It was while visiting this park that I received word that my Father had completed his earthly journey and passed away. This was followed by an annular solar eclipse. As my trip to Manchester will be forever colored by these two events, I am choosing to write about them.
A red dragonfly greeted me at the entrance of the beach. In some Native American tradi-tions, Dragonfly represents illusion. Or as the saying goes, "Things are seldom what they seem."
Perhaps that is why I found a pine cone in the sand, and saw birds moving in unison as they fished their dinner out of the surf. Maybe the energy of the day was unusual be-cause before the afternoon was done, we'd be viewing the only annular solar eclipse that we would see in our life time.
When planning our week long Fort Bragg/State Parks trip for the third week in May, Patty and I had originally planned to begin at one of the heavily forested parks. But when we realized the eclipse would be 90% visible from any beach on the northern California coast, we instead opted for Manchester Beach to begin our trip.
The state beach extends ﬁve miles from just above the mouth of Garcia Creek to the mouth of Alder Creek. Walk-ing north, we had a pristine beach almost to ourselves, even on a clear Sunday with an upcoming eclipse!
To the south, huge logs that have been tossed up by the sea lie in jumbled piles at the foot of sand dunes. Man-chester is known for the large quantities of driftwood that accumulate on shore. Small structures - both crude and creative - had been assembled on the sand by previous beach goers.
Also near Manchester’s southern boundary is the Point Arena Lighthouse, where visitors can still climb to the top of the Pacific Coast's tallest ocean beacon. Sitting on the rocky cliffs so familiar to California's north coast, it was originally built in 1870, then rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake.
As always, the water birds made me smile as I watched them search for food in the shallow water and sand. But not even they could com-pletely snap me out of my heavy-hearted, anxious mood.
I had spent the last four days with my Dad in the South Bay. He had slipped into a coma three days earlier. I spent time at his bedside singing traditional hymns while he slept. I knew his time was short, a day or two at the most.
A small estuary lay behind the dunes on the south end of the beach, offering resting and nesting habitat for waterfowl.
A driftwood log took on the shape of an Alligator bench. I spotted an odd looking rock. It was different from the other beach rocks. This one was flat and smooth. It had the shape of a man's footprint. I held it for a moment. It made me think of my Dad, and how his "walk" was coming to a close. I wanted to show the rock to Patty, but she was about a half mile down the beach, so I put in on the "alligator bench" where I could find it to show her later.
When Patty caught up with me I picked up the rock to show her. As I held it in my hands it broke into three pieces. I was stunned. I lay the rock down on a piece of wood and we watched as cracks continued to form in the pieces of rock until there were eventually eight or nine broken pieces. It seemed a metaphor for my Dad's body physically breaking apart. I actually found myself checking the time. It was 3:30pm
Wondering if the rock was made of a soft material we threw pieces of it against other rocks and wood, but it would not break into any more pieces.
We quietly began our walk back to the north end of the beach, passing more driftwood. A huge flock of white seagulls - at least 100 birds - flew over my head and the song "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," popped into my mind. It was one the hymns I'd been singing to my Dad. The gulls made me think of the line, "a band of angels comin' after me, comin' for to carry me home." I teared up. I could almost see the gulls pulling the chariot.
We walked quietly along the creek for about an hour. Then we found a bit of shelther from the wind in the dunes, donned our "eclipse sun-glasses" and watched the sun disappear...
...and then return.
The eclipse was the perfect final metaphor that was offered up on this day. My Dad had suffered for years. Now the light had returned. We were both at peace.
I hope to see you at the State Parks.
This blog is dedicated to the memory of my Father, who loved reading maps, exploring alternate routes, and taking the road less traveled.
Alvin David Dick, April 28, 1926 - May 20, 2012