I had forgotten my hiking boots. The cool earth sent chills through my worn crocs and I could feel the branches and rocks underneath my feet as my father and I trekked the winding path through the forest. It was an old forest road that carved its way along the mountainside. It was flanked by majestic trees--tall redwoods with the occasional manzanita and oak tree. The forest floor was springy carpet of fern and branches. When the old growth trees were cut over a hundred years ago, there had once been a logging road where we stood. But now, the ground was soft and even mossy at some points. Here and there leaves and branches had fallen on it. The morning retained its freshness though the sun was already high in the sky, and there was a musky but rather cool air about the forest. We were in the lee of a hill, and wind from the ocean could not reach us.
The road now sloped upwards the mountain ridge. As I stepped up the last yards to the top, the cool sea air swept across my body in a salty blast. I stood at an overlook and surveyed the scenic lands before me. The mountains lined themselves as if they were a perspective drawing. They receded and sloped inwards to a slight stretch of gray ocean barely visible underneath the horizon line. I was standing the edge of an immense hallway of rugged ridges and hills that bent inwards the farther I looked. At the very end, there was an opening between hills and rocks where the ocean lapped. On that short section of sea, a couple boats and large boulders were but dark specks in the thin mist. All the mountains, the ridges, and the shallow ravines sloped downwards and inwards to that line, that segment of the Pacific Ocean. On both sides, it was framed by steep rocks and hills. Atop the hills were a line of redwoods, etched against the gray misty sky like skeletal, carved figures.
It was 11 o’clock in the morning. A cool wind blew from the ocean, carrying the faint scent of brine and the cool, invigorating breeze of the saline sea air. The slope beneath me was a steep incline of bushes and manzanita trees, speckled with a few redwoods which stood tall and unyielding like columns in the rubble and wreckage of hundreds of years of the sun and the sea wind. Far away on another hilltop, there was a clearing where the outline of a house was visible, partly concealed by trees on the edge, and I imagined living there, alone in the trees, with only the sea wind and the quiet redwoods to accompany me every morning. Next to the clearing, the tops of the distant ridges were rimmed with stately redwoods, their shadowy frames imprinted against the overcast sky. They stood quiet and strong, on a silent vigil. Far underneath in the valley there ran a stream, which could be seen here and there when the trees cleared slightly. Along with it were sections of a dirt trail called Last Chance Road. Both wound their way through the hills, curving slowly down to the ocean.
The ocean! It pounded incessantly on the crags and rocks that obstinately stuck out in the dull, dim, waves. No sun shone on those grim boulders. Even through the binoculars, all was grim and grey. The small stretch of beach was forlorn and dull, and the waves lapping softly at the shore were just shades of gray sliding and shifting over the slightly grayer sand. Two small boats were shrouded in mist on horizon line. Even through the binocular lenses, they were cloaked in wreaths of mist that were denser in the sea than they were near my lookout point, where the mist only brushed the hilltops with a light, graceful kiss, rising slowly as the morning wore on.
Still, neither the mist nor the hilltops captured my attention like that small span of ocean so far away. I wanted to jump up and soar down to it, gliding through the chill and over the icy ocean water. I felt alone with it, as if everything else was an aside. But it was a happy loneliness. I could feel the nature, the earth, the ocean, who’s mighty expanse peered through the window between the rocks and exhaled deeply, blowing it's salty breath over the mountains and forests. I thought I could live the spirit of the ocean. That I could immerse myself in the waves-rising and falling on the pebbles and the sand, streaming then receding over the rocks and and crevices, flowing over the strands of seaweed, whose dark, long, and wavy arms would be slick and drawn out in the tide. There, the cold brine and saltwater encrusted the rocks and swept relentlessly at the junk and refuse of the ocean. I felt like I had risen in my spiraling thoughts, born aloft like a falcon on a warm air current, surveying the mountainside, the valley, and the sea. But instead of a warm air current, I soared in the cool, fresh air. I felt that even in this gray world of cold and chill, there seemed something a fraction more perfect, more welcoming that the other world I lived in. That something lapped with the waves and coursed through the trunks of the trees. It fluttered inside my chest, and flowed through my body, sending shivers that weren’t entirely from the cold. I turned away from the ocean, for it was too sad and so unbearably enchanting.
I walked about the small clearing of the lookout slowly. I ate a sandwich, drank some water, and chewed an apple down to its core. The sandwich was a of few leaves of lettuce and a thin slice of tofu jammed between two slices of sourdough bread. Simple? Yes. But bland? No. It was as close to nature as I could be, as in accord with my current environment as I could be. I chewed slowly and thoughtfully. Each bite had to be savored and enjoyed. A warmth flowed over my body as my insides greeted the food with a joyful fluttering. But though my body was nourished, there was still that cold loneliness. It did not bother me, for the sense of loneliness was quite enjoyable, quite heartening. I was not forsaken, I was merely the same entity as the ocean, the hills, and the forests. We were one.
As I turned to leave the lookout point and dive back into the rushed, meandering, and breakneck “normal” cycle of life-into the hubbub of civilization-I turned back to take one last look at the ocean. It was alone and very small.