There’s about an hour during the day—usually the summer, but sometimes it’ll sneak up on you in winter too—that is perfect. The right temperature, the light mellow and golden, it’s the kind of hour that makes you feel like the day, time, maybe your whole life, is interminable and whatever you are doing, whoever you’re with, will go on forever. It’s the time around sunset on a perfect blue sky day—right before and right after, when the sky gets a streaky peach color and the dark blue velvet of night starts to settle in. That’s the golden hour. We revere it here, understandably, a mythical time of day when possibility comes to a head. When I was living in Senegal the opposite was true—one night I stayed late at my school to watch the sunset over the jumbled skyline of Dakar from the roof, the last rays hitting the African Renaissance Monument in that light, the intangible magic of the moment wrapping all of us at that point in a comfortable shroud of home. Unfortunately, my host mom thought—if I came back—I’d be wrapped in a real shroud, as twilight is when the Jinni prowls and that’s how nice girls like me end up dead. In Senegal. Because of the sunset. When Darren and I are sitting high up on a ridgeline overlooking the ocean and the California coastline, watching the sunset, it’s unreal to me that this could be considered anything but proof that the world is indeed a kind and good place, and that my sense of wonder is alive and well. This is not a soul-stealing, Jinni time of day, I start thinking up there, this is a soul-reviving time of day.
We hadn’t really planned on being there, only briefly talked about it on our trip down to California. We were thinking we’d probably spend another night at his Dad’s house, but one thing led to another and we were on the road at about 10, headed down the coast to see Big Sur. I had never been before but I already loved it, even before I had seen it—how could you not? And then we were there, massive trees dotting the edge of the highway, every curve revealing a new, breathtaking stretch of cliffs and coastline. I don’t talk too much—only to debate the merits of living in one of these houses perched over the water (isolation: a pro and a con)—and to exclaim can you believe it! and let’s stop at the scenic point! Which we do, a few times, the first in a protected cove where we spot sea otters, who I feel confident are holding hands despite being unable to really see them, and in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where there’s the infamous, no, famous, waterfall onto the beach. Here we skirt what feels like thousands of Japanese tourists—really only two, but they keep walking into and around us wearing knee length fur coats making peace signs and it’s all very disorienting—and I take pictures, because this beach waterfall combination deserves the fame. The sand, the sun, the water, the waves, the mysterious set of footprints on a beach no one is supposed to access, it’s incredible. And when we climb back up we sit on the edge of the road with our backs to the car and look out over the ocean and the viewpoint while people walk past, eating leftover ribs and strawberries we bought on the drive down. Picture it—two people camped out on the edge of the highway, eating ribs with an extraordinary amount of gusto, while on one side tourists file past and on the other all of creation stretches out in a shimmer of green, tan and blue. Except for the occasional whiff of exhaust, it was the best picnic spot I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating in.
When we get back in the car it’s to start searching for the camp spot, taking us up a winding forest service road that neither of us are sure about—it’s just something we heard about from an acquaintance of Darren’s at the gym. We asked a guy earlier where the road was to get up into Los Padres, he gave us some vague directions, turn up 8 miles and then left for 6, but I have few misgivings. We’ll camp somewhere, and everything is so beautiful it’s hard to imagine a bad camp spot. The road is rutted and dusty, and I get hit with a wave of nostalgia—this is just what it was like cruising up the old cabin, almost exactly, the car rocking over each gnarled root and washed out piece of road in a way that used to be terrifying but is now a kind of exhilarating. And finally we get there—incredibly, there, our way far up camp spot looking down along the coast. We set up the tent underneath a spreading tree, climbing over rocks—appropriate for our trip—and find a bleached out jawbone someone stuck into a knot in the tree. The light is still bright, all still yellow and blue, but we keep an eye on the horizon, waiting for the first hint of peach to signal the start of sunset.
Darren gets out his shotgun, we’re completely alone up here (although someone once told me every time you think you’re alone out here, remember, you’re not), and we shoot skeet over that horizon and the bluffs. I can’t imagine going back to Mitchell’s after this, I tell Darren as I launch another pigeon over all that land and water. He takes aim, a click of the trigger and the pigeon is no more. Tough to go back for sure, he tells me, but keeps looking at all that water and all that land.
When sunset comes we’re ready—perched on an impressive boulder situated on the ridge. We both have our cameras to try and capture a piece of that infiniteness. Of course, the effort is futile. It’s impossible. There’s something about watching the sun move that is incredible to me—really when it starts to sink below the horizon it’s as if it’s moving in hyper speed, all of a sudden sunk, when normally it moves at such a stately speed. This all this, is what I keep thinking, what I always think when presented with a glimpse of the whole of creation, revealed most often during that hour of day when time stands still and life is but a dream. And then that memory, of the terror of my Yaay when I would come home late, makes me laugh. They had some things right, but definitely that wrong. I look around me, at the sum of our day, where we’ve come from and what we’ve seen, and it all seems to culminate in this moment, of setting sun and a light breeze, my pal beside me. This is all good, I think. Definitely no Jinni here.