Sunday, July 20, 2014

...from the outside in

Mendocino coast, photograph, Celeste Bracewell, 2014

I am drawn to water’s edge. From an old journal, words that have appeared here before:
My childhood was spent in a hot humid landscape of gentle, rolling hills bordered by pine woodlands. Flat beaches of white sand, the marshes of Glynn, and ancient oaks with moss-draped branches that brushed the ground of the tranquil Georgia coast quietly seduced. But the raw, rugged beauty of distant seaside cliffs called to a young girl, a desire that hinted inexplicably of homecoming.

My first experience with such a coast was during a business trip to San Francisco in 1992...a drive into the Marin headlands over the Golden Gate. That foray would be repeated each time I returned to the city, to sit with a book - largely ignored - and banana nut bread from Sears Fine Dining to tide me over while I watched the tides below.

Then came Ireland. I became hopelessly addicted. One drive was too many and six months’ worth not enough. I lived in Kinsale near the harbor. From Cobh south to Glandore and beyond, around the Dingle peninsula, up to the cliffs of Moher, the edges called. 

Last Thursday we drove to the Mendocino coast again, turned north and traveled beside the cliffs for a while before turning inland onto the headlands. The rolling fields of sea oats are sparsely populated by a few farms and inns, coastal cypress, and clumps of redwoods. 

We arrived at the bed and breakfast exhausted. Two hours until dinner so we retired to the chairs on our small porch, to a welcome silence. Beyond the field, the marine layer bled into the sea with only a trickle of sunlight to define the distant gentle waves. After a while, I dressed for dinner. As we walked to the car, Bill commented, “You love the peacefulness of this place.” 

This peace, however, was tinged with deja vu. I’d had such moments before. Another entry in the above-mentioned journal records Madeleine L’Engles’ words which echoed my experiences: “We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn in a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes.” 

The edges call, will always call...wild or peaceful, gentle or rugged. But the headlands hint of homecoming. Why? The old barns that lean against the wind remind me of delapidated south Georgia farm buildings of my youth. As do the dirt roads and sagging wood fences. A sentimental link, yes, but incomplete.

As we drove, I answered Bill’s remark. “It’s the vastness of the place. The silence.” The next morning, I woke early and watched as first light met fog.  Shapes emerged...the strand of great cypress, the water tower over the cottage and the redwoods just beyond, a clump of flowers in the center yard. Then movement as a deer emerged from the mist. 

While we ate breakfast, the fog lightened and began to recede. And as it did, an answer surfaced, the missing element. Light. Like my grandparents’ farm, the headlands are marked by the absence of artificial light. In those vast rolling fields, six hundred yards from the shore, I watched as the natural order cycled. Watched as light gave shape, colored and re-colored the landscape, traced the waves, marked the ragged edge where erosion and creation merge, then withdrew in the night fog to return again at dawn...when, each morning, the universe, with the joy of a small child, exults in “Do it again!"

I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.
Annie Dillard

Ah, Ms. Dillard, I can explain little of life and less of the universe. 
But this I know: in such light, in deep silence, my spirit listens best. 
Sometimes a hat helps.