From our campsite to the sea there are two dunes. The first is high, dirt mixed into its sand, covered in brush and wildflowers: yellow and blue and white lupins, orange-hearted, yellow-edged California poppies, ice-plant like pink sea anemones, blue on a bush reminiscent of rosemary, majestic deep-red thistles, light purple on a low, spreading plant growing at the dune’s seaward base. The second dune, much smaller and gentler, is all of sand, fewer plants growing there, but the lavender-flowered plant is happy. So is one with succulent-like leaves and blooms like small, flat, yellow poppies. They hug the sand closely, but are cheerily bright.
As we come up to the top of each dune, all we can see over its edge is sky and clouds and layered, cris-crossing contrails. It is like walking up to the edge of the world. Then we come up over the sandy crest, and see another blue, a darker one, in the trail’s sand-floored hollow between the bush-topped hillocks covering the dune. A few steps higher, and the edge between the sand and the blue is seamed with white. A little higher still, and there is a broad band of brown between the sea and us. The sea: we can see the real edge of the world now, inasmuch as it has an edge.
Now, from a view of a little sand and big sky, the view is huge, majestic. The high, steep-sided, bush-coated dune, flecked with poppies like yellow copper, stretches out straight far to right and left behind us. The sea is before us, its edge here as straight as the dune. Headlands blue with distance reach out toward the horizon to each side, forming Monterey Bay but not limiting the feel of size: and the feel of size is a great one. This is big country, and it is good to be small in a big country, on a sunny day, good to be and to marvel and wonder at the wonderful largeness of sky and hill and headland and bay.
The sand is soft, satiny, and warm under bare feet. It pushes toes apart and smushes away from the foot. Shoes are better than sandals, bare feet better than shoes. I cup sand up and let it run between my hands. It is like soft pepper. Tan is made out of black and brown and clear and shimmering mica. I pass the high area of loose sand and enter a region of tossed-up kelp and broken bits of sand-crust. The kelp’s brown or black stems look leathery and are dried stiff. The golden-brown, fat-carrot-shaped air-sacs are still airtight, compressing when you press them. The leaves look and feel like dry, furrowed, yellowed parchment. There is other beach-rubbish, too; broken mussel-shells and clam-shells and sand dollars, with bits of driftwood and feathers and the bleached, broken exoskeletons of little crustaceans. I roll my jeans almost to my knees, as far as they will go. The waves swell upward to distinct rolls many yards out, coming in and rising to foam-flecked ridges and falling on themselves, curled over toward the beach. Then they ride in, long fronts of foam.
I walk toward the water, crossing another band of sand kneaded soft by feet to a space of sand that is dry but firm, left so by water. It shades down to visible dampness. Soon the sand sinks like a jelly with a finger set on it when I step, water pressing away from my foot. I reach a place with a thin layer of water on it, where approaching wave-crests are reflected and the birds walk double. Some are medium-sized, brownish sand-birds, others little white-and-black ones. Their legs move so quickly that when the birds walk fast, I only see a leg held forward, a leg held back, and some blur in between. The sun too has a reflection, a bright white blurred spot that moves as I do. The soles of my feet feel wet. The low, trickling edge of a wave comes up around my feet.
I walk into the flattened edge of a wave. It is cold. The next wave boils up to me in a surge of white foam. It sweeps cold around my ankles. It is brown, tossing up the sand as it comes. The edge passes me. The sand swirls in tiny underwater duststorms. As the wave pauses at its highest point on the shore and then comes back, the sand settles out and the water is a clear sheet leopard-spotted with bubbles. It pulls away like a slice of crystal pulled around my ankles, the level not seeming to move but the bubbles flowing away almost dizzyingly. It pulls sand from underneath and beside my feet, leaving me uneven, heels sunk deeper than the rest of my feet. I dip my finger tips in the water and touch one to my tongue. The water is salty-sweet, a pleasant taste.
It is not wise to play with the sea. It is not even clever. But waves in the sheltered bay are small, and the ocean is dancing today. I want to dance with it. I step further out, daring the waves and guessing how high they will come, how far I can go without their wetting my rolled-up jeans. I wait for one of the waves to come almost to my feet, then scamper back backwards, keeping just a few inches away from it. I walk it back until it is only a suggestion of a ripple coming up the beach. I go back in.
At length I walk back up the beach, successfully getting sand on little more than the soles of my feet and the tips of my toes. I crouch down. I take my iPad and keyboard from my bag. I settle into sitting cross-legged. Sand sticks to the sides of my wet feet. I write.