Just being able to say I live on this mere sliver of land along the California Coast is a precious thing; so prized in my heart as the shine of silver. How fortunate for this native girl to attend college in the state of her birth, at the school connected to her religious spirit. Pepperdine. But, even more so, the Malibu campus. A miniature oasis of relished learning, forged creativity and bolstered adventure.
Simply put, I was an Education Major. Pure of focus and ambition, I had always known I wanted to be a teacher. But once having loosened the ties of family’s hearth and home in Southern Cal suburbia, I was ripe for untethered travel. Travel of mental state, as well as to locales new. Before going to university, the seedlings of exploration had already been sown by vast reading of books describing the worlds of famous writers, artists, politicians and scientists. I knew there was a wide inventoried planet out there- ready to be tapped and noted. Higher learning was to be my stepping stone, leading to great unknown. Would I teach abroad? Would I teach with missionaries? Would I tutor child actors in progress in film and television? Would I conquer a second language and live in a nation where it was spoken? Would I represent America in countries of my ancestry? All these choices lay before me, and really the only thing left to do was to take the baton, run the hurdles and head to the finish line.
But, not all escapades need to be so big. Indeed, some can be quite small, and their minuteness is what hones their specialness. When I think of my pristine temperament that first year, I fondly remember my young self totally unfettered from worry of any kind. I attribute this glorious liberty to my generous, kind upbringing. Having been raised to believe in the power of the positive, I truly had little sense of any negativity which could come around the hallways of experience. To me, each day was a bonus point to collect and partake.
On one particular occasion, I had the wherewithal to join a fellow classmate on an impromptu hike up in the hills hugging the perimeter of our school. All we needed to do was don our jeans, bring along a sweatshirt, wear sturdy shoes and carry an ambitious attitude. My companion was a classmate who was fast becoming a best friend. Even though he was a He, we had a platonic friendship, which was fueled by the love of conversation and appreciation of nature. He was invaluable because he had a long history of hiking, and mine was a spotty one, only having hiked now and then in the hills behind my hometown.
Seated in our school cafeteria, over the sharing of a hot fudge sundae, we decided to take a night hiking trip. Completely a spur of the moment event, we set out with one flashlight and sugar-fueled adrenalin leading us onto a quest of discovery. As we walked and chatted heading up the road behind the furthest dorms to where the stables were located, the moon was our beacon. Bright. Beautiful. Illuminating. A part of me wanted to go inside and pet the horses, but that would have started a stir, so no, that idea was abandoned. We looked up at the hill before us. I knew the rock soil was crumbly shale, and the landscape was comprised of a combination of soft wild-flowered tufts and thorny chaparral. I never even stopped to consider the night creatures who might have been at play, such as snakes, gophers, squirrels, rabbits, and likely mountain lions. I did however, concentrate on the possibility of birds of prey and bats lurking in crevices, under out-cropping and atop cliffs. My hiking buddy said he had found a look-out spot where he could see the ocean from up inside a cave.
With heightened interest we started out. Footsteps followed flashlight, and a sense of camaraderie was felt each time my scout looked over his shoulder to see I was there. For awhile we were subdued into silence. After all, we were entering another “living room”, uninvited. We took good care not to stamp down anything, and to track a trail that looked as if it had already been explored a few times. I took in the scents of nocturnal blooming flowers, and enveloping gossamer breeze. If heaven had kissed the earth at any time, this was one of those times.
Our perfectly executed upward trek ended up at a nearly vertical path. My trustworthy leader pocketed his flashlight, and we relied solely on moonbeam navigation. “Just up there, Juli, do you see it?”, he whispered. “There is a crawl space in the cliff, and you can sit inside and see outward. Ready?” I nodded us onward, and I felt an excitement beating in my chest which was welcomed by my inner child. I watched him grab certain boulders and brace his boots on specific rocks. I copied every detail. We commandeered upscale about twelve to fifteen feet, not that high really. Then, as I paused to catch my breath, I saw one of his knees hoist up into a dark mini hollow. I wondered if it would afford enough room for the two of us. Once he was in, he offered his hand and pulled me up inside. Good ole sneakers did just fine even in a mountain terrain, I thought…
Suddenly, I was swallowed inside a cavity of mystery and joy at the same time. It was the same feeling one has when greeting a stranger’s smile. Initial impact: Brazen, thrilling, wondrous, and mystifying. We were able to stand in a question mark shaped crouch, but decided to nestle into a comfy cross-legged niche on a fairly smooth floor. The entire space was no larger than six feet across, and four feet high. Looking what seemed westward to me, was an open window fashioned completely by Mother Nature. I remember the opening to be about a yard across and about 2 feet top to bottom. At first, it just looked black out there. My buddy had a canteen of water slung on his shoulder, and he offered me a sip of good fresh agua. A quiet, gentle wind siphoned in as a comforting presence. Still under the spell of an unfolding view, I failed to notice another natural, physical phenomenon. But, then, there I saw it! Up above my head in the ceiling of this little cave, was another opening. A skylight view beyond measure! I saw a spread of onyx glittered with teensy diamonds piercing the black. To this very hour, I recall my gasp and total surrender of soul to what my eyes beheld. It was one of the most formidable spiritual moments in my entire life. I felt close to our Maker as if he had planned it just for us, there in that hole in the earth, beneath his celestial lense and feeling his feather-like breath.
In tandem we sat mesmerized. I was aware of my silence and his. Our shoulders were touching, and it was the only physicality noticed. The rest was pure, mental, ethereal dance. If happiness could ever be truly defined, this was it. Immobile, yet fleeting magic. A treasured gem in time. One I call upon in my most somber of moments.
I know not how long we remained fixed in bliss, but that is not important. Eventually, we regained consciousness and I endeavored to see that ocean which had been my impetus for the hike in the first place. Our heads lowered to look out westward. Not too far beyond that window vista, the Pacific lay as proof we were still on this planet. I peered and peered, yet the first inkling came from my ears not my eyes. I heard a faint thunder of surf, followed by a flush of white wave on indigo. Yes! Ah… It’s there. Our Pacifica! Our resilient beauty. Our home of all things. There she was. A rich, bluish-ebony flowing into unraveling, scrolling white. The longer we listened the louder and more detectable the waves became. Every so often swirls of white manifest. It was dark as velvet, inside the cave itself. I felt safe enough to let a tiny fervent tear flow in echo to the descending curl of water. Imagine, my own teardrop may have once been borne from the salty sea! Was I a land-locked mermaid? Was I a star-traveler? Was I engulfed in angel-winged lift of thought? Was I home or in the midst of emprise?
Tuning in to the sea symphony of sound, we engaged in lengthy discussion profound…Oh, how youth relishes words dipped in concept! Such was a far better version of elation than any glass of wine could render. Our ideas sprung, tantalized, compromised, surmised and realized. We felt like Professors of Life. The clap of waves issued compliment, and other times pounded their gavel of judgement. To our amazement, the sky listened and twinkled in approval. We even spied a shooting star. An exclamation point? We liked to think so. Even the zephyrs breezed approbation. It was all very good…
Few true gifts are given in one’s lifetime. This was one of mine. What made it so special was that it was shared. My expert comrade long gone from the pages of my life’s book. I do hope he once in awhile sits in repose, remembering this tranquil evening episode of our youthful rendezvous in Malibu.