Todays Walk: Birds of Sunset Cliffs

“Birds know themselves not to be at the center of anything, but at the margins of everything. The end of the map. We only live where someone’s horizon sweeps someone else’s. We are only noticed on the edge of things; but on the edge of things, we notice much.”

― Gregory MaguireOut of Oz

The birds of Sunset Cliffs live on the edge. For so long I walked along, barely registering them except to restrain my once young dog from chasing them over the rocks into the ocean.

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Now that I’m on my own, they have moved from the periphery of my vision to the center. I look for the pigeons clustering along ledges in the cliffs. I watch for the flash white as gulls arc against the morning sky or see how close they will allow me to come before they leap off the edge of the rocks and dive to the water below.

The cormorants clustered on their own, proprietary rock just off shore,  sent me to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn why they were lifting their wings like Dracula preparing to swoop. Turns out, their feathers do not shed water. They are simply hanging themselves out to dry.

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I’ve begun to notice that the gulls are the early risers although very few of them appear much before  six o’clock in the morning. The pigeons emerge later, usually by 7 at one of the parking areas where a man brings bread. By mid morning, on a sunny day, all are resting on the ground along the cliffs, occupying spots reserved apparently, through some kind of avian negotiation, for their own kind.

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The pelicans command attention and resist my efforts to capture them on film while in flight. Many times, I stop walking and look up as a squadron passes overhead, chins tucked, wings barely moving, communicating so closely with the wind and each other that the rest of us are irrelevant. At rest, they are the guardians of the pier.

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Once I started paying attention, I started to see the precariousness of their lives. I’ve seen three gulls with one leg. I’ve seen young pigeons lose crumbs of bread to bigger, fatter, more experienced birds. I’ve watched winter storms drench the cliffs, roil the waves, toss the littler ones around like confetti and I’ve seen day after winter day how the gulls and the pelicans stare at the white caps of a winter ocean waiting for it to calm enough to fish.

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But I’ve also seen this: a pigeon couple courting and then coupling in the middle of long afternoon of blue sky and sun, seizing the moment and then turning as one to face the ocean and the sky and whatever the future holds.

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Today’s Walk: Morning Dilemma

“…I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” 
― E.B. White

Yesterday, before the mists rolled in, I rose and took my walk early. I didn’t want to stop. But I did. These moments nourished me for for the rest of the day and into today, as I sit watching the rain drip outside the window. I’m sharing a few hoping they do the same for you.

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The Edge of the World

 “Home is everything you can walk to.” 

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On February 7 I sat down for the tenth time to write a blog post about my walks. I consulted my photos. I consulted my notes. Then I consulted the tally I’ve been keeping (or trying to) and found that another two or three miles would put me at nearly 16 miles for the week, a first for me and exactly the number I need to average in order to make my goal of 800 miles by the end of this year.

Through my window, I saw the sky had already softened. The marine layer crouched on the horizon ready to enfold the sun as it sank into the Pacific.

My hands slipped from my keyboard. I got up and walked down to the edge of the world.

This is how I’ve come to think of the cliffs that run along the ocean a few blocks from my house. When I started out last month, my feet took me there without asking. It is the place I first walked after moving here nearly fourteen years ago before the boxes and furniture had even arrived from New Jersey.

I recall the moment I turned left at the bottom of the hill and almost forgot to breathe in the middle of all that blue above me and at my feet. I braced against the joy that stole over me, the way I used to when I was on vacation and had to remind myself that I’d soon be going home.

Then it hit me. I was home.

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I don’t know how many times I’ve walked along the cliffs since then. There were the times when we had two terriers who lunged after the seagulls instead of the single, elderly girl who doesn’t often make it down the hill. There were the times when people came to visit and we would all troop down at sunset to watch the show. There were too many times when I decided that I’d seen all there was to see there, and just kept my head down and thoughts to myself as I headed out the door on an errand.

When I set out on my inaugural walk of the year and for this project, I believed I was starting with the familiar cliffs just because they were close and easy. Then I learned they are not familiar at all; they are shape shifters, sirens. The world of the cliffs alters with the light, the tides, the surges of people who visit with their dogs, their surfboards, their car stereos. The surges of storms that start somewhere near Hawaii.

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As I walk along them, edging closer and closer to the chapped lip of sandy path high above the water, I see for myself how fragile the cliffs are. They slope and crumble towards the water that swirls below. They make no promises to those of us who are traveling along the path, or the barefooted surfers who run past the warning signs and down the sides like amphibious goats, or even those who simply come to park and look. There are deaths here every year. People tumble off. Surfers who are not from around here find themselves trapped in an unpredictable winter ocean, unable to ascend the cliffs.

Still, they are holding me these days as I make my way along them and into the rest of Sunset Cliffs National Park. They also hold surprises. Here are a few they offered me: an art installation, a bride and a groom, a piano concert on a late Sunday afternoon.

Before I do, though, here’s an update on my trekking. In January: 47 miles. February: 16 (so far). I have a few thoughts about the counting and the measuring not to mention the shifting landscape in my body and my mind which I hope to touch on soon. The problem is, the more I walk, the more I want to walk. As I type these words, I’m stealing glances out the window. My feet are squirming in the slippers I wear around the house. Maybe this is the enthusiasm of a newbie. Maybe it will wear off. Guess I’ll find out.

It’s time to get out there.

Art on the Edge of the World

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Love at the Edge of the World

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A Man, His Piano and His Dog: Beautiful Music at the Edge of the World

Late in the Day at the Edge of the World

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