Returning home last week from a wedding in Boston, my first need was to thaw out from frigid weather. I went to the beach.

Walking the winter shoreline early, before the fog lifted, I passed a couple of early birds — the human variety. Then I waded across the ocean inlet to the Carpinteria Salt Marsh, where the surf was beginning to overtake the flow of marsh water in their constant battle for control.

I shuffled carefully, since stingrays tend to accompany the tides to the marsh. The tides and potential for rays make the west side of the marsh outlet a peaceful or lonely experience, depending on your perspective. But there’s no such thing as an empty beach. Nearly free of people, the beach was a haven for shorebirds: plovers, willets, sandpipers, brown pelicans and even a couple of curlews with their impossibly long curved beaks.

After accidentally startling a few shorebirds away, I moved up from the surf a bit, walking higher in the littoral zone to allow them their space to hunt and peck. But then my feet would wander back down to the wet sand again. I startled the closer of a pair of willets, who eyed me carefully and shuffled farther away. The other bird, startled by the first one’s movement, sprang up several inches, flapping and displaying the white chevrons on his wings. Finally they both flew off, squawking at my having disturbed their breakfast.

My beachcombing desire is satisfied by carrying a found item until I discover something even better. The first treasure I found that morning was a palm-sized earth-toned stone, wave-rounded and beautiful. I dropped that when I happened upon a shark’s purse. Sometimes called mermaid’s purses, these are the egg cases of some sharks and skates. To me they look very much like kapok pods: small, smooth black pillows cradling the baby sharks. This one had popped open and held only seawater; I saved it for the rest of my walk.

To early beachcombers come many prizes. I have found whale vertebrae, huge trochus seashells, and a dead gull rolling in the surf with its mate calling plaintively beside it. I have seen willets walk in such a way as to form a “W” with their footprints. Ok, maybe that was coincidence. I have seen every type of human trash, but less of that year by year.

Wading back across the salt marsh outlet, the tide was higher, wetting the bottom of my rolled-up jeans. Now I strolled among a small throng of beachcombers, joggers, plugged-in music-aficionados, dogs and dog owners. Most owners carried their doggie bags in full view, and some had sensibly trained their pets to carry their own trash.

In Boston, near the harbor, I had watched professional dog-walkers being towed by what seemed like a dozen dogs or more. Many had those silly little dog coats, which didn’t seem so silly with the temperature in the 20s. I’ll admit that the snow is lovely, and Boston Harbor is picturesque and historical, but a winter California beach is where I belong.

Besides, Santa Barbara snow — Ceanothus thyrisiflorus — can be more fragrantly and temperately found in the foothills, minutes from the beach.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor ( and a freelance writer ( Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Karen Telleen-Lawton

Karen Telleen-Lawton, Noozhawk Columnist

Karen Telleen-Lawton is an eco-writer, sharing information and insights about economics and ecology, finances and the environment. Having recently retired from financial planning and advising, she spends more time exploring the outdoors — and reading and writing about it. The opinions expressed are her own.