Back in December, thinking "why not?" I invited my siblings and their significant others to come to California this summer, on the promise that if they did, Bruce and I would whisk them away on a most-expenses-paid camping trip to the local natural wonder of their choice. Much to my delight, all four of them immediately arranged to take the time off work and fly in from their respective corners of the country for just this purpose: the first adventure of its kind.
Our first three days in Big Sur were filled with leisurely hikes and picnics, chicken and sausages cooked over an open flame, a surprise carrot cake in honor of my brother's 31st birthday, and hilarious food/literature puns such as "One Flew Over the Cous Cous Nest," "The Bun Also Rises," and "Where the Mild Wings Are."
Today, under my leadership and for our final night, we will leave the shady redwoods of Pfeiffer Big Sur in exchange for the sweeping ocean views of Kirk Creek Campground, 30 winding miles to the south on Highway 1. Over s'mores the night before, we collectively decided that if we arrive by 10am, we will beat the crowd and land an awesome Pacific-adjacent campsite for our final night together.
But when we arrive at Kirk Creek ten minutes ahead of schedule, the sign says "Campground Full" - and underneath, an additional scribbled note reads:
"WE REALLY ARE FULL."
Given that it bears yesterday's date, we are hopeful as we begin a slow cruise around the packed campground. However, as we pass one "reserved" sign after another, I start to wonder where I'd heard that Kirk Creek was first-come, first-served - and find, to my chagrin, that I can't remember.
As we complete the loop without seeing a single available site, I can feel my sister in the seat behind me, putting the pieces together, wondering if we will have to camp illegally in a cow pasture. I picture my brother and his wife in the other car, rubbing their faces and shaking their heads. Both of my siblings are diligent planners; we would never find ourselves in such a vulnerable position if they were in charge.
It's a Saturday, which means the Weekend Warriors are out in full force and nearby campgrounds are likely booked up as well. For a brief moment, I consider how uncomfortable it will be if the six of us end up having to sleep like sardines in the van, along with all our stuff.
Nevertheless, I am confident that a solution will appear, as soon as I can locate the person in charge. At first glance it seems that the campground host is not home; but then I spy her emerging from an RV. I hop out and ask the others to wait while I enlist her help.
Approaching the woman, I smile and hold out my hand in greeting. She has a long braid down her back and holds a steaming mug in her hands - she hasn't even had her coffee yet this morning. I wonder if this small detail will end up working against me.
I ask her name; she says it's Brenda.
Smiling at my own foolishness, I confess my misguided assumption to Brenda, as though we are already friends and she'll naturally want to help. My sister will later say that as soon as she saw Brenda smile back, she knew that we would be ok.
Immediately, Brenda directs us to the spot next to her giant RV and says we can have it.
Then, while the rest of the team gratefully maneuvers the cars into the driveway, she mentions an older couple who arrived late last night - shaky from the drive and speaking hardly any English - who, she suspects, might have already left. She has already sent her husband to investigate. We are to sit tight; it's a good site, and she has a good feeling about it.
When her husband returns, he flashes a thumbs up. Brenda says: "Site 17. It's all yours."
As it turns out, Site 17 is absolutely glorious - boasting a 180-degree view of the Pacific, a ground cover of lumpy warm grass, and an adjacent semi-private sunset viewing bench.
Moments like this, and people like Brenda, are the reason I believe in magic.
With just one small act of kindness, Brenda made the difference between a small disaster (no place to sleep), a saving grace (a site next to an RV), and an all-around miracle (a private oceanside terrace). People like Brenda make it safe for people like me to take risks and trust the Universe, on the chance that everything will work out even better than if I'd planned it.
Once my siblings have teased me sufficiently for having swayed a favorable outcome in the way I clearly learned from our social wizard of a mother, we return to ask Brenda about Jade Cove - the source of much excitement and anticipation. She instructs us to mind the difference between real jade ("kind of bluish") and its impostor, serpentine ("more of a hunter green").
An hour of beach combing later, the six of us compare many little greenish stones that eventually turn gray as they dry. My brother, in his quest for a dinosaur-egg sized piece of jade, is the only one to have succeeded in finding two small pieces of real jade.
Once we've all crammed back into the tiny rental car, Nick hands one of his jade pieces to my sister, and the other one to me.