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Revisiting the Marin Headlands
It was mid-July, and the overcast sky covered the horizon from one end to the other. I stepped outside the warm car into the harsh chilly air and smelled the salty breeze. I gazed around at my friends and parents who were also climbing out of the car, reading for an energetic day of hiking and bonding. I had a mission that day, almost a year from when I had last seen, touched, and smelled my beloved Marin Headlands, in my opinion, the best place in the world. I looked around me at the tall, dark bluffs and the rocky shore, and my breath quickened. I couldn’t wait to see the breathtaking view from the cliffs, to smell the spray of the water, and to touch the cold rock ground that jutted out into the ocean, but a slice of doubt and anxiety welled up deep within me. It had only been a year, but what if the beauteous sights and wonderful places that had shown me the beauty and power of nature were gone? And even worse, what if the sights were there, but I had lost the connection to them; what if the profound lessons of life that flowed through here through nature no longer touched me or mattered to me? I was determined to find the truth as I trudged up the trail, filling my senses with the earthy scenes, soft voices, and sharp aromas of the Marin Headlands.
These headlands filled me with a joy I had never felt before, a joy of nature. I had come here twice before on school trips and the last one had affected me staggeringly as I had truly realized the power, unpredictability, and beauty of nature. I remember so vividly the inner warmth of these hills and the scent of the trees enveloping me as I clung on desperately to my last year of middle school, my last year with my closest friends. At that time I could feel the boundaries of time closing around me and those peaceful days spent immersed in the beauty of nature were some of the best days of my life. Things had changed now and I was standing on top of this firm cliff now, staring at the view of the endless sea with new eyes. I had grown older and I was more mature, but I sincerely hoped my perspective had not changed completely. I had come back to these rocky, dark, shores with the sky filled with foggy gray to find the solace I had found here before, and I shivered to think that it no longer might be in my grasp.
My parents, my friends, and I began our hike over the solid, hilly terrain. I looked out to my left to the anything-but-peaceful Pacific Ocean, at the choppy waves filled with hardy sea-life. Sailboats glimmered on the gray horizon, and I could hear the roaring of the waves in the distance, an ever-present rhythm on the coast. Bright orange buoys bobbed up and down in the gray sea. On the top of the cliff the wind whistled around us, and I could actually see the hurried masses of clouds rapidly stirring above me. I breathed in the fresh, salty air, but found no sighing relief in it. I searched for the fleeting feeling I had sensed so much in my trip last year, but I could not quite catch it. Disgruntled, I journeyed on with the group as we entered the looming forest of trees.
The piney aroma of the trees hung in the air as we passed underneath their evergreen branches. Occasionally a spiky needle from the trees would brush against my head, and the scattered brush softened the ground for our pounded feet. We came out of the trees, and the ground was dominated by the alien-looking low-to-the-ground ice-plant, a foreign species that was conquering the native plants. The species had been introduced here by the military, and looking back on it, it hadn’t been a great decision. It covered all the slow-sloped hills, and it spread like the plague. Like the poppy fields in the Wizard of Oz, it surrounded us. It was spiky and soft at the same time, and it was hardy and succulent. The ice plant had soft hues of green with sharper red tips. My friends and I stopped at the summit of one familiar-looking ice plant hill and grinned at each other mischievously. My parents looked on with puzzled expressions.
“We rolled down this hill with our group,” my friends and I explained and we laughed, reminiscing. “It’s perfectly safe, and it’s allowed. Plus, it’s so fun!”
My parents, with vigilant eyes, reluctantly let us roll down the hill repeatedly. The ground spun around me dizzily as I let my body succumb to gravity, and I my landing was cushioned by the ice plant covered ground. It was still the vertigo-inspiring adventure I remembered it as, but I felt a sense of emptiness after we were finished. Something was still missing. Perhaps it was because of the absence of all the people who had been present at the trip a year ago, but that couldn’t really explain why I couldn’t find the overwhelming feelings of appreciation of nature that I had felt previously. Sure, I was still awed by the headlands and its beauty, but I didn’t yet feel the same passion that had burned in me in the past.
Next we came upon the bunkers. Cold concrete, indiscreet loads of military equipment, these abandoned military bases contrasted from the nature around us as much as they were a part of it. After decades of inactivity, they had succumbed to the mysterious, wild, but not quite untouched look of the landscape around them. They were now full of perilous obstacles that had once been additions to the military base. Scrap pieces of metal and glass littered the floors which were overrun by moss and brown grass. The once gray, nondescript walls were now also covered with plants and wild, mostly illegible graffiti (and when it was legible it was not a pretty sight). The metals door and ladders were reddish orange with rust and decay; I would not trust my weight on those bars. Tension filled me as I walked onto the bunkers and through the concrete halls. Our voices echoed, resonating in the half closed environment. Memories washed over me as I took in the vibes through all my senses. I could still feel the mounting conflict inside of me as I desperately searched for what was eluding me. The others talked and laughed, but for now I paid no attention to them as I looked around me urgently as if trying to find something I had lost, which was actually what was happening. We explored the bunker more thoroughly than we had before; we went inside the boarded up rooms. The spooky darkness enveloped us as we stepped inside and we almost screamed as we heard the scampering of a small animal. We emerged from the darkness alive and my friends laughed over the incident, but I felt discontent. That spooky dark place was not the awe-inspiring Marin Headlands I remembered.
We headed back down to the beach where our feet crunched through the sand until the ground was less crumbly and more rocky. We sat down on the surprisingly smooth, colorful rocks, relaxing our tired legs. My friends and I shared our memories of the headlands as we watched the cold, sea foam wash up onto the shore and then recede. Our shoes itched with the gritty sand that had entered them, and we took a moment to sit and enjoy the soft silence of nature all around us as we sat on the beach. I looked all around me, at the fading bluish water, the bright tones of the rocks, the earthy adobe buildings of the park center, and back up at the towering cliffs. I jumped up in surprise. I suddenly remembered what was missing from our hike that day. We hadn’t visited Scotty’s Bluff, which had been the pinnacle of my realization at my last visit. Scotty’s Bluff was high on top of the jutting cliffs, and it itself was a cliff with a small outlook where the whole coastline could be seen. It was open to the public, but it was highly dangerous. One misstep can send you tumbling into the rocks. Our guide, who in my opinion was somewhat insane, had taken a group of teenagers to this cliff and let us have lunch there. He was a nice guy, but letting us lean over the cliff was pretty risky. It was a terrifying and profound experience, sitting on the overlook of that cliff. The roar of the wind and the waves, the dizzying height of the cliff above the ocean, these things are not easy to forget, let alone the amazing of feeling completely at one with nature. But somehow, I had forgotten them, and now I needed to see the Bluff again before it was too late.
“We need to go to Scotty’s Bluff!” I exclaimed to my friends. They gasped in realization. They had forgotten about the bluff, too.
We raced back up the hills with renewed energy as we looked for the telltale path to Scotty’s Bluff, but it was not as easy as we thought it would be. We started down several perilous paths before they turned out to be dead ends. I was filled with frustration as my parents called out impatiently that we did not have much time left. I desperately wanted to see over the face of that cliff sigh as the spray from the rocks splashed all the way up to the walls of the cliff. At that moment I knew it was the only thing that could complete my journey to the Marin Headlands that day, or else I would leave feeling as empty and insecure as I felt when we started. The trip was turning into a disaster. I had come expecting a pleasant trip with my friends, and I had found an anxiety filled day in which I had tried to recapture the past.
We stopped at one cliff that was most certainly not Scotty’s Bluff, and we looked up and down the coastline hopefully.
“There!” my friend shouted triumphantly. He had spotted the familiar outline of the place I needed to see the most at the moment just a little farther up the coast. Once we had finally spotted the cliff, we easily navigated our way down to the overlooking cliff and we took out our food and relaxed. For one of the first times that day, I smiled happily as I took in the breath-taking view from the cliff. The waves were tall and crashed into the high walls vigorously, and I felt renewed again as the spray washed over me. I’ll admit, I almost started crying, but instead I ended up laughing with joy. I knew that the Marin Headlands was still my favorite place in the world and looking at the apparently dismal view of the gray sea and the dark rocks, I knew why. The sea was not gray and monotonous; it was invigorated with life as it spectacularly crashed against the formidable rocks. I saw the rocks and the water interplaying in a beautiful, eternal circle of power and nature, full of predictability and unpredictability. It was above human understanding; the best we could do was simply sit back and watch and stop our pesky interfering, or nature would strike back at us in the end. My spirits soared as my friends and I re-experienced the blinding awe of the moment, and the rest of the day we stayed enervated and rejuvenated. We climbed back in the car, happier than we were before and I waved goodbye to the earthy hills and salty sea as we drove away.
As I watched the beautiful Marin headlands dwindle from a distance, I thought to myself happily, some things never change. That was a reassuring thought, that no matter how much you and the world could change, some places always stayed serene and unchanging. I would not be able to bear it if the headlands were destroyed and the tranquil habitats were gone forever. We cannot keep destroying nature in this world and replacing it with brightly lit strip malls and suburbs. Something has to be done about it. I had realized the tremendous beauty and power of nature and I managed to reassure myself that whatever damage we did to nature would come back at us, and if we didn’t stop devastating the world now it was humans who would suffer in the end. Marin Headlands, I will not forget you and the many lessons you taught me about nature and friendship, I thought as we entered the freeway and we suddenly jumped back into the modern world. I have been so affected by the Marin headlands that I will never think about nature the same way again.