Nature Nut: SoCal pilgrimage includes Scripps' aquarium | Lifestyles

It was 4 a.m. when I recently awoke for my last day at what I have termed "my favorite crowded place on Earth."

As had been the case for the previous 13 days, I could hear the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing on the La Jolla Shores across the street from the house I rented for fun with my children and grandchildren.

I soon would be on the front deck watching as surfers and paddleboarders begin their daily ritual, showing up in the dark to catch waves in the 60-degree water before many of them go to work or school. And, after a bit of oatmeal and fruit, I also would make my way to the ocean for my daily version of surfing, riding the waves with my body as the surfboard.

While it has been a great time enjoying fun on the ocean, it also has been a difficult one without the pillar of our family — wife, mother and grandmother, Linda. For it was in this same place two years ago we had our final days of fun together before returning to Rochester and learning of the cancer that would dominate our lives until it took her a year ago.

Finishing my recent La Jolla trip, I decided to write about another woman who indirectly influenced me and my family. I am not sure how many Nature Nut readers have heard of the name Scripps, but during the last hundred years, it has become synonymous with La Jolla.

Ellen Browning Scripps was born in London in 1936 and, through a lifetime that spanned almost a hundred years, she would impact the lives of literally millions for decades, possibly centuries. After leaving London with her family to come to the United States, Ellen and her brother soon would move from a startup newspaper in Detroit to owning large newspapers across the country.

With the wealth this brought her, Ellen devoted her time and money to making the world better, with no place probably benefiting more than the San Diego seaside village of La Jolla. For it was in La Jolla where Ellen supported many community programs and built a home for herself, which now is the Museum of Contemporary Art, a La Jolla landmark.

But it was Ellen's significant support for the start of what now is the Scripps Institution of Oceanography that affected my family most. Beginning at the dawn of the 20th century, a summer research program based in a tent on the shores of the famous Del Coronado Hotel grew to become one of the top oceanography and marine biology institutions in the world.

A recent family trip to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps included seeing my favorites, the leafy sea dragons, seahorses with kelp-like leaves for fins. But it also led me to reflect on taking my children to its predecessor, the Scripps Aquarium, on trips to La Jolla many decades ago. And that led to a pursuit of the history of Scripps, with a lot of Googling and a visit with Craig Klampe, a senior member of the Birch Visitors Services.

Craig worked at the previous Scripps Aquarium and knew much of the Scripps history, which he kindly shared with me as we stood on the patio overlooking the Pacific. There, we could see one of the original Scripps buildings below, now a historic landmark.

I once dreamed of attending Scripps for graduate school and, although that never materialized, I lived out the dream through our middle daughter, Jenna, and a son-in-law, who attended Scripps. And, although I was disappointed they did not continue their lives in La Jolla for frequent visits, they, similar to the rest in our family, enjoy trips back there.

Now, after a year without Linda, I am thankful for friends and family who have helped me through the year and enabled me look forward to every day. And, with continued opportunities to explore the natural world, I am appreciative of my readers who inspire me to do so.

Greg Munson is a volunteer naturalist and freelance writer. If you have questions, comments or column ideas, contact Munson at [email protected]