I swung open my parents’ front door and gave Ryan, my childhood friend, a bear hug.
“It’s been a while,” he said, standing next to his road bike.
“Almost two years! And of course you came on bicycle. What should we do?”
“Well, I have an idea.”
“As always,” I smiled.
He laughed, “I got this new camera. It takes 360 3-D photos by stitching images together.” He showed me the screen, “I took this at Mavericks yesterday.”
“Thats a trip,” I said as he moved the photo in all directions.
“I want to go to Pacifica — to the cove just north of Devil’s Slide, where there’s a few houses by the ocean.”
“I know where you’re talking about. We’ve been there together.”
“There’s a low tide now and I’d like to capture those rocks with the pink sky, it’d just be perfect,” his eyes looked distant.
“Let’s go!” My excitement snapped him out of his reverie. “I’ll even drive you home after.”
We packed his bike into my car and headed north on Highway 1.
As we approached the cliff, I said, “I remember the first time you brought me here. Back when we were hanging out with that little crew — the squad, as people call it these days.”
“Right before we went off to college,” Ryan said.
We stepped onto the long staircase that would take us down the cliff; we passed a “No Trespassing” sign.
At the end of the staircase, a black cat sat on the ridge like a gatekeeper.
“Look at this cute cat,” I said to Ryan.
“Is it pooping?”
“No, just sitting on a rock.” I bent down and said, “here, kitty.” It walked over to us and rubbed against Ryan’s leg. “He’s friendly.”
The cat mewed while we pet it and held it in our arms. It walked with us along the ridge to the second set of stairs where we said adieu.
At the bottom of the second stairs, we came to a row of houses held up by support beams, perched between the cliff and the beach.
“These might be the most secluded houses I’ve ever seen in a densely populated area,” I said. “Just up the cliff is a whole neighborhood, but you wouldn’t know it standing here.”
“I don’t like to stand around the houses,” Ryan said. He continued to the left — the quickest way to the beach.
At the very end of the row, a man barged out of his house. He wore a Nor-Cal sweatshirt. Though I didn’t know him, I recognized him: deep wrinkles spoke of countless days in the sun and sea, he looked like Joe Surfer, and maybe only a decade older than us.
“Are you visiting someone here?” He asked angrily.
“We’re visiting the beach,” Ryan said.
“Then you’re trespassing and you need to leave.”
“Well, you see,” Ryan said, “we grew up nearby and we used to come down here when we were younger. I want to take a very specific photo at the end of the point. It’s nostalgic for me. With all that’s happening in the world right now I need to reach that part of myself when life was simpler and –”
“Doesn’t matter,” he interrupted. “You’re trespassing. Turn around and leave.”
“Are you going to call the cops?” I asked.
“I could!” He raised his eyebrows at me.
“I’m sorry, but we’ll have to take our chances,” I said.
“Thanks for disrespecting me,” he turned back to his home.
“You won’t know we were here. We won’t take anything or hurt anything,” I called after him.
We passed his house and walked down a path to the beach. In the distance, rock formations jutted out of the earth like jagged teeth — the inspiration for our trip beckoned us onward.
“You’re more of a rabble-rouser than me,” Ryan said.
“I feel bad. He thinks we’re disrespecting him. It’s our fault for coming on a holiday when everyone is home. He’s not wrong, you know, but we were sneakier when we were younger, I’m sure we only came midday during the week.”
“What do you think he’s doing right now?”
I kept my eyes at my feet, navigating the rocks. “Maybe he’s contemplating the nature of land ownership and recognizing the land belongs to no man.”
“Belongs to no man?”
“It’s only real because we agree to it. Land ownership is manmade.”
“We live in a man’s world, as James Brown would say.”
“I’m trying to make myself feel better. What do you think he’s doing?”
“Snorting a line of meth before he shoots up a convenience store.”
I laughed at his dark humor. “Poor guy. I hope he’s not letting our mere presence piss him off. I hope he sees it’s hard to get much better than this even with the occasional rabble-rousing trespasser.”
We came upon a decaying carcass. Ryan snapped photos while I covered my nose with my scarf.
“Looks like a baby seal,” I said.
“Maybe a porpoise.”
We carried on, talking about current events: police militarization, Syria, American totalitarianism.
“It’s easy to go off on a paranoid rant these days,” Ryan said.
“It feels surreal, like we’re in a dystopian novel. Ever since the election, I’ve had this strong feeling that art and activism will save us — maybe even set us free — by holding a mirror to society and providing a doorway to a new life. Art makes people feel and can inspire action.”
“My newest projects focus on the zeitgeist.”
“I’ve heard of ‘zeitgeist’ before, but I’m not sure what it means.”
“It’s the feeling or essence of the time.”
“Oh yes, I saw that in your last video.”
“The one about nuclear war?”
“When I made it, a few months before the election, people were worried about Trump having them, but I didn’t think it would happen.”
“The way you juxtaposed that song –”
“How Soon is Now?”
“Yeah, and with the images from Godzilla — it’s haunting. There’s cognitive dissonance between the visuals of destruction and the lyrics of needing love as a human. I remember feeling anxiety watching it. Totally a zeitgeist.”
“There’s a lot to be anxious about right now. When Trump said he would expand nuclear, I kept seeing the images of burned skeletons from the video.”
“Speaking of skeletons, check out this skull,” I pointed to a small white skull at the bottom of the cliff.
Further along the beach we saw more animal remains, including an in-tact opossum.
“Perhaps this is why the surfer didn’t want us here — this is his boneyard,” I joked.
“How’d the possum get down here?” Ryan looked up at the steep cliff. “Maybe it got stuck down here when the tide came in.”
“Gorging on muscles when a rogue wave hit.”
“Aside from being dashed on the rocks it might not be the worst way to go, you know, to enjoy your last moments with a feast.”
“Suffering and death are guaranteed,” I said. “We have to enjoy life while we can. What if these are our final moments? We must enjoy our present reality — in spite of the terrible things happening in the world. Look at how lucky we are. We have this beautiful adventure. And tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”
“I’ve been thinking about that lately. I’ve been so morose because of current events. And we can’t live our lives feeling morose.”
“We still have to see the rays of light pouring through the clouds onto the ocean,” I motioned towards the sky.
“There will always be atrocities and imminent threats, but with so much pain and misery in the world, shouldn’t we ease the suffering within ourselves if we can? We have everything we need — seriously. And not that we would deny the existence of pain, but that we would touch the beauty of life as often as possible.”
“And it’s not to say we should live in some fantasy where we ignore the realities of the world. We can create change, but also move from a place of deep wholeness and connection to the Eternal Love.”
“We’re all one human organism and I think the greedy, power hungry, demon-people and their armies of destruction are like a sickness. And we have to align ourselves with the cure physically, emotionally, and mentally. We can’t succumb to despair and apathy — that’s how they’ll win.”
“We’re not helpless, that’s for sure. We can boycott, divest, protest, create art, reduce our ecological impact; the movements have started, we just have to do our part. The way we treat ourselves and those we interact with is also important — peace within, peace without.”
When we made it to the point, we found the low tide exposed pools filled with anemones and sea stars. Ryan’s long legs navigated rocks with ease while I bumbled along.
“Watch out for the slippery ones,” he called to me.
While he captured his 360 photo, I took a closer look at the anemones, I hadn’t been to tide pools in years and was surprised by the neon green hues of the creatures, some with purple streaks like brush strokes running through their tentacles.
The waves flowed gently through the pools, an effect of the low tide. I stepped carefully over mussel beds, conscious to place my feet in bald spots, until I found a seat to watch the waves.
I recalled a conversation I had with my father that morning.
“Can you believe it’s been three years today?” He spoke of the anniversary of his younger brother’s death.
“Yes. It’s hard.”
“I didn’t get enough time with him,” his voice cracked with tears.
“But you loved and cherished him during the time you had,” I put my hand on his shoulder.
Growing louder and rumbling across the rocks, the waves signaled a changing tide. Two seals popped their heads above the water, they looked in my direction.
“Hello, seals,” I said.
Knowing we would leave soon, I focused on the beauty around me — the rising tide, the setting sun, continually arriving and departing. Thich Nhat Hahn’s iconic words echoed in my mind:
A wave on the ocean has a beginning and an end, a birth and a death… If a wave only sees its form, with its beginning and end, it will be afraid of birth and death. But if a wave sees that it is water and identifies itself with the water, then it will be emancipated from birth and death. Each wave is born and is going to die, but the water is free from birth and death…
Tomorrow I will continue to be. But you will have to be very attentive to see me. I will be a flower, or a leaf. I will be in these forms and I will say hello to you. If you are attentive enough, you will recognize me, and you may greet me. I will be very happy.
The sky at the horizon turned yellow, orange and pink. I recognized my ancestors in the sea, the clouds, the sky, the seals — I said hello with my heart. And seeing my ancestors, I saw all the ancestors of the human family.
“Intercede on our behalf,” I said to them. “Save us before we destroy ourselves and our planet. Guide us, your descendants, to peace. Whisper in our hearts, show us the way to unity as one human race. Carry your descendants on earth to peace, within and without, between neighbors and nations. Help us find compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.”
As soon as the sun passed the horizon, Ryan bounded over the rocks towards me.
“We should head back quickly,” he said. “It’ll be dark soon and the tide is coming in.”
“Thanks for bringing me back here, Ryan. I’m glad we came, even if was for just a short time.”