A Tale of Two Journeys to Stinson Beach
When I woke up one morning a few weeks ago,
something was amiss.
Or really, everything was amiss.
It was cold and cloudy and depressingly gray,
the fifth in a string of oh-so-dulling days.
The universe was dreary, and I was just weary.
Weary of putting on masks whenever I stepped out the door.
Weary of keeping a safe distance on street and in store.
Weary of being wary to my very core.
And I felt impatient too.
I wanted life to be normal again.
I wanted to laugh with my colleagues
and lunch with my friends.
I wanted to relax and stop fearing the air,
these enemies that could be anywhere.
And yes, to be sure, as you all must know,
I wanted to be free to get out and to roam!
Of course, all these feelings had been accumulating for weeks,
but something that morning brought them to a peak.
After five mornings of gloom all in a row,
I felt out of synch, from my head to my toes.
I realized that I needed a self-intervention,
so I threw on some clothes and grabbed my keys.
I jumped in the car and set a course for the beach.
I drove in a daze over bridge and bay
until I found myself on Shoreline Highway.
Enwrapped by green trees and golden hillsides,
I opened the windows and let the sea-breeze stream by.
As that bracing coast air chilled my lungs and my cheeks,
I felt alive for what seemed like the first time in weeks.
On the remaining quarter-hour of the ride,
I noticed yellow flowers blooming by the roadside,
hawks surfing currents in the high breeze,
and the Pacific glinting grayly as far as eye could see.
But when I reached Stinson Beach, the town too seemed spell-bound.
On the entire main street, there were no people around.
When I headed for my usual, farthest-from-the-road parking spot,
a metal barrier stopped me:
Cars could park only in that close-to-road lot.
Still, I donned my mask, zipped my fleece,
strode in the stinging wind to the sand,
where less than a dozen hardy souls
were strung along the entire strand.
I walked away from the others, toward my sacred site,
and when I scaled a last rise, was struck dumb by the sight:
In the ten months since I had last been in that place,
everything had been rearranged.
Where before there had been only pebbles and sand,
basketball-sized boulders and softball-sized rocks now covered the land.
And these were layered by a deep brown detritus I’d never seen:
a tangle of red kelp, pale sea-ferns, brown fibrous seaweeds,
and other sticky, slicky, unidentifiable things.
And it was everywhere! How had I never seen this sea-coating before?
I walked to my usual rock-seat and sat on the stone;
it was wet and its chill shot straight through to my bones.
The wind tore at my fleece and flicked my baseball cap awry.
The waves roiled and roared and the clouds glowered in the sky.
As in years past, I tried to lose myself to the scene—
but the wind and the cold thwarted me.
Behind me was a sheared rock twice my height,
and I huddled there on its wind-blocking side,
staring with all my might at sand, sea, and sky.
But even there, everything seemed awry.
Shoreline Highway’s hawks and blooms now seemed far away.
I felt cold, closed, and cloudy, just like this wintry day.
The restrictions and routines that had withered my soul
were reflected out here in the clouds and sea-roil.
No epiphany came on that blustery day,
and after a freezing half hour,
I walked defeatedly away.
I retreated to my car and sat and sighed,
then set a sad course out of paradise.
* * *
Earlier this week, as I looked back on that day,
the pieces of this pilgrimage finally clicked into place.
I had fled to Stinson Beach instinctively,
expecting that scene to hug and heal me.
I had traced a cold, gray, midwinter way,
and expected to end in a balmy spring day.
But Nature doesn’t work that way.
Looking back now, it seems so clear:
I had to take responsibility,
master the fine art of flexibility.
I should have prepared for the wet and the cold,
should have imagined what was going to unfold.
Had I prepared for a windy beach stay,
everything might have proceeded in a different way.
But as it was, freezing and sneezing and head-to-toe-trembling,
there was no way for me to enter the scene—
and no way for the scene to enter me.
And in the same way I had lost all sensation,
I also had lost my appreciation.
That was the perspective I needed to see—
and that’s when Stinson Beach opened up again for me.
A fundamental lesson was revealed anew:
You’re not responsible for what you can’t control,
but you are responsible for how you roll—
with it, or without it, what you think and what you do.
And then I saw the beach with new clarity too,
and understood the meaning of that brown sea-goo:
That was the detritus of my own despair,
that covered everything everywhere.
When I let that sea-tangle distract my eyes,
it blinded me to the deeper beach-site.
I recalled again the sea, sky, and sand.
I remembered the elation of being alone in that land.
The roar of the surf, the splash of the waves—
these were gifts I had loved on earlier stays.
These existed beneath the brown stuff from the sea,
just as these gifts existed also within me.
I had lost sight of them as the long months went by,
and not even Stinson Beach could bring them alive.
The only force for that was the one in my mind,
the one in my heart, the one in my eye.
Now I sit at my desk and reclaim that day:
The hawks ride the sky, and the clouds roll away.
The golden hills flow and the evergreens plume;
the ocean bright-shimmers, the yellow buds bloom.
At the Stinson Beach lot, I park in my space,
leave my fleece in the car, float to my sacred place.
I savor the grains of the sand ‘neath my feet,
I relish the splash of the waves on my cheeks.
I conjure the sun to shine thoroughly through,
transform all the sky from cloud gray to deep blue.
I sit on my rock, feel the sun warm my bones,
stretch my arms and my legs along the soft stones.
I watch the waves scatter their gems on the sand,
let the salt-tinged breeze tickle me on the hand.
I close my eyes and lose myself to the scene,
immersed in the soaring sea-symphony . . . .
* * *
Now I sit in my study, my toes in the sand,
and these sun-warmed words ebb and flow through my hands:
Things change on the surface, but their essence remains.
Even in this pandemic, there is much that’s unchanged.
Riches abound all around here, as they do at the beach;
the wonders of everyday are plainly in reach.
It’s all in the mind and all in the soul;
it’s all in the heart and all in the roll.
It’s how we embrace what the world sends our way,
but it took me these weeks to be able to say:
Thanks for that midwinter journey into the unknown,
that led me at last to my Stinson Beach home.
Yours in abiding wanderlust,
* * * * *
Have you had a day like this, when everything seemed awry? And what did you do to help yourself get by? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below; your words always make our hearts and souls grow! Thank you!