Can Your Relationship Pass the Test of Time?
A windswept beach, a ruthless storm, and a make-shift trail held the answer
One of my favorite sanctuaries lies on the west coast of the U.S. Located a few miles north of the California border, this restful and inspiring respite is one of the few locations where nature found a way to ward off humanity’s best efforts to leave its mark.
Long stretches of beach reflect the sunrise off lightly-treaded sand while rolling waves from a glistening ocean wash against craggy cliffs separating the lush forest from the sea. Scattered piles of sun-bleached driftwood break the landscape with texture and shape, leaving undeniable evidence of the ocean’s power and underlying disruptive force.
It was during a recent visit that I remembered seeing them — together — on the same vacant stretch of beach.
From my vantage point on the cliff above, I’d noticed the elderly couple carefully making their way down a steep trail created from stepping-stone rocks and gravel — a make-shift staircase to the sand. The woman held on to a walking stick, occasionally digging it into the hillside for added stability. The man kept a grip on her elbow, guiding her with steady support.
With every step I held my breath, watching them slip a few inches on the loose dirt, then grab the nearest low branch to maintain their balance. Persistent in their efforts, they continued making their way down the trail until, finally, both were on solid ground.
I admired their tenacity. Surely others would’ve quickly given up and turned around, settling for a panoramic view rather than the joy of the journey.
As they walked toward the water, the woman paused and laid her walking stick against a large boulder. A flash of light caught my eye — a glint from a polished silver knob at the top of the stick. Even from a distance, I noticed the hand-grip was laminated with accent colors — a series of green and yellow bands — apparently a custom-made design.
As the couple reached the edge of the surf, they slipped off their shoes and let the waves lick their ankles. Looking back at the trail they’d just descended, their eyes followed it to the top of the cliff.
Realizing they could see me, and afraid I’d intruded on their private moment, I offered a friendly wave. They waved back, then turned in the opposite direction, sharing a tender kiss before making their way down the shore, hand-in-hand.
It was obvious they had spent decades together, their intimate connection reflected in their playful gait and spontaneous embraces. As they slowed to take in the landscape, the man reached down to pick up a shell and, after showing it to his beloved, he tossed it into the sea.
I counted myself lucky to be looking in their direction as the woman laid her head on the man’s shoulder. And, in an unexpected move, he dipped her, the sound of her laughter carried on the wind.
As they made their way further down the beach, I wondered about their story — how they met, what kind of life they’d lived, if they had children or grandchildren, and how often they visited this strip of deserted sand to share an afternoon stroll, just the two of them.
That was eight years ago. Recently, I revisited that same stretch of pristine shoreline to take a walk and feel the cool breeze on my face — to regain that sense of connection that always came so easily.
I had just reached the far end of the beach when I notice thunderheads building in the distance. Pushed by the rising wind, a front of angry black clouds had formed, racing to the top of the sky. At my feet, an unsettled ocean drove the waves higher, sending a layer of foamy surf across the sand. It was only a matter of time before the rain arrived.
Hoping to beat the worst of it, I quickened my pace and headed toward the well-worn path up the hillside, far above the high tide line. Reaching the top of the cliff, I turned around to watch the roiling clouds swallow the afternoon light.
Down the shore, I noticed a single figure — another poor soul about to be caught in the downpour. From the stance and height, it appeared to be a man. Seemingly oblivious to the elements, he reached down and picked something up — a rock or shell — then tossed it into the frothy surf. Pulling at the collar of his jacket, he turned back toward the craggy cliff and began walking toward the path to begin his uphill ascent.
There was something familiar about him. Rather than make a quick retreat, I decided to see how long this man would endure the elements.
As the heavy moisture turned to light rain, he disappeared behind a boulder at the base of a large rock outcropping. Out of view for only a few seconds, the man reappeared holding a long, slender piece of wood. Gripping it with both hands, he leaned forward slightly and brought the stick close to his chest, as if it were a dancing partner.
A glint of reflected storm-light caught my eye.
Bracing myself against the increasingly grating wind, I watched him deftly climb the make-shift staircase of rocky stones and loose gravel. As he reached the top, I saw it. Even in the dim light, I recognized the custom walking stick with its handgrip of green and yellow bands — topped with a polished silver knob.
This was the same man I’d seen eight years ago. But this time, he walked alone. Turning to face the ocean, he looked directly into the wind. He stood there for several minutes, enduring the full intensity of the storm.
Then slowly, he lifted his hand — and waved.
But this time, I knew he wasn’t waving at me.