The key is not to oversimplify, but there it is: a really long beach. Favored with the distinction of having water on both sides, it had some special name and is the longest of its kind in the entire world, a giant mess of sand and driftwood some lounging god casually spat into the Pacific Ocean long ago. But that's getting to the heart of things a little too quickly, perhaps.
Stepping back: the early days of a road trip in the latter days of May: a thousand gaudy expectations pulled from various expressions of pop culture, not to mention the uncountable, sourceless impressions that slip through the cracks between television and film to evaporate into the cultural collective. You know the story: a group of dudes, miles of roadway, and a destination somewhere in the Red Hot Hills of California. The old coming of age story played out on an endless vector of blacktop along which you thrust yourself and your car until it ends and you get there. Until you get somewhere. To be fair, we had a girl with us, so maybe we were about destroying romantic conventions from the start; though, when I think about it there was plenty of romancing going on between E and C. Puns aside, they were definitely boning in that tent of theirs.
In many ways it was an unconventional road trip, or at least it didn't live up to the illusions cast by car commercials. I mean, we camped a few times. Yeah, we camped two or three nights in clean, safe campsites, sat around a fire and clumsily (read: drunkenly) performed sing-alongs to the same two Chili Peppers' songs strummed out on a guitar, over and over again. Somebody told a scary story. We drove a lot. I guess that's all a road trip is, when you get right down to it, but it's just that there seemed to be a definite element of madcap mayhem (meaning) missing form the whole thing; nobody hired a hooker, it was only suggested once that we make off for Mexico, and the closest thing we encountered to a bear was a drunk old man named Richie who once spent a week in an insane asylum for trying to kill a gopher with a .357 Magnum. I guess that last one is pretty good, but really our camping episodes boiled down to three dudes in a tent meant for two giggling and poking each other all night while the other two people had silent sex a few yards away in contempt.
What I'm saying is that we set out looking for the revelatory object at the end of the road(trip), but, just looking at the list of places we went, I don't think we're anywhere yet. I don't think we found it.
* * *
So there it is: meandering miles of the world's longest sandbar, as fine as any silky SoCal beach near the waterline but getting chunkier with distance from the refining hammer of the waves. Moving up the beach is like going back in time, as the well-sorted particulate along the surf seem to forget millennia of weathering, ages upon ages of wind and rain and even larger, more powerful agents of deconstruction as they clump together, swiftly shedding the past as they gain cohesion and girth, cluttering the middling reaches of the Spit in piles of rock nearly large enough to call boulders. Looking all the way back, not necessarily up the beach as the wave breaks, but back towards where the trail stumbles out of the hills, you can see even further back in time, yes, and space, too, because lining the beach that way are the wide white bluffs of Dover, a prehistoric memory of the sand beneath my feet, a living, breathing precursor to post-historic beaches to come. Something in the way those tall, imposing bluffs trailed away down the beach and into the hazy, sea-white morning light made them seem like a watercolor dream out of the distant past, an incomprehensible sweep of rock leached from the mind of a dozing colossus and spread across the western sky in grainy, ethereal pixels too resonant to be an illusion.
Along the hump and spilling over onto the backside of the beach was a bizarre litter of driftwood and human detritus thrust upon the strand as if it were the long disassociated remains of some monstrous and unknown wooden creature of the deep; its various pieces were slumped in formless decay upon the rocky, time-confused sands, having long lost the coherency of rusted-out nails and rotten skeleton. Halfway to the lighthouse on the headland of this long, thin island sat the chewed-up front half of a boat, disgorged from the gut of this manmade beachwood Monstro and evidence that either Job was real or that I regularly watched Pinocchio as a child.
I'm walking this beach that is at least 50% a figment of my imagination, and I'm looking for a Palantir, you know, one of the lost seeing stones. Glossy, globular, seemingly black, my eyes are peeled and I'm not taking any chances, because just maybe some time long ago when it was too early for sand and indeed high time for hobbits, back when the earth was still stuck in between the beginning and all this civilization that's happened since, maybe some wizard got stabbed and dropped one. Don't get me wrong, I know it's a nerdy game I'm playing with myself. I'm really just half on the lookout for a rock that is passably spherical and sort of big, so I can pick it up, thrash around a little bit, and pretend to commune with the Great Eye.
There's nothing, and I see all of my beautiful illusions dissipating into a disaffected nothingness I knew was there all along. You see, the beach was pretty boring in itself, worth depressingly little unless you played with it a bit. That's what I was trying to do, play with the beach a little bit, bring it out of its grey-filtered, monotonous shell with a quick hit of Imagination, but I'm not six anymore, and I needed a certain cooperation I just wasn't getting. I looked out at the slate waves plunging doggedly through the indecipherable blades and lacerations of a steady breeze that couldn't figure out if it was an onshore or offshore flow, and I actually had a moment where I wished for the day (which, despite the clouds, the wind and the seemingly endless walk, was quite pleasant) to be over so I could spend some time translating it into memory; so that I could put merpeople into the sea and gods who threw driftwood lightning bolts into the sky and sort of believe in them. I actually thought that.
I had a few dark moments there, a minor spiritual gloom that I knew I had to mock even as I dabbled in it. Dipped my toes in it, so to speak. I walked beside Luke for about fifteen minutes, saying nothing and thinking about patterns in rocks and diamonds in my mind, stray beams of light catching a cresting wave, and I absently wished that the diamonds were real and set in Neptune's crown instead of the mere chance collision of photons and H20 molecules. I was searching for all the signs, all the signal markers that I would recognize from all the stories I have read that would show me the first step of a stairway to the sky, to somewhere, but I burnt myself out because of course there was nothing like that. Just sand and foam. I don't know what Luke was thinking about because I didn't say a word; I was too busy thinking about a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the ocean floor, and how the fragments of my vibrant memory could do little to shore up the ruin of this godless, fog-smeared beach. I'll tell it straight: that was about when I decided to stop reading for a little while, because Eliot should never seep into your everyday life; it just makes you feel like an ass.
We eventually got to the lighthouse and made a lunch of wine, apples, bread and cheese, reveling in our reproduction of high culture but knowing full well that our wine was boxed, our cheese cheap, and both purchased on sale at Safeway. The bread was great though. Someone even asked us if we were European, which we immediately affirmed in very broken English.
It was at about this point I wondered if turning a corner is a favor nature throws at us, or a decision we make on our own, because my outlook rapidly began to change. The view from the top of the lighthouse was littered with transformative touchstones, and as I looked out at the adjacent keeper's house and then the sea beyond, I had the pleasant feeling that I had been here before, that I had been here before a hundred times, in a hundred different universes. The beautiful thing about this place was that it contained multitudes, was lacquered over with so many representations of its kind that all at once it was in Maine, poised in stately windswept silence that gathered the sun into slow, timeless strokes of air; it was a lonely headland in California, watching for surfers out amongst the big, grey swells; it was sprung from the anonymous pages of some book I couldn't quite remember having read; it was the shining beacon and enormous letdown from another I could remember all too well; it was the shining, imaginative locus of all lighthouses that have ever been, a platonic space of infinite possibility and endless iterations; it was the place where the tooth fairy finally dies in Darkness Falls; it was on the headland of Olympian Peninsula in Washington state, at the end of the longest Spit there is. It was somewhere.