By Ann Metlay
In pre dawn’s black, before night fades, relinquishing its starry hold on the sky, an alarm rudely jolts the darkness. Like stealthy spirits, my father and I arise, wordlessly. We awaken no one else as we pull on layers of warm clothing. My father, silent as the night skies, rolls the car down the driveway before he cracks the ignition.
Early morning grays the horizon, and stars succumb to daybreak’s brightening. We drive across the gray bridge that spans the bay. In total silence we climb over the shoulder of Mount Tamalpais; the fragrance of a redwood forest weaves through the moist air. A sharp left turn begins the downward descent of hairpin curves. The illumination of our headlights fights dense fog.
My father’s shoulder muscles loosen their grip across his chest as we first hear the rhythmic crash of waves. My initial anxiety over spending this special time with my often taciturn father dissipates in the ocean’s damp coolness. Gravel splatters under our wheels. We park at a break in the coastline’s boulders, follow the path between them, stretching downward to the craggy beach.
The sky pinkens. Foamy waves break a quarter of a mile out beyond the rocky shore. This super-low tide, my father’s mission, the lowest tide of the summer, has uncovered the magic of the ocean’s intertidal floor. We breathe in the enchantment of salt.
Between the shoreline and the rumbling breakers, a myriad of tidepools await us. We check to be sure our sneakers are tightly tied before we begin to jump from rock to rock toward the waves.
Now and then we stoop to scrutinize a tiny sea star lying beneath our feet. Minuscule fish hide under a rocky ridge. Miniature crabs scuttle sideways across the shallow bottom, searching out a breakfast of sea star. Sea anemones’ tentacles, like brightly colored petals, dance, keeping time to the music of the surf. In one pool my father points to a bright red octopus, small as a tear. On the damp rocks he kicks at a chiton, its plates of armor almost camouflaged by the steely gray boulder it grasps. In his beloved tidepools, my father introduces me to his magical world.
We share our beach with noisy seals. They bark to one another as they, too, comb the tidepools for breakfast. Gulls sweep overhead, their cacophonous shrieks scolding us for trespassing in their dining room.
Through mist, the sun rises behind us. Silently, a cottony fog settles into rocky crevices. We are wrapped in a comfortable, cool dampness. I brush my hand across my father’s and let the tidepools speak the words my tongue had seemingly lost.
Eventually the ocean begins to reclaim its rocks. The rising tide dumps rivers into once tiny seas, enclosing the chitons that cling to its reef. Spray salts our jackets as we clamber back across the rocks.
We rewind the curves, sniff the redwood fragrance, shake with the rumbles on the bridge. We enter the azure sparkle of sky, lying beyond the curtained shoreline. We do not speak. The crash of breakers, the bark of seals, and the scolding of gulls resound as shared memory. Our car crunches over the speckled blacktop in the driveway. Without speaking, we walk towards our house. The rumbles from our awakening family tumble toward us. Their noisy greetings feel almost rude as they break into the quiet my father and I have shared for the past several hours. I realize our memory of past strife has faded, as if covered by the morning’s silent fog.