21. The North Shore

In a few weeks I’ll head up the coast to Mendocino County for a writers conference. This is part of a new and deeper commitment to my work, and it’s the next of many crossroads in my life. I haven’t been there in years now, but this place has been a refuge and a soul-renewal for me before.

The first time I came to the North Shore was when I had to leave the man I had loved for seven years and had expected to spend the rest of my life with. The second time was when I failed my first firefighter physical agility test. The third, when cancer obliterated my well-laid plans for a future, redirected my path, and ultimately was a gift of new life. The fourth was when 9/11 happened, and all of us were plunged into a bottomless pool of grief, fear, horror, and shock, and there have been others sojourns since then.

Mendo rocky banner

Each of the times was different, but the seeking was the same– a space for shelter and healing. The outcomes would be the same:  redemption and a silent reassurance. Each time the gift I needed was given:  Reboot, restart, new beginning.

Every time I go back to Mendocino County’s rugged headlands and redwood forests, it’s a sacred journey. The wise and patient dignity of the ancient trees – the grandfathers, I call them – seeps into my soul and comforts me. The rocky headlands with white-frothed breakers crashing, and the sweet fresh salt air, fill me with awe and exhilaration, and I can feel the strength and power of the earth itself.

The ocean is always a source of absolute wonder. It never changes, and never ceases to challenge and embrace the shore. They are lovers, they are one thing, each eternally joined to the other part of itself. Even as the shoreline moves, the sea never lets it go. The shoreline changes and is changed again and again by that embrace, sometimes caressingly, sometimes violently crashing onto the rocks, wearing them away with time. Along the Mendocino headlands, some of the unspeakably beautiful places I shot breathtaking pictures of,  and walked out on  – one of them, a thin sandy bridge of rock, terrifyingly high above the crashing surf below — the next time I came to Mendocino, was gone. Just completely gone. I looked for it. I couldn’t tell for sure where it had been; nothing resembled it anywhere anymore.

Life is exactly that. Ever engaging us, either embracing us with tenderness or challenging us with force, and we’re always changed and changing through our engagement with it, and this is how it’s meant to be. Life is the ocean and we are the shore, but all of this is only one thing. We are life, and the path is the ever-moving but never separated shoreline.

My advice to you as my fellow travelers here:  See deeply.  Miss nothing.  Take pictures with your camera but also with your eyes, and save them forever in your mind. Don’t let anything beautiful slip by you without being celebrated, for this moment is sacred and will never come again.

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