The other day we went on a walk to the old sea wall, the one between Little Drakes and Bullito. I used to walk there in mornings with the dog, who would promptly find something that smelled filthy to munch on, but I never noticed because I would be bundled up in sweaters and daydreaming incessantly. Often in my adolescence it was travel I would dream of, and adventure. I even remember taking Olive with me once, and we talked about how we would go to Europe after we graduated from high school (and we did, though it took us several more years than we thought it would).
We walked down the cool winter sand to the edge of the hulking structure. Xander wanted to climb up the sheer sea-wall face, where a crack in the stone revealed humps and bumps enough to scramble over. I balked—I thought: this is my turf, I know it, probably I know it better than anyone else out here, because I know the dates on every part of the wall, I’ve traced the lines in the concrete trying to feel what the builders felt in 1919, 1929, 1930. I know that you must respect the beauty and the treachery: you can stand on the edge of the sea, looking over the waves at a horizon that curves with the earth (an illusion, but you can delude yourself in the emptiness of an open beach), but you must be wary of how old, how easily toppled the wall is, how remote a place it stands in and how high that edge really is. I thought: for the wall’s sake, not mine, I’ll take the easy route.
It is easy only in relative terms: a wild land of granite rocks held from the sea by rusted iron fencing. In sandals it is an added challenge: trying to keep the paper-thin shoes from slipping off into a narrow abyss, gripping with your toes.
I pitched my weight from rock to rock, balancing tenuously on the tips of sharp granite stones, leaning this way and that. The trick is constant movement: not to pause, not to linger, until you need a rest, until you’re on a flat, stable rock, where you can map out the next leg of your journey. Once you’ve gotten going, swinging like a monkey through the rock forest, it’s your own momentum that carries you forward, nothing else. Hesitation yields stasis.
At the wall, I rounded the corner and there was Xander, overlooking the sea. He had scrambled up in half the time it took me to leap from rock to rock, and now stood barefoot admiring the view. The wall was too narrow to walk hand-in-hand but we padded down the concrete close on each other’s heels. Respect for the wall comes in different forms: in acknowledging a challenge, in deferring to nature, in striding carefully but purposefully. In a place so recently populated by human vices—where Native Americans roamed for centuries but where the touch of steel, iron, concrete, of vehicle wheels and glass windows is still something the ground is getting used to—something that has withstood the beating of the sea, the howling of the winds, and crumbled gracefully, each year different, each year beautiful, deserves esteem for being so relatively old.
Today, we walked to the top of Gaviota Peak. A long hot trudge up; a tumbling down, pushed by gentle wind and pulled by a sense of urgency: I wanted a warm car ride, snuggled in the backseat so I could nap; another bottle of water, and, though I didn’t yet know it, I wanted fried chicken. We went into town to get some groceries and my mom had bought some greasy fried chicken and it tasted wonderful. I did hesitate at first–I thought of sticking my fingers in the paper bag and them slipping off the carcass of the chicken and the nubby, rubbery fried skin–but everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves so finally I let myself reach in and tear a steaming piece of meat and I’m so glad I did.
It is interesting to keep having to remind myself that I grew up here: I am not a stranger here, no not at all, but sometimes I feel like one. And othertimes I feel like I have hardly been away. Last night at the New Year’s party I found myself telling a woman that: “I grew up here,” I said. She has two young children and she and her husband are considering a move out here. If I could, I would convey all that growing up here meant in those simple words (I would slide into the sentence how horrible and glorious it all was, and how worth it, and try to make syllables speak volumes), but I was so taken aback at having said it at all that it was a flat sentence. I keep saying to Xander: I did this when I was young, I used to come here all the time, I hiked up here years ago, or last year. It is funny to realize you have a childhood home and nobody can take that away from you.