Tuesday, April 04, 2006

the "fifteen foot" beach

I don't know where the "fifteen foot" name came from; The Hermit named it, either for fifteen foot waves or fifteen foot high dunes leading down to the beach. Either way, Manchester State Park Beach in northern California holds many wonderful memories for us, and will be known as the "fifteen foot" beach.

I am a water person. It is amazing that I can live in the middle of the continent, as far away from an ocean as you can get. I have Lake Superior a short drive away, and numerous smaller lakes so I can get my water fix, but I have this thing about oceans.

We lived, for a brief but momentous time, in northern California, twenty miles from the coast. It was a stop on our inevitable journey that led us here, to this life. It was not meant to be there, but we had to go there to get where we are. And the beach was a big part of it.

On a Saturday or Sunday morning, we would load up the car. Calvin had just turned five, Starflower celebrated her third birthday on the beach, and Mr. Attitude was under a year old. We always stopped at the Navarro Store for snacks, and a six pack of Hop Ottin' IPA, Anderson Valley's finest, and maybe even a 22 ounce "roadie" of Poleeko Pale Ale. The store was run by a nice couple; the man always smiled and had jokes for the kids. He was missing one hand; the local story was he used to dabble in explosives as a hobby.

Then it was off down a winding road through a tunnel of redwoods, following the Navarro River to the coast. There was a beach there at the mouth of the river, which made for a nice half day trip, but when we wanted a real beach experience we turned south and took the hairpin turns of the highway that followed the cliffs of the coast. Eventually we came to the town of Manchester, and just beyond it, Manchester State Park. The fifteen foot beach.

It was at least a half mile hike over the dunes to the beach. You could not hear the roaring of the waves over the dunes; it was silent until you came to the crest of the last dune. I carried Mr. Attitude, either in the backpack or the sling. We encouraged Starflower to walk, but somehow she always ended up on Daddy's shoulders. And someone had to carry the cooler.

It was always magical, topping the crest of the last dune and finally hearing the roar of the waves. It was loud, deafeningly loud, but a relaxing void, a rushing, a calmness at the same time. It washed away all that did not matter. At the beach we did not agonize over the trivial; we rejoiced in the moment. We did not care where we set up the blanket, or what the plan for the day would be. We were there, and that is all that mattered.

Long walks were always part of the day. We would spend some time at the edge of the waves, running back and forth, chasing the surf. We would look for treasures washed up: polished stones, shells, jellyfish, long strands of kelp, and once, the perfectly dried body of a sea star.

Our base camps always ended up near driftwood, for some reason. There was plenty of driftwood scattered along the miles of beach, and we were drawn to it. We were intrigued by the washed out forms, the muted colors, the hollow sounds the wood made when pounded against larger logs. Pretty soon we were drumming, caught up in some ancient rhythm we felt with the crashing of the waves. We lined up circles and structures of smaller sticks, leaving them for others to discover and wonder at. Somehow at those moments, I felt closer to God than I ever have.

I always felt such calm there. For the previous few years of my life, I had always felt under stress of some sort, but the beach was where I learned how to lose myself, to find myself, and to relax again. The rumble of the surf against the long open shoreline made a noise that drowned out all but the present moment. I didn't worry about anything, didn't think about anything I was just there. It was a great comfort. For the most part, we were alone on that beach. Even if there were others there, it was never crowded, and we had plenty of space.

There are a few places on this earth that I count as my home. The fifteen foot beach is one of them.


Jim said...

Beautiful Deb!

the dharma bum said...

Deb, you never cease to amaze. A beautiful description of what sounds like a beautiful place. I've never lived near the ocean, though I've always loved being near it. My dad, a native Minnesotan (from St. Cloud, one of the flattest cities in the state, no less) lived in San Francisco for over 10 years and he told me once a couple years ago that the only thing he missed was the ocean. I always wonder what it must be like to be able to just go down to the ocean whenever you like. We spent a couple days on the coast in Sonoma County on our honeymoon and I'll never forget the time we spent wandering up and down the beaches at sunset...

Anyway, sorry to ramble, but your post seemed to evoke every thought and memory I've ever had about the ocean...

Rexroth's Daughter said...

Deb-- This is the most beautiful description of the ocean experience. You described it right down to the soul.

Floridacracker said...

The ocean called. She said to tell you that you've done her proud and she appreciates the thought.
Nice job.

Deb said...

thanks. After writing this, I am longing to feel the thunder of waves once again. But writing this, going back there in my mind, somehow has a calming effect.

I don't even know if I have any pictures of this particular beach; I'll have to go through my unorganized collection of prints. I think I was always too caught up in the moment to take pictures.

dharma bum- I've been to a couple of Sonoma County beaches, Bodega Bay and just north of there, Salmon Creek I think. They were very much like this one.

and FC- my relationship with the ocean began on St. Augustine Beach. :)

pohanginapete said...

Yes, what they said, Deb... this drew me in, and when I finished reading, I thought, yes, that's what beaches do. It's one of the few things I miss about living where I do: not being within touching distance of the sea. Still, nowhere in NZ's far from a coast...