View of a beach in northern California on a foggy, gray day.

We stepped through the gate at the end of the road and onto a dirt path, lurching and uneven from years of being trodden by cows. The fog hung low and heavy, which on another day might have struck me as gloomy. Today, it was a welcome change from the smoky haze that the wildfires in the north had brought to my Central Valley town for the past few weeks, and the blazing sun that peeked out whenever the smoke subsided. I’ve always thought myself a mountain person, destined to settle in a valley surrounded by jagged peaks, but as we picked our way down and around the bluff, not talking or thinking about anything in particular, I thought that this lonely and rugged coastline wouldn’t be half bad.

I spend a lot of time writing, thinking, and talking about cultivating presence, but truth be told, I hadn’t felt very present in a long while. My summer calendar had been daunting and full of deadlines. On rare days off, I frantically packed in as much as activity possible. I’m sure there is something to be said for working hard and playing harder, but it wasn’t doing me much good. All I felt was too busy, disconnected, worried that my 27th year of existence would pass me by and I’d wake up from a daze, not sure what had happened or what it all meant. I momentarily forgot about that paradox while eating a hodgepodge picnic lunch in the dunes, enjoying the feeling of cool, salty air on my dry valley skin, surrounded by the kind of friends with whom I’ve never had to say much to feel understood.

Later, picking my way around the rocky shore, in search of tide pools and sea life, I shattered my budding presence with awareness of its existence. Trying to be where your feet are is like trying to fall asleep late at night - once you realize you are almost there, you ruin it. I thought about how I’d write about this day, and bitterly wondered if, in my quest to capture moments of love and joy and connection with words or through my camera lens, that I would reduce them all to fodder for a story or a caption. Does it cheapen my experiences by trying to record them in my mind once I realized they are happening? Does trying to write about connection doom me to forever be a third party, unable to fully experience my own life without the lens of description?

After an hour of spotting crabs scurrying from crack to crack and anemones swaying with mesmerizing regularity, we scrambled to the top of a towering boulder at the water’s edge, enormous sea stars clinging to the slick wave-battered rocks below us. We watched the waves envelope, then reveal them, for what felt like hours but was probably only minutes. We never decided that it was time to turn around, but one by one everyone picked their way off the rock and headed back toward the dunes with careful steps. We made our way back up the bluff with the same lazy, rolling conversations that had brought us down it earlier that day, our words evaporating and then condensing into the clouds that still hung low around us. For now, my inner monologue quieted, my thoughts and body all a part of the grayness that swallowed me, dripping fingers of fog grazing the sea cliffs.