gliding gracefully and maliciously on their forever hunt for those poor vulnerable fish too stupid to stay near the bottom, and in my head I saw sea otters and Moby Dick, the whale. And suddenly, in my overheated imagination, I was in the great southern seas, Tahiti, Solomon Islands, Pelau, and all those dangerous and wonderful seas that Jack London and the Sea Wolf and Mutiny on the Bounty had engraved in the worlds of my twelve-year-old brain. I was surrounded by sharks and friendly, innocent people and sandy shores and palm trees.

Morro Rock rose up before me like a tower from the famous poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a sacred pleasure dome decree ...”, and the amazing rock rising from the ocean was like the island of King Kong appearing magically from the fog. Or maybe it was the island of Innisfree, a famous poem by William Butler Yeats. I had visions like DeQuincy writing of what he saw in his "Confessions of an Opium Eater" way back in the romantic nineteenth century, a city of alabaster domes and silver spires of diamond and gold and stars illuminated with the colors of all the gemstones.


And so I confess I am a victim and lover of poetry and the visions of the makers of film that glory in imagination, who see the real in the unreal, so when I first saw Morro Bay, I saw the heaven in the dreams and poetry of all of us that we try so hard to suppress inside the selves we think of as living in the real world. Whichever one that is.

Of course when I saw the Best Western San Marcos Inn, it was not a castle in Spain but a nice-looking, well-located, basic lodging with: Great views from many of the rooms of the Rock and the Bay and the ocean.

So I bought the Best Western, and prayed it would make a buck, but a dreamer never stops dreaming. And so I envisaged a great spa, big as the Hearst Castle swimming pool (well, quite a bit smaller); there on the corner of the property; if the City of Morro Bay would let us move the parking.

Soon the Best Western San Marcos Inn had a splendid spa pool with grand arched windows through which Morro Rock, the bird-friendly Bay, and the great estuary, marshlands, kayakers and boats and the great ocean beyond were visible to a lazily soaking human being. 

It all came out of dreams and fantasies, or maybe even a vision out of Vincent Price and Edgar Allen Poe, or some opium user who couldn't or wouldn't shake the habit.

It all didn’t matter: the real Morro Bay was better than the fantasies. But business is business, and the hospitality business isn’t Tim Burton’s dreamland, so we made the San Marcos into one hell of a good place to stay. Big emphasis on cleanliness, thanks to our cleaning staff, and with really good mattresses, even Tempurpedics in some rooms. 

Since that first amazing day that I saw the place, many things happened that extend far beyond the dreams of that dreamer in his dreamland. Although I’m a bit of a nature lover, an incompetent bird watcher although quite bird-friendly, and an eater of fish three times a week, I once broke the law in Morro Bay. I’m hoping the Statute of Limitations has elapsed, because it was unintentional, even if that is not a legal excuse. 

Here is what happened: 

A photographer/real-estate friend by the name of Michael and I were strolling the beach somewhat north of the town when we noticed some flapping of wings and bird noises to the east of us up some rocky crags, so we decided to investigate. We clambered up the big stones and found ourselves on the edge of what looked like a forest, so we wandered in. 

Forest? No! It was a primeval jungle right out of the “The Lost World,” with fallen logs that seemed to have century-old deposits of green-white bird lime that petrified them, and leaves of other trees that surrounded us like ancient veils that might have clothed the Queen of Sheba.

Then came the trouble.

Huge angry Herons charged down upon us, screeching and threatening us like the Furies, angry women-goddesses out of the Greek mythologies, pecking at us, while from above, their babies in their nests cried out in fear. We had inadvertently invaded their homes shortly after the birthing time, and we were like crooks breaking into a hospital nursery. We left, stepping carefully, backwards, reluctant to leave because of the miracle we were witnessing, yet we knew we had to go. We had crossed a sacred boundary. I don’t even believe Michael took any photographs.

I confess. I am sorry. Oh, Lord, forgive me. Oh, state authorities, pardon me this one time. Honest, I didn't know it was the Heron Bird Preserve.

I will never forget what I saw. Sorry for squealing, Michael, I hope they don't extradite.

The next great drama in my love affair with Morro Bay was the creation of the Masterpiece Motel. Every great love story produces offspring, and this was the second one, a beautiful one, perhaps the Masterpiece is a female.

A few years later:

Again, I received a phone call from a marriage broker (well, he was a real estate broker) and this time the story was:

A lovely couple had owned the El Morro Hotel at 1206 Main Street in Morro Bay, and it had burned to the ground. I did not receive all the pathetic details and I have no idea whether insurance was involved. But the couple, the gentleman of which was a decorator, rebuilt the building with an exquisite design, Spanish-Moorish architecture, and when I saw a picture of the building I fell in love with it. Bad real estate practice: never fall in love with a property. Anthony and Cleopatra died because they fell in love with Egyptian real estate.

Nonetheless, I had to see it, and again I took beautiful, winding Highway 41, carefully modulating my speed and anxiety, and then again, the three magnificent smoke stacks and the incredible rock came into view, and again I felt as though I were coming home.

The El Morro in person was stunning- the curves, the sinuous cylindrical design, were indeed seductive, and there was no doubt it was female. I have always had a weakness for a good-looking lady. The interior had the mysterious corridors and blank wall after blank wall that I knew I wanted to inscribe with love and caring. It seems to me now as if the inspiration for it to become the Masterpiece was whispered to me by the building itself, for I have no idea where the idea for its new identity came from.

Of course there was some negotiation, but it appears the owning couple had rebuilt the burned-down building, and had run out of money before they could properly furnish it. And financial stress always leads to marital stress.

And so it was that I was able to purchase the El Morro at the right price with funds left over for the re-furnishing and the decoration.

In a matter of days we closed escrow, and then it was time to re-imagine the motel, for it was not then a successful operation. 

It gradually came to me that the building was a work of art, and to this day, I have no idea who the architect was; but it slowly dawned upon me that it was to me to complete the work. It was a kiss or a voice from God. From whence came the notion of calling it the Masterpiece Motel, I have no idea.

Doesn't sound like much, does it? But… it was pure inspiration.

Immediately I researched the name and applied for a copyright. I've been asked many times, why with a building and interior so elegant, why not call it Masterpiece Hotel? And I confess the answer is simply the two M's in the name, Masterpiece Motel. It's euphonious. Don’t explain, don’t complain.

Then, everything fell into place: do the walls and rooms with reproductions of great masterpieces of art from all periods (I'd love originals like Steve Wynn has at the Bellagio in Vegas, then again he went broke a couple of times). So I contacted a friend of mine, Del Crawford of Mulberry Galleries in Santa Cruz, and we picked out the pieces, one by one, and he framed them, and I picked the spots where they were to be hung, and I was very fussy about every one of them. Poor, long-suffering wife and daughter back in Santa Cruz missed me (I hope).


Oh, and we got to decorate the rooms, mucho dinero.

Of course a masterpiece needed $2500 mattresses.

Next came the Roman Spa, more expensive than any in Hearst Castle. Almost.

There were two spare parking spaces under the building and it must have come out of another dream, why not a Roman spa--elegant, luxurious, even decadent. If it was good enough for the Romans, it would be good enough for our customers.

Where did the idea for the sign come from? It had to be Van Gogh, of course, with his easel and before he cut off one of his ears. I had a wonderful artist design it and we got some resistance about the lush colors from the Morro Bay City Council, but we persevered and they decided to humor us.

I don't think they ever regretted it, especially since we received a Morro Bay Beautiful award, presented to us by Elaine LaLanne, Jack's wife. Yes, they live in Morro Bay, so we added a workout room with a couple of Jack’s autographed photos.

There it is, a minor masterpiece. As Benjamin Franklin or someone once said, inspiration and perspiration. So enjoy the Masterpiece Hotel--your comfort… and pleasure, and a good night's sleep, are the purposes behind its creation.

And of course it was to realize a dream.

Someday, I will tell the story of La Serena Inn, now known also as The Bird Friends Inn of Morro Bay, but that is a work in progress, and it is too early yet to understand it completely. But, a great place to stay at right now.

Sequel to A Love Story

This is dedicated to all the women in my life who bear us and who have borne us and without whom life would be tedious and barely tolerable, not to mention impossible. And to their inner and outer beauty, which is probably why the old tough-guy, private detectives who knew everything used to call them "Birds".

By Louis Bartfield

Somewhere near Morro Bay on the Central Coast is the Bay of the Seven Rivers, and the Seven Cities of Gold.

These are the magical places of confluence where all of the rivers that have meandered through the hills and forests and abandoned towns of the central coast have come to their place of rest and regeneration. Here flowers live more abundantly than in Eden, and whether I have come for business or for pleasure, my wife is always at my side, even when she stays at home.

I never visit the Cities of Gold without her.

These places have been sought by adventurers for centuries. We all want to know how to obtain their riches.
Through the years many have searched for the cities without success. But, all the time those riches were in plain view. Just recently I brought my wife here for a visit. But first I told her of the failed adventurers who preceded us.

The many journeys of discovery began in the eleventh century when seven bishops left Spain and founded the cities of Cibola and Quivira, where they had seen gold, silver, turquoise, pearls and other gems. "In the 1500's," I read to her, "three Spaniards and a black North African slave named Esteban came to Mexico City after surviving a shipwreck. His companions had built five ships, eaten their horses from hunger, and used their shirts for sails. Except for Esteban, all were killed and Esteban spent eight years walking to Mexico City where he told his tale." She thought for a moment, then she reminded me of the Wizard of Oz. "The author was Frank L. Baum. He thought the golden cities were in Kansas."

"What is it about Kansas?" I said.

"Well, Oz is a dreamland," she reminded me.

"I guess Baum wanted to get out of Kansas?"

"Actually," she said, "he was working in Chicago, that's where his publisher was, the Hill Company, all business."

She was just reminding me that I had left Chicago for California.

Nonetheless, the fantasy of the cities of gold is probably as ancient as the Bible. Wasn't Eden a city of gold? And the famous Odyssey of the Greeks was an adventure about a man who couldn't find his way home to his wife and family for ten years because of his search for the golden city.

"Men are so foolish," she said.

I read to her from a worn old book: "In one thousand BC those excitable Greek warriors thought it was Troy, and they left their own beautiful islands to fight a war and build a Trojan horse in order to steal that city of gold. The Spanish were equally foolish when they fought and were slain by the Native Americans, they and their soldiers on horseback, their 1,000 black slaves and Mexican Indians."

"Not very practical," said Isabel.

Sometimes I feel pain for poor Esteban, eight years to get to Mexico City and he left. I've lived for a time in Mexico City and Esteban should have stayed there.

Some people think the Seven Cities of Gold are mythology, and there was even a 1955 historical adventure film about it, set in the Eighteenth century. It was based on a novel of California where men chose Gold or God. The sword or the cross.

"There's an adventure game of that name," said Isabel. How come she knows so much?

If any of these fabled explorers had asked me, I would have told them exactly where the golden cities are, and their names. Just a short time ago Isabel and I visited them.

The greatest of the seven golden cities is Morro Bay, with its incredible harbor and the dangerous pass that leads out to sea, next to massive Morro Rock, sixty stories high, home of the Peregrine Falcon, and no elevator. No one knows why they call it Morro. There are stories about the name, about as accurate as a tabloid newspaper story.

There are the fisheries and fishermen and the careening birdlife, from herons to pelicans to seagulls to hummingbirds, and others more exotic. And the grand estuary wherein flows one of the Seven Rivers.

Here are the other golden cities, each with its own astonishment of riches: San Simeon, Cambria, Harmony, Los Osos, Atascadero, and Paso Robles. All I have to do is think of these names and I begin to dream.
In these seven cities of gold are the treasures which the Spanish and Greek adventurers never found, for they were looking for the wrong kind of gold.

There are seven other cities of gold on the Central Coast: San Luis Obispo, Cayucos, Moonstone Beach, Arroyo Grande, Avila Beach, Los Olivos, and Pirate's Cove.

In a light-hearted mood, I began the drive down to the coast with Isabel at my side, at which time I was forced to refresh my memory regarding the Seven Rules of Women. The only one I remember is buy them stuff.


During my last visit to the Masterpiece, La Serena, and the San Marcos to take care of business and to arrange for pictures of sea otters, hummingbirds and other exotics, I met with Michelle and Jill and there were the three Nicks and Christina and others, and I admired the work of the other Isabel and the valiant members of our housekeeping staff.

My Isabel remained at home that time but my heart was with her, although she may have been relieved that I was away on business.

This time she came with me. I had been telling her of the great water birds that swooped over and stalked the waters of Morro Bay, when she scoffed and scornfully said, "Warriors and Scavengers! Where are the beautiful and peaceful smallish birds that light on flowers like the bees and spread colors and life and love along the trails all the way to the estuaries that throb with creativity?"

"On the other hand," she added, " the herons and their babies are nice, as you now know."

I was listening to the 49ers' game but she didn't care, as she said, "Why don't you try the other lane?"
During a commercial I told her this was partially a working trip, and she said, "As soon as we check in, I'd like a light lunch at Dorn's, or one of the nice places on the Esplanade. "

"It's kind of a long drive."

"Maybe a glass of wine," she smiled, "and we can look at the views of the ocean and Morro Rock, and at the kayaks -- oh, look, you didn't signal on that turn -- and maybe we can jaunt up to a winery or two and maybe Hearst Castle, and I haven't been to San Luis in ever so long, it's just five minutes away."

"Fifteen or twenty.”

"We have all the time in the world," she said. "Oh, and look at all the fishing boats and the cheerful fishermen - "

"That guy doesn't look cheerful. He just looks like he was up early in the morning."

Toward nightfall, Isabel surprised me by pulling some candles out of her luggage. "That increased the weight I carried," I said.

"It's romantic," she said. “Just think, with the lights out in the room, we might see the moonlight glowing on Morro rock” and she added that perhaps we might see some pelicans or a falcon.

It's dark," I said.

"Maybe a hummingbird?"

"Not without flowers."

"No flowers?" she murmured. “Did you forget flowers?”

I was drowsy. "Can I blow out the candle? What if we fall asleep with the candle burning? It's dangerous."


"But pretty," she whispered.

"Like women. Pretty and dangerous."

"It's only money."

In the morning, not too early, we began to explore the Seven Rivers. I never saw so many unusual birds in my life. We followed the first river as it snaked its way down to the great basin of Los Osos and Morro Bay, and at one point where the rocky terrain was steep and almost barren above we spotted a giant Andean condor, Vultur gryphus, a thirty pounder with a ten-foot wingspan.

He was surprised by us and said, "I am old, ancient, almost fifty years of age have I, and I have come to California from South America to tell you we are in trouble. Sadly, we only produce one child every year, but there is hope. We, of the Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito in Cordoba in the tango land of Argentina, have joined with Pinnacles, and we hope to be protected. I like these rugged, stony mountains, I don't need flowers."

At his feet were a dead, half-eaten fish and an egg that looked as though he'd set it there for a delicacy.

The great bird spread his ancient wings and for a while we were in forgiveness of his somewhat parasitic trade. Beauty can be forgiven almost anything. We thanked him and left and strolled down the rest of the river to the Esplanade and had some ice cold coffee. As we watched the fishing boats, Isabel said, "Actually, that Condor was a little boring, you men always like the ones with big wings, what did you need the binoculars for, he was right there in front of you. Personally, I like the ones with different dabs of color here and there." "Maybe we'll find one in the next golden city," I said.

"The Morro Bay Esplanade is really charming," she said. "Can we go shopping now?"

"There's a wonderful golf course just on the edge of town," I hinted, but it got me nowhere. I looked forward to the next river and city where there might be a lot of charm with fewer shops.

We were both quite excited when we saw a boat named Amanda B, which is the name of our daughter, at least it was before she married Steve Allen and he planted his last name on her. Isabel noticed a sea otter pup frolicking and spinning around the boat, putting on a show, waiting for the fisherman to throw him something. Then we headed for the second of the Seven Rivers. This one went straight through the amazing place named Harmony and it was quite something to see a river roiling down the main street of this little town a few miles south of 46 and Highway One near Cambria.

Harmony is the most unusual town I have ever seen, and you need to look below the surface to spot the gold. Aside from the river frothing its way down the main street--which I admit may be somewhat of an exaggeration--I counted a population of sixteen people. I was told that two were off on errands.

Founded around a dairy in 1869, Harmony was somewhat unharmonious in the early days, when feuds and rivalries among the dairy farmers caused chaos in the valley, until a truce was called and they decided to call their town “Harmony”. What could be more golden than that? William Randolph Hearst often visited with his movie star friends, including, they say, Barbra Streisand, who often visited with

Rudolph Valentino. My wife reminded me that this was in the 1930s and Streisand was at best a child at the time.

Well, Babs always was precocious.

Harmony is filled with milk and cream and butter and cheese and even a winery and a glass blower. Along the magical second river Isabel spotted a Bald Eagle and became quite indignant because he looked so arrogant. "I would prefer a hummer for the national symbol," she said, "they do more good", and she reminded me that Benjamin Franklin agreed with her. She was right, Franklin never thought the eagle was a good national symbol, he even thought maybe it ought to be a rattlesnake. Nobody seems to remember the real Benjamin Franklin was a very orginal thinker.

Then we spotted two Phalaropes, one a rather dull gray and white, while the other had a magnificent red underbelly. "Phalaropus fulicarius,"

I said, showing off.

"The pretty one " she said, "is the female."

I tried to impress her. "I think Phalarope means military in Latin."

"Yes," she said. "More and more women in charge. Some are generals."

Before we left we saw a swamp sparrow, some Lovebirds, and a Red-tailed Hawk.

"Our granddaughter loves quail," said Isabel.

We took a small boat down the river, picked up a bottle of wine, and left, wondering why quaint and charming Harmony was so undiscovered. Sometimes the most profound treasures are at your feet.

We were staying in one of the tremendous suites at La Serena, which I helped the decorator design, and where I even hung some wallpaper myself so badly it had to be replaced. La Serena is a marvelous lodging, much like a small grand hotel, even if I say so myself. Everybody loves it, or so I've noticed by the comment letters I’ve written, and it's a great location for bird lovers, bird watchers and photographers, and even very ordinary people like me.

The next day Isabel wanted some big city life--you know, theater, concerts, night clubs, and Fifth Avenue and Times Square, so we headed for San Luis Obispo, that truly tremendous City of Gold.

How sad it is that so few folks know that when that endlessly busy Father Serra founded the famous Mission there, he named it after Saint Louis of Toulouse, also known as the Boy Bishop, who fed the hungry and poor and died at the age of 23. This sainted lad was nephew to a Hungarian Queen, and in 1713 he was canonized and venerated by Franciscans with a day in their calendar, and there was even a polyphonic motet written in his honor. Obispo means Bishop.

"Quit showing off what you know," Isabel said.

"I'm just reading the San Luis Historical society stuff," I said.


Now, San Luis Obispo is not necessarily where you go for birding because there are a million other things to do, especially great dining, a secret place I know for Margaritas, and it is a joy to walk the main street shops.

Everyone knows about Cal Poly, that magnificent college, and I am proud to say my son-in-law graduated from there, but he's never shown me his grades.

I had hoped that some of the shops would be closed on a Monday, but this was not the case. When I reminded my wife we were in a recession she told me it was important to the economy to keep the cash flowing, and to support the merchants. I believe she quoted a University of Chicago economist.

Right through the center of this City of Gold flows a lovely river: all these rivers travel in the direction of the famous Seven Cities of Gold that have been the grand destinations of adventurers to the Central Coast.

Upon the San Luis River Walk, my wife and I engaged upon our own adventure as we followed these paths, these rivers, and saw the amazing life that flowered here so abundantly. Through the quarries of limestone and ore-rich rock, glittering with copper and gold, the Salinas River gently caresses the banks of the town.

We walked, amazed by the beauty everywhere, for in less than an hour or two we saw trees of orange and grape, peaches, cherries, plums, apricots, and pomegranates; they were all around us and we chose and picked what we wanted. There were also luxuriously purple orchids from Costa Rica.

We were told to be careful and to have the camera ready, for at any moment we might see a bobcat, a pronghorn antelope, or a California red-legged frog.

A guide ran up and said, "The San Joaquin kit fox, the pond turtle, and even the coastal sage shrub and the Monterey pine forest are all at risk. Enjoy this paradise. The very river you walk along is also called the Upside Down River, for it meanders from the Los Padres National Forest down to the bay in Monterey two hundred miles away.”

As we strolled past many riverfront restaurants, and the Mission itself, we were aware that the strangely primitive Santa Lucia mountains could be seen everywhere, and that there had once been volcanic eruptions that formed the wonderland surrounding this City of Gold.

"It was time for complimentary wine at La Serena, and we shared a chat or two with other wanderers, and then we rested.

The next day we headed out to the golden City of the Bears, Los Osos.

"Oso means bear," Isabel said.

"Not too big, I hope."

The river through Los Osos spreads vastly to form the incredible series of estuaries, which for some reason have many names. Sometimes called  the Valley of the Bears, there are so many coastal plains: Guadalupe, Oso Flaco, the endless Montano de Oro, Laguna and the Atascadero Lakes, streams, canyons and hills, that we got lost. Above us at one point was the Mountain of Gold, named because of the golden wildflowers that seem to bloom year round. They don't, but in the mind's eye they do.

Suddenly, for it was winter, we almost frightened a Black-Headed Grosbeak who was feeding, then Isabel saw a Painted Bunting, and she called out to me, "There, a Scarlet Tanager!" But by the time I looked up it was gone.


"I love the red with the black wings," she said, but I quickly changed the subject, for it occurred to me that she was thinking of how she might look in those colors, and I thought it might be a bit loud, not to mention expensive. I really like the tans and soft greens and leather and less-costly pants from the outdoor shops.

We ran into some folks from the Morro Coast Audubon Society, and they quietly said that they had recently seen some Harlequin ducks and even a Bullock's Oriole.

We exchanged some recommendations, and went our separate ways. By then I was tired and even the miracles of this City of Gold were hurting my feet. We had a nice dinner at a local restaurant, a sip or two of Paso Robles wine, and we went quietly to bed, dreaming of tomorrow and another mythical city.

And so on we went to the other golden cities and to the ends of the seven rivers where they poured themselves into the estuaries and into the bay and into the waters where the kayaks floated and the vacationers and bird watchers marveled at what the Universe had wrought.

We wandered again through the hills of the Nine Sisters.

Then we did another of the cities, Atascadero, with that beautiful name. "It means a place of much water," Isabel told me. "Once the home of the Salinas Indians." And there we saw a flock of forty Mountain Plovers, white and tan, and Isabel said, "How cute, I want one, or at least a jacket that color."

"There's a Sandhill Crane," I said, "and “Wow, Look at that Great Blue!" and I got a shot of him with his stupendous wings against a few white clouds. "Look at that Red-Breasted Nuthatch!" she shouted, and there he was, busily scraping and digging at the bark of a tree.

Every time I travel through these wonders, we are holding hands, whether she is with me or not, because sometimes I have to make a business trip without her, but she is with me nonetheless.

Soon, we were in Cayucos, and again she had read up on it and she said, "The name means kayak or canoe, used by the Chumash people over ten thousand years ago, and she told about a fisherman she met near a pond who had told her of the beaches, the old pier, the tide pools, the creek, and of one of the Seven rivers which the kids called the Mississippi.

And he told her about the eucalyptus trees where the monarchs would stop and rest, and we shook some of the trees and the butterflies fluttered all around us. In some places the sand was snow white and there were weathered pieces of wood that had come in with the tide to provide us with firewood.

By the time we got to Arroyo Grande, we decided to take a whaling tour and I never did learn why folks were focusing their binoculars on Pirate's Cove, which seemed a nice and pretty private beach where a few lightly-clad folks were sunbathing.

The binoculars were all taken.

At every one of the Seven Cities we had been in touch with the bounteous offerings of an environment as remarkable as any place in the world, and Isabel talked again about the green and black Least Bittern, the purple rose of the Glossy Ibis and the color of the Roseate Spoonbill that matched her corduroy outdoor vest with the nice pockets.

We had seen savannahs, riparian corridors, wetlands, mossy vernal pools, the vast Carrizo Plan. We had seen the serpentines, habitats, the junipers and oak woodland, the migration corridors.

And Isabel had wisely partaken of the civilized pleasures, ocean front restaurants, souvenir and clothing shops; she had watched the beaches, the sunsets, the surfers, the flower fields, experienced the gentle offers of the rugged, woody wine-tasting bars.


I had prayed for golf, maybe a little fishing, and for the 49ers, who hadn't had too bad a season. We had done some hiking, visited the history museums and even the giant chess board, where I lost in seven moves.

But far beyond my undisciplined imagination was the discovery that these were indeed the places of the Seven Rivers that met the sea to nourish the wetlands and the golden cities that the Spaniards had sought in vain, unaware of that for which they were truly searching. They were searching for pieces of eight while trudging heavy-footed through pieces of heaven.

Throughout these explorations, I was deeply energized, for the life force of my wife was at my side, so I could re-imagine La Serena as the Bird Friends Inn of Morro Bay, for the bird lovers and the bird watchers as they explore and contemplate the flight and color and lifestyle of the birds, and all the interconnectedness of them with the environment and the Universe.

It would take a golden pen to describe the poetry of the earth which is never dead, but John Keats, the famous romantic poet, gave us these words that seemed to tell of what we saw on our journey through the central coast:

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Yet never did I breathe its pure serene,
Until we voyaged in this land of old;
Then felt I like a watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise,
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.