As a travelling freelancer, my adult version of Christmas differs quite a bit from my New England upbringing. And yet the spirit remains the same. The feeling isn’t carried down from the heavens on snowflakes; it comes from within us as we experience and celebrate the light returning to the earth: The Winter Solstice.
While others bundle up Christmas Eve and head out to their parishes for communion, sermons, and singing, I go to bed early to be awake for my Christmas morning church service. It is not in a manmade cathedral, but rather out in the woods, under the towering redwoods and along the bluffs, overlooking the vast and powerful ocean. My church has no walls, and its ceiling is the sky above.
Starting in a neighborhood of seaside town bungalows, we took a dirt path between residences and around what was supposed to be a lake. It appeared to be more of an ambitious pond, rather than a lake. Here is where I realize that New England has an entirely different criteria for “lake” than California does.
The lake/pond ended at the road that cut across and above it. On the other side was a plot of beach, no bigger than my Burbank front lawn.Our feet hit sand and Tucker sniffed the rocks and seaweed that had come up on shore. It was before noon, but the tide was clearly rising, evidenced by the water lines that were almost to the road.
Tucker climbed up on some rock outcroppings on the edge of the beach, looking out over his domain. The leash being short (since we were near the road, he wasn’t allowed his usual extra few feet of freedom), I had to join him or he’d be pulled down off his perch. I put one foot upon the nearest rock, and instantly discovered it was not yet quite rock but still in its sand phase of existence. My foot fell through, crumbling the sandpile and my balance. I fell backwards, just as the tide roared up on shore and ran under me, soaking my feet, pants and butt. My backpack had broken my fall, so at least my shoulders hadn’t gotten drenched.
I righted myself quickly, feeling the salt water slide into my back pocket where my phone was. I grabbed my phone, and immediately silently praised Otterbox for its impenetrable case. I still took my phone out of the case just to make sure there wasn’t any trapped water, and found it to be perfectly dry. I checked my backpack—my paper journal had also been spared. It was 10am on Christmas morning, and although I stood on the side of the road with wet and sandy jeans, my socks full of water, soaked underwear, I was overwhelmed with thanks that my words and my digital map/camera/communication device were all in working order.
Tucker and I carried on along the streets, and I was first surprised at how many people were out and about. Then I realized I’m in a place with like-minded people, so why wouldn’t they all want to spend the day as I did? More surprisingly, not only did no one who actually witnessed me take my fall at the beach say a thing to me, but no one gave me funny looks or said a word to the inexplicable wet woman with a pitbull as she walked along the sidewalk toward Pleasure Point. I suppose in a surf town, you’re just used to seeing damp people wandering about.
“Oh my god, he looks like Lily,” I heard a woman say as she walked toward us with a man, a child, and a very happy, tail-wagging brown dog about Tucker’s size. “We recently lost our Lily and she was a brindle just like him, “ she said to me. “He’s been really sad since she passed away. We all have.” Her pup was all wags, and I imagine Tucker was hearing tales of Lily as well. “They were best friends. I wish I had my phone so you could see a picture.”
We all spoke for a short while, she telling me stories of Lily, and I answering questions about Tucker. Our canine companions finished up their conversation as we did, and as they walked away I thought about those little signs we get from the universe. Coincidences maybe. Or maybe we attribute meaning to things that aren’t there. But maybe, just maybe, they are indeed messages. As my thoughts came together about the eternity of the soul and relationship to the physical world, a black and tan dachshund walked toward me with her person at the end of the leash. I almost laughed out loud. If that little doxie was a nod from Dutchess then perhaps Lily had somehow arranged for Tucker to come across her beloved family this morning. While we look for signs in the universe, we might very well be the signs others are waiting for.
With cheer in my heart, I stopped for Tucker to enjoy a little story time along the beachfront where someone had set up this adorable scene.
In the empty road, a lean black dog in a red and a white sweater, donning sleighbells around his neck, raced down the street on a ten foot leash, his twenty-something human guardian on a skateboard sailing behind.
Now that is the quintessential Santa Cruz Christmas.
Knowing we could never top that, Tucker and I headed back to my trusty steed where we loaded up and headed to our more private portion of our church service: Greyhound Rock.
From the highway, it was rather unassuming: just a parking lot sparsely populated. Indeed this would be the quieter part of our day.
Once parked, looking over the cliff, we could see the beautiful beach below and the waves crashing up on the rocks. The trail down to the beach wasn’t obvious. It was definitely keeping itself hidden, special, only for those who truly wanted to find it.
The steep incline had a few tiers to look out over the beach.
Tucker and I wish you all a happy holiday season. May you always find the Christmas spirit within your heart, no matter where you are or what time of year it is. Wishing you all blessings of love and light.