It was a last minute decision that handed me a day bigger than life, in fact as big as life could be if it were completely unrestrained, if it were as wildly free as the proto universe. After kayaking the Napa River and stopping for a beer at a new brewery in Sonoma, I intended to camp somewhere near Santa Rosa and perhaps hike Sonoma Mountain on Sunday. However, driving north on the 12 in the gathering dusk, as I passed Kenwood, I hit the brakes and spun a U turn in the middle of the highway. My favorite free camping area in Marin, near Muir Beach called to me for some strange subconscious reasons.
Perhaps the Napa River was giving me a hint, although I didn’t realize it at the time. There was something larger than life there, the two bridges I paddled under arched above me 60 or 70 feet, and some massive crane hung over the river, and I couldn’t imagine what sort of things it had lifted.
Settled in on the ridge above Muir Beach, I curled up in my sleeping bag with a good book and finally drifted off to sleep.
Morning broke with the soft, gentle mist of morning fog, a fog that makes time seem to slow down or at least my relationship to time. It was already an hour later than it should have been due to daylight savings time, an absurd idea in any case. I got dressed and thought about my objectives, visit the Marin Headlands, get breakfast and maybe kayak along the San Francisco waterfront.
But then there was the cutoff to Muir Woods, a place I hadn’t seen in decades, and it was still early enough to actually get in. In fact it was so early the rangers hadn’t opened the pay window yet, and there were only about a dozen more hikers, as I wandered through the wonderful park, along the creek and under a blanket of fog that hung in the high branches. The profound silence of an early morning in the redwoods set the mood for the rest of the day, the mood of subdued magic, of a constant state of anticipation. I was in no hurry, except that I hadn’t eaten in over fourteen hours and I was getting hungry.
Just before Highway One ended at the 101, I found the Dipsea Café, and despite the Sunday crowds, there was a place at the counter. Then after breakfast I took a short walk along the little channel that leads to Richardson Bay, and I saw people on bikes cruising along the network of paths that ran along the water, and I watched pairs of ducks and geese trying their best to ignore me. I realized I could spend at least an entire day on these paths and waterways, and my mind extended beyond my line of sight to the joy-filled miles that awaited me on another day.
Then, driving up the Marin Headlands, more bikes making that aerobic climb, and I imagined my lungs sucking in air as my legs worked the peddles, while I stole glances at the Golden Gate.
Parking at the top of the road I hiked up Hawk Hill and watched three laughing teen girls running, pointing and shouting. Sail boats slipped quietly under the bridge, and the city skyline shimmered in the fog. Then the long road down toward Point Bonita, with a stop to explore the bunkers, and a hike down to the pocket beach and up through the dunes, the only place on the Headlands where I was alone.
After a visit to the Marine Mammal Center, where I watched a young doe slowly cross the road and start up the hillside, I parked at the beach, walked by a mass of Sunday beach people and then up the Coastal Trail for more sweeping views. And all along the trail, as far as I could see, there were people exploring, wandering, enjoying this perfect day. The coastal hills that seemed to roll away forever played with my imagination.
The day was leading me, and time was slipping away, and by the time I reached San Francisco, it was too late and too crowded to launch a kayak.
There was a realization embedded in the day that couldn’t quite surface until I got on the 280 headed toward home. I looked over at dark brown cows dotting kelly-green hills in a stunning contrast and a kite on a fence post, fluffing its feathers and preparing to search for a meal. Then I thought about all I wanted to see in that one small piece of Marin, the network of hiking trails, the trail from Tennessee Valley to the beach, the great complex of Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais State Park, the miles of bike paths, the hidden beaches, the network of channels to paddle, and I saw it as if it were the whole world, more than I can explore, less than a small piece of a small county, but bigger than reality, at least what we usually consider reality.
In comparison, daily life is like the two dimensional images on TV, a series of scenes, tethered to but not intimately connected to the whole person, to the many levels of awareness and existence. This day was visceral.
Each of these images from this one day was itself infinite, and there are an infinite number of these images, seen, imagined and still unknown and unsuspected, and had I 1,000 or even 10,000 years to discover them, I would still only have a fleeting glimpse. The immensity of it all left me stunned and breathless and desperate for more. Life was never more rich.