It was a spring day and my face stung from the sharp cold as I huffed my way to the top of a ridge looking out over the sea. The waves were pumping – but not too much because this spot could get too big, too rough for me. We were on the Slow Coast, a wild stretch of the California coast where things were a little less connected, a little rougher. People preferred spotty cell service, intermittent internet connection, and a lot of open space, essentially the freedom to be wild and roam a bit in this land.
Life on the Slow Coast is, well, slower, like a little pause in the rush for modernity. The landscape is rolling hills backed up by mountains of wild forested land on one end, moving outwards to a splattering of local farming operations and more untouched open space right up to the ocean where steep bluffs sheltered hidden coves and local surf spots. Intentional communities with undefined locations sit tucked in nooks you’ll only discover if you’re intended to.
In this moment I’d been living on the Slow Coast for about 9 months working on a 23 acre mixed vegetable organic farm as a farmer and farm educator for youth. I lived on the land in a yurt, my belongings tucked between my bed, the wood fired stove and my two surfboards. Life was weirdly slow and fast at the same time. Days flew by in this slow but busy lifestyle, sharing and growing with the land. Some weekends I popped up to San Francisco, jolted into a completely different reality by the world of techies living the Silicon Valley dream. Visiting friends around the area was a nice relief from the same faces of day-to-day life. But, the pace of talking, activities, and living was overwhelming. I would retreat, exhausted, back to my yurt, excited to communicate solely with the animals and my fellow farmers for the next week.
I stood on that ridge, watching the waves after a long, exhausting week, weighing whether or not I really wanted to pull and pinch and inch on my neoprene wetsuit, hood and booties on and immerse myself in the icy water. Or should I just say forget about it and read a book in bed? I looked at my two friends, encouraging my motivation to jump in.
Surfing in this area always felt like such a big decision, a commitment. The paddle was hard, the current pulling and the waves a bit rough for me. I always came out tumbled like I had gone through a rinse cycle in the washing machine; yet, stoked on life and so happy I’d gone in. It just took remember the after feeling to motivate the first dip. And so in we went. I caught a few waves but mostly soaked in the strokes of magenta, purple, blue and darkness combined as the sun began to set.
I closed my eyes, breathed in a deep sigh of contentment, and turned to my right to smile at my fellow surfers. As I opened my eyes, I was met by wall, about a half-rooms distance away from me. It was a wall of blue and purple, and rainbow and barnacles, and it was slowly moving in a mesmerizing dance. It was a a whale! She was most gently, slowly rising up and then just as smoothly moving back below the watery depths. Time stopped. My heart stopped. The sunset reflected on the shiny sheen of the watery beast as it slid silently back below to the living world moving below our boards. We all looked at each other wide-eyed, and silent. Then as one, we turned and paddled back in to shore. My chest strained with emotion, my mind calm. The most beautiful experience, the most humbling moment of my life settled on the edge of my mind, calming all thoughts of what comes next. There was no fear, just great awe and reverence. And as I pulled my board out of the water, I turned for one last look as the grandmother of the sea breached in a wild splashing display, sending us off with a wave which generated a wave of deep calm, spreading through my whole body like thick, delicious honey oozing everywhere. Life was good. Everything was going to be fine. Miracles were everywhere. Just be. This was the message the whale passed on – not fear, not surprise, just the beautiful essence of life that can pop up at us when we least expect it.
- Kat Gordon, Yarrow Resilience Institute