Strangers on the Shore

             Sunrise on Asilomar Beach

Moving as slowly and quietly as I could, I rolled out of bed 5:30 Saturday morning trying carefully not to wake my shift-worker husband. His easy breathing said I hadn’t interrupted him and hopefully he’ll sleep a little longer. We drove to our beach house late the night before, right after I got off work. He needed to catch up on his sleep and I needed to get to the beach as early as possible to catch the sunrise. I drove quickly and parked, but descended the beach stairs slowly.

My arthritic knees ached more and more these days. Walking is painful and difficult as I tried to balance my ageing, overweight body in the soft sand. I can walk only half the beach and back now. So once done I found a dry log to sit on and wait for the sun to rise to entertain me.

It’s hard for me to be here without my dog, Georgia. She loved it here as much as I do. The other dogs she used to play with are all here chasing balls their owners had thrown into the ocean. Some of the dogs ran up to me and gave me an early morning sniff.

“Hello, how are you?” They seem to say as they smile and run off again.

I watched pelicans in formation skim over the water while gulls screamed behind and tried to keep up. One of the diving birds dipped down beneath the dark green wave and emerged with its prize. Two gulls followed in chase hoping he’d drop his catch.

Splashing off in the distance caught my attention. I saw a couple of sea otters diving for their morning meal and putting on quite a show for us spectators. One already had his breakfast and was floating on his back cracking the shell on the rock he’s tucked under his loose tummy skin. The sound of the cracking shell echoed in this cove. They’re so cute and entertaining but the local the fishermen would disagree as they believe the otters are a nuisance.

At the far end of the beach there were a few walkers coming toward me. They’re like me I thought to myself, the early morning beach lovers who share the pleasure of watching the birds and otters but are mostly here for the sun rise. To me a perfect day is being able to watch both the morning sunrise and the evening sunset.

I began to get cold so I stood to move about and warm myself just as woman approached me. She stopped and stood less than two feet next to me, and faced the ocean, just as I was doing. After taking a slow deep breath and an exhale that I could almost feel, she spoke.

“This is so beautiful,” she sighed, and I agreed with a nod.

She was trim and appeared to be about my age, but I’ve never been good at guessing a person’s age. She was not what I think of as pretty, but she spoke with confidence and her smile was quite beautiful in spite of her being so cold. Her graying hair was cut in a short boyish style, but looked rather attractive on her.

A weathered face added years to her appearance, but her eyes were so full of life as she tried to take everything in at once. She was dressed as if she just stepped out of a Land’s End catalog wearing baggy jeans, navy blue deck shoes, a cream colored turtle neck sweater and a Forrest green hooded jacket with brown corduroy trim and deep pockets. She kept her gloved hands in her pockets and spoke again.

“Are you from the area, can you tell me something about this place?”

I gave her my limited knowledge of the beach, the sea otters, the gulls, the weather patterns and such. I told her a little about our ocean front house down the street and gave a short family history. My Italian family were fishermen and they had one of the very first canneries on Cannery Row, which is still standing today. She listened intently asking more questions as I went along with my story. Then I took my turn.

“Where are you from? And what do you do?” Neither of us taking our eyes off the ocean as dawn got a little brighter.

“I’m from Oregon, I work in the local Government.” She spoke almost with a whisper, as if her mind was somewhere else. “I attend a conference here every year, at The Asilomar.”

We watched the sea otters dive and retrieve shell food from below. She asked more about how the otters feed and we agreed we’d love to pet one. Then we laughed at what scavengers the gulls are, such a nuisance to the other birds.

Then silence again as we watched the rise of the sun from behind us making our shadows longer. The waves closest to shore first lit up first but just at the white capped tips. Then slowly the entire wave came alive with blues and greens. Once the sun reached the beach the sand came alive with millions of sparkles from the crushed shells. Then the whole ocean took on new colors: light greens, medium blues, dark blues, and the glistening white foam. It was all so stunning, so breathtaking, that we stood in awe. I’ll never get used to this site, this could never be dull or boring to me and I exhaled the deep breath I’d been holding. This is Heaven to me.

We stood almost shoulder to shoulder now.  She turned to me with a slightly crooked smile on her face.

“Today is my birthday.” Looking directly into my eyes she softly added, “I’m fifty eight years old,” confirming my suspicion that she was near my age.

I turned toward her and gave her my best morning smile, “Well. Happy Birthday to you! You couldn’t have started your day in a better place.”

“I know.” Her smile wide now as she took a step in front of me, put her arms around my shoulders, pulled me close, held me tight, and kissed me. Right on the lips! Not a short kiss, not a peck between friends, but a long lingering, warm kiss. And although her arms were tight around me, she held me with such tenderness.

I tried to take a step backward but I just froze instead. I couldn’t release myself from her grip.  I didn’t feel fear, or danger, or anger even, just shock. Trying not to show any emotion, I pulled my face from hers and quickly replied, “Well, again, Happy Birthday. I hope you have a wonderful day and find time to enjoy the beach again real soon.” God, I’m such a Dork. She just looked at me, her eyes danced and sparkled as she gazed into mine.

“Thank you, I will. Perhaps we’ll meet again soon.” And with that she released me, turned and slowly made her way up to beach toward the conference center.

I turned back to face the ocean, a little shaken. Well, more than a little, I was shaking a lot.

What the hell was that all about? I asked myself as all sorts of thoughts went through my head. Did I forget that I taught my kids to never talk to strangers?

It was 7:30 now, but I waited a good half hour before I returned to my car, still stunned by more than just the beauty of the early morning sun rise.

Returning to the house I saw my husband in the front window enjoying both the ocean view and his morning coffee. He had his “I love to be here” sleepy-smile on his face and waved when he saw me. I climbed the steps to the front door and walked in.

“Hi Honey, how was your walk?”

I just smiled.

You gotta love early morning walks on the beach.