In Bolinas summer has just begun.
July and August bring nearly all day fog which wets the Earth, and for some the spirit. In the morning only those trees just outside my bedroom window are viewable, yet still misted over. By late afternoon on most days the gray parts way to give a glimpse of the robin’s egg blue sky. Sometimes a ray of sunshine sneaks out, but often gets swatted back by the fog. It lasts for only enough time to be noticed before the hole in the sky fills in again.
If the fog does retreat during the day, it sits out in the Pacific like an oceanic mountain range or a tidal wave frozen at sea. Then, at night, the fog moves swiftly, covering a whole sky of stars in a moment, dropping temperatures and silently claiming the land.
Back East I dreaded June for the rains would never end. Gray skies left me sullen and ready to slide down the rabbit hole of despair, after having been perched on its rim all Winter. I could manufacture a reason with ease – my jacket got caught on the door handle, I spilled the laundry detergent, the tall dude’s ear is red…imminent and traumatic ear infection alert…I’m not going to sleep tonight. Calamity. Ugghhh. More rain.
Down, down, down I go.
Here my spirit is lifted by the fog, soothed by the gray and filled with butterflies by the marine layer, a living breathing mystical (mistical?) entity. I even love the rain. The transformation between Then Me and Now Me is as startling as taking a bend on Highway 1, and in one second having sunshine and the familiar sight of land and sea drop away leaving you suspended in nothing. Like floating weightless with your eyes closed. As if you’ve driven off the cliff.
These days I adore the feeling of floating in space. Not seeing anything up ahead, not needing to turn around and see what’s behind me.
Just loving being.
The unknown doesn’t scare me anymore or leave me feeling anxious. Actually, I prefer it. The more I don’t know the less I am drawn to judge, fix, adjust, correct, or wish for things to be different. But to stay in this place of harmony and contentment requires me to actively promote it, seek it, request it of myself.
What better way to practice loving the unknown than to send the dudes out on surf boards in shark patrolled waters?
I can’t think of one. You?
A few weeks back a young fin whale beached itself on the northern end of Stinson attracting a crowd of people brought to tears as he thrashed, then struggled to breathe once a minute, then died. There was trauma to his body and blood in his mouth. Tragically, he may have collided with a ship at sea and came to shore to perish around midnight, brought there by the current. He died later that morning loved by a crowd of heartbroken people from behind the caution tape that ringed his 42 foot long body.
He could not be saved.
He was brought ashore for an autopsy and then buried. I’m sure with a great deal of respect and proper rituals for such a gorgeous creature.
However, common sense was on holiday as the whale was buried in a shallow grave near shore. There may be valid reasons for this such as the costs associated with towing him far out to sea or a desire to retrieve his skeleton for display in a museum. I can safely assume the decision wasn’t motivated by a desire to create a new Great White Shark attraction at Stinson Beach, but that’s exactly what may happen as the scent of flesh floats west. It didn’t take long, as a matter of fact it only took three hours, for the sighting of a Great White.
Promptly, Stinson Beach was closed to swimmers and surfers and other possible kabobs for hungry sharks sniffing a meal.
All of Stinson Beach. Closed.
None of Bolinas Beach closed.
Now, I understand that those in Stinson judge Bo residents as a little less than, but to think the Great Whites shun us, too, is really disparaging. Personally, I’m offended. And humored.
I am just as tasty as my neighbors to the south.
Since there were no more sightings, the beach reopened later that week. Cuz for sure all the sharks left for the Farallon Islands 25 miles offshore. Which is SO far away.
Before the whale came to die the dudes spent a few days discovering that they like getting pummeled by the surf in Stinson. And I practiced the fine art of not freaking out. After having saved the tall dude once already at the mouth of the Bolinas Lagoon, I remained at the water’s edge and kept my eyes on them and the water behind them. Not for a sneaker wave but for a dorsal fin.
Watching them catch their first waves to shore was more fun than watching their first steps. I don’t even remember their first steps – where they were or when they happened. But I will remember forever the shrieks of glee that shot from their wide open mouths, and the sight of only their heads visible in the white break, as the wave carried them, faster than they imagined, to shore.
That day the waves became nature’s amusement park ride, not just something they walked beside or sat on a rock and watched. And that day I learned to not fear even when it seems like a really smart thing to do. (Which does not mean become a fool.) A man approached me as I cheered the dudes on and called them out for short breaks to see if their lips were blue.
You are the most vigilant mom on the beach.
Seems like a good idea here.
We stood side by side as he watched the dudes miss some waves and then catch one that flung them up on the sand, laughing hysterically and spitting out salt water.
Can’t be too careful.
And off he went.
Yes, you can, I thought.
As I stood there I pictured the wild marine life that hid just below the surface. And then noticed that I had lost sight of the dudes and missed a few waves.
Mom, did you see that?!
The little dude, all purple and chattering, ran to me. I hadn’t.
I was too busy imagining things. It was then that I said to myself,
If something happens I’ll deal with it when it happens. Until then I am just gonna love this stuff up. Memories are being made. Passions developed. A connection to the Pacific is forming.
I will nurture this, not teach them to be afraid but to respect the ocean.
Encourage them to live free of fear.
This is why we are here.
After that day at Stinson, the whale arrived. And brought to shore the Great White. Summer came, too. Along with an invitation from a kitten to her birthday party. My first in Bolinas. In just a few hours friendships formed that I believe will be lifelong. For me and the dudes. The birthday girl and I made plans to meet at the beach the following week. With boogie boards in hand the dudes and I hit the sand a few days before Labor Day weekend. The birthday girl and I laid on towels while the dudes braved the icy water.
Talk turned to the whale and sharks, of course. And the need to let it all go. We discussed the unlikelihood of a shark attack and how they aren’t seeking out humans for nourishment while watching the dudes get further and further out. Then my stomach flipped. Once. I pushed the feeling away.
Just as they were getting chest high in the water, far enough to take in some waves, a man ran up the beach, Michaelangelo was his name – I kid you not – and to the water’s edge yelling for the dudes to get out.
He looked back at me. Shark. 30 yards offshore.
At the water in a single step, it seemed, outwardly calm but meaning real business I yelled,
Boys. Out. Now.
They looked at me. Why, Mom?
And then we had a family meeting.
We’re going to bag the boogie boards for today. You can go in knee high, but no further out. And when I say get out of the water don’t ask why. Just assume I have a very good reason.
The birthday girl thought Michaelangelo was drunk. Not a bad guess considering the conversation we had with him after he
cried wolf yelled, Shark! He let us know that even though he had $500 in his pocket he was going to sleep right over there, under the stars on the beach.
Yep, that’s where I’ll be tonight.
As if to say – to the birthday girl – in case you’re wondering where you can find me later.
Which she wasn’t.
The dudes were so bummed that they couldn’t be out on the waves but eventually got over the disappointment by scaling the sand cliffs while I wondered if Michaleangelo’s shark sighting was really just a pickup line.
I looked over my shoulder to keep an eye on the dudes and back to the ocean to see if I could spot a fin. All seemed good until the winds kicked up, the sand blew, the dudes faces scrunched up, their eyes burned by grit. And then came the tears. Finally, from way up high, they yelled, We can’t get down! The little dude sobbing, I’m scared Mommy!
After what seemed to be an attention getting attempt by a lonely man with the whole SHARK! thing, I calmly strode across the sand to the cliff expecting my words of encouragement to be enough to dislodge them.
It’s all good, guys. Can you slide down?
They looked at me through nearly shut eyes, their cheeks streaked with caramel colored dirt and dirt colored tears. They shook their heads no. I could tell they were one gust of wind from a total panic attack.
Up I went. The ascent was steeper than I expected and not so easy as the sand fell away with each step. The winds were strong, whipping my hair around my face, then away in time for the sand to fill my eyes and mouth. (And later I would discover, my ears.) I reached a shrub that was substantial enough for me to grab onto and hoisted myself on the other side of it, as close as I would be able to get to the dudes.
Getting the tall dude down was my first goal, he was closer and less freaked. Having me within reach he felt comfortable sliding down on his bum until he caught my hand and then made his way down from there. The little dude was not so easy. He was flirting with a total meltdown which would require me to go up to him, but I couldn’t see a way to pull that off without some risk that we would lose our footing and, while we would certainly survive the fall, the little dude would be traumatized.
Honey, this is what climbing mountains is all about. Keep calm so you can find your route. (Keep calm, Cleo, so you can find his route.) By now the wind was so strong he had one eye open the width of a piece of spaghetti and was clinging to falling sand. Not ideal conditions for figuring out a safe way down.
You will and I’ll be right here to guide you. Move your self over to your left one foot. It took a moment for him to do it, but when he did I saw him ease a bit. That small accomplishment gave him confidence. He focused on the movement and not on the view. Now he was directly above me. My feet were braced against the shrub, my body prone against the cliff. If he came down fast I could stop him.
While I focused on guiding him one move at a time, I held a conversation with myself.
You are calm. You are able. He believes you can get him down safely. And you can do so without fear. He will trust himself and trust that you can guide him down.
And so he did. After 10 minutes of negotiations and well-thought out moves, we descended to the ground amid cheers, covered with dirt.
I walked across the sand, watching him run to his brother relieved and acting as if he had never been frozen with fear just moments ago, and thought,
There really is nothing to fear. Just deal with things as they arise.
Fear only gets in the way of living.
It became clear on Labor Day weekend that living without fear is the only way to live for me and the dudes. For on that weekend they were bitten. Not by sharks (gotcha!) but by the surfing bug.
Boogie boarding is one thing. Bobbing out in the ocean, legs dangling over a board, creating a silhouette that is a dead ringer for a fattened seal is another. But the dudes were happier than I’ve ever seen them, surrounded by new friends and filled with confidence as they graduated from boogie boards to a surf board for the tall dude. (I’ll give the little dude one more week.) The only people thinking about sharks were a few of us Moms on the beach, but the dozens of wetsuit clad people in the water off Bolinas were having the time of their lives.
That night, as I fell into bed delightfully spent, I pondered (as you know I’m inclined to do) the theme of Fears that simmered for the days leading up to the holiday weekend. From the dudes wanting to watch a horror movie for the first time to the Shark! sighting and the cliff rescue…to my own fear of having to sit on a couch next to The Genius and get all Jungian, to…
Mt. Rainier. I thought of how I would feel dangling in a crevasse as we practiced rescue attempts. Would I chicken out as other climbers used ice axes to perform self arrests? Would the wind chill make me feel fragile? Would I be confident on day one as we started the ascent only to freak out as I realized just how steep and slick her face is?
And then from somewhere in my body less determined to find fear came this thought:
Do you remember when you feared you had made a mistake moving to Bolinas?
I did. I remembered being alone in the house one day in the Spring and thinking, What if the dudes don’t love it here? What if my desire to be here only serves to complicate their lives? What if they resent me for moving west?
It’s been six months since we packed boxes and moved to a place we had only been to once. It’s taken until now for me to understand how crucial it was for us to come to Bolinas. I have this feeling that I don’t want to shake that she is going to change my life in ways that I cannot even begin to imagine right now. Nor do I want to.
I’m loving just being.
On the eve of the two year anniversary of the Pocket Call.