Snapshots of Big Sur

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The first glimpse of it is almost shocking. After miles of winding greenery and fruit stands, the highway begins twisting around hills and hugging the coast. At first, the water is subtle. It peeks between hills and trees and you roll down the window to see if you could smell the sea. The subtle hint of salt teases your nostrils, just as the small glimpses of water do. The car makes a final turn around a hill and suddenly it’s a blanket of brilliant blue to your right. From the passenger seat, you stick your right hand out the window and move it up and down through the wind, feeling the waves of the ocean riding with you.

Your first weekend getaway with him was in Big Sur. You made up a story about sleeping over at Abby’s and packed your backpack and rode off in his rickety Honda Civic. The awkward first weeks of dating had passed, and you were wondering where this relationship would take you. This first place was paradise.

In the Julia Pfeiffer State Park, there is a small trail that starts at the edge of the road and begins taking you down through a short tunnel and then onto the side of the cliff. The ocean is larger here than it was from your window, up on the road. You are suddenly reminded of how small you are, how the tiny creature that you are is standing on the edge of the continent, staring into a sea that eventually grows into others, together blanketing the earth. The trail leads you to a viewing platform. Down below, on the other side of the curved edge of the cliff is a small beach with the McWay Falls. The water comes down from crevices on the mountain and hits a pool in the sand, less than a mile away from the waves coming in and out.

He parked the Civic on the side of the road and you both slept in the back, drunk with supermarket whiskey. Every so often a car would pass by, shining through the windows and waking you up. Sometimes you would forget sleep and look up through the windows. He had chosen a spot under a mass of trees, but in between the branches you could see the stars, so plentiful in comparison with the city sky under which you grew up. You imagined how the ocean must look, mirroring those small, twinkling lights, the waves crashing against the cliffs and lapping at beaches now abandoned for the night.

You woke up in the early morning as the sun was still peeking in the horizon. The stars that had shown through the trees were gone, but you saw the premature rays of daylight sparkling in the dew. Your phone blinked with unread messages and missed calls from Mom. She had checked with Abby and found that you weren’t there. He drove to a gas station where you had service and you called, explaining where you were and who you were with. It was the first time she’s ever heard about any boy. There was a feeling of regret, of shame for lying and getting caught. But as much as you felt sorry for sneaking out and lying, you couldn’t help that feeling of satisfaction. Satisfaction that your overdue teenage rebellion had brought you to an Eden, just hours away from home.

The next time you see Big Sur, it is after you two had moved in together. The rickety Civic has long since retired, and you drive in your shared white Honda Fit. Night time hasalready fallen by the time you set out from home, so the winding hills stood dark and glaring against the moonlit sky. The car twists and turns around the dark sentinels. Where small scenes of brilliant blue had shone in between turns and trees, you see glimpses darker than the sky. Finally, the familiar turn comes up. The car curves around the final hill and you are surrounded by black ocean. It is violent this night, sending wave upon wave against the cliff side. But every so often it subsides and the water is still for a few moments. And it is just as you imagined that first night: the stars twinkle in the still water, shining from above and below you. You open the window and stick out your hand, letting it ride in the chilly nighttime wind.

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red dust into sky

Vermillion and crimson emerge around me

With an unceremonious grandeur

Some like daggers, jutting into tumultuous sky

Others stay flat, the tabletop mesas

That had invited thousands of lives before mine.

Those who left behind their homes for me

to contemplate, centuries later.

 

The sun makes her way west,

illuminating the peaks and ridges.

Flares of gold strike through red dust.

A storm lingers on the other side

And I hear thunder and see streaks

of lightning and rain.

Clouds and the sun battle over the canyon bed,

the aftermath of war a spinning array of color.

 

Below me the canyon lays vast and deep

as it has for millions of years before any of us

and as it will when we are gone.

When we are ashes and dust and forgotten

the red will remain and still reach for the sky.