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  • Writer's pictureSusan Welsh

It happened in Monterey.

My recent obsession with the HBO series Big Little Lies has reawakened my California dreams and my Monterey-born soul. I hear the persistent whispers of foamy waves breaking on shores lined with lupine and heather and the majesty of Cypress trees; they all call to me to return home again. This is the town that holds the dark secrets and mysteries tangled up in the fictional lives of Madeline, Renata, Celeste and Jane. My Monterey, however, is a mid-century romantic sweep of shoreline and the new frontier of my parent's marriage, and where I was born.

Though my parents drove cross country with me in 1965, moving us all back to their hometown in New Jersey, many of our stories and dreams remained California-centric and Monterey-specific.

That is to say emotionally tethered to this town of pristine sand and sea, where the otters and sea lions frolic all day. Home, also, to abalone, the mollusk revered and beloved by epicures. Technically defined as a single-shell gastropod, this delicacy is a native to the coastal waters off Monterey's shore with red abalone being the biggest and most coveted. Fishing for abalone has been commercially banned since 1997 when overfishing caused a dramatic decline, but it can still be had through either sheer bravery or ingenuity.

One method, abalone diving, takes skill and a lot of courage and fortitude. Abalone diving, legal only recreationally, is a unique and dangerous undersea venture which includes a wetsuit, a mask, and a weighted belt. By law, abalone divers may not use scuba gear. They face rough seas, jagged rocks and, always, the possibility of a shark encounter.

If you don't have what it takes to dive for your supper, you're in luck, for at the end of Municipal Pier #2 in Monterey, beneath a trap door, lives a farm of abalone-- some 150-6,000 per cage-- thanks to the crew at the Monterey Abalone Company's farm who practice aquaculture, a means of restoring and sustaining threatened species. Farms like this one provide an abundance of abalone. Award-winning culinary wizards like Justin Cogley of Aubergine in Carmel, who keeps a 55 gallon seawater tank, prepares creative and succulent signature dishes with abalone provided by farms like this one.

I'm ready to return to Monterey. For the abalone. For the wine and the lone cypress and the inspirational calls of the literary forefathers of the coast, Steinbeck and Stevenson--- just to feel, once more, the cold ocean water between my toes on a cool and foggy summer's day.

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