Lighthouse Field, in Santa Cruz, is a windswept 36-acre expanse of grass, trees and fallen logs, surrounded on all sides by road. It's one of the last undeveloped headlands left in any California city. I walked into the field one summer afternoon and within moments the sounds of human voices and vehicle traffic faded into the background.
With a little editing you can imagine this area as it was 200 years ago, before the Europeans arrived. The water table was closer to the surface then and the landscape was dense and swampy, crisscrossed with springs, ponds, and brooks. Herds of elk and antelope once grazed in this same bright field. An entire culture of native people, over 10,000 California Indians, lived in the coastal region between Big Sur and the San Francisco Bay. For centuries they hunted and fished in a world so immutable they named individual trees, shrubs and rocks.
From the middle of the field you can see the lighthouse, which has been there in one form or another since 1869, and beyond that the rocky Pacific shoreline wrapped around the Monterey Bay. I sat down on a eucalyptus log and listened for the silent footfall of the Ohlone moving through tall grass. A pair of red-winged blackbirds flew overhead. The afternoon lengthened and the sea changed color. And still I remained.