Kirby Cove

Screaming for the sheer beauty of it all.

Yesterday was (today is as well) another unseasonably warm and mild day. Something within was scratching at the door like a cat, with a trajectory towards tall trees and seclusion. The live wires of my being were unplugged from the city scape, waving frenetically in the desire to connect back in, but to the Something Else, only found under the canopy of forest and in the safety of wilderness.

Fern and I headed north over the Golden Gate Bridge. I intended to drive us through the Headlands, to Rodeo Beach, which didn’t feel quite right, but seemed a good compromise for the distance that little short legs can handle. But mid-bridge, I knew just exactly where it was we should go.

I hadn’t been to Kirby Cove in years, not since Leo started to really age. Dogs aren’t allowed and the walk back up is steep. I used to risk it, hiding in the bushes with him when a ranger went by, but it eventually became too stressful…for both of us. I briefly checked in with my heart…was I ready? Could I handle the contrast of his memory and current reality? Yes. Today was the day.

I’ve been wondering about redemption a lot lately. I’ve also been reflecting on how I’ve been in crisis mode since 2007, a realization that can only come in quieter moments when emotional survival isn’t at stake and I’m at the border, hoping to cross into neutral territory. There have been a lot of thoughts around the need for healing, healing from the immediate and a sense of wanting to heal from history, from trauma that sometimes feels eternal in its scope…and can it ever be done, or is it the case as Freud said, “You can never drain the swamp”.

I walked carrying Fern, who alternated between telling me that she wanted, “To go in Sea. Want nummy nums at Sea. Want go in.” and, “I want go back home”…which was resolved over and over by the question, “But do you still want to go to the water?”. “Yes. I do.”. So we took the decline in this way, stopping every so often to listen to birds, to take in a view of the beckoning ocean. All the while, going at the same pace as we would have, if Leo had been with us. Slow. Open heart. Unclenched belly.

Can someone help me identify this? It is similar to Pearly Everlasting, with papery flowers, thin shiny green leaves. But the flowers are pointy, rather than pearly, and the scent is citrus-y as compared to the maple syrup flavor of the everlasting. It’s all over the Bay Area, but we have yet to be properly introduced.

The road ends in forest, where there are campsites. I am dreaming of camping here with the whole fam during the coming year, cozying up to the campfire, gazing out at where international waters meets the nursery of the Bay, the SFO of the sea.

A few wooden steps lead down to the friendly cove. Sheltered on both sides, I have never been here on a day where I wasn’t hot. The sand is a rich reddish brown and the view, breathtaking, over and over  and over. In 2005 or so I did a self-marriage ceremony here. I spoke my vows into the waves, promising to uphold my relationship with myself as first and foremost, to never abandon my own heart for the sake of staying in relationship ever again. As I offered my commitment to the waters, a sea lion popped up, so close to shore, just where the waves were lapping in. The two of us strolled up and down the beach together, playing, talking, witnessing. Yesterday I sent a greeting to the blue, and far off shore, a sea lion surfaced once, twice.

So much anymore, I never see just natural flotsam and jetsam. Always, the garbage of our haste. The white bits are styrafoam.

Fern and I dared the cold with our toes, sat in the sun and had nummie nums, explored mysterious tunnels, attempted swings.

When my feet hit the sand, I recognized a feeling that has become less familiar these past few years. That of deep relaxation and ok-ness. An inner freedom I associate with really luxurious Augusts, with summers spent in Maine. No imminent danger, no need for hypervigilance, permission to unwind, fully.

Again I thought of redemption, if I deserved to feel ok, if I could start to forgive myself. My heart beats faster as I think about telling you this, and something tells me its time. It was my fault that Leo died. We all say and feel such things in times of guilt or despair. But Leos’s demise was a direct result of my impatience, of my temper. His spine around his neck was injured from being yanked around on a leash. I never thought I was pulling that hard, and so often it was the only thing I could do to get him to move his stubborn, fuzzy ass up the street, as I stood there with a wailing daughter, my own back killing me. So in his last years he was dragged by the yoke. Cord and nerve damage that caused neurological problems. I often feel as if I will be sorry my whole life, that each day will begin with asking for forgiveness and a pledge to reprioritize every moment, taking care of self, taking care of other, responding in Love. This is what deep relationship does for us when it is committed and true…provides the opportunity to release all our demons into the light of transformation. It happens in partnership, it happens in motherhood and it happened for me in guardianship too.

Lately I’ve been aware that the shock is wearing off, and I find myself grieving in a softer and more immediate way. The bit of dog treat found in a purse long unused, the memory of the vet tech who kissed him goodbye, the found bit of fur…all produce honest tears that don’t damage, but are healing waters, washing clean.

The other night I watched a wonderful Doctor Who episode (for fans, the one with Vincent Van Gogh) that subtextually was all about transforming pain, and how being with one’s darkness gives one penetrating sight into both directions of the wonder of the human experience. There was a quote that stuck with me, “He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world…no one had ever done it before.”

For the past few months I’ve found it near impossible to write about the whole story with Leo, because I didn’t want to just talk about the pain. This early visit from spring has let in enough light to rekindle my hope that returns eternal. Unseasonable or no, new living is beginning and in my minds eye I keep seeing pink blossoms, soft petals, gold light and a soundtrack of birdsong, weaving a vision for egg and nest.

Chickweed, miners lettuce, dock and dandelion are available for nourishment in the Bay Area right now, to chase away the winter blahs.

I carried Fern all the back up to the top of the Golden Gate. There is no agenda. The only timing is now. My back is killing me. What does that really feel like? She’s driving me nuts with chatter and screeching. What is she really needing right now? Stop. Feel my heart. Here it is for you. Here we are together. I love you. Ah, there it is. And keep going.

One foot in front of another.


29 thoughts on “Kirby Cove

  1. wow, mary….wow. you have blown my heart open. i feel like i can glimpse inside your soul, to the sorrow and pain, and bravery and joy. what an honor that you shared this story here, along with your fresh breath of springtime redemption. silly as it sounds, i feel proud of you. i admire your honesty, your deep wise abilities to communicate and love. i am so sorry for the pain you’ve been struggling with, and so inspired by the possibilities for healing. leo’s spirit, and the spirit of the sea lion, are probably both with you….witnesses, here and now, forever spinning that tired heart into feeling, feeling, more feeling. it is a beautiful thing, and you are a sea lion woman.

    1. hey beautiful MAMA (mama! mama! she’s gonna be a mama!!!!), thank you for really SEEING me. this is one of the biggest risks in emotional exposure…that i will be misperceived…but being viewed with such love by your great heart, makes me wonder what i was worrying about. i hadn’t considered that the sea lion and leo were connected, but i can see those threads, and thank you for illuminating that for me. and my heart IS tired, i’m so happy you get that. yet there is no choice, but to let in MORE love, MORE feeling, and more, as i tip my hat to you, more ecstasy. love you vibrant lover.

  2. i now understand and relate even more to your overwhelming sorrow over leo’s passing.
    i had to put down one of our cats when my kids were toddlers. it was a sudden, horrific turn of events that in retrospect i had a tremendous amount of guilt about: in my preoccupation with mothering my babies, had i overlooked early symptoms that may have changed or at least eased the end? had i provided a loving home to my pets since i became a mother? it has taken years for me to forgive myself. i do, as convenient as it may be, often take solace in the notion that when we know better, we do better. and in the meantime, we do the best we can. i know that even by our being thoughtful about these losses, we are doing better.
    on a lighter note, i haven’t ever been to kirby cove. it looks lovely and i crave its warmth (i.e. i need to get out from in front of this damned computer and get outside moving!).

    1. nicole, hearing that you had a similar process with your kitties helped me to take a deep breath, and i could feel so much of the shame slide off my shoulders. i hear in those questions that you asked yourself that you get it… how we have these intentions to nurture our animal companions, and yet how we let them go when we have babies…i tried to keep leo has my “first born” but a human baby was so demanding, and things changed. you also really get the crux of this process, you said it perfectly. that all i can do now is to ask myself to respond better in the future. i keep leo as my teacher in this way…i can’t fix what happened, but i can let it influence the choices i make in the future.

      and it sounds like you and missa need to make a date for kirby cove. 😉

  3. Leave it to Heather to find the perfect words, she has such a way. I couldn’t agree with her more. Reading this opened my heart and flooded it with both sadness and hope. The bravery and honesty in your words is true beauty and the depth of your darkness so clearly shows the depth of light and love at the core of your connection to Leo. I’m so sorry that you’ve been going through this. Sending out thoughts of warm hugs and continued healing of all sorts. Thank you so much for sharing.

    On a lighter note, now adding Kirby Cove to my 2012 day trips list. Take care lovely mama ❤

    1. dear missa, you have perfect words as well…depth of light, darkness and love completely encapsulates my love for and with leo…it was full spectrum. and i felt those virtual hugs!!!

      yes, you must go to kirby cove! and i am SO PSYCHED for a possible meetup at alameda flea market. i tried to go years ago and…so appropo…had to turn around because they didn’t allow dogs and i couldn’t leave leo in the car! let’s do it.

  4. If you’re going to blame yourself for his death, at least ‘blame’ yourself for his life too…
    It’s only because of you that he lived as long as he did, with people who loved him and showed him kindness and affection. That’s all a dog wants, to be part of a pack, to have a place and a purpose in the world. Leo had a good life, better than thousands and thousands of pets and strays that are abused, abandoned, euthanized in pounds because no one wants them, sick, etc. That could have been him.
    You did what you could and you always had good intentions, from the very beginning, and that means so much. I’m sure that if you could ask him, his memories would be nothing but fond ones, full of love.

    1. i hear what you’re saying julia, thank you. i get hung up because i know how my heart fell short in his last years…i feel like i betrayed our connection by how disconnected i became. he remained part of the pack, and i try to factor that in when i am being too hard on myself. love you, fellow animal knower. xoxo

  5. You are so brave. Thank you for sharing this special sacred experience with us!

    If we could gather with you in sisterhood on that lovely beach, in physical body and not just spirit, we all would be giving you big individual and then a great big group hug(s). You sound like you are in a much better place in your heart. Continued peace, Mary!

    P.S. I know that flower isn’t the edelweiss, but it’s color, texture and a little bit of its form reminds me of it. 🙂

    1. mary ann, that is exactly how i felt, reading all of your comments…such an embrace, such witnessing. i am so thankful for you, for all of you. just…THANK YOU.

      and yes! it does look so much like edelweiss, i def see the similarity. this flower remains a secret, but it’s nice to have met one of its sisters.

  6. Mary, i’m so grateful you posted this. We’ve had our hairy dog for about 6 months now….,and i didn’t realise that pulling the lead could do any harm. Thank you thank you for sharing, and risking the experience of pain in sharing with us.
    I love how you said “This is what deep relationship does for us when it is committed and true…provides the opportunity to release all our demons into the light of transformation”. That there, is one perfect and perfectly true sentence.
    I’m sorry you had to go through such sadness, and your fams and of course Leo. Your honesty and poignancy in telling this story has helped me to sit, and settle, and think peacefully for awhile about my own relationships…with self and my babies, my dog and husband.
    That moment of stopping and remembering to feel with one’s heart, is precious indeed. It always feels good.
    Much light

    1. teeny…yes def get a harness. i wish someone had really emphasized to me what could happen from pulling on their neck. a harness gives them more leverage to pull even more, which is why i didn’t use it until the end, but it’s so much better than the alternative.

      i can’t wait to meet you in person. i imagine that we are woven from some of the same cloth. love.

  7. when i do yoga with quinn i call it sea lion pose instead of upward dog. just sayin. your post has a certain upward lilting sound to it…

    i love that you married yourself. you rock my socks.

    finally, i feel like fern in that first screaming-from-shear-beauty photo, reading your words. you are a gift, mary.

    1. mb…thank you. i am thrilled to know i rock your socks…it is a privilege to in anyway be a part of your well grounded feet. 😉 i can imagine you doing something similar to a self marriage ceremony, or that you already have, in a certain way.

  8. Also I should have mentioned that that Doctor Who episode is one of my absolute favourites and always causes me to dissolve into waves of tears, that is such a wonderful quote from the episode and one that resonates with me as well.

  9. Well done you, it is always alright if we learn, or intend to, or try to, or just do about as much as we can do.

    I turn a stone of guilt and find many a wriggly worm, and hold them in my hand to find they are friend not foe, and to shed some light on it all is all I need to do to find my guilt transformed. I find myself hoping about some days saying, Ya thats me alright the one thats made lots of really crappy choices, and Yep thats me alright Learning, changing, growing, healing…… taking responsibility.

    Well done you I say it again, for taking responsibility and willing your peace about it. Leo loves you, like you love him. What a great little spirit guide he must make to you and fern on your adventures.

    xx E

    1. first of all, this has less to do with what you wrote, and more with how your words sound when read…i can totally hear your accent! and i love it! i feel gleeful and cozy, all at once.

      there’s some pop song right now by pink called “fuckin’ perfect” that i was enjoying the other day in a moment of synchronicity. your words about “ya, that’s me, making mistakes. that’s me learning and growing” is the essence of the song, and it’s so true. ok…i fucked up, made bad choices, but pouring over my shame does not help me to go forward. taking responsibility and still loving myself, does. xo

  10. your bravery here in sharing the truth was heartwrenching and inspiring and necessary and healing for all involved. you brought light to a dark spot. deep long exhale. show us the way sister. we all have those dark spots. some are festering and painful and you totally just showed how to get them healing. my friend. i love you. i love leo. i love fern. i love jeff. i love that plant and i have no idea what it is…..i bet brigitte does. well. yeah. love. me.

    1. heather, you totally perceive, and speak to, that edge that i was on when i wrote this. the healing happened right in the moment of writing. i love you too, and our friendship reminds me, over and over, how OKAY it is to be “intense”, to embrace the full spectrum of human experience.

      yes! ask brigitte what that plant is! xoxoxoxo

  11. The first time I read this post I was speechless. I carried your pain in my chest for awhile. Thinking about it all and not knowing how to respond but wanting to respond. One foot in front of the other. I can be brave because you are brave and I wish healing and heart strength for you, which I kind of think you are already experiencing. Your life with Leo outshines his passing. I love you!

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