THE RIVER

From its source deep in the wilderness on Soledad Ridge, the clear, cold water of the Perdido River begins its journey to the sea. Twenty-seven miles of mostly navigable water held in the California Public Trust because it is deemed too valuable for individual ownership.

A protected place -- for now.

Imagine yourself standing near the spring where the river rushes from the earth. It flows rapidly, leaping and bounding over boulders that churn it to whitewater. Ancient redwoods crowd in upon its rocky banks, shafts of sunlight penetrating their dense foliage. The cry of a hawk splits the silence, and you look up in time to see it soar against the blue sky.

You follow the river miles downstream, to where it widens and moves CAPE PERDIDO under eucalyptus, tan bark oak, and pines. Its banks are reed choked, a nesting place for waterfowl. A great blue heron cranes its long neck, and an osprey rises up, its wings beating the air. Sun dapples the flanks of the coho salmon and steelhead trout that have swum upstream to spawn, and you spot the sleek brown flash of a river otter as it plays in the current. You sniff air laden with pine resin and the peculiar, mentholated odor of eucalyptus.

This is a place out of time -- for now.

West, where the Perdido eases off to sea level, it moves lazily around sandbars and between white sand beaches, carrying with it kyakers, swimmers, and dogs splashing after Frisbees their owners have tossed. Many of these people are locals, but most are tourists, drawn here by the river's recreational activities. Tourists, who are the lifeblood of Cape Perdido, the seaside town to the north. You watch them and think it is wonderful that all this has been preserved in its natural state for everyone's enjoyment.

Preserved -- for now.