I tell Rachelle on the way over that we’re going to go to the beach and let the ocean replace the sound of our heartbeats. She likes this and says so, voice strong, sallying forth into the void. Long stretches of silence punctuate the highway, unraveling beneath the car in a black stream of tar, and words hover too long in the air when we do speak, even though I try so hard to stay light, stay easy. But that’s not possible, and that's why my heart is breaking too, toeing this line of someone else's pain. Sunshine would be a cruelty to me, if it were me in the midst of this, but to her it is a blessing. On the way over I point out everything I know, the trail to Saddle Mountain, where I got pulled over once, a good place to let Cedar out we discovered on our last trip to the coast. Trees become a forest as we head over the coastal range, one blur in many shades of green out the window. My mouth is very dry. Cedar puts his head in her lap, stretching across both of us. He’s shedding right now, but she doesn’t mind.
A castle-like B&B greets us once we turn off the road, joking for one of the first times once we realize it's gravel and we are perhaps not in Kansas anymore. A turret dominates the roof line, reaching up towards the sky in beach-shingled glory, a wide veranda stretches along the second floor. Lawn-variety grass grows in a half-moon outside the parking lot, outlined by beach pine and salal, the green startlingly vivid in contrast to the dull gray I feel myself emitting. I throw the ball for Cedar over and over again while Rachelle checks in, watching him race with unbridled enthusiasm every time my weak arm tosses it.
An envelope inside the room is our invitation to leave, an ugly reminder of what no longer is. A mad dash across the highway and we are walking a rocky path to the sand, bathed a bright white by the light. Standing at the end of the beach, we take an unspoken pause, toes dug into a billion fragmented rocks and a heart in similar pieces, while the water hits the sand in frothing, white waves. Sweet dog has no time for this and takes off, chasing the seagulls and then the ball when we follow after him.
We wander. Half-broken sand dollars and crab shells, inky pebbles buried in sand, a few mussels glint darkly from where the tide has left them stranded. Puppy throws his heart into unearthing every piece of driftwood, digging like a mad dog after logs. Water races to the sea from an unnamed river, fresh water over the black river stones, bracing cold after the gentle heat of the sand. Long shadows are cast from where the bluff rises up before us, the headland facing bravely forward to meet the horizon eye-to-eye, a solid piece of land in a boiling sea. So much yearning out there, in that blank stretch of water, so many tales told and so much love lost to that beast. But then too, there is so much to found in the mystery.
Walking back across the beach, we urge Cedar to interrupt a huge flock of seagulls while they gather on the glistening stretch of sand just touched by the water. He is, quite wisely if you ask me, hesitant to barge through such a large group of birds, being on the smaller side and very much outnumbered. But eventually he screws up his courage and barges through, a barking chocolate chip puppy, momentarily lost in joy and a white tornado of birds. They wheel into the air, arcing away in one collective turn, and he races back to us as if to say, did you see that? Then, his next foe, a crow standing on the edge of a beach stream—oblivious to this determined little dog, creeping along the sand. Cedar points and creeps, points and creeps, every fiber of his being quivering with the sight of this glossy black bird, until he can’t take it anymore and lunges for him. We see the crow rise lackadaisically rise up into the air, and hear the chatter of the bird laughing as we leave the beach.
On the way over to Manzanita for dinner, the car curves through the curls of this ribbon of a highway as it races around the headlands, offering brief glimpses of the heart-stopping blue far below. Let’s stop, I say, and we pull over at a viewpoint. It is windy, a little, and out there Manzanita spreads out, a miniscule town in the midst of so much grandeur—the ocean, vast, the headlands, massive—and us, so much the bigger for seeing it from here.
Fat puppy gets his wee snout as far back into the rear window as he can, devastated he was not invited out. We don’t move without him knowing it, we are in his fishbowl. We laugh.
Somewhere in the bowels of the local grocery store—a maze, really, with all the walls lined in food—the cashier, a lady of 50 with a nice, lined face, is in shock that we are old enough to drink. You take that six pack of beer and go back to your room and don’t come out til you look your age, she says, and we both puzzle a little bit over it until we finally conclude she means we should drink ourselves new, whiskey-wizened faces in the space of one night. Maybe I will, Rachelle says, and I say no one would blame you.
Clouds hang low to the horizon as we settle in to burritos and beer at the edge of the beach grass, tucked into a little curve of the sand, cool greens rustling behind us while the sun grows heavy in the sky, her dying gasps painted across the world in shades of glory. Dark gathers too soon, our limbs grow cold and stiff, but we stay frozen while the beach empties around us, not wanting to face night, not yet.
Morning comes cold and pigeon gray, air hanging heavy with a fine salty mist. We find four whole sand dollars at the top of the beach, where the tide buried them under the cover of night, here is, for us, a gift from the sea. Cedar runs across glass, his image mirrored by the wet sand, surrounded from above and below by seagulls, and I can see he’s barking but all I can hear is my own breathing.
No man can run forever, and knowing this, we turn for home. Everything will be alright, I say as we take the trail to Short Sand before our sojourn back to the valley. I hope so, she says, and then we talk about the fairies that are sure to live in this wood—coastal rainforest is prime habitat, what with the amount of girthy cedar and hollowed out logs, clear running streams that race to commune with the salt of the sea. We are born believers in this kind of thing. Green curls out from every surface, tiny fiddleheads winking in delight at the breeze we stir up in passing. On the beach we are coddled by the cove, swaddled in cliffs and rinsed clean by the cold air, our very souls—if not our hearts—lifted and borne away by the whale-belly gray of the waves. Dark green boughs beckon from on high, a spectacle of chroma up there against the sky. Water tumbles down to meet the sand, a river taking a precipitous drop from a rusty beach cliff and there, in the middle of it, are two other miracles of nature, she and I.
I always think, in times like these, that I am bearing witness to the beauty all around me, but maybe the beauty is bearing witness to me.