Fill the yellow beach bucket
One of the biggest gifts of the ocean is that it makes me feel small. During the dayto-day, it’s easy to forget we are a speck on a giant planet, floating around a sun in the middle of an ever-expanding universe.
Most days I take my problems quite seriously. When it gets to be too much, I take my problems to the Sacramento River, which leads to the ocean.
Last weekend, a bunch of us loaded onto a giant bus with 16 teachers from 15 countries as part of the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement program. It’s my job to help them navigate Chico for six weeks, taking classes at the university and learning from local teachers. Occasionally, we venture to other parts of Northern California.
Our recent destination was Fort Bragg — a place I’ve visited countless times.
The ocean is powerful, and not just because of the force of her waves. Maybe the mist in the air helps oxygen enter the bloodstream. The coolness of the air and the heat of the sun may produce chemicals that science has not yet discovered.
Or perhaps the combination of a long drive and hotel pillows holds the secret to inner peace.
More likely, spending time staring into a vast amount of gray water touches humans in the same place as music or the smell of wet grass.
Planning for the group getaway began months ago, long before our international travelers received plane tickets. My bossman encouraged me to scout for places to park an oversized bus and to find restaurants where we could order 18 dinners to-go. He told me to scout for a weekend, but it was a dry summer, and for some reason it took me two weekends.
When planning for a group adventure, even careful planning cannot anticipate the bumps you will find along the way.
On our recent trip to the coast, with 16 different travel tolerances and food preferences, there were many mistakes I could never have imagined.
I should have packed hot sauce. I didn’t know online menus can be inaccurate. I should have planned more time at the beach.
At some point during the trip I felt gratitude to folks who planned my childhood adventures. Teachers labored over field trips, Girl Scout leaders packed for nature hikes. Someone planned for our baton twirling group to visit Disneyland.
When you’re 7 years old, you don’t realize grownups strategized snack quantities, mapped out rest stops and kept a careful budget. When you’re a kid those things happen magically while you’re singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” and ruining your bus driver’s concentration.
I also now understand that strange look on my parents’ faces when they stood quietly, watching us play. It wasn’t a strange look, it was contentment.
Most of the magic of travel occurs in the moments that are not planned.
At the hotel, each participant was given an ink pen that had the name of the hotel. For as long as that ink lasts, the travelers will be reminded of the sound of the birds along Pudding Creek.
On a walk at MacKerricher State Beach, a chipmunk decided to befriend us. The rodent dragged its oversized stomach across the wooden walkway, wearing an expression of sad starvation. That chipmunk is now a star in our Google slideshow.
A teacher from Ghana, chosen to visit America because she is among the top educators in her country, shined like the brightest star as she hauled a yellow plastic bucket from the foamy waves. The bucket was filled with sea water, and her friend from Rwanda had never tasted nor touched an ocean.
As much as we laughed at the birds and scratched at the black sand between our toes, the ocean had its way, as it always does.
As we walked as a group, there was the usual chatter. At some point I heard nothing but the waves, standing on a bluff a short distance from the others. I forgot about everything but that gray line of ocean and a sky nearly as gray. When I came back to myself, I noticed the others were also standing separately, taking that quiet moment that is the inevitable gift at the ocean.