Well, I Did Want an Adventure

My latest hike was supposed to be an easy one — a walk through meadow, dune, and forest, then along the ocean for a few miles.

Easy? Oh, my. The meadow trail was either shifting dry sands, which is hard to hike on, or beach grasses, which is even harder. The dry tips of the stiff grasses are sharp enough to poke through clothes, and the long blades wrap around ankles, tripping even the most wary. I high stepped it most of the way, but still often stumbled when the grasses caught my feet. And once I even fell.

I wasn’t hurt by the fall, at least not much, just a dull ache in my calf that felt like a cramp, so I continued walking. By the time I realized the ache wasn’t going to go away, I was at least two miles from any potential rendezvous point. I didn’t want to go back the way I’d come and risk further injury, and I thought turning right at the ocean as I’d originally planned would give me the shorter walk because after a mile and a half, I could tramp a quarter of a mile inland across the beach- grass-covered dunes to an old dirt road where my friend could pick me up.

The California Coastal Trail, which in this case meant only the edge of the sea, went many miles beyond the old road, and it had been my intention to hike much of that trail, so I knew from my map about one narrow section of beach that came close to a lagoon, but I’d checked the tide tables (me, who’d never have occasion to check a tide table in her whole life!) and saw that I would be traveling past that area long after high tide.

So, looking forward to being done with my painful hike, I tramped the mile to the small strip of beach connecting lake and sea. I stood on a small sandy cliff and stared down in disbelief. There was no trail, just hugely dangerous waves slamming into the placid lagoon.

I laughed. Couldn’t help it. It seemed so silly to have walked such a long way with expectations of bringing my hike to an end, to discover I now had to walk at least three miles to the nearest rendezvous point. (I’m sure this is why this beach is often empty — there is no easy access. In fact, at one point the beach felt so empty it seemed as if I weren’t even there, so I turned around to see if I were following behind, but all I saw were my footprints in the sand.)

I sat for a bit on a driftwood log, eating a snack and drinking water (though I wasn’t thirsty. Walking along a cool ocean is a lot less dehydrating than hiking in the excruciatingly hot desert).

In life, grief, adventure there often comes a time when, no matter what you want or hoped for, the only thing you can do is endure. So after my rest, I gathered up my endurance and headed back the way I came.

Cold winds had come up, so I hobbled as fast as I could to keep warm, but the warmth blew away faster than my body could manufacture it. I’d passed the trail where I’d entered the beach, when I encountered a family from Texas, who stopped me to talk. (Unlike the hush of the forest, where it seemed almost sacrilegious to speak, the thundrous ocean made additional noise seem incidental.)

I asked how they had walked to the beach, thinking there might be a shortcut that wasn’t on my map, but they had taken the trail I’d hiked a few days before. By then, fog was obscuring the beach ahead, so I took that inland trail. I was grateful that someone had mowed this path so there were no treacherous grasses to deal with, but still I slipped and slid and sunk into the deep sands of the trail. But protected from the ocean breezes by trees, I felt warm.

I reached the parking lot where my friend had dropped me off and, relieved that my ordeal was over, I took out my phone to send a message telling her where to pick me up, but the message didn’t go through. I had no signal.

Laughing at the absurdity of my situation, and using my trekking pole like a cane, I set out along the road. After about a quarter of a mile, some folks hauling a trailer stopped and asked if there was a place up ahead for them to turn around. After assuring them they would have plenty of room, I asked if they had a signal. He volunteered to call my friend, but the call wouldn’t go through.

So, with a wry smile, I continued on down the road. After an interminable distance, my phone pinged. My friend had gotten the text and was on her way.

Well, I did want adventure, and adventure is what I got. What I didn’t expect was that I would find such misadventure amusing — it seems out of character.

It is ironic, though, for someone who wanted an injury-free adventure, I sure am beset by mishaps — dog bites, wrenched calf muscle, and mosquito bites galore. All minor injuries, but still ironic.

p.s. The ocean photo below is not the ocean but the trail between the ocean and the lagoon. Looks even more impassable in the photo than it did in real life.

p.p.s. In case you’re interested in the disposition of my calf muscle, it’s much better today. Whenever I woke during the night, I stretched my leg and flexed my ankle, and that seemed to help.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Supernal Silence and Unfathomable Peace

My friend dropped me off at a road in the Redwood Forest that led down to Smith River. It turned out to be a popular spot for both tourists and locals, so when I saw a narrow trail that veered off from the road, I took it, hoping to find a place to walk far from the madding crowd. At first it was an easy trail, but then it ascended into hills that had been hidden in the immensely tall redwoods. (It’s hard to describe these massive trees without reverting to the trite adjective “towering”, but they did tower. In many cases they were so tall and the woods so thick it was impossible to stand back far enough to see their tops.)

The trail grew more difficult and I was grateful for my trekking pole — it aided with both balance and sure-footedness. Even though the cars and people were not far away, the trees absorbed the sound, leaving nothing for me to hear but the sound of my stepping feet, the zip of a passing insect, the thud of a falling leaf.

I moved slowly, not just for safety but to experience fully this confluence of the forest and me. It seemed strange to think that hundreds — thousands? — of years ago, the first seed took root. And that single seed contained an entire universe of forest, events, beings, birth and death, that ultimately drew me in.

A bench in a small clearing caught my attention. A plaque on the backrest said, “…seated here in contemplation lost, my thought discovers vaster space beyond. Supernal silence and unfathomable peace.”

Of course I sat. Contemplated. Listened to the silence. Felt at peace. Wondered what I would learn and experience if I could sit there for hours. I know what I would feel if I sat there in stillness too long — stiff — so after a half hour, I answered the siren call of the trail.

Later, I saw another bench. This one exhorted me to “Rest and be grateful.” I rested, pulled out my small hunk of cheese, and thought of all I had to be grateful for. The bench. The cheese I savored. The trees. The path that afforded me relative safety in my adventure. My walking stick. Knees that still worked. Feet that took me where I needed to go. Friends who brought richness to my life. The supernal silence. The unfathomable peace.

When I finished the snack and litany of gratitude, I continued my journey.

Shrieks of playing children broke the silence. As I waded past one group, a boy shouted hello. I was so deep in my silence, I couldn’t return the greeting. The woman said, “It was nice of you to say hello.” That brought me to a stop. I turned, and with a finger to my lips, responded to her rebuke with a whispered, “one does not say hello in church.”

In the resulting silence, I headed down the path. It seemed strange that a mystical place for me was simply a playground for others. Most people I’d seen had driven a bit, got out of their cars to take pictures of each other against the backdrop of trees, then drove a bit further, stopped, and took more photos. Others had boats, rafts, and swimwear, headed for watery play.

As I picked my way down the trail, setting my feet carefully and leaning on my pole in the steep post, I had to smile at my pretensions. Wasn’t I playing too? Playing at mysticism? Playing at adventure?

At that very moment, a woman came up the trail with her three noisy unleashed dogs. The dogs surrounded me, barking and snarling, nipping at my pants. The woman screamed at me to stand still, that I was scaring them. And then one of them bit me. Not a bad bite, just a small break in the skin and a bruise, but huh? That was the third time I’d been menaced by dogs since I’ve been here. Don’t people up here train their dogs to obey?

So much for safe adventures. So much for peace.

Despite the ignominious end to my adventure, somewhere inside me and forever a part of me, is the stillness I’d found sitting on the bench, my back pressed against the words “…seated here in contemplation lost, my thought discovers vaster space beyond. Supernal silence and unfathomable peace.”

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Journey to the Center of the Universe

Yontocket is the center of the universe, according to the Tolowa Dee-ni’ people, the place where the Master of the Universe created the first people. This area is now the Tolowa Dunes State Park, a place of dunes, forest, and sea.

Invasive beach grasses were planted by settlers to keep the shifting sands at a standstill. Those grasses crowded out native vegetation, so much of the area no longer looks the way it did when Yontocket existed, but the forest and ocean seem timeless, as if they haven’t changed during the centuries.

I walked through the forest to the sea, and then along the edge of the world — the land-based world anyway. (The imaginary pathway alongside the water is part of the California Coastal Trail, so completely different from the wooded section of the trail I’d experienced.)

Having lived a land-locked life, it seemed odd and awesome to be walking miles beside the ocean, as if it weren’t me out there alone on the beach, but if it weren’t me, who else could it be?

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Coastal Trail Adventure

Unlike the Pacific Crest Trail, there is not a unified Pacific Coast Trail. There is the Washington Coast Trail, the Oregon Coast Trail, and the California Coastal Trail, all in various stages of completion. But I don’t need the entire trail — a few miles here and there are sufficient to get a taste, and oh, what a taste!

Some of the existing trail isn’t really a trail — just a walk on the beach — but I was given the opportunity to hike a bit of the mountainous, non-beach part of the trail. And it was a hike — every step had to be carefully scouted and placed, and it would have been nigh impossible without a trekking pole. Though in most places the trail was easy to see, long grasses grasped my ankles, tree roots snaked across the path, and moss-covered planks bridged small chasms. In one steep case, I even had to walk down timber stairs.

I only caught a few glimpses of the ocean, but always the sound of the surf kept me company on my solitary hike. I started high at a popular lookout point with a fantastic view of the ocean. Everyone else turned left and took the short, sidewalk-wide path down to the beach. I, of course, turned right. The long trail I took was definitely less traveled, not a journey for the faint of heart. Parts of the trail were eerily gothic, other parts primordial. If Bigfoot were nearby, quietly munching wild blackberries, I would never have seen him/her.

When I finally made it down to the beach, I shot a photo of the densely forested hills I’d just hiked, and tried to imagine myself alone in that distant wildness. My imagination couldn’t stretch that far — it seems impossible I’d been wandering in that mass of trees, unseen, for all those hours. Well, two hours.

I’d never meant to write a travelogue, but so far, I haven’t really learned anything from my awesome but rather tame adventures. Haven’t had any grand insights. Haven’t made any self-discoveries. I certainly haven’t managed to pull back the veneer of life to see what if anything lies beyond the natural beauty. Still, beauty exists in and of itself. Beauty is its own reason for being, and I’ve been privileged to bask in beauty’s aura.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Today I Am the Ocean

Yesterday I wrote about the wonder of Wonder Stump Road, and how for a moment I were the trees. Today, I am the ocean. To be more specific, I am a rock by the ocean.

I sat on the rock, feeling the scene. The waves creeping up to my feet, then scurrying away as if they had done something daring. The ocean breezes playing with my hair. The surf demanding to be heard. The only creatures — if you don’t count me, and how can you since I was a rock — were the seals, pelicans, gulls, and cormorants sunning themselves on a bit of land. (The things that look like sandbags on the edge of the island are seals. The birds in the air are pelicans.)

I’d spent an hour or so walking along a road aptly named Oceanview Road, but though the walk was pleasant, it was still a suburban street made spectacular by the heavy vegetation interspersed with occasional views of the ocean.

I’d planned to walk to the end of the road, but when I got tired, there was no place to stop to eat my little snack. So I headed down a side street, and ended up on a slice of heaven. It’s amazing to me that it’s possible to find waysides by the ocean with no human creature to disturb my rockishness.

So there I sat, sometimes me, sometimes something other, something endless — a rock, a feeling, a being.

Today I am the ocean. Tomorrow I will be . . . whatever the day brings.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Wonder Stump Road

I was standing at a crossroads yesterday, checking Maps on my phone to see where an alleyway snaking beneath a canopy of trees ended up, when a woman stopped and said a few teasing words. I turned around. She did a double take, then apologized, saying I look exactly like her friend Sue. She told me her name was Maggie, I told her my name, then she asked where I was going. “Somewhere,” I replied. “Anywhere.”

She pointed to a street behind us and asked if I’d ever been down Wonder Stump Road. When I said no, she suggested I go that way, adding that part of Return of the Jedi had been filmed there. She drove off, and I headed up Wonder Stump Road. Not that I cared where the movie was filmed, but when the universe (or Maggie) gives you a gift, you take it.

And oh, what a gift!

The tree-lined road started out pleasant enough. Quiet, with lots to see, such as the wonderful stump of a long dead redwood. And then the road became spectacular. A natural cathedral of timeless towering trees. I felt awed that I was even there, on that otherworldly road so far from home, so far from . . . me. It’s as if I didn’t have a separate existence, but was merely the awareness of the moment.

If, as I someimes believe, that we are how the universe experiences itself, then I returned its gift tenfold.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Another Terrible Day at the Beach

You know I’m being facetious, don’t you? There’s no such thing as a terrible day at the beach. Unless, of course, a tsunami hits, or you turn your back on the ocean
and a sneaker wave pulls you under or . . .

Well, I guess there is such a thing as a terrible day at the beach, but today wasn’t one of them. The woman I’m staying with, her husband, and a mutual friend who was passing through, met me for a fish fry at an oceanside restaurant. Invigorating conversation, wonderful food, great ambiance — who could ask for more?

I could, of course, ask for more, such as a timely finish to my car restoration, but I’m not going to. Today was a lovely day, so very marine, and I wouldn’t want to dilute it with thoughts of more.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Letting the Day Fill Me

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

When I woke this morning, it struck me I had nothing to do — no dance classes, no computer to work with or play on, no obligations — and I wondered how I would fill the empty day stretching in front of me.

As it turns out, it wasn’t a matter of my filling the day but of the day filling me. And what a day!

I started out with a walk to Lake Earl at the end of the street. I was disappointed there was no way around the lake so I came back and checked in with my friend. The mile and a half round trip walk had barely whetted my appetite, so she drove me to a nearby nature trail, The Lake Earl Coastal Trail, and dropped me off.

And oh my. Only a few steps into the trail told me the truth: I wasn’t in the desert any more. Ferns, moss, towering tree canopy, plants with immense leaves made me feel as if I were in the forest primeval. I had to keep stopping to take in the sounds, the smells, the wonder of it all.

I’ve been talking for years now about doing some sort of through hike, but I realized today I couldn’t do it. Even if I had the necessary skills, even if I were physically capable of carrying a heavy pack for all those months, the truth is, I wouldn’t finish. Instead of eating up the miles, I would pause to take photos, to take in the ambiance, to be. And that I can do anywhere, even on a mile-and-a-half nature trail, even on the mile trip along the road back to where I am staying.

If that weren’t enough activity for one day, we went to the beach. I saw pelicans flying, and I walked a bit on the California Coastal Trail. To be honest, it’s more of a designation than a trail, but still, I was there. More importantly, I was “here” when I was there.

Being here now, not thinking of the past, not thinking of what is to come. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Where I Am Supposed to Be

When I was starting to come out of the worst of my grief, when life overwhelmed me, I used to take a deep breath, let it out, then tell myself, “I am where I am supposed to be.” The ritual brought me comfort even though I don’t really believe that there are any “supposed to be”s. There just is “is”. And yet . . .

Because of an unexpected series of events, I spent the night in a town I had never heard of. The string of happenstance began even before the encounter between a peacock and the Amtrak bus I was in yesterday. (In case you didn’t read yesterday’s post, a few minutes after I began my trip, the bus I was in collided with a peacock in flight, which destroyed the windshield. The poor bird died.) I would not have been in the bus except for a series of unexpected events — the woman I am going to visit offered to pick me up in a distant town, and the woman I was staying with so kindly agreed to get me to the station at 6:00 am, so that allowed me to take a different and quicker route than I had planned.

As things worked out, it wasn’t quicker (though the hours spent on bus and train remained almost the same). Because of the peacock incident, I missed my connection to Eureka. Antrak put me up in a motel. (A very expensive motel that certainly didn’t use the money to clean.) Amtrak also paid for a taxi to and from the motel, as well as dinner last night and breakfast this morning. All that was wonderful, of course, especially since it will allow me to see the scenery I pass through today. (If all had gone as planned, most of the final leg of this journey would have been I’m the dark.) But all those perks are not what gave last night its “supposed to be” feel.

I’m using my new backpack for luggage, and every time I put the thing on, I had to wonder once again if backpacking, even short distances was for me. And yet, whenever we passed a trail of any kind, I could feel the pull. I’ve always liked mysteries (though it’s really the truth finding I love more than the mystery itself. I like to know esoteric things that not everyone knows). And the pull of the trail is its mystery. Where does it go? What’s around the next bend?

So, after a day spent watching the world pass by my window and wondering what it would be like to be walking instead of being driven, I ended up spending the night in Martinez, in the Muir Lodge, two blocks from where John Muir lived.

That sure gave me pause!

John Muir was a naturalist, co-founder of the Sierra Club and was instrumental in the development of our national parks system. He is something of an inspiration to hikers, the grandfather of ultralight backpacking. And last night I found myself steeped in his aura.

Maybe I am where I am supposed to be. If so, then where I am currently supposed to be is on an Amtrak bus, heading for other places I am supposed to be.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Adventure Indeed!

I’m twenty minutes into my trip. Taking the Amtrak bus to catch the train in Bakersfield. And there is already an emergency. A peacock collided with the windshield. Glass everywhere. We’re pulled to the side of the road waiting for a replacement bus. Apparently we could be here for hours, so I doubt I will get to Eureka today.

Although I feel bad for the bird and for the driver (he seems a bit flummoxed), I find myself smiling. As my Aunt Mil always said, “If things go as planned, it’s an excursion. When they don’t, it’s an adventure.”

I am officially on an adventure!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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