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Lost Coast, USA: Into the Mist

usaIn our day when far-flung places are more accessible than they’ve ever been, sometimes we forget that inspiration, wonder, and awe can come from places much close to home. Or maybe going to those far-off places helps us appreciate the beauty in our own backyards. Having grown up in a small town in Northern California and abandoned it for the beach life in Costa Rica, Humboldt County’s Lost Coast was that beautiful reminder to open my eyes wider wherever I happen to be on this planet.

Every night the sky was perfectly clear, and pierced with millions of stars. The fog seeped in through the mountains during the early morning hours while we slept. Life was more subtle. Vibrant jungle greens and hibiscus reds were exchanged with muted lichens and moss, with soft yellows and oranges of a forest in the fall. The cool air rushed through your lungs, making tiny hairs stand on end and every cell in your body feel alive. You are physically aware of the the stillness around you.

On the beaches, you feel as if you’ve stepped into another land, cold and barren at first. The dense fog settles heavily over the coast and forces you to see only what is directly in front of you. The waves of the powerful Pacific smash down on the sand and send bits of broken shell, crustacean skeletons and pebbles scattering. You wonder how far the great white sharks are from the shore, trolling the chilly water for prey. You contemplate the immensity and oneness of ocean. I stared over the gray waters for hours, knowing it was the same Pacific that had tickled my skin in the tropics, trying to reconcile the two ideas of the same ocean and always falling short.

The rocks jut out along the cliffs and the waves boom deeply against them. But the closer you look into the tiny cracks of the enormous rocks, the more you see the life that teems along the cold coast. Deep orange and magenta starfish creep along the bottoms of tide pools. Marine crabs launch themselves from rock to rock, clinging as the waves crash over them and resuming their course when it recedes. Dark purple, spiked urchins and soft, flowing anemones share the pools with tiny fish that dart around their little homes. Rich, green kelp lies abandoned by the tide and draped over the rocks. And it’s all temporary. It will all change again with the tide. The great waters of the Pacific will rush in, flood the pools and make them unrecognizable until the tide flows back out in its cycle, a slave to the moon’s pull.

Even when you’re not on the beach, you can hear the ocean through the tops of ancient trees. Some of the tallest, oldest trees on the planet are on the Lost Coast deep in the redwood forest. You can hear the trees breathing, the wind rustling through the branches hundreds of feet above you. You feel as if you’re under a spell, standing amongst living things that actually existed when our ancestors were muddling around in the dark ages. The Indian tribes that used to inhabit the lands around old growth forests had strict rules as to how long one could spend deep inside. It was said that spending too long in the forest really did produce a spell-like response and some people never returned.

The power and magnitude of nature reverberated in every corner, from the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, over the Cascade Mountains and through the silent giants in the redwood forests. You feel your own insignificance, your powerlessness in the face of such forces and products of nature. But you also feel the interconnectedness, and a sense that you are human, a part of this world, and still belong to it. You feel humbled and inspired, and moved almost to tears when you walk along the creaking hallways of old seaside restaurants, looking at the pictures from a hundred years ago of men with axes posing proudly by the imposing giants they felled, grateful for what’s left and what’s growing back. A strange mix of human emotions floods through you, regret for the loss of beauty that you had no control over and hope for our species and our future.

About the Author: Jillian Bright is an avid adventurer, solo traveler and writer from Northern California who lives the see the beauty in this world and write about it.

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