Surf Camp, January 2007
I set out along the road at a jog. I set out into the wilderness, the road being only the memory of passing tires on impressionable desert soil. Beyond the road the influences of consequence are wind and the paws of coyotes, whose tracks are then erased by wind. Sand piles up behind low shrubs, drifts in waves into ravines. It sorts into ripples and stripes of graytone, and remembers passing mice until the wind rearranges all.
There are also decomposing piles of shells from indigenous people long ago. All living things, in their task of being alive, move resources from one place to another, in their hands, their bellies, their shovels, or with their orders. The indigenous people pulled shells from the sea, ate the fleshy manufacturers of those shells, abalone, clam, sea snail, limpet, and mussel. They left shell heaps that are now, two hundred years after the last clamshell was scraped of its flesh and tossed away, composting into mounds of calcium-rich earth. Plants grow out of the gray, fragment-littered ground.
Landscape passes at a slow trot. Sharp contrast of red hills and blue sky. In the distance, the sea dances white with wind and sun. Here it feels like wilderness. Like I am far from what gives modern humans the leverage to make indelible marks on landscape, make disproportionately huge movements in resources. Yet the simple movement of shells still shows, and I accept that this is just the way of things. Everything matters. And everything, eventually, is forgotten.
It feels good to wander. My feet mock intent, and turn left on a coyote trail, or follow a volcanic intrusion to the edge of the sea, or leap across low shrubbery and rocks in a straight line towards some unknown magnet only to turn again and follow the twisting rise and drop of the coastal trail. This feels alive in a way no obedient jog on the island road back “home” can be. There is something fundamental in wandering solo and totally unfettered by expectation (except eventual return).
I identify with the rocks beneath my feet and the wind in my ears. Minerals and matter that makes me was once rock, and will be again. With the wind I share breath and movement and cycles of in and out, draw and relax.
There is perspective in seeing only earth and sea and sky. In hearing only surf and wind and birds. In feeling the cool and warm of wind and sun. There is perspective in the endurance of the shell piles of the indigenous people. Simplicity and legacy; stories left by stone tools, hunger, and ingenuity.
It is human to wonder at ones own legacy and the frame of its endurance: the life span of friends and family? The decay of a homestead? The life of a tree? The time of literacy in a given language? The weathering of a rock? The recognition of a geologic deposit from some resource displaced? The survival of a species? The half-life of plastic and its determination to float in circles on the sea?
It is human, too, to ponder the value of a legacy at all. And the unavoidability of it. My legacy this week will be carved in the face of a wave. It lives but a moment and crashes on the sand. My legacy this hour is set one footfall at a time into the rocks and soil of a tiny coastal mountain range. My legacy today will be the sum of what I own divided by the total of my days, and the landfill it will eventually occupy.
Being out here makes me want to reduce that sum and allow more for wandering. For coming home into the freedom of spirit and feet. Being out here makes me thankful that I’m here at all, and in this moment, all else pales.
Paddle on, my Friends!