"Where are we going?" I ask, as the cold ocean wind whips through my jacket.

"Almost there!" She laughs mysteriously and continues, and I follow her footprints down the coastline until she stops before a group of large boulders, half immersed by the sea—covered by purple Sea Urchins. I gasp, and she steps closer, demonstrating with delight how they curl up when you brush their centers, and we proceed to spend the next forty-five minutes doing just that until all the little faces in the sea quarry are squeezed tight.

She spots an urchin further out as large as a saucer and points, proclaiming, “I’m going to touch that one!”

I hesitate, noticing how strong the waves are, how deep the water is that far out and watch with trepidation from the shore, as she plunges in with a laugh, wading past her knees to stand on a rock and tickle the sea creature. It closes its face, and she squeals—I laugh, I can’t help it. A high wave catches her and knocks her into the frigid water. 

“I’m fine!” She assures me, scrambling up with chattering teeth and a sheepish grin.

At Tennesse Cove, there is more to teach me, like how to find crabs. She pulls me along pointing at the tiny bubbles that burst to the surface in the sand, admitting regretfully that he is better at catching crabs that she is.

"There!" she cries at a particularly concentrated group of bubbles, and begins to dig furiously, until we glimpse a translucent body, slipping deeper into the grit just ahead of her fingers. I hear thunder near my left ear, and scramble back, but she is too absorbed, and the white-tipped wave immerses her, splashing high above her hips. She laughs and shivers and doesn’t even bother to run.

"I almost had it that time," she grins, and I can’t help but adore her. We walk to the far side of the beach and dry in the sun, sitting on large smooth rocks, threaded with dark, sparkling veins of verdant mosses and watch the tide come crashing in, spraying higher and higher against the curved side of the cove jutting out into the surf. 

At Limantour Beach, we go shell-hunting—something I haven’t done since I was a child. She hunts the length of the beach in that cold water, until the numbness settles in, and tempers the frigid waters, though I doubt she ever felt the cold. The best shells are found in the furthest retreat of the wavewhere the waters comb back the sand into tumbling furrows. We scan the shoreline, and she spots a bit of white that cartwheels back with the pull of the waves—she screams for help and dashes off, and he sprints by her side, splashing unreservedly through the water to reach it before it is claimed by the crest of the next wave. The waters make it there first, but they mark the treasure's spot, and wait patiently for the wave to recede.

When it pulls back, they bend eagerly to find their catch in the wet sand. "It’s a good one, come see!" They call. As I run up, I hear them instructing each other firmly to let Willa pick it up. I smile and reach down, pulling it out of the water with a grin as wide as their own, thinking all the while that this must be where I get it from. The beautiful shell is striped with blue and orange, with curving intricate curlicues, the innermost of which is inhabited by the tiniest of snails whom we admire and place gently back in the water.

In moments, he spots the next one, and they dash off again through the waves. I stop to watch the pelicans fly in groups along the tall curling green crests, only to crash-land in the waves. I close my eyes and hear the thunder of the waves, pulled from left to right by the moon, breaking and frothing... 

This is life. This is joy. Every breath confirms it.

They take us on a steep hike, through tall, sturdy grasses and wildflowers along the edge of a cliff, to the peak of Pirates Cove, where we sit, looking for whales, shading our eyes against the sparkling of the sun against the expansive waters. It’s the right time of year—she tells me, with glowing blue eyes —they are there somewhere below the water, the seagulls would not be circling in such dense clouds if there were no whales.

We wait. Fifteen minutes pass before a small white jet erupts in the distance and a dark, shining body rises and turns luxuriously to its other side, slipping gracefully beneath the waters. Perhaps it enjoys the admiration and chaos it incites from our perch as arms point and eyes strain and we shout in disbelief, “There! Did you see it! Did you see it?! It was right there!” grabbing the glum shoulders of those who had missed it to align their sight line down the trajectory of our arms like compass points in the vast ocean.

The whale surfaces again twenty yards further to the west, and my heart pounds as loudly as it had before. We shout and point again, though each of us has seen it this time, and she sighs gleefully and says she thinks it might be a humpback. There it is again, and again—twelve more sightings.

There is an alert quiet in our little group as we wait patiently between sightings for it to surface again. But the whale has plans of its own, and continues on—and a piece of my consciousness with it—swimming out towards the point where the sun has fallen into the waves and colors dances across the surface of the ocean.

And we sigh and smile, content and delighted with what we have shared. We hike down slowly through the golden light, savoring the wonder... I walk behind, and watch the salty breezes play through her sunkissed hair... 

Yes. This is life.