Soulful Travel: The Sonoma County Coast
With breathtaking views, sandy beaches and picturesque towns forming Sonoma County's western border, a drive down Hwy. 1 is more than just a trip. When you unplug and appreciate the sheer beauty of the Pacific Ocean, the experience can actually be life-changing.
Here, we help you experience the magic along the Sonoma County Coast.
The Tides of Time
You’ll often encounter a character in a book or movie who says wistfully, “I’ve never been to the sea. Must be beautiful.” Standing atop the cliffs at Duncan’s Landing in Bodega Bay, you’re sure to sympathize with such a poor unfortunate, who’s never seen a panoramic view of crashing waves and rolling clouds, nor basked in the rapt sensation of beholding the far-off horizon where the ocean meets the sky.
Cloudy or sunny, windy or calm, the Sonoma County Coast always gives back whatever you bring to it — including intimations of eternity. But as you stand there lost in contemplation of the majestic horizon, suddenly something breaks through your consciousness like a ray of light through the fog. Suddenly you begin to second-guess your impression of just moments before. The view fills you with the sense of beauty and eternity, but is beauty really eternal? The concept of beauty perhaps, but not its manifestations. You remember Grandma when she was sweet and elderly, not when in the bloom of youth she captured your grandpa’s eye.
“Well, well,” you say to yourself, for a puzzle has presented itself, persistently dogging your mind to examine it in order to arrive at a higher level of understanding. And it is just then you notice a staircase nestled in the side of the cliff, winding down to where the foamy waves creep in and crawl out. And so, like a mythological hero descending into the underworld to find a golden treasure of knowledge, you begin walking down the stairs to the beach below, your mind hungry for revelation.
Duncan’s Landing has the Sonoma Coast’s strongest waves, and as they methodically march upon the shore, your will, imagination, and reason fuse together, and the inner gears begin to crank. In your mind’s eye you picture a time-lapse version of the tides as seen across eons of time. What would have been the most observable phenomenon your ancestors saw when watching the sea? “That’s easy,” you deduce. “The tide comes in and the tide goes out.” But if nature is mankind’s great textbook, what would they have learned from that? The epiphany rips through you like a frigid breeze: It means nothing lasts forever. Everything is in motion, subject to change.
Ancient wisdom calls this the law of rhythm, or periodicity.
This law is so severe that most of us are unable to face it and live in a state of self-imposed naivete. But this ignorance only makes us woefully unguarded when change comes, as it inevitably must. And that is why the Roman stoic philosophers prepped themselves by greeting each morning cognizant of the fleeting nature of all things, arming themselves with aphorisms such as “Carpe Diem,” meaning “Seize the day,” or as it’s poetically expressed in English, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”
The tide is high and then the tide is low. The sun rises and then it sets, and the moon — whose rhythm, in fact, is linked to the tides — rises to take its place. And the law of periodicity decrees not only change, but rhythmic change, for no sooner has the pendulum reached the apex of its arc then it begins swinging back to the other side.
This teaching appears in the Book of Ecclesiastes and is echoed in The Byrds’ 1965 hit “Turn, Turn, Turn.”
There is a time for every purpose in a human life: A time to feel joy and a time to feel sadness, a time to gather in groups and a time to be alone, a time when you’ll feel rich and a time when you’ll feel poor, and usually while making the same amount of money. If you’re seeking absolutes, you’re not going to find them in this world, which the ancients called the sublunary realm, ruled by the waxing and waning moon.
Looking up to the rocky cliffs where you’d previously stood and gazed at the horizon, you feel humbled realizing that what you thought was eternity was in fact an illusion. What you were awestruck by was not eternity, but rather eternal law, and that law is change.
Just as you awoke in the morning and drove to the coast, then will return home to eat and sleep and begin a new cycle tomorrow, everything marches in tempo from one thing to another, according to “The Kybalion,” an enormously influential book of ancient wisdom published in the U.S. in 1908 and still in print today. “The circling of the planets, suns, universes from the nearby to the far distant systems; the rise and fall of the tides; the swing of the pendulum; the procession of the seasons; the emergence and disappearance of continents; the succession of thoughts, ideas, and emotional states; the recurrence of fashion in dress, deportment, behavior, morals, philosophy, science … all these things, and everything else for that matter, illustrate the universality of this great Cosmic Law of Rhythm or Periodicity.”
Rhythm is the enforcement law of equilibrium, or nature’s principle of balance. The secret wisdom begging your assimilation, as you leave the beach behind and begin your climb back up the cliff, is the realization that the point is not tide high or tide low, pendulum right or pendulum left, but the whole thing in its cyclic pulsation.
In the movie “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks thinks he’ll be stuck alone on an island forever, until one day the tide brings in a piece of wreckage. His imagination transforms into a sail that liberates him from his prison-paradise. The meaning is clear: Hope is never lost. The law of rhythm means no matter how frustrated you are in any given situation, a path to a better place will eventually present itself. Dark clouds hide silver linings, and the roughest storms can guide you to a land where dreams come true.
Returned to the top of the cliffs, feeling simultaneously exhausted and invigorated, you open your car door as something beckons you to take one last long look at that mysterious point where the sky meets the sea. Having gained understanding of the law that governs impermanence, you chuckle to yourself. Perhaps one day you’ll be ready to consider the dimension of reality from which the law derives.
Other Soulful Adventures
This trip to the Sonoma County Coast is just one of a series on soulful travel. For other experiences, visit our Soulful Travel page.
Remember the Leave No Trace Principles
Experiencing our destination through the Sonoma County Leave No Trace Seven Principles gives travelers an opportunity to make a difference. Together, we can protect and preserve this special corner of the world for generations to come. Find more info about sustainable travel in Sonoma County here.
For a list of local businesses helping promote the important message of Leave No Trace, click here.
Written by Christian Chensvold