Chapter 59: California Sunset

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Chapter 59: California Sunset

There is something mystical in how the combination of ocean wind, the subtlety of light and shadow swirled together in a wake of the descending sun, and the almost invisible aura of mist in the air, found only along the winding ribbon traversing California's legendary Pacific coast from Mendocino County in the north, to Orange County in the south, also known as the scenic Highway 1. With the windows all the way down, it was like a refreshing blast to our desert-dry souls. We decided to pull over on the shoulder of a high ridge and watch the sunset into the sea. We had just settled on a bluff, when I spotted a herd several Sea lions languishing on a sandy strip a few hundred feet below.

"I'm going down to take a closer look." I proclaimed to Lucinda, who was comfortable to remain sitting where she was.

"I wouldn't do that," she warned. "You never know what could happen."

What could happen? From my perspective, they were not that big. Nor have I ever heard of anyone being attacked or eaten by one of these inoffensive creatures. Besides, after so many hours behind the wheel, I needed a little exercise. Navigating down the steep incline required some mountain goat agility, taking more than half an hour. I was stunned by the enormous size of these animals. Even the smallest female sprawled nearly twice my height and must have weighted hundreds of pounds. I counted eight cows; one bull higher up on the rocky beach, and two larger bulls languishing in the surf. Cautiously approaching one of the females, I extended my hand to touch her forehead. She did not even move, accepting my caress with an almost domesticated appreciation. An instance of affection transpired between us, as though connected through divine unity. Suddenly, a large frothing bull reared out of the waves, wallowing toward me and bellowing madly. I leaped instinctively to the perch of nearby rock. The enraged male continued to advance, its massive front flippers scaling the slippery incline of my elevated position, the massive head only inches from my face, proving the vulnerability of my position. Again it bellowed loudly, the stench of its animal breath like the barnacle covered carcass of Moby Dick, as I imagined reading Melville's great white whale, dredged up from the dark mysteries of the deep. I stood paralyzed. Staring into profound darkness of the aquatic eyes of this eight hundred pound nemesis, I felt strangely humble, acquiescent to this just protest. Snorting a spray of salty saliva in my face, the creature backed away and lumbered against the female I had so boldly petted. That was all the confirmation I needed to leave these animals in peace and return to my world above.

The way back proved more precarious than the way I came. At one point I found myself on a narrow ledge made of sandstone, which inclined sharply. I should have abandoned this way sooner, but thought it would lead me to a more accessible route. I nearly fell, as part of the ledge decayed behind me, making it impossible to backtrack. Now I was really committed. I climbed more than three quarters up, when I came to an abrupt dead-end, trapped on a knoll with no further access. I could not go up or down; the only possible direction to leap across a narrow abyss to another knoll a few feet distant. Below, I could see the community of Sea Lions, now miniature in scale, the changing tide breaking against the sharp rocks. Realizing the seriousness of my predicament, I began to panic. I shouted to Lucinda, knowing there was little chance of her hearing me against the increasing evening wind. Eventually, she would know something not right, and maybe go for help. But I had the keys; and another twenty minutes it would be dark. Forcing myself to be calm, I calculated carefully my options. Even if I could remain here for hours, cold and in the dark, there was no guarantee that this sandstone perch would not eventually crumble as well. The other knoll was less than three feet distant, at a slightly higher elevation of perhaps one foot. A large leafy plant grew on the point, which might offer some additional traction. Looking up into the heavens, I thanked God for the life given, and without further thought leaped across the spans. Time stood still: that instance I was one with the universe, a speck of incarnation in a matrix of time and matter, insignificant to the accumulation of unfolding history. That moment I could feel the animal passions of those aquatic creatures below, the crushing rocks ripping apart the tidal surge, as I floated across an abyss separating eternity. My chest impacted the plant covered knoll with much greater force than anticipated, knocking the breath out of my body. I found myself dangling, my arms wrapped in a death hold around the sticky cluster of leaf-covered vines, which made a ripping sound under my weight. Without further thought, I hoisted myself over the knoll, my now exposed chest being cut by sharp stones embedded beneath the milky foliage. Once upon solid ground again, I ran up a steep incline of soft sandstone, only to slide down slowly when I paused to rest. But I was determined to reach the summit of more than thirty feet. Exhausted, I finally stood on firmer ground near the road shoulder. I found Lucinda still sitting in the same spot more than fifty yards north from my point of ascension.

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