Friday, November 1, 2013
Today I pretend to be on The Big Trip. It is easy. The sun shines unobstructed and the wind is light. In less than 25 minutes from home I am at one of the many beautiful spots along coastal Highway One. This is my first view of the Pacific Ocean in over a year.
The temperature is exceedingly pleasant. Sometimes I leave perfectly glorious weather in the Santa Cruz Mountains to find cold, fog, fierce wind, and even drizzle, along the shore. Davenport is an oft-visited area for me so it’s beauty is familiar and therefore lacks the enlivening shock to the senses that previously unseen landscapes have. But it’s familiarity brought a warm friendly feeling and memories of previous visits.
What does it mean to pretend I’m on The Big Trip? It means I find a place to wander. It means I walk slowly – at the speed of life – to see what nature has to offer, what the universe is revealing right now. It means I walk without intent to get anywhere but with the intent to be aware of seeing, listening, smelling, feeling. My mind is still, without preoccupations; inside I feel relaxed and content. No fulfilling obligations, completing lists or making plans.
Carrying my camera turns me into a tracker. And being a tracker enhances all my senses, it brings me alive in my whole body. I become immersed – a part of – the environment around me. What do I track? The Now. Life. Reality. I track sights, wildflowers, animals, surprise, beauty, colors, the sky, sensations, emotions, movement, texture, patterns, light and shadow. Tracking requires walking with grace and quiet, watching and observing with full attention.
What is here? High cliffs that drop vertically into blue, agitated waters, ocean swells that push against the land and explode into foam. A lone snowy egret stands on a low flat outcropping as the waves wash over the rock. This is the only egret I have ever seen here. Sometimes seals, see lions, whales or sea otters break the water’s surface but not today. There are bird calls, the sound of the persistent surf, rustling of dried grasses, traffic on Highway One. A farmworker arrives and begins guiding his tractor through the nearby fields.
Then waves of pelicans come again and again like the swells of the sea. Most are heading south towards Santa Cruz. Some are in small groups of about five while others create long shifting zigzag lines, moving in and out of orderly procession. One moment they form a recognizable “V” and in the next, a haphazard uneven stroke across the sky. Feeling warmed by the sun with the solid earth beneath I sit and lean back, watching them fly close by, directly overhead. Three gulls suddenly lift up above the cliff top heading north as a large flock of pelicans speeds toward them. The gulls quickly make evasive maneuvers with much fluttering of wings. The pelicans continue unwavering like beaked and feathered missiles.
I love the feeling of the air moving around me with it’s pulse of life and energy. It strokes my skin and carries the rich odors of nature. The breeze seeks contact with everything. On The Big Trip, most of everyday was spent outdoors. Only during at night, long drives or inclement weather were we not outside in what I called “our great room”. But the cab of the truck and the camper felt barely indoors, unlike the multi-room, thick-walled, temperature-controlled structure called home. The air in buildings now seems static without the animation of nature. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the simple movement and fragrance of fresh air.
The wind smells of living, dried, and decomposing plants mixed with salty water and sea life. The flat tops of the cliffs are covered with farmland. The crops change over the seasons and years, but most often, at least in part of the fields, are artichokes. Today there are only the dried-up remains of a few artichoke stems and leaves on barren dirt. Beyond them are acres of robust brussels sprouts and beyond that a mix of kale and other greens. Wildflowers grow along the cliff edges and persist in some of the fallow rows. I spot a few thriving artichoke plants blended in with other crops as if these ones ran and hid while their brethren were cut down.
My camera battery soon goes dead and I do not have the charged spare with me. On The Big Trip I never once was caught without my an extra battery ready to exchange at a moments notice. This reveals how I’ve dropped my focus on photography and how the other details of life crowd my mind at home.
Today I cannot “sacrifice the bloom of the present moment for any work, whether of hand or head*.” Today I am living with “a broad margin*.” There’s nothing missing in the great space of simple presence. I smile. The Big Trip is within me.
* from Walden by Thoreau