It was my last night for a long walk along the shoreline before I was scheduled to leave my retreat in Santa Barbara. It had been such a restful and inspiring week; I was deeply conscious of already feeling longing for a place I hadn’t even left yet.
I’d been walking 6+ miles pretty much every day, including twice up and down the steps down the cliff to the sea just to get my blood pumping. This last day I lingered a bit on the beach, shooting a seaweed monster created by the tide, watching kids play, finding particularly smooth rocks to go alongside the other particularly smooth rocks I don’t seem to be able to resist.
Back at the marina, I noticed for the first time that you can actually walk out along the sea wall that protects the boats. I joined the dozens of tourists heading out along that wall, winding around and through them as I tried to keep up my walking pace.
At the end of that sea wall, over a wall made of boulders, is a sandbar. And on the other side of that sandbar is a trawler I’d been hoping to shoot – a place where pelicans gather as densely as the tourists along the sea wall.
While the walkway had been thick with tourists, virtually no one was out on the sandbar. A lone guy with his dog. A few kids. Two women so engrossed in their conversation they didn’t notice the egrets flocking to eat at sunset, the boat-full-of-pelicans, the lone guy fishing. If there were 10 of us on that sandbar, it was a lot.
It was hard to resist stopping every few feet to shoot the egrets supping in the tide, but I kept going, heading towards that trawler full of birds as the sun made its way to the horizon. I was almost there, just passing the only fisherman along all those rocks, when he called out to me.
“Miss! Miss, look! If you climb up here, just on the other side of the rocks between you and me, there is a baby seal sleeping.”
Birds and boats and setting sun immediately lost their priority. The promise of a sleeping baby seal is not something one disregards! I clamored over that first row of boulders, and oh my oh my oh my, this is what I saw.
I couldn’t contain the “awwwww” we humans emit when faced with ultimate cuteness. Seeing my reaction, the fisherman’s face lit up. “I saw you with the camera, and I knew you would want to see this.” I realize what he really wanted was someone to share that moment with. Who could blame him!?!
It was impossible to get a good angle without fearing I’d go butt first into the ocean. And I so wanted to touch him (or her?) – so soft, sleeping there.
On my way back, my fishing friend motioned to me again. “Come look – he’s heading down to the water!” We two humans watched like new parents as the little one made his/her way down those rocks.
And then, in the final moment before splashing into the sea, baby stopped and looked up at his fellow fisherman. This time the “awww” and “oh my God!” was coming not from me, but from a man who was connecting with nature in a way few of us get to experience. And as quickly as that, baby slid into the sea.
The whole walk home, all I kept thinking was that old expression about going out on a limb because that’s where the fruit is. I realized in that moment that serendipity is not simply happenstance. We have to venture out if we want to encounter not just a pleasant surprise, but really, anything at all.
And so it was that on the last night of retreat before heading into the intensity of this sabbatical’s writing schedule, a man and a baby seal gave me the encouragement to go for it. To head out onto the sandbar where virtually no one is exploring. To pay attention, to be open to invitation.
Because that’s where the fruit is.
Please invite others along on this journey of discovery and exploration of the creative process. Just click on the “share” links below. Thanks!