I stood on the end of the Dana Point pier and looked out, not at the open sea, as you would expect from the end of a pier, but at a restaurant. It lies on an island manufactured from Honda-size rocks, which lies inside a marina that bristles with aluminum masts and bustles with tourists. The marina in turn lies behind a long, thin line of rock that trails south from the tip of Dana Point and shields this fabricated world from the surly moods of the giant, blue Pacific. This stands in stark contrast to Dana Point of 25 years ago. In those days, this was a natural harbor; it was shielded by a row of black, mussel-crusted rocks that acted like an immense jaw that reduced the giant waves to swells, which then wallowed meekly toward shore. The water's surface reflected gulls and pelicans. Sea lions lounged among piles of kelp, and sandpipers scampered along the edge of a crescent beach.
That was then. I was brought back to the present by a rustling, pattering noise at my feet and, looking down, saw that I had been surrounded by pigeons. There are few creatures more opportunistic than the pigeon (only one comes to mind). In a few short decades, it has taken advantage of the Tarmac and the sidewalks and the gutters of its human counterpart; it has taken advantage of civilization. It has moved into the rafters and turrets that suggest the nooks and crannies of its native cliffs. It has switched to a diet of crumbs and crusts that matches the nutritional value of its ancestral seeds. It has even changed its coat and taken up a fashion of sooty grays splattered with blotches of off-white in order to blend with the paper-on-tar of its new niche. And there they clustered at my feet, drawn compulsively to a creature they had come to associate with food, their little red eyes open as round and blank as sequins. Expecting that instant when my hand might fling some scrap their way, they craned their necks. But their racial memory kept them alert to the fact that what I threw might be a rock, and they walked fitfully with that gait peculiar to pigeons, heads jerking back and forth in syncopation with their pink feet, while hunger and the competitive urge pushed against apprehension.