On seeing a condor off the coast of Big Sur
From above Big Sur, home of my magical condor
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to see a condor in the wild.
Call it one of those silly yet endearing non-sequitors that kids come up with. One kid wants to be a fireman, another wants to be a pro baseball player and one wants to be made of pudding. I was the last kid except, instead of pudding, I wanted to be a condor. The idea of being the largest bird in the world that soars high on an eight-foot wingspan appealed to me. I'm sure a psychotherapist would see something significant in that .... but I digress.
I had seen condors in zoos, but that never did it for me. They looked so unhappy -- majestic creatures meant for more than an oddity in a cage. No, I needed to see one in the wild, high over rocky cliffs floating on thermals. About four months ago I finally saw one -- two actually, and it was everything I hoped it would be.
From left: Amy, Andy, Paul, Austin, Michael, Shannon, and Jackson in the woods at Big Sur.
The family and I went with a group of old friends camping in Big Sur. I had always wanted to see the place I had read about so many times. Plus, we had just moved back to the west coast and this was the first time we were going to see some of the wonderful friends we had made while living in L.A. It looked to be like a great beginning to our new life in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Well, in short, the trip was wonderful. The scenery was breathtaking, reacquainting with old friends was magical, and camping under the limbs of giant old redwood trees was regenerating to the soul. We swam and ate and laughed and drank. We showered with strangers, roasted marshmallows at night, drank some more, and all remembered what it was like to be that group of friends in our twenties -- priceless.
Of course the long weekend came to a close too quickly. We all had to get back to our lives, so we said goodbye to Michael, Paul, Laura, Megan, Amy and Andy. The boys showed their sadness more than the wife and I, but we all felt it. I figured all the good things had been seen, all the good songs had been sung. We loaded up the car and headed up the coast to Castro Valley.
Now mind you, although I had wanted to see a condor all my life, the thought of that great bird had not really entered my mind while on the trip. Maybe subconsciously I knew that Big Sur was almost the last place to see them flying free in North America, but it wasn't on my radar. But then, almost magically, while negotiating a rather precarious curve hundreds of feet above the ocean, it happened -- a condor floated up above the edge of the cliff about twenty yards out in the abyss. For a split second I saw nothing but the bird hovering almost motionless in the sky, seeming to stare back at me as if to say, "Wish granted young man." Then my wife gasped.
I almost went off the road. The PCH highway on the cliffs of Big Sur is not the best place to take one's eyes off the road. I straightened the course, calmed the family, and continued on. I kept stealing glances in the rear view, trying to fix on the bird. A couple of times I caught brief glimpses of her .... and presumably her mate, which was about five yards below hovering in that same hypnotizing, almost motionless state. And then they were gone -- one curve too many and the birds were gone from sight.
Since the trip the condors come to my mind sometimes. I see them floating in space, happy and free. When they do my heart soars a little as well. That first feeling of elation when I stared in to the eyes and heart of the great bird was one of the best moments of my life -- truly awe inspiring. That feeling doesn't happen much anymore. Thankfully I was there at just the right time, and I can cross seeing the condor off my list.
Jackson at Big Sur, feeling (I imagine) what I felt when I saw the condor.