I never go barefoot anymore; my feet are too tender. It has been decades since my feet had that end-of-summer toughness from many long days of going barefooted everywhere. As a child I practically lived outside. My mother taught me names of birds, trees, and wildflowers; Dad gave me a deep appreciation for the land itself with its harvests of grasses and grains. I naturally loved the lawns and pastures and the ever-changing skies with their clouds and stars. To this day I strongly identify with the wide-open space of my home place, and it delights me that it is so little changed after these many decades. I return again and again, and I am transported back for a peaceful respite.
I married a man who spent his summers on Barnegat Bay on the Jersey Shore. Over the years of our marriage, we waterskied on Barnegat Bay, we cruised the Atlantic up to Nantucket, and we sailed on P&O liners on a year’s trip around the world. After moving to southern California, we bought a small sailboat and sailed out of Dana Point. We returned from one trip to Catalina during a small craft warning, and I was nearly traumatized from eight hours of bobbing on waves that simulated a roller coaster ride. But I soon recovered from that scare. The deep love of the ocean that my husband instilled in me was his greatest gift to me on his premature death from a heart attack.
Yet, there is a very different place that also conveys deep peace to me, and that is Death Valley. The vastness of that expanse of desert feels like the vastness of the open ocean. Extremely dry or totally wet; both broadcast a sense of purity that I find peaceful. Is it because these mirror the vastness of our skies both night and day?
The isolation of these last many months of the Covid-19 pandemic have been hard, even for an introvert like me. I have been saved by daily walks in my neighborhood and along the beach. I have walked round and round our yard and climbed the stairs to our roof deck to gaze upon the wide Pacific stretching beyond our beautiful, long bay that arcs in a comma shape from Point San Luis to Point Sal and encloses the smaller Avila Bay. A bay within a bay. But it is that far horizon line that my eyes seek. Sometimes it is hard and crisp and navy blue; other times the gray sea blends into the gray sky with no line at all; and yet other times the view to the west is one white glare of nothingness. The view is never the same twice; it invites me out there to forget our problems and to indulge in the peacefulness it offers.
I think we need expansive outdoor spaces because that need harkens back to our prehistoric origins when humans mostly lived outdoors and were mere specs on vast landscapes. It is part of our DNA. If we are to learn anything from this terrible pandemic, we must stop and study the patterns of our lives and analyze what habits nourish us and which diminish us. Spending more time in vast outdoor spaces strengthens me to meet the challenges we face.