“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
~T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
I’m not exactly certain how it all began, but one New Year’s Day in the early 2000s, our family decided to head out on a walk along the La Jolla coast. As we welcomed a new year among sea lions, sea birds and the gentle, lapping sounds of the Pacific, we had no idea that a lovely tradition was quietly weaving itself into the fabric of our family. Even after our son and daughter moved on with their own lives, Herb and I have carried on the tradition every New Year’s morning we’ve lived here.
That is, until 2021. With the pandemic circling about and vaccines not yet on the horizon, we stayed close to home last New Year’s Day, steering clear of public spaces – even outdoor ones. But this year, we were oh-so ready to dust off the cobwebs from our packed-away tradition and return to La Jolla on January 1st.
January 1, 2022, 8 a.m.
We park the car near the entrance to Sunny Jim Cave on Coast Boulevard and begin our walk at the wooden staircase leading to a lookout point that hangs over the Pacific. I’m surprised by how many people are already on the path – clearly more than I remember from past years. There are many more photographers as well, their long zoom lenses propped up on railings and tripods, cameras focused on pelicans dotting the rocks and shoreline cliffs.
We pass two lifeguards on the path, heading to their station. “Happy New Year,” we greet each other, exchanging smiles. You can almost hear the hope in our voices.
Our arrival at high tide plays momentary tricks with my memory’s recollection of gentler sounds. These waves are putting on a show, as if to usher in the new year with a burst of hope and energy. We stop to watch sea lions swimming in the foamy ocean, almost as if they were playing in piles of snow. Pelicans seem to be reveling in the waves as well, soaring overhead and landing like graceful dancers on nearby rocks. The bubbly champagne sea spray crashes against the shore – a visual metaphor for a new year.
Heading to Shell Beach & Seal Rock
The path takes us past Ellen Browning Scripps Park and La Jolla’s bright green belvederes, open-sided huts offering a place to sit and take in the Pacific views. According to the La Jolla Historical Society, the seaside gazebos have been part of the city’s coastal landscape since the 19th and early 20th centuries. We reach Shell Beach, home to the area’s tide pools. Although they’re only accessible during low tide, we head down the stairs and are treated to a terrific view of Seal Rock.
The Final Stretch
The La Jolla Coast Walk winds along the water’s edge until it spills into a residential neighborhood along Coast Boulevard. The path becomes more crowded as we retrace our steps back to the cove, and we are grateful to have arrived early. The tide is moving out as well, offering a calmer ocean scene.
The mood at this section of the walk is festive, lively, a contrast to the early morning magic. Vendors set up souvenir stands, arranging jewelry, hats and trinkets on foldable tables. Artists display their paintings, propping them on wooden boards near stone-covered walls. We pass the Museum of Contemporary Art on one side of the street and a couple’s beach-side engagement proposal – complete with rose petals arranged in the shape of a heart – on the other.
The morning feels like a celebration, as if there had been no gap in our New Year’s Day tradition.
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The best traditions are the ones that sort of sneak up on you. They unfold slowly, carrying no expectations, no intentions of becoming anything more than the moment. And yet over time, they blossom into an anticipation, like signposts directing the way, as if they’ve always been an integral part of our lives…part of the treasured story we have created for ourselves.