Wilder Cliffs

The ocean has a tremendous ability to make us feel better. I would be lying if I said I know what it is, but I almost always feel my mood improve when I spend time by the sea. The vast wilderness of water even in its immensity feels personal and intimate. It is as though this whole unfathomable ocean is speaking directly to me.

Feeling better is just a side effect, though. It’s not why I go to the ocean. If I need to adjust my mood, I use writing and exercise. Those two practices never fail me. I can write or run my way out of any rut. That’s not why I go to the coastline.

I go there to study the landscape and to track the light. It’s a relationship and putting in the miles is how I keep my end of the bargain. I walk alone along the cliffs to read the crags and to hear the wind. Springtime brings an afternoon gale to Santa Cruz, and it has an unrelenting message: the sea is primal. The storms are finished for the year, but the energy is still there. The winds blow away bad energy, smudging the hiker with salty new skin.

I started hiking north from Wilder Ranch parking lot around five. The plan was to reach 4 Mile for golden hour studying the trail and all went according to plan. As I approached the iconic tower of rock that designates the space the wind was blowing steadily, and I kept a steady footing as I approached the steep cliff’s edge. I decided that the light was perfect for a shot from the beach, so I headed to where you can make it down safely, towards the beach. The cliffs along this stretch are no joke and are not stable. Every year they take some unwitting explorers’ lives.

I made it down safely, though and came around the corner to the spot where I wanted to shoot. The ocean was whipped up by the wind hurling small but mighty waves at the beach and cliffs. Nobody was on the entire beach. I had seen a few novice surfers with soft tops trying to paddle into the wind swell who were clearly not from town. It was not good surf, but the wind doesn’t show in photographs.

I had this sense of amazing joy being there in that moment, knowing that it would only last for a few minutes and I would climb back up the cliff and start heading back to town. I also knew that I would be able to share this golden scene with others because of the magic of digital photography. We live in a special time with all the ancient joys and contemporary tools for sharing our experiences.

I made my photos and returned to my windy walk home.

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