You wouldn’t know how to get down here, without someone to point out the path. You wouldn’t know there was a public beach at all. From the road, there’s not much visible: an eclectic scatter of homes; thick rainforest. There are no signs. I’m going by our host’s written directions, which name this place ‘Gordon’s Beach.’
We emerge just as the moon fades, before sun strikes the far peninsula. The sky pearls, pink as the smooth lining of a conch; our own west-facing hillside lies deep in shadow still. Jeremiah and I are renting a house near Sooke, British Columbia, just off Vancouver Island’s one-lane West Coast Highway, at the top of a steep gravel drive. The weather this last week of November has been clear and cold and dry: short days sparkling, long nights soaked in the pallid brilliance of a full-term moon.
Last winter a black bear crossed the road in front of us here. I’m on the lookout this morning, my limbic system treading water in an unresolved churn of fear and hope.
The beach is dark when we arrive, a slim crescent of rounded grey stones, not much sand. East, the sun swells behind a headland. I keep glancing back to check if it has cleared, but I needn’t; the moment is unmissable, even with my back turned. In one breath, the rocks repaint themselves in kindled shades of amber, quartz, green, and – yes, still – grey. Just like that, I’m almost warm, bundled in layers of wool and cupped by the sun’s bright fingers. Piles of kelp glitter with the sunstruck geometries of frost.
There are no bears on the beach. No people, either, although they’ll come out of the woodwork later, building their bonfires before sunset. But we’re surrounded by animal life. Gull squadrons cruise overhead, whitecaps set free of their watery crests. The rising sun flashes on their backward-canted wings. It’s distinctly orange-gold, but I think of the elusive green flash, an emerald-colored atmospheric phenomenon, sometimes briefly visible at these liminal hours.
Gulls are not ‘sea gulls,’ I’ve learned recently. Plenty of them fish inland waters (and pick inland garbage dumps), but their calls always usher a whisper of waves through my mind. The rhythmic wave-wash off the Strait is no whisper this morning, and our gulls are shouting to be heard. Their calls have gathered all manner of semi-negative adjectives – “plaintive” is my favorite – associated with loneliness and sadness. To me, though, they speak of freedom. Which is sad and lonely sometimes, too.
A raft of sea lions is playing or hunting leisurely, just offshore. Flippers and tawny backs glisten as they roll and dive. They’re travelling gradually westward at about our own pace. Do they notice us as well? They don’t mention it.
We’re quiet, too. The pebbled wash of water is too loud for human conversation. Walking is slow, slipping on the sloping stones, and hard on a couple of recently injured metatarsals. We can’t even communicate by joining hands; all arms are needed for balance.
So we slip along, togetherly alone, watching the clear waves roll out of the southeast. We have no agenda this entire day, and we had none for this exploration. Time is measured only by the sun, and it does not matter, except for what it illuminates.
I notice, vaguely, that my fear has gone, faded into the day along with my thrill of hope. There is nothing in me now I can viscerally identify as emotion. Instead I am the sunrise, the uneven patterns of wave and wind and my own locomotion. Every encounter is interesting, and I accept them equally: a fantastically shaped log buried upright at the line of the rising tide; half a dozen leathery chitons plucked from their armor and tossed onto the rocks at intervals; the sun and the morning wind full in my face as we turn back to the East. I walk beside my partner, merely present as the world turns, neither desiring the next moment nor missing the one just past. I’ll find time to wonder at this later; I have no such ability right now.
If you asked me yesterday, I would have said I don’t know how to meditate.
It’s tough to say how to get to Gordon’s beach if I don’t know your starting point. There’s no parking lot; there are no signs. (And there are no fees.) Stay in the area of Sooke, BC, though, or stop in town for lunch, and ask around about beaches. Gordon’s probably isn’t the first one they’ll point you to; that honor undoubtedly belongs to Whiffen Spit. But it’s a special place, especially for walking the margins of night and day.
A note about staying in/near Sooke: Make sure you like deep quiet, forests, and precipitation. If you do, it’s an ideal retreat. Otherwise, you’ll feel stranded out here on the west coast.