Feeling more and more stressed by my mother’s declining condition, I had longed to get away for some time. Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel To The Lighthouse, with its themes of loss and perception, I finally made it to the Point Montara Lighthouse hostel, just 25 miles south of San Francisco. Immediately upon arrival, around five in the afternoon, I found a seat by the light. The weathered-wood bench in the setting sun, warmth tempered by the sea breeze, sat on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Invasive ice plant bloomed pink and yellow, surrounded by beach mallow and wild cucumber. Wild cabbage, another alien (native to southern and western Europe), with delicate yellow blossoms, stank up the briny air. Below, wild waves crashed upon the rocks. I watched a couple of small brown heads, sea lions bobbing and playing in the surf. In the sky, numerous gulls flew by, as did pelicans in formation — birds so elegant in flight and so ungainly on land, and black-and-white murres glided closer to the water, attending to their eggs on the rocks below.
The hostel, whose light station was established in 1875, is a certified green business. It was recently renovated, and my private room had a view of the ocean, all the way up the coast to Devil’s Slide. There wasn’t room for much more than a bed and a small desk, but what more could I want? With the constant roar of the ocean outside, the quiet of the place sank in deep.
There are times when I want to venture out more, meet new people. But at that moment, I desired solitude. The relaxing atmosphere in Montara, the sun beaming on my face, instantly lifted my spirits and the stress drained from my body. Even with no external pressures or deadlines, it’s so hard to let go, to really live in the moment. Years ago, when I wrote more poetry, I was forced to observe, focus, and record, even before learning of the principle of being in the present. That was a more spontaneous time, a time of fewer responsibilities.
While a sea lion frolicked in the waves, suddenly three to four small whale spouts appeared in the distance. It was past the season for the gray whales’ northerly migration, but the hostel keepers said that a local pod stayed just off the Farallon Islands. Such unexpected joy! Each day, as the sinuous leviathans swam in their unfathomable kingdom, I sat in that same spot for a good two hours or more. Could sit here forever, I thought, just watching the infinitely changing radiant fabric of the sea, the churning ocean, darkness coming in the fold of every wave.
Down on the small private beach and tide pools next to the grounds, I hunted through rocks and cliffs of chert and sandstone, finding mussels, barnacles, kelp and anemones that undulated with the tide. In To the Lighthouse, Woolf writes, “…there came to the wakeful, the hopeful, walking the beach, stirring the pool, imaginations of the strangest kind — of flesh turned to atoms which drove before the wind, of stars flashing in their hearts, of cliff, sea, cloud, and sky brought purposely together to assemble outwardly the scattered parts of the vision within.” Reflecting on what I needed in coming here — to recalibrate and rebalance — I found new inspiration and strength. I felt I could do anything, was absolutely free. Why is it so difficult to experience this sense of rejuvenation at home? It just falls away. What are we missing in everyday life, with such anxious and busy minds, unable to pay attention deeply, to let the imagination run free? What are we waiting for? It’s been here all along. That capability, that moment was with me in Montara, it’s here with me at home. Here it is…