Where the Pacific Ocean crests against the cliffs of Cape Arago, lichen-patterned spruce interlock sharp needled branches. Salal skirts the precipices in glossy, leathery leaves. Here, the incoming sea winds rake waves into foaming churning piles and fling them headlong into sandstone promontories eroding, sculpting, and falling.

Trees too close to the edge grip with grappling roots like prehensile toes wrapping around stones and the roots of their kin. The lean can be gravity-defying. To walk the dizzying trails is to be aware of all that overhangs the ocean far below. What appears to be solid ground can be illusory—safe only as a promontory for a peregrine falcon on the hunt.

“Overhang” is a two-syllable warning. There is the danger of what might fall from above and what might break from underfoot. Here at this edge of life and death, overlooks pinnacling above the ocean can be as seductive as a banquet table set for a king, but beware. The table has no legs and the emperor has no clothes. All is not as it seems.

To be alive in 2023 is to inhabit the overhang—the one we have chipped, cut, chiseled, hammered, chainsawed, and exploded under our feet. We live with one foot poised to tumble over with all the species we have sent to extinction with careless domination unless…

I live in the hope of unless…..unless we come to value sensory animals, trees, flowers, stones, fresh and saltwater as family. Unless we apply our big brains to less not more, to barter over profit, to all that is small-scale, kind, peaceful, humble, and connected. Unless giving back to the earth becomes a practice as natural as breathing. Unless we realize dancing on the edge of an overhang is not some distant danger like calving glaciers but something we do every day until we stop burning fossil fuels and protect carbon-capturing forests and big trees. Unless we hold out a hand to help….in time.

As I write in our camper on a rainy morning at Sunset Bay, I’m struggling to find the “unless” and the way of solid ground, because chainsaws are buzzing hornets in my ears and the crash of each tree’s death jars me into despair. The logging is visceral, immediate, and yet invisible from the campground–somewhere just inland on private land. But there’s no escape from the inferno, except in the intervals of quiet—when the Pacific wrens can again take up their morning soliloquies among ferns, moss, and the feathered embrace of a forgiving forest.

Wes and I bundle up to head out with our labrador Pepper up the forest coast trail in the rain. We wear rubber boots. I twirl a silver umbrella. I want to out-hike the chainsaws, but the air remains snarled until we are almost a mile away. I think of the book I finished recently—An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden World Around Us by Ed Yong. I’m more attuned to the limits of our own senses and the harm done by all the mechanized roar to the courting of birds, of frogs, and the fragile dance of insect hunters and prey navigating in ways I’d never imagined.

Yesterday, as we’d hiked toward Simpson Reef, we had noticed Pepper acting strangely– whining and anxious, staying close on her leash as if she might steer us to turn around. At last, we heard the chorusing barks of distant California sea lions she had noted long before us. Her ears are sensitive and her nose is a force. A couple years earlier, Pepper had a bit of a close call with a sea lion on the docks of Charleston. She has not forgotten. We took heed and returned to safer ground–from her perspective.

Pepper on the precipice–not quite as scary as it looks (and outside the state park so not a leash area, but we are vigilant).

On this day, we emerge from the forest to the edge of the sea and the place of precipice, peril, and overhang. Wes and I stay well back with proper respect. Rain speeds toward us on frowsy scudding gray clouds. We’re soon buffeted like the pigeon guillemots and pelagic cormorants on the black rock islands spearing outwards upon the dark waters. A western gull skates the edge on gliding wings.

On the return hike, the chainsaws had stopped. We inhabited the quietude of raindrops on fern, salal, rhododendron, laurel, and salmonberry. I bent down to touch the feathered moss on the breast of earth nurtured in cedar, spruce, and hemlock. In the wettest low places, skunk cabbage bloomed yellow candles. Old stumps from past logging had become soft pedestals for trees and bushes. Everywhere we turn is life upon life, decay as nurture. Healing.

Skunk cabbage candling the forest of gentling rain.

In spring’s beginnings on the lush coastal rainforest, I turn to the budding, leafing, sorbet blooms of salmonberry, yellow violets, and scintillas of song sparrow, wrentit, brown creeper, chestnut-backed chickadee, and Pacific wren.

If the mossy understory had a voice it would be a soft green humming over the hummocky earth storied in past forests. If the wheeling branches of spruce and hemlock overhead spun in end rhymes, they just might include “nourish” and “flourish.”

Back at camp in the welcome stillness, I could simply forget the chainsaws. I could pretend to live with a stable underpinning, but this is our life–the overhang, the table without legs. As if reading my thoughts, winds muster their muscular lungs. The long horizontal spruce branches dripping lichens bend, whip, and flex. Crows squabble. The rain is upon us with force.

Overhang. How close to the edge are we living? How safe is the roof over our heads? The shifting ground beneath our feet? The winds are answering in fierce gusts as I type inside the camper warming up with hot cocoa. Perhaps they call us to step out into the storm—to interlace our arms like spruce branches above the overhang—to be enlivened in the companionship of those who act in ways of flourish and nourish, and to join in the mossy humming and the candling of skunk cabbage blooms flaring light.