Taking Stock at Stinson Beach | GeoEx
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Taking Stock at Stinson Beach

By Don George | June 17, 2021

Waves on a clear day at Stinson Beach, California

It’s a blue-sky, white-cloud Wednesday afternoon in early June, and I’ve returned to my sacred swatch of Stinson Beach. I had forgotten how pure and purifying it is to be here: just sun, sky, sand, rocks, and sea—and me. It’s at once sole-grounding and soul-soaring to be back.

Last year I came here at almost exactly this time. The pandemic was 10 weeks old, and that pilgrimage was just my second post-lockdown adventure beyond my immediate neighborhood. Uncertainty was all around us.

What a difference a year makes! Last year the notion of a vaccine was a distant, desperate dream, hospitals were overflowing, and the path to containment was clouded with impediments.

Now optimism fills the air. More and more people have been vaccinated, more and more countries are opening up, and there is a feeling that things are returning to “normal,” or at least some new version of normal. Seen in a certain light, it seems that everything has changed.

And so it’s especially valuable to come to this touchpoint place, where I return each spring to take stock of things, to measure the passage of my days where time’s flow is framed in a different way.

Seen in a certain light, it seems that nothing has changed here. It’s the same old-new scene: sun-sand-rocks-sky-sea. The waves roar just as before, the clouds puff light and white on a canvas of deep blue tones, the sun soothes my shoulders and warms to my bones.

I look toward the unchanging horizon and think: Where has this year gone? I know that incomprehensible changes have occurred around the world since the year before, I know that incalculable sacrifices have been made and inconsolable losses have been absorbed, but when I try to demarcate the months that have passed since then, they seem an endless blur of neighborhood walks and in-home Zoom talks.

Nothing has changed, and everything has changed.

* * * * *

After I had that last thought, the sun suddenly felt so comforting and warm, and the sand beckoned so soft and calm, that I stretched out and surrendered to the balm of the day, set my mind adrift in the lullaby of the waves.

Now it is an hour and a half later, and I just woke up and blinked around as if in a dream. It took me a few moments to remember where I am and where I’ve been. And I realized this expresses better than anything I could write just what has changed: On this year’s pilgrimage to my beloved beach, I felt so relaxed, relieved, and hopeful that I could simply drift off to sleep.

It was the relaxation, relief, and hope that I brought with me that conjured this abandon to the cossetting sea, that transformed this swatch of seaside strand, and bade contentment and peace swash over the land.

Now I sit on my stone and look at the sea and reflect on what this all means to me: The world does feel profoundly different now, as restrictions ease and hope rebounds. While substantial challenges remain and inequalities arise, the planet plods on the right road at last, and optimism abides as it did not in the past.

No doubt I am feeling especially buoyed because of recent conversations at GeoEx, as travelers call with renewed excitement about their travel dreams. Just as this seaside pilgrimage has prompted me, people are seizing this moment to take stock of their lives, to contemplate the meaning of the whole, in everyday life and in their travel goals.

As our world has been turned upside-down, our definitions of normal and desirable have become unbound. From the meaning of every day to the balance of work and play, from the freedom to choose where we call home to the option of taking our jobs on the road, the strictures we observed without much care have evaporated into pandemic air. And then there are the changes that Covid has wrought: the loved ones who have been lost, the businesses that have splintered, the lives that have been uprooted, the livelihoods that have withered. The resulting reassessments have bloomed into all facets of life, and inspired a deep new desire to thrive.

This desire propels people’s new travel designs. For some, personal loss has heightened life’s fleeting sanctity, and they want to make their dream-pilgrimage ASAP. Others have been separated from family for more than a year, and yearn for reunion in a private space where they can simply exult and share.

Some people have seen how the lockdown lightened the planet’s environmental load, yet threatened wildlife when anti-poaching activities slowed, so they are choosing to travel with conservation and sustainability in mind. Some have realized how crucial travel can be to a fragile place, and are impassioned to forge a genuine embrace, to make sure that cultural treasures not only survive but improve and that local businesses take root and bloom.

The pandemic has cast everything in a new light. For some, this means the time is right to make that bucket-list fling to the far side of the globe; for others, it means a cautious emergence closer to home. The wild balm of nature calls some to wide-open spaces, while others quest for enlightenment in spiritual places.

As for me, I want to travel more intentionally, to bring respect and wonder everywhere I go, to celebrate the diverse treasures the world bestows–the gifts that seemed so out of reach last year on this sacred beach. I know we are more than the sum of our whole, and that’s at the core of my own travel goal: to embrace all that heart and head can hold, and shape these into stories told to share the precious pieces of the planet we roam and the pilgrimage we all call home.

Recently for me, this quest has taken fresh urgency: I want to ensure all these pieces are there for my new granddaughter to savor and share.

While we all travel with different dreams, one common truth is clear, it seems: Our wanderlust is being freed! Possibility infuses the travel scene.

Just as it infuses this sacred tract, where I have found gifts I didn’t know I lacked. I suddenly feel cleansed and purified, with a clearer, brighter view of rock, sand, sea, and sky, as if the scales have fallen from my eyes.

What is the magic in this surprise? Interaction between the world and the self: Coming to this special place has loosed the hope and peace I felt within; letting these go into the air has spread their power everywhere.

It’s a grand lesson unexpectedly re-learned today: The beach is always the beach; the beach doesn’t change. But what I bring to the beach gets amplified apace. Today it was relaxation, relief, hope, and peace—and so that’s what I found at Stinson Beach.

* * * * *

When I awoke earlier from my sandy slumber, two words were on the cusp of my mind, and I scribbled them in the sand before they were lost to time: Appreciation appreciates.

I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant right then, but now I understand: If we bring appreciation to a place, that feeling grows and multiplies; it affects the place and the people we meet, and so it expands in a kind of molecular bonding, resonant ripples of energy resounding. If we come with love, respect, wonder, and appreciation, those feelings ripen to proliferation. They appreciate.

Now, immersed in the symphony of this seaside roar, I reflect on the months that have gone before, the swells that were almost submerging, the hope that’s blessedly resurging.

And I send this prayer to the wider air: As we emerge from pandemic isolation and stagnation, may we embrace the world with renewed appreciation. And may this new appreciation, in its own humble way, appreciate with every day, with every step we take and every connection we make, at home and away.

If we can do this, wherever we may be, we’ll fulfill our highest possibility, and honor our precious green-and-blue beach, our sacred swatch in the universal sea.

GeoEx blog editor in chief Don George at Stinson Beach

Yours in abiding wanderlust,

Don George

* * * * *

As you sit on your figurative stone and gaze out to sea, what stirs your sense of possibility? Are you thinking of traveling differently? Is there a pilgrimage you want to make ASAP? We’d love to hear what you’re dreaming of and how you plan to start. Please share your thoughts and feelings here. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

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2 years ago

Thank you for your wonderful reflections. I appreciate the condor and the story that many of us can bring to our own reflections no matter our location. As the pandemic wanes I too want to visit family and then travel again to appreciate the richness and diversity all around us that is so important to keep whole.

2 years ago

Beautiful writing thank you

2 years ago

Appreciation appreciates. I love that. Thank you for expressing so eloquently your experience at a familiar place. May we all move forward with a sense of renewal and appreciation.

Melissa Sutherland
2 years ago

Absolutely love this Don – so very true. The beach does not change – but we do and what we bring to it. I too believe that whilst nothing has changed, everything has changed and that travel will be more intentional and not be taken for granted. Definitely a gift rather than a given! Beautifully written words of hope! Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa before I head out into the calm of Nature for a 3 hour hike up Table Mountain, which has stood for millions of years. Warm regards Melissa Sutherland, Chief Travel Curator, Vindigo Travel.

Ravindra Vasavada
Ravindra Vasavada
2 years ago

I am delighted to learn that Hunza Valley Trip is going to happen this year. Then I get to meet this spiritual writer full of hope!

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An Anthology of Travel Stories
Edited by Don George