Monday, June 12, 2006

Bridges II

They're building a bridge on one of my favorite stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway, and ruining one of my favorite spectacles. But I'm not opposed.

Economics presumes that you can't have everything. People make choices among exclusive options based on what they value.

There's a spot just north of Huntington Beach where PCH runs behind a row of dunes at Bolsa Chica State Beach, then comes up dramatically to reveal an unmatched scene of surf, sand and sky, dotted with surfers, kids and dogs playing in the crashing waves, here and there a boat--as you drive south and come up from behind the dunes, it's like a curtain suddenly falling to reveal a cathedral.

Every time you come up from behind the dunes, you get a different form of beauty. Sometimes the sun glitters and dances on the water. Sometimes boats are cutting through whitecaps. Sometimes storm clouds gather like knit brows from beachhead to horizon. I've seen the surf glow with phosphorescent algae on a summer night. It's never the same twice, but it's always a treat. It's one of my favorite shows for visitors from out of town.

The bridge comes before the rise now. Instead of being buried behind the dunes waiting for the surprise spectacle to come into view, now I drive over a bridge, above the dunes, and get to peek behind the curtain before the view opens up in one breathtaking panorama.

Normally I'd be more disappointed. But I know why they're building the bridge, so I don't mind so much.

Since it was built, the Pacific Coast Highway has blocked a natural tidal flow that filled and drained the Bolsa Chica marsh. As it is, the wetlands are rife with life, the rich variety that crowds the intertidal zone--from salt grass to shorebirds to mud snails. But the folks who pay attention to these things have had to artificially create the kind of waterflow that used to happen naturally, as twice-daily tides flushed rich seawater through the brackish shallows, feeding and cleaning the ecosystem.

This bridge will open up the old drainage again, letting the water flow naturally under the road where today a causeway blocks the channel.

So I'm not 100% opposed. But I'll miss my old surprise cathedral.

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