Which is worse? Knowingly visiting a place or a person for the last time? Or looking back and realizing that a visit six months ago, a year ago, five years ago was the last time you saw a place or a person? And that you would never visit the place or see the person again?
These questions reverberated for me as I visited the coast between Santa Cruz and Pescadero one last time today. A last breakfast at the café in Santa Cruz, staring wistfully across the beach to the ocean and the wharf. Surrounded by Maxfield Parrish art. And memories.
One last time on the Santa Cruz university campus. Remembering my first visit. My subsequent visits. My hike from the arboretum to the main section of the campus…not an inconsequential hike during the heat of the summer.
A last drive down Highway 1. The ocean on my left, just past the fields of artichokes. Just on the other side of the cliffs.
Hiking through Ano Nuevo. Chatting with the docents about the juvenile males on-site. Watching the males practice fight in the surf or flip sand on themselves as they dozed on the beach. The low rumble from their huge schnozzes. Wandering Cove Beach in solitude. Enjoying the waves, which for a brief second looked like molten glass just before cresting.
Visiting the goats and meandering through the goat shop at Harley farms. Trying different samples before settling on the garlic herb cheese. Greeted by a black cat at the top of the stairs who immediately laid down on a cushion and responded to my petting with an uplifted chin, a smile, and purrs. A good way to go through life, I decided.
Enjoying my usual at Duarte’s: their famous artichoke soup and dish of clams. Followed by walking down the main drag of Pescadero. One last time.
Visiting Pigeon Point lighthouse—my favorite lighthouse—looking at the waves crashing over the sea palms and at the harbor seals poking their heads out of the ocean. One last time looking up at the long-shuttered lighthouse. The lighthouse whose steps I had the opportunity to climb, to see the Fresnel lens from a few inches away, so many years ago. Before a large chunk fell from the top of the lighthouse, leading to its temporary closure at the end of 2001. A temporary closure that became permanent due to a lack of State funds to repair the lighthouse. My heart ached with the continuing, steady march of the disrepair.
My litany of last times today led me to muse about other last times. Last times that I didn’t realize were last times. Watching harbor seals perched on the rocks at the lighthouse. Walking among fields of artichoke plants along the coast north of Santa Cruz. Exploring the tide pools over ten years ago at Santa Cruz with my parents and partner. Or in January at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve alone. Climbing the three hundred and some stairs to the Point Reyes lighthouse. Walking through the mist at the elk reserve listening to the lonesome sounds of the Tule elk. Who knew that visiting Mendocino two and a half years ago would be the last time I went? Or buying marzipan on the wharf the last time was really the last time I would do that? The list is endless. Memories of last times raised from the dead by an impending transition in my life.
So often there are last times in our lives that we don’t even realize are last times. Some of them we don’t even miss. Then others come back and haunt us at inopportune moments or during major transitions in our lives.
Wait. Stop. Can I go back and savor those moments that were last times that I didn’t realize were last times? Where would I go back to? The carefree swinging on a swing set? The joy of digging worms out of my sandbox? The rapture of participating in a concert performance? The soul-touching moment with a lover? And how would I savor them more deeply, except to try to stop time and always exist in that moment…in essence, to prevent the last time from ever coming.