pages fly away 9

North of Arcata is a beach called Clam Beach where camping is allowed.  I’d camped there years earlier, and hoped they’d have a space for my tent.  To get there I got back on the 101 and crossed the Mad River.  There were a few sites around the parking lot and one of them was open.  I was three for three on the camping so far, and that had to happen if I was going to continue.  The fee was twenty dollars, which I could accept, being able to set up somewhere without the risk of being hassled.  What I couldn’t accept was paying a hundred dollars for a hotel, or sleeping in the car, not unless I really needed to.

After setting up the tent, I walked on wooden planks, through wetlands, to get to the beach.  There was still a quarter mile of packed, black sand to cross to reach the ocean.  The wind was blowing from the north, savagely and without reason.  Someone had balanced stones on top of each other that somehow hadn’t been toppled yet.  A young yoga warrior was sitting cross-legged on a dune, demonstrating his commitment.  Screw that.  The wind was out of control.  I’d brought along my ukelele but didn’t even consider getting it out.  Loose grains of sand were stinging my face.

That night some girls who were camped right next to me had a few cases of PBR and partied all night long.  They had a friend, Charlie, who joined them after getting off his shift at a bar.  They were loud but not obnoxious.  I couldn’t fault them for having their fun, but it was like trying to fall asleep in the middle of a party, right on the floor.  I’d done that many times, but not tonight.  One of the girls was complaining about her new roommate.  He’d offered to help with everything, but hadn’t, and then had eaten all her bananas without contributing one dime. 

Before six o’clock I was up, packing the car.  An older couple on the opposite side were breaking down their camp at the same time.  I wondered if they’d gotten any sleep.  It was only ten minutes to Trinidad, a fishing village on a bluff that I wanted to revisit.  There’s a lighthouse there that I thought might be a good place to meditate at, looking down on the harbor.  When I got there, it was gone, however, perhaps undergoing reconstruction, but the memorial to those who’d lost their lives at sea was still there.

There were steps leading down to the sea and I decided to make a walking meditation out of it.  I’d spent time in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand and walking meditation is a recognized form of the practice.  Since I was nearly jumping out of my skin to hit the road, I decided then to implement it from time to time, if the conditions allowed for it.

I started to descend the stairs, step after deliberate step, measuring my breaths, making sure to draw each breath down to my navel.  A bell on a buoy was clanging out on the water.  Large, black rocks protruded from the water.  On a few of them, different seabirds sat huddled together, screeching at the waves.  There were a dozen boats anchored in the bay, a few miles from shore.  A crow started cawing.  There was the piping of some songbirds.

A cool breeze greeted me when I got closer to the water.  Thick bushes, looking like blackberry bushes without the berries, crowded both sides of the trail.  There was a bench I briefly sat on, thinking about my thinking, wondering where it was coming from.  Then I got up and started down the stairs again.  The closer I got to the ocean, the louder the waves crashed on the shore.  Small stones were tumbling in the surf.  The larger ones stayed resolute, like ancestors from a prehistoric age.  The beach was strewn with seaweed and footprints.  Driftwood lay cast around in various stages of decomposition.

I thought about those who had lost their lives at sea.  Then I thought about all of us, if not losing it at sea, losing it none the less, too often in far less dramatic settings, leaving this world unheralded.  If I’d ever made my peace with death, I wouldn’t be who I was.  Everything in my being recoiled at the thought of just vanishing one day, never to return, sinking into the black water, so far down, beyond hope of recovery.  I’d been constructing my own memorial my whole life, casting my lantern on the sea.  How would that work out in the end?  I couldn’t begin to know.

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