Have you ever noticed that Big Sur is almost Big Surf? And even though that seems appropriate – Big Sur has big surf – etymologically, they’re not related?

Also, Carmel is one letter away from caramel and camel. Carmel has good caramels but not good camels.

Darwin is one letter away from some neuro-typical kid named Darin or Darwina. When I was his current age, I would sit around thinking about things like this. He can’t. Or at least, all evidence suggests he doesn’t. Instead it’s much more likely that he lives in the kind of fog that Helen Keller described re: her early life. Dar has one letter too many, or too few. They say chimpanzees share more than 99% of our DNA. I guess Dar is closer to 100% of my DNA. But still, something is either missing or overabundant or both. Some little letter in his coding that has made all the difference. Because of it, as Keller also wrote about, Dar gets treated like a beloved pet…more than I ordinarily care to admit.

Over Labor Day weekend, we went to Big Sur and Carmel. Our cat was permitted more independence than Dar. Sort of. She was locked in the house. But she was also trusted in the house for almost 60 hours by herself. We wouldn’t do that with Dar.

In the car, Dar is sometimes dog-like. That is, if I roll down his car window, Dar likes to lean his head and arms out, and feel the wind blow. I wonder what passing cars think. Maybe they’re thinking, “Wow, I wish I could get my nine-year-old off his screen this long!”

I permit this situation under two conditions: the car is stopped or in heavy traffic, and Dar is scream-crying with the window up. These conditions were met several times on our way to Carmel.

That’s partly because we didn’t go straight there. We took a rather long detour through Hollister (ooo, so fashionable) to go to America’s newest national park, Pinnacles. It was…good? Dar didn’t love the trails. But when we actually arrived at the caves, I saw nothing but broad smiles. He was digging the caves like any boy suddenly arrived in a mythic adventure.

There’s 100% of my DNA!

Why do other families go on vacation? Is it to keep their kids moderately amused? I think that’s why we do it? Do anyone else’s vacations feel a bit like surfing? I mean, you can ride a good wave, but you’ll never quite come out on top. The ocean always wins.

Dar’s ocean always wins.

In the old days, as recently as last year, we would visit Big Sur, but never do any especially long hikes because…Dar. Loyal readers know that this summer he’s proven himself better at longer hikes. So this year, we thought we’d take some real Big Sur hikes, the kind that overlook that big old ocean.

Turns out they don’t exist! Or they are now closed because of last winter’s mudslides. Maybe we should have paid a little closer attention to the park websites.

Oh well. Dar found a river near the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and it consumed his attention for hours. Mission accomplished.

Dar had just as good a time at Adobe Inn in Carmel. The hotel gave out free delicious caramels. We spent hours at their pool, which was heated to perfect warmness. It was also small in a good way; R could stand in it without drowning. Surrounded by ivy and wood walls, it felt like the kind of pool that a B-list celebrity would have at her house.

The pool had one tiny deep spot where Dar would occasionally find himself. I liked watching him get himself out of it – I like fostering his independence – but wifey generally insisted on me saving him. Sure. This is how people generally treat a very unconditionally loved companion animal.

Carmel was a nice palate-cleanser after our first-ever visit to Ojai. What does Ojai have that Carmel doesn’t have? Nothing. Nearby trails are comparable. Carmel’s galleries are (way) better and its beach closer. Maybe you could argue that Ojai has better wine-tasting? Fresh Ventura County wine compared to the surfeit of Napa and Sonoma wines just bottled from a few counties over? Uhhh…at best that’s a push. Sorry, Ojai.

Also, I don’t know a town that’s friendlier to dogs. Carmel may treat dogs better than it does people. Naturally we spent a while at the beach. Naturally I sat on the beach watching Dar wade in and out of the waves. Naturally dogs regularly stuck their wet noses in my face. Naturally I laughed. You can’t go to Carmel and get offended by the random actions of dogs.

Is there a Carmel for Darwins? Maybe. Until I find it, I’ll just assume that Carmel IS the Carmel for Darwins.

Big Sure.