Every summer while our children were growing up we took them to the ocean for a beloved family vacation. We stayed in a “kamping kabin” (don’t know what is up with the kute k’s) at the KOA near Santa Cruz in Watsonville, located less than a mile from one of my personal sacred places: Manresa Beach. Over the years, we developed a number of routines that our family looked forward to and depended on as part of the vacation. Each of our children invited one friend to come along. We always stayed in the same cabin. (As the children grew up and invited more friends, we had to expand to another cabin or two.) We always went for a big pancake breakfast in Santa Cruz on our last morning before driving home. We always went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for one evening and Ron and the children played Laser Tag at the arcade while I babysat the jackets, backpacks, and handbags. We always made s’mores over the campfire. We flew kites on the beach, bought sandwiches at the deli up the road, rented bikes at the KOA, built sandcastles. We had our rituals and our favorite activities.
For all of us, Manresa Beach, and what we referred to as “Going to Santa Cruz,” took on a magic aura in family lore.
One year, as we prepared to “Go to Santa Cruz,” I called my friend Nan, who at that time was dying of a blood disease. Nan was a deeply spiritual person, who had special connections to many natural living things. I told her we were heading to the beach in a few days and she requested, “Say hello to the dolphins for me.” I laughed. “I have never seen any dolphins at Manresa,” I told Nan, “but I’ll say hello for you anyway.” “You do that,” she insisted.
Not long after our conversation, I found myself walking along the water’s edge at Manresa while Ron kept an eye on the children. I walked and walked, far down the beach, as I contemplated my life and reflected on new directions to take in the coming year. Then I remembered Nan’s request. I held my arms open to the magnificent day, the brilliant sun, electric blue sky, and sparkling water, and I called out “Hello dolphins! Nan says hello!” There, I thought, I kept my promise.
I must reiterate that I had never previously ever seen a dolphin at Manresa. But later that afternoon, as we lazed on the sand, the children exclaimed, “Mom, Mom, look, dolphins!” Sure enough, a large school of dolphins was swimming past us in the waves, clearly visible as they hopped up in the water. It was such a thrill to see them. I told the children to shout to them that Nan said hello and they did.
When I returned home from the beach, I called Nan to tell her we had seen dolphins and that we had sent them her greetings. By the following summer when we went to Manresa, Nan was no longer living. But we saw the dolphins again and we told them she sent her greetings. I am almost certain that we have seen dolphins at Manresa every year since. One year, when my father, brothers, and family joined us for a family reunion at Santa Cruz, the dolphins came and swam so close to shore that my children and my brother’s children actually swam in among them. The dolphins stayed nearby for a very long time that year. We think they were showing off for us.
Now that the children have grown up and gone off to their own lives, we have not gone to Manresa together for many years. But I make a point of going with Ron or on my own each year to walk again on Manresa Beach. Last weekend, I drove down to Manresa with my dear friend Jessica. She had known Nan, so I told her the remarkable story about the dolphins. Jessica and I walked for several miles. We had a gorgeous, sunny, clear day for it. What terrific luck, since Manresa is often fogged in. After we had walked for quite some time, I commented to Jessica, “I haven’t seen any dolphins today.” She replied, “You didn’t call to them for Nan.” I laughed. “OK, OK,” I said, “I’ll call them.”
We paused in our walk and I flung my arms wide to the ocean and shouted, “Greetings dolphins. Nan says hello.” In a stunning moment of serendipity or harmonic conversion in the universe or miraculous coincidence or perhaps a visitation from the spirit of Nan, several dolphins suddenly appeared right nearby, extremely close to shore, and hopped up out of the water. It happened so quickly and they revealed themselves to us so briefly and so instantly after I had called out that if Jessica had not seen them too I would have thought I was hallucinating. They came and went in a flash and we never saw any more dolphins that day. Although, we did see lots of whales later in the afternoon. We caught sight of them spouting and I grabbed my binoculars. Both with the binoculars and with the naked eye we could see their backs as they surfaced far out among the waves. Wow, dolphins and whales in one day, how cool is that?
Last Saturday was a spectacular day at Manresa. Dolphins. Whales. The clarity of the day. The sunshine and warmth. The crash of the waves, their soothing sound. The diamond-bright glitter of the water. The companionship of my good friend with whom I share such history. Perfection. Keep sending me messages from the deep, oh mysterious universe.