Cliff Watcher

I spent the best part of yesterday just hanging out along the cliffs on the north side of Santa Cruz. The long walkway that stretches between the lighthouse at Steamer Lane and Natural Bridges State Park gives me room to stretch my legs without feeling like I’m going to bump into somebody or trip over something. I brought my walking sticks along, my safety insurance, that I won’t stumble over some ridiculous tiny crack in the asphalt.

I like it on the week days when the tourists are gone, who want to come here and hang over the guard rails along the cliffs. With them absent I can find a parking spot, cross the street without feeling in a state of terror, and find my own spot to rest against while I watch the surfers riding the big waves that continue to roll into town. Even though the big wave contest at Mavericks has passed, the excitement of that contest lingers on in the minds of the local surfers. I can see it on their faces when they jump off the cliffs, surfboards under arm, and splash into the face of rolling swells, or when they run up and down the wooden staircase that extends from the top of the cliffs and down to the water surface.

There were more surfers here yesterday than spectators. The parking lots close by had cars with bright-colored surfboards stacked on the roofs, while the surfers struggled to wiggle themselves into their stretchy neoprene wet suits. I suspect that many of those watching the surf from the cliffs were former surfers, like myself, who because of age or medical difficulties, can no longer plunge themselves into cold water to push back against the continual power of the waves. The old die-hard surfers still like to come watch, even if they can’t get in the water. The sense of thrill from riding the waves doesn’t easily go away, and watching from the sidelines brings old energies back to life.

I whipped out my tiny camera and snagged a few images of some of the larger waves slamming into one of the outer reefs at the Lane. I knew when I got here yesterday that I should have brought my bigger digital SLR camera with the telephoto lens so that I could better pull in the subject matter from several hundred yards out to sea. But I got enough imagery to bring home, transfer into my computer, so that I can study the waves of this day at another time.

The long walk along the cliffs made me realize how I need to get out and move my legs more. It’s so easy to sit and watch life slide by me while my muscles atrophy. The peripheral neuropathy that grabbed hold of me a few years ago will vary from day to day in severity. Some days my legs will be so numb that I feel like I am walking on a couple of wooden 4×4 posts that have been strapped to my hips. There is seldom any pain involved with the numbness, but the fine muscle movement that comes naturally and is essential for posture, has been washed away. The more I walk, the more my natural movement kicks in and helps to carry me along, but my legs never act the way they once did. If they would, I would probably still be out in the water and riding a few waves.

Up near the surfing museum, which is located inside the lighthouse at Steamer Lane, a couple of women were trying to get in the front door, and I explained to them that it is not open every day, and is operated by volunteers. I told them that the museum has many photos of local legendary surfers who made this sport so lively in Santa Cruz. I could remember many of the old surfers myself, having spent so many years being as close to the waves as possible. One of the women told me that I was lucky to be able to even remember such things, and that there is no shame in having a museum full of photos of your acquaintances. I suppose that is the purpose of a museum, to celebrate the past.

I drove out to one of the busy shopping centers a couple of miles away from the beach to get some food to go, and brought it back to the cliffs to eat while watching more waves breaking at another surf spot. Another of these old-time surfers who frequents the spots in town stopped by and we talked about how the intense feeling of riding waves never leaves a person. He had his tiny surfboard inside of his car and was waiting for his Advil to kick in, mask the aches and pains of age, so that he could then paddle out and grab a few waves during this best part of the day. He told me that this exceptionally warm winter we have been having in California makes it one of the best years he could ever remember for surfing. I had to agree that the conditions were extremely favorable; not as good as Hawaii, but pretty darn nice for central California.

Later in the afternoon I headed south, down the coast, to one of my favorite wooden benches, where I have a long view of most of the Monterey Bay. I pulled out my Kindle and read some more of my book on American Transcendentalism that I am now reading once again for about the sixth or eighth time. Emerson teaches me how to have a conversation with myself, and how to listen to the divine life that goes on inside. Some days I just need to read to become reminded, while other days I understand pretty clearly.

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