Frostwriting

On the Edge of a Day

by Maura McElhone

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The only faintly worn path is hidden well; amidst the gated community of yet another exclusive La Jolla neighbourhood in San Diego, California, past the white-washed, hacienda style mansions, with the multiple-doored garages housing Porches, Jaguars and Mercedes; all of it framed by perfectly sculpted gardens. It never fails to amaze me how these homes, with every last square inch deliberated over and molded by man’s hand, how they can stand only metres from the effortless, natural magnificence of the cliffs.

They are nature’s sleeping giants, these cliffs. Despite their stillness, I approach them with a sense of anticipation; knowing from my previous visits that while standing as motionless as the rock beneath me, soon I will be moved, elevated to a place unreachable by even the most powerful of airplanes or helicopters.

When abroad, picturing the cliffs, I never see them from below. I am always on the ledge that juts out over Blacks Beach and I’m watching the sun set. The sunsets are what draw people to this place and if any further substantiation of their majesty were needed, a little further around the coast is a stretch specifically known as the Sunset Cliffs. But I prefer my own spot. I stand there squinting and I can feel the tears, first at the corners of my eyes and then running across the top of my cheekbones. They roll across, not down, and this much I can attribute to the wind. I’ve now flown thousands of miles and found myself here, standing on the edge of the world.

Four years on and still some of the most important words I’ve ever heard, are words which were spoken on this cliff-top. I was attending a sunset mass and, having found various excuses to miss every previous service, I decided I should attend the final one of the year. I had little over a month left of my study abroad experience and already the imminent goodbyes and my reluctant return to Ireland were daily clouds over otherwise sunny May days. Father JP was the first black priest I’d ever met and he was saying the mass. I found a somewhat even patch of ground on which to lay my green beach towel, and I took a seat amongst the other students and faculty members. As the sky behind him turned into a molten pouring of red, pink and orange, the Priest stood on the cliff edge. It was almost as if nature herself had silhouetted him, momentarily stealing away his eyes and mouth; those things which make him recognisable as Father JP. In those moments, it mattered only that we heard his voice. Seated there, with nothing but the thin green towel between myself and the mustard coloured earth, I listened to him say, “That which will remain true, must first be tested.” To my right sat an elderly couple. I’d watched earlier as he helped his wife keep her footing on the loose ground of the cliff top. Father JP continued, “Appreciate the now, but anticipate the future.” I watched as the old woman reached for her husband’s hand.

By now the sun had unraveled into a single ribbon of hot pink stretched across the horizon, separating the Pacific Ocean from the evening sky. I watched it hover there, cresting on the last inhale of day. The breeze wasn’t that cold, but the hairs on my arms stood straight up as the day’s final breath called all of nature to its attention.

I have been back to San Diego many times since, and always try to make a point of visiting these cliffs. When I stand there, I stand close enough to the edge that I can scuff the dirt with my toe and watch the breeze pick up the yellow dust, carrying it down the coastline. I imagine the pebbles which disappear off the edge, rediscovering long-lost bed-fellows on the sand below. I can taste the salt air on my lips. Even in fingers busy gripping the cuffs of the sweater I’ve pulled over my hands, I feel it. Such is the strength of my grasp on life when standing on that precipice.

 

 

 

 

Maura McElhone is a graduate of the MA Writing programme at the National University of Ireland Galway. Born and raised on Ireland’s North West coast, she spent a year studying abroad at the University of California San Diego in 2004-2005. It is her dream to one day make the permanent move to the U.S. state which has since become her most important creative muse.

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