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Our Left Coast

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In the summer of 2003, my family joined a dozen other Californians as we trekked and camped along the coast from Oregon to Mexico. We traveled 1,800 km on foot in 112 days. It remains one of the highlights of my life.

When I heard the writer and photographer, father and son Philip and Alex Fradkin, on NPR describing their new book on the history, politics, images and their love of the California coast, I headed straight to the bookshop to get a copy.

Through the years, the Fradkins have had a very good time together with our coast and its people. Philip and Alex pull from two lifetimes of travel, research, relationships and detailed observation. I know it well as our daughters are falling in love with the edge of California, as we have, one step at a time.

Their book The Left Coast divides California into eight sections north to south. Up north, The Wild Coast and The Agricultural Coast. Then in the middle, The Residential, Tourist and Recreational Coasts. Finally, down south, The Industrial, Military and Political Coasts. And while geography doesn't fit quite so neatly into those eight boxes -- of course, there's a bit of wild further south and some military and industry further north -- it makes a good frame for a book. Our coast is all of those things. And much more.

I'll take the liberty to add another box to the list and make it an odd nine: The Slow Coast. This is the forty-mile stretch from roughly Tunitas Creek in San Mateo County to Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz County. There are three small towns along this coast: San Gregorio, Pescadero and Davenport as well as the community of Bonny Doon. The Slow Coast has its share of Wild and Agriculture, a touch of Residential, Tourist and Recreational, and thankfully very little Industrial, Military or Political. It's smack in the middle of the coast. Given its proximity to Silicon Valley and San Francisco it is remarkably slow here. I've walked the entire "left coast" and this is where I choose to live. Organic farms, good surf, skilled artisans, state parks, tide pools, creative people and beautiful wildlife keep me happy and healthy. And I owe much to those who fought to keep this coast slow. As the Fradkins point out throughout their book open space, public access and ocean health are hard won by dedicated advocates and never to be taken for granted.

Which brings me to the second addition, the California Coastal Trail. This is the path that allowed us to cover more than 70% of the Oregon to Mexico trek on dirt and sand. That's a remarkable statement in itself: most of the walk along the left coast can be done on public, unpaved earth. When I read The Left Coast the image of the CCT was the common thread that brought it all together for me. Once again, thousands of activists, leaders, agency folks and coast lovers are hard at work to make this narrow ribbon of land available to everyone who wants to walk it, not just those who can afford the much coveted "ocean view." The CCT will always be the backbone of my understanding of our left coast.

The subplot of this whole conversation hinges on some simple questions about what draws us to the coast, anyway. Why does staring at the ocean feel so good? How does it calm us and wash away stress? Why does it pull us back, again and again? These are questions Phillip and Alex Fradkin address in subtle ways with their words and photos. I could hear in their voices how the coast and ocean pulls them in.

Chapter 10: The Coast Inside?