Just as I got the bottom of the steep trail, almost down to the water, I head a pattering sound above me, like rain on a roof. It was gravel, a trickle of rock tumbling down from the concave cliff face over my head.
The headlands are familiar with erosion, which will come as no surprise to anyone; still it’s not what you want to hear when you’ve just walked down the steep narrow trail to the peace beach.
Every time I come to Mendocino, which has been about twice a year since 2007, I’ve walked on the headlands. This was the first trip I’d made my way down the path to this beach.
For the first couple of years I hadn’t realized there was a path. It’s pretty hard to miss those steps though, especially if you want to stand at the top and take a picture of the arch, which I always do.
When I saw the path, a few years ago, I considered going down to the beach. Mostly, I thought I’d get a different perspective on the arch. I never did, for several reasons.
I was afraid it would hurt, that I would get to the bottom with pain. I was afraid that I would fall and scrape skin, bruise myself, or worse. I was afraid I’d tumble off the trail and someone would have to come get me and cart me off on a gurney, and I’d be embarrassed at my own physical incompetence. That was the worst fear actually, that I couldn’t made it down, and back up, the trail. That I couldn’t do it.
All of those reasons started with the same three words. I was afraid.
A few things were different this time. A week before I left for Mendocino, I bought new walking shoes. One day in them had made we realize how badly worn by comfortable old shoes had been, how thin they’d become. And I’d been walking more in general, again; mostly on level ground, not hikes, and mostly with an idea of getting in slightly better shape before I go to WorldCon. But still, walking, stretching out those muscles and letting the joints work, especially the achy knees that get locked when I spend hours in front of a screen, had done me good.
The day before, I walked about four miles in total, with short drives in between; a mile on the beach and along the river; three miles at the botanical garden and a one-mile loop to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. So this morning as a strolled the headlands, I didn’t feel stiff, I didn’t feel weak. Muscles felt firm and limber, joints swung smoothly.
I decided I could make it, and if I changed my mind, I would just turn around and come back.
Of course, my list of reasons why I didn’t want to go down the trail had never included, “Because erosion might bring the entire cliff down on my head.” It was a concern.
The cliff remained intact and I walked on the Peace Beach, as it’s now called, or as the locals call it, the beach.
I’ve never been a fan of the word “fearless.” If you’re truly fearless, then you have a brain deficit. Your amygdala isn’t working properly. However, fear and risk are on a continuum, and I don’t want to be ruled by fear, either. So, while I admire this spaniel puppy, reacting to her first view of the ocean with something that does look a lot of fearlessness, I don’t want to emulate her. I don’t want to be the person who, faced with a huge, awesome and complete unknown, plunges in without a thought. I do want to wade in, though. I do want to explore.
I can think of three times in my life when heeding my fear and turning back kept me from a serious injury. I can think of five other times when it probably did. Fear can be a friend.
Fear can be a bossy friend.
I never would have met this joyful pup if I hadn’t come down the trail. I never would have gotten these shots of the arch.
And I very nearly did slip and fall on the log platform when I was climbing back up, but I caught myself, and it was all right.