After church on Sunday I decided to surprise my son with a trip to some tidepools up around Carpinteria. I was a little wary of telling him where we were going because I had agreed with him the day before that we would go to Target to get a new game for his Playstation. I was worried that once he got his new game there would be nothing else in the world to him and that a trip to the beach to look at crabs and starfish would pale, profoundly, by comparison.
I didn’t tell him where we were going until after we’d gotten on the highway and started to head north. All the while he’d been reading the guidebook to his new game and was going on and on about all the cool stuff they had added to the updated version of his game.
“That all sounds pretty cool,” I said to him.
“Where are we going dad?” he asked, Santa Barbara?, the beach, hiking?”
“Well,” I said, “we’ll be there soon and then you’ll know.”
There was no sense of resistance to going in his voice, only a wanting to know.
At about Rincon I said, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it.”
Yeah,” he said, “Where are we going?”
I decided it was safe to tell him now that we were well on our way.
“Well there’s a place I’ve been wanting show you that has crabs in it like the harbor and even more cool stuff than that. Maybe even starfish and, have you ever heard of sea cucumbers?”
“No,” he replied.
“Well hopefully we’ll find some.”
The day was crisp and cool and we drove with the windows closed to stay warm. It was the kind of day that makes you wish it was autumn all year long. And it was the kind of day that makes you wonder what the big deal is about summer. Warmth and the sun seem overrated sometimes, each season has its beauty and in them together is a plan for the earth.
We got off the freeway and started heading perpendicular to the beach. Just before I turned left on the second-to-last street Dylan said, “Are we there yet?”
I smiled and thought of all the other parents who had heard this question and all the times Dylan had asked it and how he and I had made it a big joke with me asking him if we were there yet all the time. Dylan always said it with a bit of smile in his voice now.
“Almost buddy,” I said.
We pulled into an empty lot next to the railroad tracks and in view of the beach. There was a trail through some ice plant in front of us and I opened Dylan’s door and helped him get his seat belt unbuckled. He gets a bit frustrated sometimes when it won’t unbuckle and I find it best to anthropomorphize the thing and pretend it’s like some dog who won’t give up its bone. This usually makes Dylan laugh a little and makes the seatbelt seem less like some octopus that’s trying to trap him in the car.
“I’ll race you to the railroad track,” I said.
Dylan jumped in front of me and took the lead. The trail was narrow and there was no getting around him. Beside that, he’s become a pretty fast runner and I’m not in the same shape I once was.
At the tracks Dylan put his ear down to the rail and we talked a little about the movie “Stand By Me” and couldn’t remember the name of the kid in the pie-eating contest. Dylan really just wanted to see a train come by and I told him that there was a chance it might come by that afternoon.
The sun was at a 45 degree angle and it’s light was reflecting off the water in such a way that there seemed to be almost two suns shining in our faces. The tide wasn’t quite as low as I had hoped it would be but there were several rocks sticking out of the sand and I figured there still might be something to see.
I helped Dylan down a steep trail to the sand and noticed there was another father and son at the end of the long natural jetty directly in front of us. Within our first couple of steps onto the rocks we made our first discovery, a few sea urchins resting lazily within mini tidepool on top of the rocks. Dylan and I poked them gently and watched how they retracted, thinking they’d caught some lunch.
“Are they poisonous dad?”
“No, don’t worry Dyls,” I said… “You know I came here with my teacher when I was in college,” I told him, “and we saw some sea cucumbers that if you poked them they would squirt a reddish ink.”
Around the urchins were mussels and goose barnacles and I asked Dylan if he knew why they were called goose barnacles.
“Because they look like a goose,” he said.
“Exactly,” I said, “If we go out toward the end we might find some starfish.”
We climbed carefully over the rocks and as we did the other father and son started to come in our direction.
“Did you find anything cool out there?” I asked.
“No, not really,” said the other father.
Dylan and I kept moving and then sat at the highest point of the jetty and looked around for starfish. There weren’t any but Dylan was excited about the prospect of getting splashed by a wave. The water was rushing in about 10 feet below us and shooting spray up and over the rocks. It was just little drops mostly but it smelled good and felt cool on our faces. I seemed to be in either the right or wrong spot, depending how you want to look at it, and was getting quite a bit more wet than Dylan was.
“Let me sit on the other side of you dad.”
He stepped over my legs and was now at the very farthest point he could be without falling in. A set of waves came in and Dylan now got his share of splash which made him giggle and, with the wind getting stronger, made me worry that he might be getting cold.
“Are you warm enough?”
“I’m a little cold.”
“Hey look there’s a seal.”
There was a seal just out in front of us, staring at us like someone whom we might’ve known once and was trying to figure out our names. Then just beyond him, a couple of dolphins broke the surface of the water.
“Pretty cool,” I said.
“Yeah,” he replied, “I’m getting a kind of cold.”
“We’ll be warmer on the beach away from the water,” I said.
We walked down the beach toward a working pier and found a few shells and thought we might find the elusive starfish on one of the pier pilings. We raced in the direction of the pier and I caught Dylan and tickled him.
“Can we go back now dad?”
“Yeah let’s head back Dyls,” I said.
We turned around in the direction of the car and I felt the need to put my hands out, palms up, and catch some more of the warmth of the sun. Many people in church stood this way during the service but I somehow always felt awkward doing it there and wondered if I wasn’t conecting with God the way I might. Adults worry this way.
I then realized Dylan had forgotten about his game for a while and I was happy that we’d done this. I felt very alive at that moment and very close to my son.
“Isn’t the ocean beautiful?” I said to Dylan.
“There’s beauty in everything,” Dylan replied.
Dylan knows the truth, I thought, and it really was just that simple.