Returning south to San Francisco after a 6-month stint as a grateful hermit in the Sierras in 1970, my heart tugged me over to the Pacific coastline, where I eventually found myself leisurely touring along the supernaturally splendid Coastal Highway 1.
By the time I had reached the mouth of the Russian River it was late afternoon, and although the shoreline was rather socked in by a coastal fog, I decided to attempt a climb down the steep cliffs leading to the beach.
What moved me to challenge the elemental fates on that day I cannot recall, but the time-tested refrain, “It seemed like a good idea at the time…” could probably be inserted here.
I was about halfway down the side of the cliff wall when I realized I was in a bit of a predicament. I could proceed no further in my descent, since there was no apparent footing. However, I had managed to reach a point that made any ascending retreat equally unviable.
As I grimly pondered the situation, I was suddenly startled: a madly barking, drool-slathered German Shepherd (dog) at the foot of the cliff below was focusing an unaccountable rage in my direction. We were the only two creatures on the foggy beach that day, it was getting dark, and a chill damp wind was now sweeping fiercely up the cliff face.
I was losing my footing on the rock indentation where I had temporarily perched. It was starting to crumble and I had to pee — real bad. The wind began to amp into a shriek. The insane dog’s barking blended with the voice of the wind, becoming even more hostile and incessant. My heart felt like it was going to join my bladder in some volcanic activity. Time seemed frozen, and the experience now seemed to loom as a defining moment for me.
Many have experienced this at some point in life – the psycho-physiological matrix of fear that cannot be casually swept aside by the comforting little lies we tell ourselves. All the little internal chattering narrative that we perpetually indulge runs smack into the unavoidable maw of clear and present breathless reality. First come the impotent curses, then the cold sweat panic, then the hallucinatory spree of mind in overwhelm, and then…
For a brief eternal instant the setting sun on the Pacific horizon peeked out below the cloud cover, and quickly spread its gorgeous illumination along the underbelly of the now transfigured blanket, and what a sight it was – the most riotously effulgent sunset I had ever seen!
Tears poured involuntarily down my cheeks – the imminent danger completely forgotten in the glory of the scene.
Just then a seagull, white, with ribbons of gray tapering down its wingspan, soared in a kind of lazy slow motion directly into my line of sight, and the wonder of its gliding aero-dynamism simply stopped my mind!
It was as if I had never really seen this before or, to be more precise – it was as if I was seeing it for the very first time once again – as I had when I was baby, with no words to limit it, no concepts to bind it to the mind’s dusty library of accumulated associations.
I Was this Wonder! All of it was me – free and utterly perfect just as it is – no past or future or any sense of time at all – just This! Here! Now!
My heart fell to peace. In this way, the world came to peace, to rest. And now I noticed my body almost floating down the side of the cliff. There was no calculation involved at all in the descent. I am sure, if you were an observer, you would have seen, in the dusky twilight, a rather remarkable feat of rock climbing!
When I alighted on the beach, the now-transformed dog came and snuggled its body against mine — we knew — and together we ambled off along the sand into the darkness, empty and full, two children of the Majesty.