Tag Archives: ocean

Land’s End Landscape…


I have been coming to Land’s End Trail of mornings. I sit on a bench in the chill and mist and watch the grey ocean spread beneath me like the dull side of a piece of aluminum foil crumpled and pressed smooth. It rolls out to the wide Pacific on my left, and on my right under the bridge and between the fingertips of reclining landmasses. My nose threatens to run and my shoe grinds a bit of sandy dirt as I settle.

The fog is thick and heavy just above the water, a single stanchion of the Golden Gate Bridge visible as if I am under Lady San Francisco’s skirts catching a glimpse of a sacred ankle. The shoulders of Marin are a curve more sensual today, the tops and less modest tips hugged by the lacy undergarment of fog.

Two lights, one standing on the last rock before the ocean, the other midway between that and the bridge blink on and off slowly, conserving energy for their eternal task. A fog horn sounds from somewhere, its own little joke, since visibility is perfect on the water. Small dots of light scratch white lines into the grey past the point. If the law would have these craft leave their lights on until an hour or two past sunrise it would be hard to know by the filtered light exactly when that was. A single fishing boat is in front of me, a red light at the top of its mast, deciding to rest inside the arms of the bay, comfortable to sit here with me.

To my right I can see where the ocean is making the shore, the never-ending group project of seven seas. Black rocks and blurs of darker textures spill across the sand here and there as it curves to meet the red bridge. The bridge swallows it all into its width or expectorates it, possibly the initial seed of fruit from which the earth springs forth. The road to the top is a perfect Bob Ross zig of paint scraped between the darker green of Presidio trees and descending speckle of beach shrubs. The road looks from this angle to curve straight down to the bridge, but I know it disappears over the hill, taking a turn and under a damp stone underpass before drawing its line of red light to join the others who for some reason are leaving the city at this hour.

Behind me to my left the grit trail runs straight disappearing abruptly into the cypress forests, standing on long stems, all looking like they have been treacherously betrayed by their hair product and a sudden gust of wind. Small dark birds bounce or zip, its hard to tell, across the path. And I can hear the incessant hiccough of a sprinkler on the golf course. I cannot tell if the smell of humidity is coming from there or from above. Occasional strings of birds indistinguishable from each other at this height fly low across the water until they complete a picture of a zipper with their reflection, unzipping and zipping as they ever alter altitude. The much larger pelicans fly closer so that I can make out colors and single indignant feathers.

I dab at my nose and shift my weight on the wooden bench to the other buttock. I wonder how long I’ve been sitting here. It’s grown warmer maybe; but I’ve gotten colder as my blood has cooled down from walking.

The lights are going out on the cars driving over the hill. My fishing boat has turned off its red light and is pulling out into open water. Lady San francisco has hiked up her skirts past her knees, and the view is a bowl in front of me, so much, with rivulets spilling out to the west and east and into my lap.

A Biology Lesson…


We’ve been here for five weeks now and, not surprisingly, we’re still trying different churches.

We thought for Easter Sunday we’d try a new church that we had enjoyed going to the last time we lived here. They didn’t have much of a kids’ program at that time, but it has since grown, so much in fact that their single Easter service was being held in the Davies Symphony Hall downtown.

We were a tad late thanks to the combined efforts of our three children and the complexities of downtown parking. And it turned out that the church wasn’t exaggerating their need by renting the hall. James and I were relegated to the second tier.

It was rather magnificent sitting that high, our backs to the curved dome of the roof, looking down into the gold and light glittering hall with its full orchestra and forty-person choir.

I’ve heard a lot said from various people against big churches, but let me tell you, whether you like it or not we belong to a very big church.

And yesterday I recognized it. There was a low rumble of seats from top to bottom when everyone stood. There were people from every heritage, a global throng echoing in unison, “He is risen, indeed!” It was an impossibly large crowd in an impossibly beautiful space reflecting light from every surface and confessing in one voice, one baptism and one Lord.

I gloried in the foretaste. I reveled in the promise that I was not alone. I was just one facet of a church that began long before me and extended to peoples beyond my imagination. And one day I would see his kingdom come, more perfect still than this poor reflection, of one voice but known individually and fully.

It was a beautiful service and afterwards we picked up the kids and began walking the six or so blocks through downtown to a friend’s house where we’d be eating Easter brunch.

The neighborhood we live in is well out of downtown and, as yet, we hadn’t run into the mass of city’s homeless. But we did now.

We passed several people holding signs before my son tugged my sleeve.

I gave him a dollar and his sister got a dime and they approached a man and placed the money in his cup.

There were men sleeping on the sidewalk lined up in front of a building providing some type of services. A woman with no teeth in a wheelchair glowed to see us coming in all our Easter glory and crooned at the baby as we got closer. She noticed the kids looking at the man passed out, half-dressed on the sidewalk next to her.

“Oh, don’t look at him. You don’t want to see him. Look at me, oh, don’t you all look so nice! You enjoy ‘em, Momma, they grow up so fast.”

I nodded and said, “Happy Easter.”

The buildings were stained, the sidewalks were dirty and here I walked with two kids in Sunday clothes managing to rub their bodies and arms over every available surface. A man in a wheelchair greeted us grandly before selling a bag of crack to a customer. The customer loudly admired the kids’ clothes before opening the bag to make sure the crack was, indeed, in there. My daughter decided she was done walking and collapsed to the sidewalk and laid her face down on the stained pavement. We passed a man cursing in his sleep, pants not completely on, surrounded by the sum of his soiled belongings. My son began making a list of ways to make money to help give people houses.

At one point, I turned around to discover my daughter playing in the small square foot of dirt surrounding a city tree. Next to her in the dirt was a rotting apple core. And I could see the pee stain on the tree above her head. I called her over as I carried baby, diaper bag, and everybody’s coats, but she’s three, so she didn’t come and when James finally pulled her up, there her thumb went, straight in her mouth.

Hadn’t I just come from the glistening promise of heaven, a world washed clean? Now here I was walking my little bits of purity through the present reality of a very dirty world.

My personality is such that these things affected me. A preoccupied mind on Barbara looks a lot like moodiness and general irritability. Lord bless the family of the artist!

So, I was a pill for the rest of the day and my husband decided to take us all to the beach, the two not being unrelated. He knows how to handle my moods and doses me with beauty and nature until the symptoms of my philosophical malaise abate.

So there I found myself, sitting on the dunes of Ocean Beach watching a long line of fog obscure the transition in hue between sea and sky.

Have I mentioned that I was a biology major?

I know it seems unlikely, but it happens to be a bachelor’s of art. My husband likes to tease that only I could get an arts degree in a science. And he might very well be right, so there.

At any rate, as I was walking along the frigid beach I remembered my ecosystems class and specifically the bit about the intertidal region. The beach and tide pools had always seemed so peaceful to me. I remember being surprised at realizing how treacherous life there was, covered in water at high tide, baked in the sun at low tide, every day, four times a day, living in extremes.

I saw the evidence of this as I walked the line of highest tide, where no greater wave would come to clear away the broken pieces of half masticated crab or the clear gelatinous drops that had once been jellyfish. There were shards of shells, broken sand dollars, parts of seaweed, feathers, and driftwood, the detritus of another world. Even the sand beneath my feet was a finely ground testament to the wearing power of persistence.

And God stroked my hair and put the image cupped in front of my eyes. This is where you live, Barbara, the harsh intertidal region between worlds. Heaven may be like the still deep ocean. Earth may be the rough baked rock. And the Christian walking this world in hopes of another suffers the rub of one against the other.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday. Church bells pealed welcome all over the city to believers of all languages to declare the same God, and him risen. It was also 4-20-14 and a giant pot celebration was happening in Golden Gate Park. This is where I live.

Last biology lesson:

Do you know how a barnacle feeds? He opens his little door and reaches out a wispy foot into the water to catch the plankton floating by. And when the tide goes low and leaves the barnacle exposed he tucks his foot back in and closes his doors, now self-contained with enough water to make it until the sea comes back.

And so we live, buffeted without, tucked in with sufficient water, maybe, waiting in faith that the sea will come again.