Thinking back to the spring break trip, how we drove just ahead of the rain storm from Washington to northern California, and it caught up with us when we stopped at Crescent City to stay in one of the special hotels I’d booked. Not fancy, but rooms overlooking the ocean. Inside with the glass balcony doors closed, we could just make out the sound of waves breaking on the beach over splattering of rain on the foggy glass. I tried to go for a walk between cloudbursts after supper and got only a few hundred feet before I was drenched by renewed showers and turned back.
The next morning was rough inside the hotel room–can’t remember why–something too direct was leveled at me before I was in my right mind, while I was too sensitive, probably due, as I now know, to unstable blood sugar and related morning hormones. Couldn’t take it, so I threw on running gear and headed toward the beach. I’ve learned something over the years at least, how not to spiral down but instead get outside and let the surge of mixed emotions power my legs along, get out of my head, settle down, because mostly it’s nothing that should matter so much.
Skirted puddles across the parking lot, cut across the edge of the camper park behind the bus stop where early shift workers waited, onto the bike trail. A concrete walking bridge spanned a stream flowing toward the beach, the banks of which were lined by reeds and debris. Then banks of angular gray rocks–a manmade breakwater–rose along the edge of the sand and pines at the top edges a park green space. I climbed down the rocks onto the long, wide curve of wet sand. Rain clouds’ voluptuous underfolds in shades of gray moved en masse across sea and land, and a cool, damp wind blew over the beach and swooped up the curve of cliffs, lifting my hair.
I went down closer to the water line, testing the firmness of the ground, whether I’d get my sneakers wet–it was perfect footing, and it was time to get moving to replace the body heat stripped away by the wind. I started, felt the slight give of the ground at each impact. Past a bank blanketed in a kind of succulent-leaved beach plant with pink and yellow flowers. A raven called from the pines on the shore, and flew from tree to tree, tracking my progress and relaying what it saw of significance to its fellows. It felt like company, but then I wondered if it was just on the lookout for something likely to fall and not get up.
When I was a bit warmer I slowed to a walk, turned my eyes toward the water. In every sight, smell, brush of the wind there was so much relief. More than that–delight. I hadn’t been on a beach for months, maybe that, but also the sense of being all alone and immersed in these elements, alongside other creatures that happened to be there, glad to have chosen this way and aware how easily I would have missed all this.
As I turned to watch the waves to my left, four silent shore birds patterned in white, grey and brown materialized to my vision. They watched me from their few inches depth. I greeted them but they were not at ease with foraging in my presence, so I nodded and continued on my way. I felt something else was about in the sky, and looked up; silhouette of broad, wide wings soaring, a glimpse of orange head: California condor!
A small stream blocked the path to the rocky promontory on which a lighthouse perched, but up the shore was a log for crossing, which I used, and jogged over to the natural cove where waves were crashing against the black rocks. I hoped to see or hear sea lions; we’d heard some barking during the night. I walked up the partially fortified trail to the lighthouse hill. The hill projected into the surf as the prow of a ship, high and rocky, taking the wind full in the face, but terraced in rows of rock and green grass, with more of the succulent flowers, and, nearer the lighthouse, signs of habitation. Too early to take the tour, but it was the ocean I wanted to experience anyway. Warm enough from my exercise, I went to the front of the promontory and let the wind say what it would. Then I scanned the water on both sides for sea lions, and finally spotted a glossy black head with its own movement. Pleased, I waited to see if it would make a sound. A few seconds later, again materializing as the shore birds had, there were suddenly more sea lions bobbing in the waves–several, then dozens, then more than I could count. I’d mistaken them for more rocks, but now, there they were in company.
The family was finishing breakfast in the lobby when I returned. I gave each of them a memento–succulent flowers for my mother-in-law and daughters, a club-shaped stick for stick collecter, a smooth stone for my oldest son, a pussy willow for my father-in-law. Renewed, I went to take my shower.