The Halo

I stood on the small peninsula overlooking the tidal flats, the same crop of land where I saluted her in the wind and raced her sunset home.

This time I paused with another Labrador, her heir, to watch the cars and trucks on the freeway draw concrete between the ocean and wetlands. A rustle in the reeds below suggested a coyote, or one of the huge herons, or maybe even a mountain lion looking for dinner.

Two huge ears told me this was a deer, exhilarating to witness so close to the ocean, in the middle of the sprawl that is coastal northern San Diego county. But this is a special sanctuary, these thousand acres of nature preserve that have escaped the claws of planned community developers.

The deer took a step into the water and started swimming toward a small island a few hundred feet away. Another deer crept out of the reeds, and another, and another, until 10 of them were moving single file across the hydric channel, silent wakes stretching into the horizon.

A gangly youngster struggled to keep up, and I followed her eventually successful dog-paddle until she joined the herd on dry land. She shook with the same full-bodied hop perfected by that Labrador now in the wind, the sunset light refracting through the mist of water surrounding her like a halo.

And I was somewhere else, absorbed into an unexpected presence, transfixed by how the most beautiful moments can’t be timed, or planned, or manipulated, how the most beautiful moments can’t be captured looking through a screen, because when we capture through a screen, we miss capturing through our heart.

The Rocks

The rocks were jumping from their beds to stub my bare toes, inspiring me to drop several ineffective f-bombs on their vindictive semi-porous surfaces, when I saw him.

He was crawling on his hands and knees, each lunge more careful than the last, across the palm-sized stones leading to the ocean. An empty wheelchair was perched a couple hundred feet away in the parking lot, patiently waiting for the rider’s return, but he wasn’t coming back.

Not yet, anyway. He was dancing toward the ocean, in spirit and body.

I thought of this past summer’s veterans surf camp, where I was teamed up with a former combat Marine featured in For The Sender: Love Letters from Vietnam. We’d carried an older veteran, who’d had some trouble walking, out of the shifting whitewater and onto the sand.

Maybe this guy could use a hand, too.

But this pilgrimage seemed different, rooted in fierce independence and ritual, so I walked back to the van, threw my surfboard and self inside, and headed toward the parking lot exit.

That little voice I don’t listen to enough started singing, and wouldn’t stop.

I found another parking spot, got out, and retraced my steps. By then he was across the last of the rocks. He pushed himself into child’s pose and stretched for a couple minutes, and then lifted himself into a modified kayak. Flinging his torso to and fro, he inched the kayak along the wet sand, until the lapping ocean lifted him into weightless suspension.

A few breaths later he was floating away, paddling with the dawn air moving from land to sea, over the waves toward the kelp beds.

This year will be full of rocks. They’re part of the landscape.

Some of us will bitch about stubbing our bare toes on them.

Some of us will cross them with grace and perseverance.

And find ourselves where we belong, a joyous, peaceful trace of spirit, buoyed by a forgiving Pacific and pushed by the first offshore wind of the New Year.