A few days ago I went for another drive toward the coast, looking to escape the searing 100+ degree heat for awhile and looking for some of that cool ocean air, and boy did I find it! This time I went to one of my most favorite places on earth: the headlands at Point Reyes National Seashore. Windy, grey & misty, sand drifts along the way and lovely, pouring, spilling fog, so thick sometimes that you can’t even see the ocean or the lighthouse while standing right beside it.
The actual national seashore land begins several miles before reaching the ocean’s edge, right around the southern tip of the Tomales Bay. You first drive through some gorgeous wilderness, a couple of tiny towns, several historic ranches and then proceed down a long, skinny peninsula, with beach access on both sides, until you can’t go any further, until you feel like you are on the edge of nowhere, standing on the rocks and consumed by water and a foggy haze. That is the Point Reyes Headlands.
The really special thing about this turf, from the edge of Tomales Bay, through the woods of Inverness, past Drake’s Bay and on down the cigar-shaped peninsula, is that it is a national park–therefore, federal land–therefore the state politicians at this point can’t get their greedy little fingers wrapped around it in order to sell out to huge developers, just as they have done with many other heritage locations and just as they have shut down so many state park lands. And so, much of this very hallowed piece of ground lies virtually as untouched as it was hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago. You can just feel it, etheric legacy, like stepping into a bouquet of lost worlds. The wind pitches and wails, whipping around especially raw & wild, making some unimaginable sounds; the land rolls out before you all sandy & tule grasses & marshes; the fog fills your nose with unearthly flavors and awakens your skin like a million tiny icicles, chilling you to the bone. People tend to be rendered down to a very prime, unpolished level there, minus all the bells & whistles, the distractions of modern life: there’s a certain basic approachability at that place, being so ruthlessly close to the elements, a common ground of survival & awe.
I was introduced to the headlands by my father, who took me & my dog fishing there when I was about 18 years old. It was a place that he loved to go to since he was also very young: a little jut of land just north of the lighthouse. By the time you get to the little wooden fence you have far surpassed the “Danger–Keep Off–Hazardous Cliffs” signs; you climb over the fence anyway and proceed down the path across a pastoral clifftop to another wooden fence, go around it and follow the path even further to what you think is the very edge of the world. But when you get there, you can see that there is more path and yet another edge. So you hoof it on down to that edge, only to find out there is still more land that was previously invisible. And so this goes on for several episodes, or increments, the jut rolling & tumbling on downward as it went, giving the illusion of many false ends. Pretty soon the pathway disappears altogether and you’re climbing down on the rocks in this same fashion until you have truly reached the end, can go no further. By then you are standing on the lowest point of the cliff’s edge, basically a vertical wall of sea-worn boulders, and almost completely surrounded by water, with waves crashing literally at your feet & all around you. If it wasn’t for the lighthouse & foghorn to your left, you would swear that you were on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific.
I remember following my Dad down there as he happily marched along, fishing gear in hand. And, after passing about the 4th or 5th horizon and well on our way down the rocks, I remember asking nervously, “Dad, where are you taking me?!?” It was totally cool and exhilarating, but I pictured a huge wave just reaching up and grabbing us off of that rock bed at any moment. It was a very feasible possibility! Cool & collected, he just said, “Tide’s going out, it’s right here in the book.” He was a real go-getter and much braver than me, and he had alot of faith in that little tide timetable booklet!
My Dad then was younger than I am now, and that particular day is one of the most precious memories I keep in my very precious memory treasure chest. And in times since then Point Reyes has been an area that I have roamed & explored on my own, a special getaway location where I just go and drive, with no particular destination in mind.
My little trek there the other day was the 1st time in decades that I went all the way to the end, to the headlands, and it was just as I remembered, magical. I didn’t actually go all the way to the “stone wall” edge this time; I hopped the 1st fence and then stumbled down the path to the 2nd, overlooking the path’s 1st “end”…What can I say?…It was getting on to sundown and I’ve gotten a little more cautious in my older age (just a little), and never had the nerve of my old Dad! Still, it was an incredible experience and a beautiful day, full of rich memories & new wonders.