The sky remains cold and damp as I fiddle with my windshield wipers intermittent timer. Too fast, then too slow and constantly falling out of time with the songs on the radio. Even though it’s late afternoon the gray skies and drifting fog gives this dreary day a sleepy morning feeling. I pull into the parking lot of an ancient looking motel and double check my GPS to confirm if this indeed is the Ocean Spray motel. I begin to have second thoughts about saving fifty bucks by making reservations at a place that only has three out of five stars. Never trust the glowing comments made about an establishment on the internet. No one, or nothing is what it appears to be on the internet. Anyone who’s tried their luck on one of those internet dating sights can attest to this. I figured that after I downed three beers my motel arrangements wouldn’t appear so shabby. Beer makes life’s intolerable events bearable.
The old gal behind the registration counter stares out at me through thick eyeglasses that gave her the look of a bulging eyed goldfish. From the back room, which I surmised is her living quarters, I can hear the familiar voice of Pat Sayjak blathering on about someone buying a vowel. She tilted her head back and looked down her nose at me. “Is it just you mister, or do you have a lady friend along for the ride?” There was a bit of sarcasm in her enunciation of the words, “lady friend”. I stared into her exaggerated bulging fisheyes and responded, “No, just me ma’am, just me.” She offered up a suspicious nod, “Okay, no partying or hell raising allowed, quiet time starts at 10:00 pm and check out no later than 10:00 am. Here’s your key, room number 12.” She turned and shuffled back into the blue hue of her TV room.
I open the door to room 12 and I’m greeted by the odor of mildew and the lingering hint of Fraabreeze. It’s a poor attempt at giving this joint an air of respectability. I’m more than sure that these four walls have seen and heard their share of dirty things——(maybe I’ll sleep in my clothes). I crack the window, pop a beer and lean back against the squeaky headboard. In the distance I hear the comforting sound of waves breaking against the rocky shore. The occasional lonely sound of a foghorn gently lulls me into slumber. It calls out a warning to those lost sailers who may be drifting too close to the rocks. These waters with their tricky currents and hidden reefs have pushed many a vessel into the teeth of its rocky shoreline.
I’ve made my share of memories traveling up and down the northern coast of California, but my favorite memories go back to when I was a kid seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time. My lifelong buddy’s name is Patrick and his mother’s name is Jeanne. Jeanne had a big influence on my young life. She’d pile Pat, his sister Erin and me into her 1970 Bonneville and we’d drive westward out of the flat Sacramento Valley. We’d travel through the green lush coastal range making our way to a place on a map where the land gives way to an emerald sea with its endless gray horizon. My god, I remember how those enormous vistas made me feel small. Highway 1 meanders its way along the rugged cliffs and through the stands of mighty old growth sequoias. We’d eventually reach that sea weathered town known as Fort Bragg. Even though fifty years has passed since I first pulled into this town, it appears to have changed very little. It’s a landscape of moss covered picket fences, overgrown berry-bushes and a misty coastline that time seems to have forgotten. Home isn’t where you’re necessarily from, it’s more about being at a place where you feel that you’ve always belonged. I finish off my beers and fall asleep to the sound of breakers crashing on the shore and that sweet song of a foghorn calling out into the darkness.
The next morning I wake early and take my shower in a yellow tile stained stall. I stop at a cafe and grab a hot coffee to go. I’m headed to MacKerricher State park where my tide table guide indicates low tide is at its peak at 5:50 am. I look at my watch and see that I’m on schedule to get to the tide pools on time. Out on the horizon I spy a fishing trawler chugging its way north. If I weren’t prone to seasickness, I’d love to be at the helm of that boat. I imagine myself being addressed as captain Sabino by the bartender as I enter the local tavern. After being out to sea for weeks, I envision myself saddling up to the bar and buying a round of drinks for the entire bar. Lost in my fantasy causes me to absentmindedly drive slower than the speed limit, the car behind me impatiently honks, rousing me from my daydream. I think to myself, “Fucking jerk”.
I pull up into the parking lot of the state park and roll my window down. Man, the smell of the ocean does something to me that makes me involuntarily smile. In the past fifty years there’s been a lot of changes, but this place remains frozen in time. The damp weather is the great equalizer making everything look permanently worn and tired, yet it’s comfortable and unexplainably familiar, like the face of an old friend. Thinking back, I remember Jeanne with her fiery red hair and her strong willed personality. She had an independent streak that fostered a fearlessness in her eyes. If inadvertently provoked she could have a bit of a temper——you didn’t fuck with Jeanne! She was a feminist before that word had become into vogue. With just her tenacity and a love for nature, she’d haul us kids into her car and we’d head out on spontaneous adventures. We were like a bunch of carefree gypsies rolling down the highway together, playing twenty one questions, singing along with the radio and laughing with a spontaneity that only comes with that rare feeling of being young and free.
Before the intrusion of smartphones, social networking and 24/7 news cycles, we’d spend an entire day exploring beaches and the woods. I suppose this is gonna make me sound like an old fart, but I do believe life was simpler back in the “olden days”. Kids these days would probably shake their heads and laugh at the notion of being unplugged from the internet for a twenty four hour stretch.That twelve year old boy inside of me is still amazed at the beauty and danger that comes with climbing down the slippery cliffs to the wave sprayed rocks. It’s a funny thing how beauty and danger seem to go hand in hand. I clamor from one green mossy rock to the next. I peer into the tide pools observing their tiny worlds within. Each tide-pool is a community of sea urchin’s, sea anemones, starfish and skittering rock craps. I stick my finger in the middle of a sea anemone and watch as it closes around me. I lick my dry lips and taste that organic flavor of sea-salt. The ocean is mother-nature’s womb, the place where life first quivered into existence, evolving from nothingness into everything-ness——what a beautiful mystery to behold. I’m not sure why it is, but the ocean with it rolling waves and windy cliffs draws us all back to its holy vastness. I watch folks standing silently at the edge of this continent staring introspectively into the hypnotic waves. Couples hold hands as the whistling winds mess their damp hair. I suppose there’s still pieces of us all in those thundering waves. I stroll the beach and see the litter of driftwood and seaweed left behind from where high-tide left its mark. These tides are tied to the pull of the moon phases—-all things supernaturally connected. Nature is my cathedral, my church.
I climb back in my car and head to the harbor where I’ll have lunch at one of the open air grottos’s. The fishmongers are busy cleaning and laying out the days fresh catch. I smell the fresh fish, deep fried calamari and steaming clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls. The glass refrigerated case is filled with squids, abalone and a multitude of different types of fish neatly laid out atop white crushed ice. Behind the counter with its decorative fishing nets and colorful buoys is an old 19 inch TV hanging from the ceiling. It’s hard to believe, but fifty years ago at this very grotto I watched Neil Armstrong on a snowy TV screen utter the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” My god, how many grains of sand have passed through my hour glass since that memorable day? I wish I could turn that hour glass over again and allow me another fifty years.
When I visit a place from the past that changed me, I become engulfed by a tremendous ache deep inside my chest. I’m keenly aware of the impermanence of all things. This life is chaotic and messy, people come and go, people change, memories become irretrievable and the continuum of time splinters and disappears into thin air. There’s no way of going back from what was, to what is, time only moves in one direction——-forward. Time is like the waves that break on the shore and then recede back into eternity.
I hand my motel key to the googly eyed women at the front desk. She in-quizzically inquires, “Did ya enjoy your stay? Ya find everything you came for?” I responded in a pensive tone,“I came here to remember something——or maybe more importantly, to once again believe in something.” She leans forward and in a hushed voice asks,“And, what do you believe in?” I pause for a moment as I consider her question, “That each and every day is truly extraordinary. And, if this enormous ocean is possible and real, and if it can be imagined like god can be imagined, then anything and all things are possible. That’s what I believe.”