The gray arc of Highway 101 unfurls as I leave the green and gold hills of Sonoma County behind. I have left Pup with the most trustworthy of friends; my handsome, copper-furred darling is in the best of hands. Although a friend has joined me and feminine chatter fills the air, this is a deeply personal and intimate journey. A weekend respite has evaded me for far too long; my spirit craves renewal. As if feeling my weariness, the swell of the ocean has been calling in tones too strong to ignore. I drive north, beckoned onward by the seas of mustard amidst the silent vineyards. I remind myself that work will wait for me, that undone tasks and sheaves of paper will not mind my absence. Thought will hold a gentle vigil during my brief hiatus.
Hoping to arrive for sunset’s grandeur, I have chosen to avoid the stunning passages of Highway 1 in favor of the more direct route through the sweetness of Boonville. I drive a bit faster than I ought, yet my car, too, seems delighted with the pace and nature of our journey. I smile as I check my rearview mirror; a haze of vineyards, trees, and farmland lay behind me. Mendocino is calling as I spiral through the twists and turns of the journey that first takes me north and then west. Time evaporates as the cool-warm sensation of dusk approaches. Shards of everyday life are left behind as the miles sweep under me. A magical weightlessness settles in. I want for nothing but a vision of the sea. It has been far too long since I’ve spent a stretch of time with the ocean, the old, dear friend of mine who gives so freely of her wild powers.
A catch my first glimpse of white surf crashing upon steel-hued boulders; in the distance the blue waters are calm, almost genteel. Without conscious effort, I can feel my breath slow and deepen; all lingering thoughts of worldly cares disappear. I am home. Slowly moving my bags from the car to the pavement, I tune my senses to the gentle roar of the sea. A wave crashes with delightful ferocity, and I turn and pause in gratitude at the many voices of nature. The pale blue horizon, awaiting the full brush of sunset, offers tones of warm apricot blush. My dark hair is swept back in a sudden, chilly breeze. The fresh, salty air gusts over me, and I my eyes close in welcome acceptance. Without my sense of sight, I hear the crash of the waves more intensely. In the rumbles and roars of the surf, I feel the ocean’s magnificent power in my bones. I shiver as a blustery gust of wind whips over me. My coat is too thin for the chill, and I reach for my bags. Walking toward the inn, my eyes rest on the beckoning ocean; I cannot seem to move my gaze from her wild, blue presence. It seems as though her mysterious gaze follows me as I disappear into the warm confines of the inn.
The charming room, adorned in soft tones of pink and white, is delightfully cozy. There are few reminders of technology, and I am deeply pleased. Chilled by the wind, my eyes quickly come to rest upon the inviting white enamel heating stove; I clap my hands in delight as the flames come to life. Fingers warmed, I move to the windows to watch the movement of the waves. It is not long before my eager footsteps follow the short path to the cliff overlooking the surging sea. Flowers and vines cling to the edge, and I move toward the cliff to feel the salty breeze more fully. A bird calls as it soars against the canvas of the sky, and my attention moves from the surf to the heavens. The clouds, stretched thin and wide, have been painted warm amber and rose by the setting sun. The air is intoxicatingly full of the sweet, heavy moisture of evening. A deeply contented smile lights my face as the sea’s healing mists pour into me. In her unquestioning presence I am allowed, quite simply, to be.
Dinner is but moments away; the picturesque dining room and an ocean view table wait just out the gate and down a passage of steps. It is not long before an abundance of dishes begin to arrive. I bow my head in quiet prayer; it is a moment of blessing, of appreciation and thankfulness. I start with a steaming bowl of creamy, ginger-infused soup; each warm, velvety sip enlivens my senses. The sumptuous fare is highlighted by the rich company of friends, both old and new. The pull of the ocean, the fluid tones of the pianist, and gentle dinner chatter flow through me. Amid conversation and laughter, my eyes move now and again to the ocean that is increasingly cast in the dark shades of night. We share decadent desserts cloaked in berries; as we finish, I notice with surprise that the dining room is now empty but for our small table. A few of the staff and the elegant pianist have lingered patiently. We rise, regretful to end the evening, and deep smiles are shared. I pause to offer silent gratitude to the sleeping sea. My being is satiated with the warmth of friendship and the sweet perfection of the day.
I rise early as the first pale rays of the sun tenderly call to me. I know the ocean awaits, and I cannot resist her pull. I shower quickly, eager to feel the touch of the sea’s breeze. Hair barely towel dry, I step outside into the soft light of early morning sunshine. A follow the stone path to the cliff’s edge, and soak in the stunning magnificence of the ocean’s glory. The gentlest of winds caresses my cheeks and the waves dance below. I am silent and still, utterly grateful for the serenity than settles within. A raven flies before me, its black wings and throaty call a stark and moving contrast. I notice the early spring flowers nestled amidst the stones and greenery. Feisty blooms of vibrant purple, soft jonquil, and deep magenta peer out in ardent waves of color. My night owl friend smilingly arrives at my windswept perch, her greenish eyes aglow despite the early hour. We set off to walk the cliff’s edge. A weathered fence abuts the gentle path; its worn timbers are slight separation from the wild ocean below. As we walk the gentle path, there is talk of trust, of following instincts, and coming to know our fears. I reflect upon my ongoing aspiration to cultivate ever greater faith and deeper trust through life’s hurdles and rigors. We agree that there are times when even the most perceptive and aware of persons might lose or misplace the capacity to appropriately trust the self or others. I smile inwardly as I ponder my own encounters with faith and trust; they are, indeed, one of my many works in progress. Our discussion meanders as do our feet, and the conversation is alive with both memories and dreams. The biting wind whirls about us as we wander. Stopping to linger, I tuck my frozen hands into shallow pockets. As I gaze into the vast blue that stretches far into the horizon, I am grateful that my eyes and spirit are ever drawn to the sea.
Returning to the inn, I banish my chill by perching, cross-legged, atop the warming fire stove. Rosy and warm, I soon move to the safer confines of the duvet-covered bed. My stomach gently grumbles; it is time for breakfast. The smell of coffee leads me on the short journey to the magical spot that had been so good to me last evening. In the morning’s streaming light, the dining room now holds a cheery, welcoming presence. The ocean whispers to me through the cascade of glass panes. As we ponder the day ahead, both my bowl of steamy oatmeal and plate of fruit disappear into my rumbling tummy. We laugh as the waiter, after thrice refilling our coffee cups, wisely and charming decides to leave the pot at our table.
We are off before long, eagerly anticipating a visit from a new friend, our tour guide for the day. He arrives in a vintage Mercedes wagon fittingly named Buttercup in homage to her yellow tone. My friend, now rightly terrified by my driving skills, is coaxed into joining our guide in the safety of his passenger seat. The sea air breezing against my face through the open window, I smile jauntily as I follow. I am elated to be alone in my precious car, to drive along the ocean as fast or slow as I please.
I am charmed by my second visit to the quaint town of Mendocino. The rows of historical homes stand as quiet, well-maintained guards of the passage of time, the windswept nature of life, and the sea’s churning ways. Following Buttercup, I park behind a pristine white church. It seems a silent beacon of the small community with its elegant, Puritan lines and striking array of stained glass windows. I would like to know it more, to wander her hidden interior, but the ocean breeze is calling for attention.
The sea wind has picked up forcefully, and we don the heavy coats offered by our new friend. We follow his lead, and he guides us down path toward the cliffs. We stop to inspect the wild kale that litters the landscape; its taste appeals to me. I continue to pluck pieces to nibble as we walk. I look ahead, and our guide is patiently waiting at the edge of the path. I catch up and am stunned, once again, by the view that stretches before me. I am ever stunned by the sheer magnificence of the ocean’s wildness. The roaring surf far below seems to call to me in ancient words. Hatless, my hair whips madly in the wind. “Medusa!” I call into the blustery breeze. I laugh as my word is carried off, unheard, by a gust of sea wind. As we move one, my thoughts stay with the myth of Medusa. Medusa–guardian and protectress—in ancient Greek. Ever connected to the sea through her ill-fated relationship with Poseidon, she is complex and changeable. In one stroke, the once-beautiful Medusa becomes terrifying. I stop to peer over the bluffs; the ocean, for a moment, seems almost placid. Seconds later, a massive wave crashes tempestuously far below. I smirk and saunter on. Wicked and ravishing Medusa, indeed.
The allure of the sea’s incomprehensible strength calls me again and again to her edge. I trust my intuition as I make my way down craggy bluffs. It is impossible to touch her from these bluffs, yet the child in me wants to try. My friend waits high on safer ground, but I am a curious and intrepid explorer. In balance, our guide moves between the two extremes. He calls me back now and again; he knows this coastline, and I listen wistfully to his cautions. I am respectful, if undaunted. “What is it,” I wonder out loud, “that seems to push me to reach the edge?” The air is quiet except for the crash of the waves; I’m not certain if my question went unheard in the sweeping wind or if my actions and very being are answer enough.
A flight of birds soars overhead. We spy two Canadian geese resting peacefully atop a mountainous boulder besieged on all sides by waves. The geese, and the magnificent boulder, seem impervious to the ravages of the ocean. I am mystified. Already chilled to my core, I silently wish that I could be invulnerable to the elements and join them in their perch. Our guide, also amazed by the stalwart pair of birds, gently moves us onward. He leads us toward a more gently sloping cliff, and I immediately begin to find my way down. Platforms of dark rock allow readier access. I pause infrequently; this is easy for me. I gaze upwards, and the others remain high above near the path. I watch the churning ocean below; she is beguiling and I continue downward. I set my eyes on a wide, rocky ledge 30 feet below; it seems to offer both proximity and safety. The slope is more precipitous, but I pay no heed. Waves crash near the coveted ledge, and I pause; my instinct rises. The ledge calls, and I want what I want. I move downward. My feet move steadily onward and I am only moments away from my goal. A sharp command, “No! Stop!” rises from behind me. I turn, an impish grin on my face, to meet the unsmiling countenance of our guide–my new friend–who seems to have appeared out of nowhere. “But, look! It is safe!” I call out as I point to the dry, rather flat ledge not far below. “No, it is not,” he states simply and sternly. Wanting so badly to reach my goal, I consider his words in disappointment as I continue to eye my coveted goal. His eyes remain upon me steadily. I pause a bit longer to reflect and decide I trust his warning. As if he summoned the ocean to assert a harsh reminder of her strength, the mercurial sea roars to a monstrous, murderous height and comes crashing down upon the very spot that I craved just moments before. Speechless, I meet the guide’s nuanced gaze; I am humbled, stunned, and abashed. Had he not halted me, we both knew the terrifying, magnificent wave would have carried me out to sea.
It is late evening, and I am delighted to share in an indescribably delicious home-cooked dinner at the home of my guide-friend-protector. I savor each bite; the sea air has made me ravenously hungry. I listen to the melodious chatter, soaking in the company of several new friends who have come to dine. Reflections on the day–and my nearly calamitous interlude with the wild ocean–move into the conversation. A playful guest, his eyes holding an innate wildness of their own, mischievously queries, “Are you a daredevil?” In response, I share my penchant for adventuresome activities that have taken me from the days of riding my Harley (her sleek, pearly presence aptly dubbed “Trouble”) to parachuting…and various perils in between. Having raptly listened to some of his exploits already, we grin at each other in knowing understanding; a routinely sedate life would be the death of us. It is the edge, now and again, that keeps us somewhat tame.
Maybe, then, it is the twists and turns of life that lead me to a greater appreciation of the full nature of my being, both within and without. As I learn to trust my capabilities and respect my own weaknesses, my sense of fullness and balance deepens. There is a time to risk, a time to push forward, and a time to set caution to the wind. Too, there is a time to sit back, to listen to deep instinct, and to follow the voices of wisdom that know better than I do. The interplay of fear and faith…of instinct and mind…of risk and safety…I imagine that they all lead, somewhere in the middle, to the wise balance that sometimes evades me.
Before departing, I again stare out beyond the jagged cliffs to the sea that is my love, my ancient friend. The edge is fragile rock, and I stand back in awe-filled respect. I breathe in with admiration and gratitude for the symphony of crashing waves before me. I’m thinking that the vast blue ocean, in her wild tidal ways, knows the truths that come to me so waywardly.