Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Sound of the Sunshine Coming Down

There are certain elements that can combine to turn an otherwise typical weekend into an actual story. Beauty, excitement, serenity. Adventure, tragedy, love. Exuberant joy and connection. This most recent Saturday at the California coast comprised just such a story.

Our day arose late in a morning of coffee sipping and conversation around our friends’ Oakland apartment. Plans emerged from cinnamon-roll-sticky lips, and by the crack of noon we were unloading the car at Tennessee Valley Road – I for a 2 ½ hour trail run, and Andrew and Brooks for some hiking and beachside chilling.

I buckled on my Nathan pack and headed up the trail. My stride shortened as I aimed for an easy, efficient running pace, climbing steadily up past the stables. Five minutes into the climb and I immediately realized two things: 1) I was way overdressed in a T-shirt. Why hadn’t I worn a tank top? But seriously, who wears a tank top in February? And 2) Running uphill was easy. Wait, who do I think I am? You just started your run, chill out girl! Nah, instead I think I’ll make it a goal to run up every hill today. And so, stuffing my shirt in my pack, I ran, sports-bra clad, up and down sun-drenched, beautiful single-track next to the ocean.

Except when I saw the mountain lion. That part I walked.

“Um, there’s a mountain lion right over there.” Two women on the side of the trail flagged me down.

Errrrrrrrr! I immediately put on the brakes.

“Really? Are you sure it’s not a bobcat?” I stood on the trail looking off in the direction they’d indicated. “Can you see it right now?”

No sooner had I asked than a large cat emerged from the bushes across the hillside.

“Oh. Yeah,” I agreed, “that’s not a bobcat.”

By this point another female hiker had come up behind us, and a group of teenage girls was approaching on a perpendicular trail.

The lion was headed generally in our direction, but appeared to be veering off to the right. Most who were present decided to head for the trail from which I’d just emerged. The hiker, whose name was Lisa, and I decided to go cautiously forward together, keeping a wary eye on the cat as we went. Nothing brings two strangers together like fear of a common threat.

We exchanged pleasantries as we walked slowly forward, leaving the trail to gain more height, and thus a better eye on our feline friend. It didn’t seem at all concerned at our presence, but it also appeared to be heading away from us by this point. Lisa and I walked together for a few more minutes before parting ways, each now with a story to tell upon rejoining our respective companions.

I dipped down briefly to Rodeo Beach, where families and friends were gathered in great numbers, soaking up more of this summer in winter. The breeze was briefly cooler here, and I sighed in pleasure at its touch before heading back up the hill. (Running, of course.)

I rerouted my original plan just a bit to avoid what I now thought of as “the mountain lion zone,” and headed north towards Muir Beach. The ocean lay vast and blue beside me, the sky the same above. I reveled in the powerful feel of my legs, and the oxygen-rich air. Nothing fills me with serenity more than a long trail run on unbelievably beautiful trails. My heart aches for days like these.

Retracing my steps along the Coastal Trail, I eventually made it back to the beach at Tennessee Cove to meet up with Andrew and Brooks. More sunshine, crashing waves, cold drinks, and good friends. Life could hardly have seemed better. It wasn’t until we’d gotten all the way back to the car that tragedy struck.

I reached with thumb and pinky to twirl my wedding band, a constant habit, and looked down, horror-struck, at my naked finger.

My gasp was enough to alert Andrew that something was wrong, and predictably, I burst into tears. Immediately Andrew went into comfort mode, and Brooks went into search mode. I got in an extra 3 miles, albeit at a very slow pace, combing the pathway to the beach and back. Done completely without hope, but still, it had to be done.

Those 3 miles weren’t so much a search for the ring, as they were a chance for me to reconcile myself to this loss with the best therapy I know: running.
Ultimately, a ring is just a symbol, and I knew it wouldn’t change anything, really. I felt thankful that I am not a flashy-diamonds type of girl and that Andrew and I had chosen unique, but inexpensive, rings.

Still, that ring had barely left my hand for ten years, and I couldn’t imagine how it had fallen off. And to be honest, I have a desperate love of symbolism. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a symbol is worth at least a thousand pictures. The more one studies literature and writing, the harder it becomes not to attach meaning to all manner of things, to see symbolism everywhere.

“But Gretchen,” he insisted, fingers laced through mine, “I married you, not a ring.”

“I know.” I sighed deeply, both in sorrow and comfort, and rested my head against his chest. Perhaps it wasn’t a tragedy after all. Perhaps it was just sad.

Over the next several hours I practiced my very best “letting go” mindset. We had plans for our evening and it would be just like me to feel beset with trauma to the point of wanting to stay home.

But no. We were going to The Fillmore to rock out with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. And rock, we did. Right along with Grace.

I have often wondered if movement isn’t the purest form of expression, and if that, in turn, doesn’t somehow explain my drive to run. To keep running and not stop. And when you pair movement, in the form of dance, with the depth of expression available in music, the combination can be intense. Almost as jubilant, joy-filled, and therapeutic as running.

I danced my ass off Saturday night.

Another thing that brings strangers together, besides that common fear thing, is common joy. When you look around and everyone else is jumping just as high, sweating just as hard. You know they’re feeling the same excitement, and the collective energy boosts you all up just a little bit higher.

If you’re familiar with Grace, and you’ve seen her Ooh La La video, you know the woman is the very definition of sexy. And while her best songs Saturday night were her own, I also particularly enjoyed her Journey/Heart/Jefferson Airplane tribute.

Waves crash, tears stream and sweat pours. And it's all filled with the sound of the sunshine. While I’m still meditating on the symbolism of a lost wedding ring, it seems safe to say that joy and love outshone sorrow on this sunshiny, California weekend. That’s good, because I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

“It could have been worse,” Andrew assured me. “You could have been eaten by the mountain lion.”

“I know,” I whined, unconvinced. We were standing in the parking lot at Tennessee Valley Road, trying to leave. I was still crying.

“We can get new rings,” he tried again.

“Okay,” I agreed slowly, wiping a sleeve across my soggy face.

“Maybe,” I added after a pause, “we should take another honeymoon, too. You know, to make it official and all.”

“Definitely,” he agreed.


  1. Well, this is just beautiful. Maybe needing new rings is symbolizing a turning point in your relationship. It's growing, changing, becoming something new? (I'm glad you didn't get eaten by the lion.)

  2. Wow - action-packed.

    What a beautiful place to lose a wedding ring. I lost one on a glacier-shadowed beach in the Prince William Sound of Alaska. It would be cool to go back and look for it someday...

  3. So many things to say here. My dad had knee surgery last month and they made him take off his wedding band. First time it left his hand in 50 years and it broke his heart.

    You kept walking TOWARD the mountain lion!!!???

    My husband and I lost our rings years and years ago and we're still going strong. We're thinking getting wedding band tattoos.

    I heard Grace Potter here in Mystic a bunch of years ago as the opening act for a poetry reading (of all things). She blew me away.

    Beautiful story, Gretchen. I kept waiting for the Gotcha Moment when you find that ring. You may someday yet.....

  4. Wow. WOW. I don't know whether I'm more impressed by the mountain lion sighting (in broad daylight, no less! I'm very jealous), or by the way you and Andrew handled a potentially super-stressful accident. Both of you are wonderful; enjoy your second honeymoon!

  5. Meghan - Yeah, I was kind of thinking the same thing. Might as well look for the positive symbolism, right? :)

    Turi - I was hoping some folks might chime in with some "how I lost my wedding ring" stories. Thanks! I used to feel just a tiny bit smug when hearing those stories. Yeah. Not so much anymore. Heh. You should definitely go back to look for it! Maybe a yearly visit?

    Pam - Well, we weren't exactly going TOWARDS it, just not away either, until it veered off a little and we sort of "passed" each other at a distance. If there's any animal I'm afraid of in these wilderness areas, it's the lion.
    Awesome that you saw Grace open for a poetry reading! :)

    Donald - Thanks. I was pretty wide-eyed at the casual presence of a mountain lion in the middle of the day, too. And with tons of people around. But yay for the presence of all those people!

  6. I literally got teary-eyed when I got to the wedding ring loss part. I would be the same way, and probably would have holed myself up all night fretting about it, lol! I'm glad you got out and still enjoyed your fantastical weekend. Those Marin trails are so wonderful (that's technically Marin County, isn't it?). New symbols and a new honeymoon is a perfect way to chime in the next 10years together!!

  7. Oh, Gretchen...I am all for symbolism. And if it does do any good, the symbolism of your hubby's reaction should overweight the lost ring. Well, may be as an afterthought:) As always, ebautifully written, even in a moment that felt so tragic to you. May be you can exchange vows and stuff, invite a bunch of friends for more dancing, and then take off to a honeymoon:)

  8. Paige - Yeah, I sort of thought a perfect weekend had been ruined, but I guess it just made it more ... intense. Emotional. Something like that. And yes, it is Marin. I love it there! (Especially without all the fog.)

    Olga - Good idea. Maybe I should request gifts too! ;) But something kind of ceremonial would be fun. We didn't do anything special for uur ten-year anniversary, so maybe it's time.

  9. Sorry to hear about your loss, but, as everyone's said, it's just a symbol. My husband's lost his wedding ring three times, twice right in front of everyone. Needless to say, his most recent replacement came from Walmart. (And, of course, he's kept that one for 15 years now!)

  10. Okay, where in the HELL do I begin on why I love this post?

    I can't even attempt it. I'll simply say: You are a damned amazing writer and person.

    Done and done.

  11. Anne - Hee. :) Yeah, that Walmart ring WOULD be the one to last. Well, maybe there's some saying out there about 'lose the ring, keep the marriage'?

    Russ - Aww, man. Thanks. :) !!

  12. Oooo, I LOVE Olga's idea!!

  13. WoooooW! You got to see a wild mountain lion? Scary, but AWESOME! Wish I was there to share that heart-pounding experience with you. :) I'm sorry about your ring though~

  14. I Want to Be a Rockstar like Grace Potter!! And Gretchen Brugmann!! :)

  15. Paige - Says the girl who's about to get married. ;)

    Amber - Thanks. The lion sighting was cool, especially since there were plenty of other people to make it less scary.

    Leslie - Yeah, I want to be a rock star like Grace Potter too! Maybe for just a day or two though.

  16. Ah Tennessee Valley, if only they'd put a water fountain there. You were in my backyard, home trails. A local runner here, Jason Thompson, has warned us on the ultra list that he had seen a mountain lion and that he had a friend who saw one too - the vicinity of SCA and Marincello. Last year Jason spotted one on Bobcat trail so I'm wondering if it's the same cat patrolling the area. We are there on Thursday mornings but travel in a group.

    Sorry to hear about the lost ring... Nothing can replace it of course but after 10 years Andrew would still marry you all over again and that's just priceless. The new ring could symbolize something great, of love enduring through the miles and weather of life.

  17. Rick - Marincello! Yes, that's exactly where it was! Must be the same cat. You stay with the group on those morning runs, Rick! Seriously, running through there in the dark knowing a mountain lion lurks ... I would be nervous!

  18. Gretchen, that suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks! I'm so sorry!

    You are trailsmart to spot a mountain lion. I'm such a woods dummy that I'd probably try to pet it!

    I don't hold any illusions about keeping up with you on the trails, but next time you're in my back yard you should drop me a line. We can bond over a mutual love: COFFEE!

  19. Also (I forgot), I ran w/my friend Lorraine in Santa Cruz and was bouncing norcal ultrarunners that I knew off of her. You were the only one she knew. You have arrived! Or maybe it's me who has arrived...

  20. Claire - Ooh, coffee. YES! For sure. And that's funny about your friend. I don't think I know a Lorraine? So ... I'm flattered. And I'm sure you have arrived. Where? Not so sure about that part. ;) Also, please don't pet any mountain lions!!