I am writing this from the beach in California. Pajaro Dunes is a beautiful place on the Monterey Bay, just about halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey. I’ve been coming here for almost 20 years now, more often since my parents bought into a condo partnership in 1999. Stephanie and I were married just up the coast a bit, in Soquel, on a mountain overlooking the bay. The day before the wedding, our family and friends enjoyed a gorgeous day on the beach at Pajaro. All my kids learned to play in the surf and sand here at Pajaro. Ty was even baptized on the beach here in a little ceremony conducted by my mom’s cousin (who just happened to be a Unity minister). Needless to say, this part of the world holds a special place in my life.
As I went for a long walk down the beach this morning, I reflected on my mission to experience life. I always feel fully alive here. Walking next to the surf, I’m surrounded by life. The place is teeming with birds: sandpipers, cormorants, long-billed curlews, snowy plovers, avocets, brown pelicans, and tons of those beach-rats with wings, the sea gulls. Looking closer, where the surf meets the shore, I see all manner of shells, some still containing life. The sand dollars, in particular, are everywhere today. Over the years, my daughter Hannah has probably collected hundreds of these. I also see sand crabs burrowing into the wet sand as the surf recedes. I’m reminded of a trip to Seacliff beach, just about 5 miles north of here, where the coastline curves west again toward Santa Cruz. I was in the fourth grade—about the same age my son Niko is today– and was on a YMCA trip with a friend. We caught about a hundred sand crabs, put them in a bucket with sand and water, and stuck our hands into the bucket, relishing the feel of the critters climbing all over us.
I don’t see any today, but I have often seen dolphins swimming by, just beyond the surf, and sea otters playing and feeding in the surf. Sometimes a school of anchovies is visible by the way they disturb the surface of the ocean, attracting hundreds of dive-bombing birds. The biggest life I see today, of course, are the people. It’s early, not long after sunrise, and the surf fisherman are out in force. I stop to chat with one. He’s not had much luck this morning. I’m thinking “lucky” is the best word to describe what he’s doing right now. Walking past me are lone walkers, families, friends, and lovers. Sometimes we exchange good mornings, sometimes not. All of us experiencing life in our own way this morning.
Experiencing life has many dimensions for me, but maybe none more direct, or literal, than simply being present for moments like these, walking along the beach, feeling alive and connected to the life around me.