The Beach (or Time Also Passes)

Today, after work, i was drawn to the beach. I live in Fresno, central Cali, but I used to live in the bay and I’m back for a work trip here in Berkeley. I’m fortunate enough to be back about once a month, and what I’ve noticed is that all the things I miss about the bay, I realize I didn’t really take advantage of when I was here. The beach is one of these things. Sure we went from time to time, but you know how it is: when you can go any time, you don’t go very often.

So I picked up a pizza and some libations and headed out towards Muir Beach. Even though I’ve been gone a couple years, I still knew the roads, handling each turn with that sense of comfort that only experience brings. Big Boi and Beyonce backed my mood during the drive, and I was excited to have beat the sunset, catching the last tip of the sun as it passed over the hill, just to the left of where I sat on the sandy shore.

Muir Beach was always a favorite of ours when we lived here, because it’s sheltered in a cove in a way, so it doesn’t seem as windy or cold as other beaches. Plus, it’s smaller than say, Stinson, so it felt more special in a way, like a secret, even though it’s totally not. But i was surprised at the changes. In my mind, I had just been there. I remember our last trip as a family as if it were just last weekend. Maia was a year-and-a-half, she was dressed in a red onesie with strawberries on it. She was laying on Sarah’s back and cuddled her as Sarah soaked up the heat from the sand through the towel. Keana was all play: running wildly around, chasing the ocean in her yellow bikini with blue polkadots, screaming, “C’mon Papa! Come with me into the ocean!!!” We knew it was our last trip before the move to Fresno and we longed to make it last. I think each of us fantasized about being able to buy one of those weather-worn houses on the hill some day, so we could have that moment every day. But those were just dreams, years ago now, and things change.

Today though, I was struck by the obvious, but terribly tangible reality that time also passes where you are not. Our reality progressed in Fresno and so did reality at Muir. It sounds almost stupid saying that, but i guess what I realized was how magical memories are.

A path was being built from the parking lot to the beach to “preserve nature”. There was now a warning about swimming in the ocean due to an unsafe level of bacteria. Fires were now allowed on the beach I guess, so there were charred leftovers strewn about. The brightness of that memory two years made this beach, today, look tarnished, and I had to wonder if it really was a little shittier, or was it just real compared to my memory? Either way, it was still gorgeous to be back at the ocean where I’ve alway felt I belonged.

I sat down, opened my beer, opened my box, and took out a thick, heavy slice of pizza. As I ate, I watched. To my left was a huge Russian family, speaking the mother tongue, kids running and crying and playing. One of the twin boys came to dance around in front me, showing off his quick-steps and seeing if I’d take notice I think. A lone fisherman about 30, set up his pole and cast his line far into the ocean. I wondered if he knew what he was doing and if he worried about the bacteria in whatever he caught. I got the sense though that he didn’t need to worry because he knew he wouldn’t catch anything. He was simply there to be there. To cast his line, wait, reel it in, and do it again. There would be no fish today.

A mother and her three young, but grown children arrived. All blonde, the boy being a bit older than the two sisters. He kicked around for a minute then headed off down the shoreline on his own, thinking. The girls remained and the mom took pictures of the prettier one. I thought it was weird. Not long after, the other girl walked off, I thought to catch up with her brother, but no. She walked inland, to a corner of the cove, to make a call on her cell. A boyfriend back home? She looked about the age to be that kind of in love. The brother walked on. The pretty one began to draw in the sand and I could tell the mom wanted to check on the other two. She began to lean away but didn’t want to leave the child she was closest to at the moment. Where was dad? Was he at home, somewhere far away working while mom and the kids took a “most-of-the-family vacation”? I also imagined that maybe he had just died and the three of them came to the beach to remember something, sort of like I was doing, but inverse of me, my wife and three kids being at home, far away. The mom eventually positioned herself in the middle of the triangle of kids, still hundreds of yards away from all of them, and it was interesting to see the oldest boy and the pretty one eventually gravitate toward her. The other one was still on the phone, but then the other three gravitated toward her, as if to nudge her “Hey, get off the phone. We’re here to be together.”

I was stuffed. It was getting dark. I got what I came for so it was time to head back to the hotel. Sure, I still wanted to live in one of those houses. It’s my kind of climate. But I also remembered that if you can just go any time, do you really go just “any time”? Would things be different if we moved back? What are the things that I take for granted now where I live? What needs to be done to enjoy this moment in time while still moving towards the next, and while the memory of those that have passed remain as well? Or does each moment just appear instantly beneath us and we make up the distance between each point in polished memories and dreams?