The Wild Atlantic Way, Part I

Early in the morning on day five I left my AirBnB to drive north through the Gap of Dunloe. “You’ll see the view if you go that way,” my host had advised. She was right. Winding roads led up and down through the hills in what seemed a haphazard fashion. The way the road rose to a peak in the center had me guessing that a ‘gap’ in Ireland is equivalent to a ‘pass’ in America. The beauty found in every direction was well worth the hairpin turns I endured, and the occasional hiker or horse-drawn carriage made the drive even more interesting.

I arrived at Killarney National Park sometime around ten o’clock then spent the next five or so hours walking down long wooded pathways. On either side of me, a forest of trees surrounded by rolling knolls covered in alternating carpets of springy moss and bright green ferns spread out as far as my eye could see.

As I crossed a sturdy stone bridge, I came upon a small café. The usual hot tea and coffee were served along with baked goods, ice cream, and a few sandwich choices. It had not begun to rain in earnest yet, and the outdoor seating was full, so I opted to eat my granola bar while strolling along the banks of a nearby stream. Early on, the paths through the park were pretty well deserted, but as I neared Torc Falls, I found myself hard-pressed to get a shot of the landscape without a tourist blocking the way. The Falls themselves were less than spectacular, but I was glad I had gone the extra mile to see them.

(Clicking on individual photos will enlarge them.)

Late in the day, I wandered into an adjacent nature preserve. There I came upon a large buck, grazing. I was not game to get too close and had to settle for this blurry shot. Later I learned that these animals are practically tame.

I passed by Muckross house on my way out but was too weary to spend much time in the spectacular gardens surrounding it. I was sorry I had missed my chance to walk amongst the colorful roses, in particular, but the garden was very crowded, and I no longer had the energy to photograph anything of consequence.

Moll’s Gap took me back to Kenmare where I shared a high-top table with a pair of newlyweds from Philadelphia. Funnily enough, the young American groom’s name was Hamish. Over drinks and potato & leek soup, we listened to a lone Irish singer in the crowded Wander Inn. Turns out that one family owns all of the eating establishments in Kenmare (or so I was told). I never found tastier food anywhere.

Day six dawned sunny and cool, perfect weather for my trip around the Ring of Kerry. Richie, my AirBnB host, urged me not to backtrack into town, but I was determined to see the Kenmare Stone Circle. Unable to fully explain my desire to visit the ancient site (even to myself), I simply nodded, leaving him none-the-wiser to my silent rebellion against the sound advice.

As I had hoped, the circle and its surrounds were deserted and a palpable hush hung over the sacred grounds. I avoided crossing into the middle of the ring and instead stepped slowly, even softly, around the perimeter. I felt an odd affinity for the place, as if I had been there before. Could it be possible that an earlier version of me lay buried beneath one of the stones? A chill went up my spine as I stood there in the stillness. My first week in Ireland had taught me that anything was possible.

Two wishing trees stood at one end of the circle, their limbs filled with pieces of paper tied on with colorful string. Many of the prayers, wishes, and even confessions were illegible due to inclement weather and time. I took a moment to breathe in the stillness before finally heading back to my car. The stop made for a peaceful beginning to what would become the most harrowing day of my journey.

Next up, Part II, coming soon:

The Ring of Kerry, Dingle, and Ballaghbeama Gap

Focusing for a Change

It’s moving week. Today I am supposed to be painting my bedroom, but am distracted by the beauty I captured on my phone yesterday. Before I pick up any brushes, I feel the need to paint with some words.

As most of you know, I left behind a long-standing marriage in the summer of 2015. For the next couple of years I worked in a contract position as I went through the process of a divorce. When my 2-year contract ended, I had to make a decision. I could either find another office job (the prospect literally sent me to bed ill for a day or so) or take some real time off to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I found out about the contract end date in August – right in the midst of purchasing a home in which to run an AirBnB. Several circumstances besides the job loss turned me away from that plan, and on September 16 I moved in with my daughter and son-in-law, homeless, jobless, and wondering where all of this was going.

Some of you probably remember the backyard neighbor I had when I lived in TN. The funny blog I wrote several years back can catch you up to speed if you are unfamiliar with the saga, but in case you don’t have the time, let’s just say that he and I didn’t have the same standards in the areas of neighborhood beautification or peace & quiet. Two years after leaving TN behind, I looked out of my bedroom window and saw this:

Talk about contrast launching a million rockets of desire!

In fact, this yard is so much worse than anything I ever saw at Tony’s that I almost feel bad comparing the two. Almost… By the way, my bedroom is the only room in my daughter’s rental home with this view. Go figure.

A couple of months after moving in, I was on the phone gazing out at the madness next door, when I received an inspiration. I wrote about it here, so I won’t rehash it, I’ll just show you the photo of my solution.

One of my friends calls it my stained glass window.

When my son-in-law saw it, he walked up to my daughter and said, “I can see Ireland from your mom’s bedroom!” 🙂 With the view blocked, I forgot about the neighbor’s yard … mostly. Occasionally, I would raise the window up just to see if anything had changed. Nope. But my life has changed drastically in the past year.

In January of 2018, this was my view for about 10 days:

Sunset over Labelle, FL

Sometime in early spring, I revamped my website, and with my son’s help, developed this logo.

In May I self-published my first novel.

In September my dream of visiting Ireland came true.

And yesterday I took these from the kitchen doorway (also the view from my bedroom) in the new home that my son-in-law purchased this week:

Some would say that I have successfully manifested my dreams into reality, but it feels more like I relaxed, found a way to focus on the things that bring me joy, and beautiful stuff just started happening. There’s a little quote on my vision board/window that I grabbed off of the Internet when I was going through my divorce. I believe it truly encapsulates what our first goal should be anytime we are looking to improve something within ourselves or our lives. It certainly has sustained me through many a tough day year:

quote, forget, and shit image

Image Source: https://weheartit.com/entry/48256589

When you are ready to see a completely new life unfold before your eyes, this is step one – forget the past. Step two – accept what is, without judgement or complaint. Yes, you may be unhappy with something or someone, like I was with my neighbor(s), but when things are out of your control, finding a way to focus on something else is the real key to freedom.

Finally, move on. We have to be willing to step into that new future even through uncertainty or fear. I had a moment when I purchased my ticket to Ireland. A moment of pure terror! For about an hour afterwards, I kept asking myself, “What have I done?” After all, I had been out of work for nine months with no job in sight (I wasn’t even applying for jobs!). Yet I had just purchased a ticket to another country where I would rent a car that had to be driven on the opposite side of the road, to spend eleven days exploring an unfamiliar place – completely alone. The fear subsided as I turned my focus on the amazing adventure about to come. Now that my trip is over, I am looking for the next incredible journey coming around the bend!

Today I feel sad that I have to remove my vision board from the window. Those photos have sustained me in so many ways. They reminded me of the life I want to live, the adventures I want to have, and the power that I can exercise over any obstacle. But once again I am moving on. Seasons come and go; flowing with them is crucial to growth, and growth is a vital part of life.

So much good has come from my willingness to refocus – not just my eyes but my heart and mind. Focus is about more than seeing clearly. It’s really about what we choose to look at in the first place. What are you focused upon today? Hopefully your gaze is fixed on your dreams, your goals, your vision for your best life. The Avett Brothers said it well – “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.” We have been given one life. I think we would all be amazed at what can happen when we really choose to live it.

Namaste,

~C

 

Finish the Prompt Tuesday (#3)

The Matticus Kingdom just keeps finding a gauntlet to throw. Here is the latest.

The Prompt:

Gently rubbing throbbing temples provided the illusion of relief without actually carrying through with the promise.  Another futile second and the hands dropped, defeated, and eyes flared open again.  Angry red lines coursed away from pools of deep blue that framed anguished black pupils.  Creases above eyebrows and worry lines appeared in the recently vacated spaces.

Neighbors cast furtive glances, some of concern, some of blame, and some of boredom, and they were all ignored.  There was no time or energy to deal with their intrigue, there was only pain.  Constant.  Intense.  It burrowed further in, disrupting the normal flow of tissues and synapses.  Eyes closed once more for balance but the bursts of light cascading in synchronized waves against eyelids required hands to go fumbling in search of something solid to cling to.

Balance restored, slowly.  Achingly slowly.  The throbbing headache remained.

Dark thoughts, twisted and writhing with mischief, found a way to surface when no others would or could: quick ways to end the suffering, names of those at fault for the current agony and how best to serve a fitting revenge, and the long road to recovery hidden in shadows and chains.  The abused heart lurched haltingly as it became wrapped in despair.  Knees grew weak.  Eyes, still hidden protectively behind their lids, rolled upwards.  Gravity did the rest and cooling air rushed passed falling limbs…

Now for my part:

Hours, or only an instant, passed by in a blur. Eyelids opened to the blue and white foam fast approaching. Time crystallized and stopped. Birds mid-flight, their wings stretched to full span, seemed frozen on the wind, like a stop-action photo. Trees stood still, holding their breath, while the waters of the fall below ceased their downward plunge, the roar deadened into deafening silence. It seemed to last an eternity, until the seconds began ticking again, first in slow succession like hours, then quickening their pace into minutes, then screaming past until – SNAP!

The taut bungee cord wrenched Dave’s body back up towards the old railway bridge. The pain was gone now, for the moment. He knew it would return once the rush was over. Adrenaline provided the only relief he could find these days for the pounding behind his eyeballs. He began to perceive the shouts of his fellow thrill-seekers, but he could truly hear the disapproving silence of the other onlookers.

Too far below to read the signs the disgruntled protestors still carried, he didn’t need to see them to know their message. The town had been in an uproar all winter over the decision to open the historic bridge to a local company intent on using it as a launch site for bungee jumpers. Dave was all for it – his now-empty savings account attested to his determination to find any way possible to rid himself of the relentless pain he now suffered.

Flinging his arms wide as if he planned to embrace the rocks before him, he let out a shout of delight as the cord released him downwards once more. This time there was no familiar SNAP of a rebound. Instead there was a tearing sound as the cord unraveled and broke into two ragged pieces.

Dave had time for one thought as he rushed towards the rocky waterfall below: “Well, at least the headaches will be over,” and he smiled in anticipation of that end.

Writing Prompt – Finish the Story Part III

Tuesday, July 22 in The Matticus Kingdom, the gauntlet was thrown. Challenge accepted.

Prompt and Part 1

Part 2

~  ~  ~

Part 3: Faerie

Silence hung over the Grove when Rhys arrived. A few more minutes until midnight, but he could hardly wait another second for the reunion he had never even dared hope for. So complete was the break between them, so final was the taking of Gwenlyann’s memories – or so he’d thought. Time was when only the wizard who had cast a spell of Unremembrance would be able to undo it, and that at great cost to the caster. How had Gwenlyann remembered him? Rhys felt overwhelmed, like he was trying to catch up to events he didn’t know how to interpret.

Without sound or ceremony, she appeared in the moonlight at the edge of the Grove. As she stepped into the relative darkness of the trees Rhys saw that her flaming red hair was covered by the hood of a deep purple cloak. He chuckled involuntarily, remembering how many times his wife had implored her not to wear purple. “Gwenlyann, why must you insist on your clothes clashing with your hair? Green or even blue would serve to accent your flames rather than mock them!” Her exasperation was wasted on a girl who proved to be the most charming rebel in all Eldoran.

Her smile seemed to banish the darkness around them, as well as his uncertainty regarding her feelings about the lengths her parents had gone to for her protection. Would she ever be able to forgive him for stealing her childhood from her? By all accounts she had found a way to regain the memories, but how?

Gwenlyann walked slowly towards him, mist swirling around the hem of her cloak. Rhys reached towards her, intending an embrace, when her face shifted. Emerald eyes turned black like coal … purple cloak melted into gray tatters in his hand.

“NOOOOO!” he shouted in despair. Almost too late he realized his mistake. As the gray strips wound their tendrils over his mouth, establishing their grip on wrists and ankles, he had just enough time to whisper the spell of winking, the one that would transport him out of the ever-tightening grasp of Faerie wrappings and into Oblivion. It would be many years before he could return and continue the search, but return he would. Now he knew for a certainty the Faerie had her. They had tipped their hand for once.

One thought occupied his mind before the spell shattered his soul into fragments, “I will find you, Gwenlyann. Hang on, Daddy loves you and I will come for you!” Like mist vanishing before the rising sun, the man Rhys winked out of existence.

~  ~  ~

Note: This is the final part of a prologue to a much longer story. Stay tuned for more installments to come.

Writing Prompt – Finish the Story Part II

Tuesday, July 22 in The Matticus Kingdom, the gauntlet was thrown. Challenge accepted. Here’s the prompt and Part 1.

~  ~  ~

Part 2: Remembrance

The hamlet where he found her lay no short distance from the sea. He wondered at that. Gwenlyann had always talked about one day sailing away on a ship bound for nowhere. During his own voyage back to Eldoran, he had half expected to hear tell of a green-eyed piratess wreaking fiery havoc up and down the coast. He had been disappointed to find that not one sailor had even heard of her name. Those dreams belonged to a former life, he supposed. Rhys had done his work too well and knew she wouldn’t remember them.

5 months after escaping the Faerie Storm he found her – a barmaid in the largest pub in the region. Quite a lovely and successful barmaid, he thought with a smile. The flaming red hair would have been enough to attract attention had Gwenlyann’s melodic voice not carried over the din. He listened unobtrusively for a moment to the animated conversation she was having with an unsuspecting patron and smiled a little wider. She may have lost her memories, but her uncanny ability to convince a man he desperately wanted what 1 minute ago he clearly had not remained intact.

The pub, known as Flynn’s, had seven years earlier gained popularity by hiring the best cook on five continents, though how a remote town like Brevis managed to procure such exotic ingredients as saffron or wild Asian boar tusks baffled its more metropolitan neighbors. Flynn’s also impressed as an Inn, boasting several immaculate rooms upstairs and not a few lovely escorts. As to Gwenlyann’s position, he doubted any visitor here had ever ventured to invite her into the bedchamber unless it had been her idea.

Before leaving the forest, Rhys had assumed a more inconspicuous guise. He easily wove the spell that would make him less memorable to anyone who didn’t know how to look. Still tall, his now short golden hair, looking more brown than blond, curled out at intervals from under a worn, black cap. The plain, green woolen trousers tucked into long, tan riding boots were mostly hidden beneath a brown hunting coat reaching the knees. There were extra spells wrapped ’round the sword which hung from a scabbard at his waist. No one in the inn not practiced at seeing – excepting maybe Gwenlyann – would be able to remember his face or his height, hair color, or the prominent nose beneath his shining blue eyes. Fewer still, upon looking straight at him with sword drawn, would even suspect that he carried a weapon.

Rhys leaned down so as to be heard by the nearest patron and shouted, “What’s the occasion, friend? Seems a lively crowd tonight.” The noise from the pub could be heard several blocks away.

The man Rhys had taken the liberty to address looked up with a scowl. “If y’ain’t heard the news ya must not be from ’round these parts! Brevis don’t welcome strangers, y’know.”

“Since when?” Rhys asked with an easy smile. “I heard tell that Brevis welcomes travelers of all races and boasts at least 3 different native tongues. In fact, the sailors living in Shorr assured me that Flynn’s was the most hospitable Inn in all of Eldoran!”

“Aye, and so it is! Who’s sayin’ otherwise, tell me?” He would have known her voice even had he not been intimately acquainted with those flashing emerald eyes.

“This man seems intent on keeping a stranger in the dark. I was just inquiring about the seeming celebration going on tonight.” he said, sweeping his hand over the crowd to indicate the source of his inquiry and smiling slyly at Gwenlyann. For a moment her eyes faltered and she flushed, for once unable to produce an adequate retort.

Recovering quickly, she moved over to him and asked if there was something in particular he wanted from the kitchen. “We have a newly opened aged port which might satisfy even a world-traveler like you,” she said invitingly, though the charm was lost on him.

Before Rhys could whisper the spell that would set her free from unremembrance, Gwenlyann moved to intercept a waiter carrying trays laden with steaming bowls of spice soup, freshly-cut cheese, a plate piled high with fresh melon, and another filled with hot yeast rolls.

“Glin, find this man a table and be quick about it” she said sharply, but her lovely grin and kind eyes worked better than any magic spell she could ever hope to employ to bring compliance to her every request. In the midst of these observations Rhys felt a strange sensation come over him. Suddenly he heard Gwenlyann’s voice speak directly into his mind, “What took you so long? I’ve been looking to your coming for weeks.” Too shocked to respond, Rhys just stared at her wide-eyed, comprehension beginning to dawn. He realized in a rush why he had been hearing her voice in his dreams these past 3 months, and why he had felt such urgency to get here, to find her.

“You remember … ?” he breathed. The sharp look she gave him instantly recalled him to his surroundings. Now was not the time nor place for a reunion. Too many spies might be lurking in such a crowded room.

“Meet me tonight in the Grove. You know the one,” she spoke into his mind again. The men surrounding them heard her listing menu items and offering them more ale. He recalled a stand of trees about a mile south of the Inn. He had passed through it just today on his way into town. “Midnight” her voice echoed and was she was gone, disappeared into a crowd of happy patrons, the charming barmaid once more.

 

 

Writing Prompt – Finish the Story Part I

Today in The Matticus Kingdom, the gauntlet was thrown. Challenge accepted.

~  ~  ~

The Prompt:

The night howled, sucked at the windows, and rattled fences.  Trees, arched with the onslaught, whipped and branches reached out for anything to unleash their frustration and torment on.  The wind pushed against everything, a bully on a rampage, the world its victim.

The cloud shrouded darkness ate away at the edges of the dim pools of light cast by the street lamps.  The polka dot glows shimmered in the swaying black.  They seemed resigned to their fate, destined to be swallowed and complete the end of all things, but too stubborn to wink out quickly.  Fading, little by little, the long hours of the night stretched thin.

A single door on the block creaked open, straining against the arms of the storm, and then banged shut.  The hunched man winced in anticipation of the sound even though the echoes of the escape were lost below the fury of the wind.  His strained eyes swept the scoured landscape and saw nothing but the traces of lights ominously urging him forward.

The way is here.

It is not safe.

Follow the dancing lights.

If you dare…

And now for my part:

Part 1: Change Winds

At least the rain has stopped, Holden thought. The cloud cover made the darkness complete beyond the reach of the street’s dim lanterns. Holden’s imagination began to run wild into the shadowy depths around him. Fighting the wind and fears his own memories incited, he tried to get his bearings. He knew better than to stand still very long on a night like this. He also knew never to follow the winking lights.

He had been a young, arrogant fool the first time he had weathered a Faerie Storm. Laughing at the doom-laden tales warning against the lights, he had followed them into the chaotic mist. His folly had cost him more than his freedom. Time had ceased to exist through long years of agony at the Faerie’s hands. Holden was no longer young, nor was he particularly brave. He certainly wasn’t foolish. He was too smart to be easily caught again. Escaping his cage had been a long, difficult process, and he chafed at the decade lost in hiding, unable to protect his daughter or avenge his long-dead wife. But this storm sparked something buried deep inside him: a hunger for his old life had awakened. Aodhan help them, he would have his revenge!

A flash of lightning showed him the right path to take – away from the bobbing balls of fire strung out before him in the direction of swirling mists. He carefully turned, and as he began creeping soundlessly through the shadows around his hovel, he took the time to dismiss the spell protecting him these last 10 years. He could only hope the rest of the villagers believed he had ventured out and been lost to the storm’s rage.

Rhys stepped into the forest standing tall once more. His long, flaxen hair billowed behind him, seemingly against the winds. No one would recognize him as the stooped, old man the villagers knew as Holden. It had been so long since he had walked in his own skin, he forgot how good it felt to stand upright. As he strode through ancient trees, he worked the kinks out of his neck and questions began forming in his mind.

In the relative safety of Aldain’s canopy he could think freely, without fear, about what the storm’s coming could mean. Had he been betrayed? But who was left who knew him for what he was? Had someone in the village discovered his true identity? No, he had been there too long and was too careful for that. What then? There was only one who could answer that question, but how was he to find her? What would happen to her if he did? Part of her protection had been the severing of every tie between them – right down to her last memory of her former life. Despite years of separation, memories of her still filled him. If Aodhan willed it, she was now strong enough to weather any storm his coming to her might bring.

Muted rays of the rising sun began to stream through the trunks surrounding him as he outdistanced the Faerie winds. He could still barely hear the slam of shutters in the distance as the storm assaulting his former home continued unabated. He felt a pang of sorrow for the villagers he had abandoned to the Faerie lights. Perhaps they would remember his warnings and stay inside until it was over. Most of them thought that Faeries were the superstitious imaginings of the young or ignorant. Poor fools. Well, he had done what he could to bring truth to that one small corner of the Land – in nothing more than vague innuendo, of course. He had never ventured to risk exposing himself. Now exposure became inevitable.

The morning wore on and his stomach started to growl. He would need food and water soon. Turning Eastward, he decided to make for Bryndale. There were still a handful of outposts along the way where provisions could be found, and perhaps even a little news from the wider world might be gleaned. He realized with chagrin that he had spent too long in hiding. Aodhan forgive him; hopefully he was not too late!

Kidnapped!

Welcome to Friday Fictioneers, the place where Rochelle Wisoff-Fields hosts weekly flash fiction based on a photo prompt. The challenge is to write a complete story in approx. 100 words. The link for other entries is below. Come join us!

Copyright – Douglas M. MacIlroy

100 words:

The odd things at Bernie’s grandmother’s house fascinated Joey. It surprised him how well the old helmet fit. “Does he have it on?” Joey barely heard the question through the thick metal. Turning around he jumped back. Standing in the doorway were Bernie and Mona in spacesuits!

Joey fumbled with the helmet, trying to take it off. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said Mona pointing at the window. Looking through the glass, he saw the houses around them falling away. “You’d best get this on,” she said, holding out a suit. Bernie smiled as Joey began screaming.

 

 

 

 

Nightmare on the Pacific

I’ve wanted to write this story down for many years now. My Senior year of High School I used it as an ‘improv’ audition for a part in my high school’s production of “David and Lisa: A Play in Two Acts”. My retelling (complete with an animated reenactment) of the following true story earned me the only lead role I’ve ever had.

The year was 1981, and while I had traveled alone before, it was not a common occurrence. About 18 months earlier I had made my first unaccompanied trip: A 6-hour bus ride to visit my sister in the middle of nowhere, West VA. That’s when I learned that a 15-yr. old should not be allowed to see “The Shining” (on the big screen, no less) prior to sleeping in a house 3 miles from civilization. An inability to see the hand in front of one’s face combined with the kind of terror only Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall can inspire … well, you can imagine, yes?

Shelley Duvall in Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining'.
Shelley Duvall in The Shining

I suppose the scariness of my first trip should have warned me off ever traveling alone again. Alas, teenager = notoriously slow on the uptake.

So, at 17 I made the trek (by plane this time) from East Coast to West for one last adventure before my final year of High School. I would again be visiting family (Aunt, Uncle, & cousins), and I looked forward to seeing what life was like in the State famous for balmy weather, horrendous traffic, and movie stars. Little did I know that this trip (along with a few other things I’ve picked up on in the 30-years since) would inspire in me a disparaging an affectionate mantra for my West Coast brothers and sisters: ‘Everyone in California is crazy!’

I have always been a ‘beach girl’, you know, the way some people are mountain folk? Well, that’s me, only at the beach. Even now, if I could, I would build myself a house on a sand dune and spend the rest of my days watching the tide roll in and out.

Every summer as a child my family spent a week or more at the beach pictured here:

I would not build my house on Virginia Beach. It is seriously this packed. All.Summer.Long. Seriously.

The entirety of the main strip of Virginia Beach is jammed with condos, hotels, dance clubs, beer joints, sandwich shops, and retail stores. As a child, I remember a carnival of sorts adding to the magic of our vacation by offering rides, cotton candy, a fun house, and salt-water taffy.

The California Coast I visited was quite different from the Virginia Coast I knew and loved.

That August day, 1981 was pretty hot as Coastal California goes. My Aunt drove me about a mile from her house and we agreed she would pick me up at 3:00 p.m., giving me roughly 4+ hours on the beach – plenty of time to get burnt to a crisp enjoy the sand and surf.

Arriving at the spot my Aunt had chosen – ALONE, mind you – I stood atop a cliff overlooking a virtual wilderness stretching out to meet the dark blue waters of the Pacific. The hike down the rock stairway from the road was a bit daunting, but I soldiered on. Bravely waving good-bye to my Aunt, I settled my towel on a patch of sand and began my Pacific Coast Adventure.

Capistrano Beach, California. Besides the lifeguard in the stand, there were maybe 20 people scattered around me in various directions.

The hot day and the fact that I’ve never enjoyed baking in the sun lying out, meant it wasn’t long before I wanted to get in the water. I stumbled across the blazing sands, anxious for a dip.

Several things in succession took me by surprise. First, the water was freezing. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating (I’m mostly not exaggerating). Next, hidden by the dark, frigid waters, I found myself trapped on a broad swath of sharp, pointy rocks like glass which dug into my bare but sensitive feet! What happened to the sand? Gone. I knew this by the fact that my feet were now bleeding*. (My feet might have been bleeding … I was not certain since the water had turned my legs from the knees down into solid blocks of ice.) I hobbled forward, hoping the sand would miraculously reappear. Instead, I found another cliff, this one sans stair.

Totally focused on the pain in my feet, I stepped off the edge into nothingness and was suddenly, without ceremony, in over my head.

Too bad they didn’t have a sign like this. Of course, to be accurate, it would have to show the sharp, pointy rocks just before the drop-off. Little drops of blood coming off the stick-man’s feet would have been helpful too.

Forced now to tread water or drown, I managed to struggle up for a breath. I splashed around for a while hoping not to attract any Great Whites (Jaws had taught me never to trust an ocean filled with monsters … wait, isn’t every ocean filled with monsters?). Scanning the coastline, I realized that in a few short minutes I had been swept down probably 1/4-1/2 mile from the spot where I had left my towel. I could barely see the lone lifeguard stand in the distance.

So began my journey to get out of the water. This sounds simple, but no. I had unwittingly discovered the Twilight Zone Bermuda Triangle of the West Coast. Apparently exiting the Pacific Ocean is California’s equivalent of a Herculean feat. Here were the tasks before me:

  1. Swim back up the coast – against the current – to get fairly even with my towel. I thought I had experienced strong currents before, but the East Coast cannot hold a candle to the Pacific currents’ mad skills.
  2. Defeat the rip tide undertow which barred my way back to the underwater cliff edge. (I’m pretty sure I fought it for at least 20 minutes before making any headway whatsoever.)
  3. Cross the sharp, pointy rock-bed before bleeding* out.
  4. Stumble across blistering sands to find my towel and collapse. (Pain from sharp, pointy rocks + blistering sands = insult + injury.)

All these I managed to accomplish before falling, exhausted, on my towel, instantly asleep. Upon waking, I decided I had had enough of the dangerous (who knew?) Capistrano Beach. Not knowing how long I had slept, I approached the lifeguard stand and asked what time it was. Even though I was talking to (clearly) a fellow American, I had to repeat the question several times before he seemed to understand me. A little past 1:30 was the answer in the end. I then had the brilliant idiotic idea that I could walk back to my Aunt’s house, saving her the trouble of picking me up.

First, the cliff stairway to the road. Hm, now which way? I did not remember coming down a hill to the drop-off spot, so I turned right and started walking along the highway. I found myself at a sort of 4-way intersection with a nice-looking neighborhood to my left. The only landmark I knew to look for was a K-Mart store near my Aunt’s home. I was fairly certain that if I could find the K-Mart, I could find my way to her house. I didn’t see the K-Mart sign anywhere.

Just as I decided to cross the street into the neighborhood, I saw a man coming towards me on a bike.

“Excuse me,” I said, in my not-quite-Southern Virginia drawl, “but can you tell me where the K-Mart is?”

The way he looked at me I could tell he had heard and understood my question. He then proceeded to put his head down and start peddling. Huh? That’s weird, I thought. Shrugging,  I entered the nice neighborhood and found myself in a typical seaside subdivision complete with palm trees and balconies overlooking the ocean. Pretty houses with manicured lawns surrounded me on both sides.

The lovely streets of Capistrano Beach, California. You would never know that every house comes complete with at least one nut-case!

The first person I saw was a lady walking down her front sidewalk toward the street. Halfway to the mailbox her head turned in my direction, she kind of ‘started’ when she saw me, then did an about-face, and retreated back inside double-quick. Curiouser and Curiouser! (Alice, that one was for you.)

The next lady was across the street up the road a ways, watering her garden. I stopped in front of her house and asked for directions to the K-Mart (I stayed on the opposite side of the street so as not to scare her, since I apparently resembled a 17-yr. old, unarmed, female Jack the Ripper). The woman took one look at me, her eyes widened, and she literally (I wish I were making this up) dropped her hose and ran into the house, slamming the front door behind her.

I couldn’t help thinking, “Either these people are the most unsociable bunch on the planet or they’re just NUTS!”

I settled on nuts, wouldn’t you? This woman was obviously from California:

I can totally relate to that guy (not), but his bodily pain looks to me a lot like I felt.

Once I (sort of) overcame the shock of 3 people having blown off a lost stranger (really 4, if you count the not-so-helpful lifeguard), I decided a self-assessment was in order: Sandals, check. White shorts (which had dried by now), check. Blue button-down collared shirt with sleeves rolled up to 3/4 length (also dry), check. Granted, I could not see my hair, but my hands did not detect anything beyond the normal windswept mess which usually followed a swim in the ocean. Fashionable sunglasses completed my ensemble.

I continued walking uphill for probably another 45 minutes or so (it was a long street), and at the top, lo and behold, I could see in the distance the K-Mart sign!! By now I was exhausted from my battle with the sea, my feet were blistered (walking for miles in sandals will do that), and I was afraid my Aunt had already left to pick me up. I wouldn’t be at the designated pick-up spot, she would decide that I had met my end in Jaws’ jaws giving her a wonderfully icky story to tell at the next Capistrano Beach Garden Party.

“Shocking!” the listeners would reply. “Wait, wasn’t there a serial killer posing as a lost girl asking for directions in our neighborhood last week? Whew! Aren’t we lucky a shark got that one! Pass the cucumber sandwiches, please.”

Convincing the clerk at a nearby mini-mart to let me use the phone (and phone book) provided yet another exercise in How can I convince you I am a real human being in need who does not actually want to steal your phone or your phone book?! Sheesh! You’d think no one there had ever helped seen a stranger!

In case you are wondering, I did make it back to my Aunt’s house that day, despite having spent the afternoon walking out of my way in a 3-mile arc, no thanks to the peanut gallery of unhelpful Californians.

Still, I am grateful for my time in The Golden State. My experience has helped me understand why Californians continue to pass nutty legislation; I can now justify the odd behavior of so many of California’s public figures; and I gave up trying to figure out how Nancy Pelosi could hold a seat in the House of Representatives for 15 years running! It’s simple:

Everyone in California really is crazy!**

*No permanent foot damage was inflicted in the making of this story (and I seriously doubt there was any blood involved whatsoever).

**Excepting, of course, the friends and family I know there. Hope you guys got the humor in this and didn’t take offense! 😉

What about you? Have you ever gotten lost in a strange place and couldn’t find anyone to help you find your way? Was it a funny story or a scary one? How did you escape your predicament?

Flirting with Danger while Coming of Age

Daily Prompt: Use It or Lose It

by michelle w. on December 31, 2012
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July 9, 2005, a banner day in our family. What better way to celebrate my eldest daughter’s upcoming 16th Birthday than a Mother-Daughter hike up the Kolekole Pass? So, with lunch cooler and camera gear in hand, off we went. The day promised memorable adventures, but who would have thought when that clear Saturday dawned that we would have the adventure of a lifetime? Everything started out ordinarily enough…

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The hike wasn’t a difficult one, and as we began we walked with ease, chatting happily while admiring the scenery along the way. The wide trail soon narrowed, winding through trees, becoming root-strewn and steeper as we went. We could see blue skies through the needle-laden limbs of the little pine forest we passed. The landscape surprised us by opening suddenly into a wide, grassy clearing where we decided to rest and eat our lunch.

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Filled to the full with food, water, and the beauty of our surroundings, we continued our hike. We had the trail to ourselves as we forged ahead. Slowly the path became steeper and rockier until we had to use the tree roots for secure footing. Ahead I spied the steepest incline yet and above it a rope that resembled a hand-rail. Below us were innumerable trees descending a treacherous slope.

The rope ran horizontally between two of the smaller trees. Leaves obscured the path ahead, but we doggedly pressed on. One of the things I adore most about my eldest daughter is her unflagging cheerfulness. Quick to laugh, she never seems to be without a smile. She also possesses the grace of a ballet dancer, clearly seen in the way she skipped across the rope-bordered path. Supported by the tree on the other end, she waited for me to take my turn across. 

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After about 3 steps I knew I was in trouble. The ground was literally slipping away beneath me! Knowing instinctively that my only hope was to lower my center of gravity, I quickly sat down to stop the downward slide my feet were taking. Trapped in the middle of the path, unable to go either forward or back (any small movement started the landslide all over again), I had a flash of memory.

Stationed in Hawaii the summer of 2003, I never thought I could love a place as much as I did the balmy island we then called home. I knew it was a temporary (3-yr.) duty station, and we had recently learned the Army would take us from there 6 months earlier than expected. At that time, I had been saying, “I could be buried here” simply meaning I’d love nothing more than to spend the rest of my life on this island paradise. But that day, celebrating 16 years with my daughter, struggling to hang onto a melting path, looking over a precipice I knew I’d never survive, I laughingly prayed, “This isn’t what I meant, Lord.”

Survival mode kicked in. Putting the camera bag on the ground beside me to provide even more stability, I instructed my daughter to sit down next to the rope and follow me back to the other side (I still wonder how she had managed to skip across the nonexistent path in the first place). She obediently complied and very slowly we inched our way to the first tree, breathing a sigh of relief when we finally had firm ground to stand on. The time spent on that path felt like hours, but, while likely only moments, it is still firmly etched in my memory some 7 years later.

Looking at my daughter, alive and well, I apologized for celebrating her Birthday by almost bringing about her death. The climb back down was uneventful except for the laughter that accompanied our banter. We were very happy to be alive and unharmed from our recent ordeal. Back home we smiled as we told the story animatedly, but the truth is I thought we’d never come back from that one! In spite of the dangerous circumstances we were in, we will always be able to say we remember well how we celebrated my daughter’s coming of age.