by Katlyn Manka
The planes of rock beneath spongy flip flops are hard and unyielding, forcing my feet to curl awkwardly around the rock face just to maintain an upright position. But I am used to this unbalanced climb in a way that it becomes comfortable. Even the unforgiving sun melting into the back of my neck is comforting, like an ever present guarding sentinel of heat. Despite this intense radiance, the telltale chill of ocean breeze and wave spray cleverly disguises 90 degree weather in a way nothing else can. On the Marginal Way, there is something about the air, perhaps coolness, perhaps clarity that invokes almost a superhuman level of adrenaline that inevitably leads to the craggy seaside and an urge to run. The Marginal Way is a one-mile seaside stretch along a small, rocky peninsula. In essence, the entire path is the edge of a cliff made out of a multitude of boulders, multidimensional and multi-planed.
It is low tide, and the boulders are completely revealed, some towering over sea level like claws to heaven. Once I saw a piece of skin under a microscope, full of rents, dark places, deep places and raised places and in my mind’s eye, added crashing waves. When I was a child, my father told me that if I fell off one of the boulder’s ledges into the water, the waves would bash me against the rocks hard and fast, and that he would not be able to save me in time. As a result, I learned the good sense to always stay at least three feet away from the precarious edge unless I was seated.
Directly below me, in a wide crevice full of uneven ledges shorter than the one I stand on, two young children scale their own Mount Everest—a rock that I could scale with a single step—as their mother watches on from nearby, not too far away, but not so close as to spoil the feeling of open adventure. This mother is brave. Other parents chase their kids away from the rocks, telling them the horrors of injury and fatal danger, this woman understands the exhilaration and wonder that such a place poses to children. My grandparents tried to chase my siblings and me away from the rocks once, but they have a calling. We would promise to be careful and go slow, but find ourselves running when we passed just out of sight. My brother, sister, and cousin were all younger than I was, and because I was bigger, I was always the fastest. Even ahead of the group, however, I was never too far to come running at a moment’s notice: a large difficult crevice, an interesting puddle, even an emergency and I would be there in a second to share in it.
I watch as the children help each other up the rock face, readying myself to reach out and assist them should they wobble too far, but they don’t need me, they pick their rocks carefully. I look on as they test their climbing ability, challenging each other as much as they challenge themselves. The climb they choose is difficult enough to be interesting, but simple enough not to fall. I find myself trailing after them, wondering how weird it would look if I actually reach out to stop a strange child of no relation to me from falling. It probably wouldn’t look too strange, I can help out if something happens, not that I expect it to. But with their mother slightly out of reach, at least someone is watching.
Calmly shuffling across the rocks ahead, the mother attends to the youngest child, too small to be climbing the rocks. She holds her daughter over a sparking aquamarine tide pool, pointing out fish as they zip by. Roughly the size of a narrow hot tub, the tide pool is deep and so clear that the distinct change in depth is evident as my eyes wander to the bottom of the darker, yet still clear center. The smell of seaweed is so strong, I can almost taste it, can almost feel the salt on my skin. This pool would be deep enough to swim in, but the amount of life teeming within is startling. Flashes of red, blue, green, brown and orange line the insides of this crevice lovingly while crabs scuttle around the sides and fish flit back and forth through colorful plants that ripple and flow in the still water. The spiral shells of snails meander across the sides of the pool at a hair’s pace, creeping along with few cares in the world. The toddler squirms in her mother’s arms, trying to get a better look and the pool refracts the intense sun in a beam of light across her face. Between these beams of light and the rippled heat, this large pool of water between two crags resembles an engagement ring upon the finger of a happy woman.
Beyond the tide pool, I know the path holds even more excitement, but I am reminded of the two children trekking across the coastline, racing along the rocks in the breeze of the sea. They remain within arms’ reach of each other, consequently keeping each other farther from harm than an overbearing parent ever could. It was like this with my brother and sister, the only time we weren’t quarreling or pushing each other away. When we were here with Mom and Dad, all five of us would help each other out to the dangerous rocks beside the crushing waves and Mom would take pictures of us with the spray of the sea at our backs. My dad still has those pictures on his desk at work, my siblings and I lined up on the rocks with the wind in our hair.
Even as I stand alone watching these children, I can’t help but remember this same spot with my brother and sister. Remembering how as we got older, we raced against my father on the rocks, always teetering after a long jump, always about to fall and always climbing rocks about four times bigger than ourselves; exhilaration always kept us up, closeness always kept us safe. But now the big rocks look so much smaller and the giant ones look so much farther apart. Everything seems so much farther apart than it used to, yet smaller at the same time. I never know when a tiny space that used to seem large to me will be the one that twists my ankle. I need my siblings there, challenging me to pick my next rock bigger than they picked theirs, to somehow move faster than they do because without them, I wonder how I am really moving at all. I hope these young siblings I am watching never drift apart, never lose each other the way I am afraid I will lose my own. I am nineteen years old, standing alone on a cliffside coast, and I wish I weren’t standing there alone.