Shortly after passing through a tunnel at Arch Cape and emerging into a coastal forest, Highway 1 bends to the left and climbs a hill. Blink, and you’ll miss it — a road to the right that passes through a different kind of tunnel, one made of mossy trees. It’s labeled as Cove Beach Road, which would seem to engender an improvised right turn from any beach-goer passing by … if only they could see it. But so hidden is this little road, I doubt many do.
It banks away from the highway and passes through a majestic forest like a portal into a fairy tale. It pops out into a scattered neighborhood of rental homes tucked into the trees, overlooking the sea. We were staying at one of them with my wife’s closest friend from childhood, who now lives in Portland with her husband and two-year-old son.
An hour after arrival, a group of us walked 10 minutes down Cove Beach Road and discovered our reason for staying here — a magnificent stretch of coastline called Falcon Cove Beach. A steep, forested cape and a cluster of seastacks served as bookends, hemming in a private space of polished rocks, battered driftwood, perfectly fine sand and the whisper of a creek coming to its appropriate end. At high tide, there was barely a beach at all — the rolling waves came right up to the polished stones. But low tide, for the four nights we were there, was right at sunset, giving me all the impetus I needed to return every evening after dinner to compose photographs.
One of those nights, the kids were well-rested enough for all of us to go down there. My oldest daughter is only four, and two weeks later she would begin her first and only year of preschool. Throughout the trip, she was showing signs of how ready she was for school — making a book of creatures whose names start with “sea,” trying to read signs, asking inquisitive questions about nature. She was moving on from that age defined only by herself, and entering childhood — where the world gets bigger, more brilliant, more fascinating, more scary, more complex.
At the end of the beach, someone had built a magnificent lean-to of driftwood poles. Maybe its original purpose was shelter from the rain, or to create a viewing space for sunsets (which on this night, would be a festival of gray). But once Varenna entered it, its purpose became a portal of endless possibilities.
Standing at the surf line, just breathing, lost in the ceaseless rolling and pushing and pulling back of the waves, feeling the earth move as the sun sinks. My favorite beaches are the ones that create a certain illusion: that your toes are at the end of the earth. That you are at the end of something yourself. Maybe I wasn’t at the end of something as much as our daughter was. Sunrise would bring something new and something fresh.
But its day’s end at lands end that proves to be the most revealing.