Every so often, we wake up thinking – I am going to do something extraordinary today. Today was one of those days. My dog Taylor and I decided we would spend the day at Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s located on the westernmost tip of Marin County about an hour from where I live. It lies at the tip of a narrow peninsula, jutting out about fifteen miles into the Pacific Ocean. It is stunningly beautiful.
The music to my life accompanied us this entire afternoon and early evening. And these are the songs we heard…
Our drive started with seminal lyrics from Eddie Vedder, among my favourite bards. “I see the world / Feel the chill / Which way to go / Windowsill… Oh dear dad / Can you see me now / I am myself / Like you somehow / I’ll ride the wave / Where it takes me” (“Release”, Pearl Jam) Thinking to myself, what a great first song to set the tone for our trip. And soon my mind wanders while I focus on the road before me. This particular moment brought me back to college at Purdue University as Thom Yorke wailed “If I could be who you wanted / If I could be who you wanted all the time.” (“Fake Plastic Trees”, Radiohead) The story of my life.
Thinking comes so easy when you’re driving along the California coast. The colours of God’s work lend itself to deep thoughts. And some not so deep. What have I done? I wonder what’s next? I wonder did I do the right thing? I wonder why there are twelve links to a hot dog package, but only eight buns in its bag? I wonder why Frank Gore wasn’t given the ball at the end of the NINERS game yesterday? I wonder why Notre Dame isn’t ranked higher? I wonder what Taylor’s thinking? I wonder cos it’s easy to wonder at the wonder of Highway 1. Grace Slick just told me to “go ask Alice / When she’s ten feet tall.” (“White Rabbit”, Jefferson Airplane) I wonder so much that I don’t know if even Alice knows the answer. From the back Taylor piped up he wanted to go “chasing rabbits” to which I responded, “you know you’re going to fall.”
And so we kept driving the windy roads past Stinson, “The sun will rise, we’ll climb into cars / The future has a valley and a shortcut around” (“Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, Wilco) I love road trips, and yet I don’t like to drive. Road trips, however, is not the same as driving. Road trips are all about thinking. And my favourite road trips are the ones I have with my dog. Those thoughts always lend itself and follow the lyrics of the songs that play in my car. The lyrics to my life if anyone ever sings it has already been sung by The Boss, in this particular case aided by the scorching guitars of Tom Morello.
“Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.” (“Ghost of Tom Joad”, Bruce Springsteen)
I’ve always loved those words. While the song is not necessarily about it, when I listen to this passage, I always think about my family and my friends, and how I’d be willing to do anything for them and, if need be, stand up for them.
As Springsteen closed his words, we made it to Marin Sun Farms, a wonderfully quaint place that served fresh meats and eggs, with a small dining area serving sandwiches. Unfortunately, the outdoor seating area closed last week, which meant Taylor couldn’t eat with me. We ordered it to go. The food was even better than advertised. Taylor had a big meaty bone that would keep him busy for hours. I had a succulent bbq pulled pork sandwich on ciabatta bread, served with slaw and pickeled onions and dill. Simple but amazing. (I also bought a pound of grass fed fresh ground beef, that I would use for a special Indian dish “ground beef keema” for my friends that I would have over for dinner this week.) We found a park bench across from the Wells Fargo for us to eat.
So we headed back south into Hwy 1 and turned left onto Sir Francis Drake.
The beach was just a short distance away, I could see it. And before long, Taylor and I had our toes deep into the sand, walking alongside the crashing surf. Dylan’s words echoed, sung significantly more beautifully by the Byrds “Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship / My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip / My toes too numb to step, wait only for my boot heels / To be wandering’ / I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade / Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way / I promise to go under it.” (“Mr. Tamborine Man”, Bob Dylan)
We played all afternoon until we could play no more. Off to the distance, Taylor spied another dog. He looked at me and started wiggling his body while wagging his tail. He loved “the way the sunlight plays upon her hair / I hear the sound of a gentle word / On the wind that lifts her perfume through the air.” (“Good Vibrations”, the Beach Boys) “Dog perfume” is something else. But soon, Taylor was done with that, as the real prize was the Pacific Ocean.
Taylor was mesmerized by the surf. The waves were so loud and so high; he had seen nothing like it ever in his life. He would sit there and stare, the surf a short fifty feet away. “I say what’s, what’s cooler than bein’ cool?” and Taylor barked, “ICE COLD!” (“Hey Ya”, Outkast) The water was that cold, but that didn’t stop him from trying to get in as much as possible. And while it was tempting, I don’t think anything good would have come from jumping into the waters. The surf was mighty today, my friends. And I wasn’t about to let either of us mess with it. It would have messed with us instead, and dominated. Rather, it was beautiful from where we stood (at a somewhat safe distance). Still, as the water came up to us, Taylor joyfully stuck all four paws in.
While Taylor was playing along the beach, I was deep in thought. And I thought of anything and everything. Much of my thoughts went to my family and my friends, staples in my head, and what’s going on in my life at the moment. I thought of my nephew who was just born a couple weeks ago; and I couldn’t wait to meet him. I thought of his sister, who was born three years to the day after I was hit by a car, her birth a beautiful reminder of the sanctity and joy of life. “She’s got eyes of the bluest skies / As if they thought of rain / I’d hate to look into those eyes /And see an ounce of pain.” (“Sweet Child O’Mine”, Guns n Roses)
I thought about happiness. I thought about how we can choose to be happy. We can choose to own our decisions, and live with the consequences. I thought about yesterday. I thought about today. I thought about tomorrow. I thought about more cowbell. “Romeo and Juliet / Are together in eternity… Romeo and Juliet / 40, 000 men and women everyday… Like Romeo and Juliet / 40, 000 men and women everyday… Redefine happiness / Another 40, 000 coming everyday… We can be like they are.” (“Don’t Fear the Reaper”, the Blue Oyster Cult) I thought about the relationships I’d been in; I thought about why they didn’t work. “I’d always thought that if I held you tightly / You’d always love me like you did back then / Then I fell asleep and the city kept blinking / What was I thinking when I let you back in? “ (“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, Wilco)
Taylor wanted his bone; he was done with my deep thoughts. And I wanted to paint. We made our way back to the car, a perfect spot to eat a bone and paint a scene. And so we did. I painted what I saw, which wasn’t exactly what was laid in front of me, but it is what I saw. And I saw such beauty. I saw so many colours. And I heard everything, my ears perked like Smarty Jones while I painted away.
I sat there on the shore painting what I saw, as Taylor pressed close against my legs. “Hold me closer, Tiny Dancer”. I looked at him, “Tay, who are you calling tiny?” He huffed and looked at me as I went back to my painting. Taylor looked at the beach and then continued, “But oh how it feels so real / Lying here with no one near / Only you and you can hear me / When I say softly slowly (“Tiny Dancer”, Elton John) I barked back, “dude, you’re singing Elton John. Get a grip.”
The waves kept coming. And I kept painting. I was happily overwhelmed with colour. The ocean melted into the sky. And we stayed. The waves never let up, one after another, ad infinitum. And Taylor chomped away. It was cool now. My nose was running. My fingers and toes craving for gloves and socks. And yet we stayed. At that moment, I thought of the first time I left my parents’ home, when I lived in Neenah, Wisconsin, and used to drive late at night to sit on a bench by myself overlooking Lake Winnebago. I’ve always had a sense of loner in me, even then. It was much colder then. That lake was beautiful, but it had nothing on the Pacific. Behind us the moon came out, the sky in front of it a darker blue, sprayed with reds and pinks. The sky was brilliant now. We didn’t want to leave. So we stayed a little while longer. We stayed until the sun went down. Leaving behind the orange hue of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants amidst a beautiful cerulean blue, and in between were the other colours of the wheel.
As the sun gave way, the moon looked beautiful. “Outside another yellow moon / punched a hole in the nighttime, yes / (I) climb through your window and down the street / I’m shining like a new dime.” (“Downtown Train”, Tom Waits)
I painted some more.
And then, we looked at each other; and said, “It’s time. We’ve had a good day.”
And then we drove away.
“‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now,
And this bird you can not change, oh, oh, oh, oh.
And this bird you can not change.
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows I can’t change.
Oh won’t you fly high
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