When I was a little girl my father attended the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California. After we left Monterey, we lived in many other beautiful states, but I’ll never forget exploring California.
California has 840 miles of coastline, 3,427 miles if you count all the tidal inlets. It has 33 million acres of forest and almost 25 million acres of desert. California has year-round sunny beaches in the south and four months of snow in the north. If that’s not enough variety, California has elevations from sea level to more than 14,000 feet.
Tide Pool Adventures
I remember exploring tide pools. Wearing sturdy rubber soled shoes and play clothes that we were able to get dirty, we descended on the rocky shore at low tide. Low tide is the best time to explore tidal pools because when the tide goes out and the water recedes many creatures and plants are left behind in tiny pools created by the rocks.
We saw so many different tiny fish swimming around. It was so hard to pick one up but once I did it tickled my hand as it wiggled. I could only hold it for a minute or so because the little fishy needed the water to breath.
Little crabs crawled out of one pool and hopped into the next. Some crabs were kind of flat and walked sideways. We had fun later trying to walk like them. Other crabs had different shells on their backs. The teacher told us they were hermit crabs and that they had adopted their shells. The shells are different because different animals had left them behind for the hermit crab to assume ownership of. We could pick them up without getting hurt or hurting them. That was fun!
There were really weird animals there too. We loved the sea stars, only we called them starfish. They aren’t actually fish at all but just the same, that’s what we called them. They stuck themselves to the rocks so we couldn’t pick them up. They looked like they would be slimy, but they weren’t. It was fun to run my finger on the tops of the sea stars.
There were things called anemones there too. They looked a little like sea stars because they had tentacles that stuck out in all directions like the five legs of the sea star do. When they are covered with water the tentacles wave around. They look fluffy but the teacher told us not to touch them. They could hurt us.
Lunch with Otters & Monarchs
My family had a wonderful Sunday afternoon in Monterey. After church we picked up hot pastrami sandwiches and drove over to cannery row. This was a street at the ocean front where many sardine canning factories did business. Many of these companies had gone out of business so the area was very peaceful and quiet. The parking lot was right next to the water.
At first, I’m sure this sounds very unimpressive. But here’s the thing. While we sat in our car looking over the waters of Monterey Bay, eating our hot pastrami sandwiches, sea otters were floating on the surface of the water eating their lunch too. I loved seeing them dive down under the water then popping back up again with a rock and a seashell. They would turn over onto their backs, lay the rock on their belly, and use it to break open the seashell to eat the animal inside.
But wait! There’s more! Next to the parking lot was a park with beautiful lawns and big green trees. Sometimes when we came to the parking lot, all the trees were suddenly orange. That’s because they were covered with monarch butterflies. Monarch butterflies are orange and black.
These trees were pine and/or eucalyptus. I don’t know which, but I do know that the Monarch butterflies like to winter in those two kinds of trees. Monarchs love to come to that area every October to spend the winter. Not all monarch butterflies do this but the ones that do live longer than any other variety. Today there is even a place called the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary that you could visit and see these amazing butterflies. The Monarchs are usually found there from October through March.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium
Apparently, I’m not the only person who thought that cannery row is a magical place for sea life. Not long after I had moved away from Monterey, plans were started to create a world class aquarium, using one of the former canning businesses. In 1984 the Monterey Bay Aquarium was opened.
This aquarium is spectacular. They have a huge tank with a thick glass wall inside the building for people to view the plants and animals inside AND it has another thick glass wall dividing it from the Monterey Bay behind it. You can stand in the building and look through the tank right into the bay. Can you imagine how amazing it would be to be standing there when one of the whales that swim in that bay comes near? That would be unforgettable!
This aquarium was used as a model for the aquarium features in the movie Finding Dory. I doubt you can find a great spot to see the otters for free like we did, but a visit to that place is worth the price of admission. As of this printing you need to purchase tickets ahead of your visit so plan ahead and expect to be impressed.
Redwood National Park
A drive up to the Redwood National or State Parks was well worth the time in the car. We saw the tallest trees on earth, up to 375 feet tall. Some of them were large enough to drive a car through with diameters up to 25 feet. It hurt my neck to look all the way to the top of these huge trees. I held my tiny hand up to the side of the tree. I touched the bark. It was so hard and scratchy. I was so little, and that tree was so big. I never knew any living thing could be that big. I think that was the first time I really felt awe. The Lord has filled me with awe many times since then, but I’ll never forget the first.
This is a truly unique forest. Redwoods only live in eastern California and Oregon. You cannot find any trees like them anywhere else. They live for thousands of years and boast some amazing features.
Redwood trees are home to many animals and birds. You can see endangered species living among their high branches. Some salamanders live their entire lives in the crown of a single redwood, never once touching ground. When I was straining my neck to look up into the trees it was hard to see any of the animals. They did a really good job of hiding among the branches.
I learned that the bark which I found so rough and scratchy could be up to one foot thick. When I heard that it made me pinch my own skin. I have always thought of a tree’s bark like my skin. My skin is so thin, but that bark was thicker than my little body. There was that feeling of awe again. The bark also has special chemicals in it to fight disease. This is part of the reason that redwood trees live so long. I wished my skin would do such a good job keeping me safe.
The roots of redwood trees spread far from the base of the tree, staying very shallow. The roots of one redwood often intertwines with the roots of the trees around it. This gives all the trees more stability. Some of the roots even sprout new trees. Eventually a circle of trees form. They call it a Family Circle.
You can learn a lot about geography when you travel! You might want to take this trip with your family. OR join us at True North Homeschool Academy this fall and travel to every state and inhabited territory in our US Geography class (Jr. High but open to high school students). Purchase online class HERE.
We Can Learn From the Trees
As homeschoolers and Christians, we can learn a lesson from these majestic old trees. We can link together, support one another, and raise up our young together. It brings strength, stability, and long life.
When our lives get intertwined like the roots of redwood trees it can get messy. That’s true but I think some of the best activities I’ve been involved in have been messy. The most rewarding parts of my life have been messy. The rewards have always been much greater than the mess.
The only way I have ever be able to affect real change in someone’s life is by being closely involved in that life. The people who have changed my life, have also been involved. We spend time together. We share meals. We share ideals. We share our lives. It’s as if we share our roots.
I am stronger because of the nourishment the Lord fed me through those roots. I am much more stable because of it. I am no longer tossed this way and that by the winds.
And the long life?
The Lord has used people in my life to reach me. He has used people in my life to teach me His Good News. He used people in my life to bring salvation to me. Now I have life eternal. Thanks to Jesus I will live with Him much longer than the oldest tree on the planet.
I live in Florida now and another trip to California isn’t likely in my future. If you are ever able to visit or live in California, I highly recommend that you explore the forests and deserts and coast of this great state. Touch an ancient tree and let it make you feel tiny. Scoop up a tiny sea creature and feel its life tickle your hand. Enjoy the majesty of creation displayed in California’s zoos and aquatic parks, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Until Next Time, Happy Homeschooling!