Project Ocean San Diego – A Place on Loan

West Coast Sunsets

I don’t think we could have walked east if we tried.

Our director of photography, Rod, and I had settled in for our pre-shoot day routine of charging batteries and a nutritious (ish) dinner. Project Ocean had plucked us from the Virginia mountains, where the chill of spring at elevation still hung in the air, and benevolently dropped us down in a mildly breezy, salty aired San Diego. 

Nobody warned us about a West Coast sunset. We were not prepared. 

We saw the red and gold start to radiate through the spattering of evening clouds from our outside table, perhaps half a mile or so from the edge of the cliff line that separated earth from ocean. It was suddenly a sensation akin to being pulled by a rope around your waist, or perhaps how a puppet on a string might feel. We found ourselves instinctively chasing the unfolding scene, powerless against the magnetic pull of the day falling into the sea. We had to get to the edge as fast as we could. (Yes, we did pay first. Don’t worry.) 

In our Appalachian world, we usually lose the sun long before it actually sets. Depending on where you are, sometimes it just tucks in behind a hill without the warning of a sky color bath. But here, on the shores of the Pacific, we saw the whole story. 

There is so much life metaphor captured in a sunset. Every single second looks different. Change is constant. The beauty is breathtaking. The impending darkness is unsettling. If you blink, you’ve missed something you can’t get back. It’s a perpetual invitation into something bigger than you, something peaceful and powerful, and temporary. Here lies a chance to recount the past and reset for the future. 

And here, in this place, we got it all a little longer than we’re used to. We basked in our star all the way until it dropped off the earth. We soaked up every last bit. 

The Environmental Center of San Diego

The night forced us reluctantly back to the hotel carrying some pretty pictures and an expanded understanding of the people we were to meet the next day, before ever coming face to face with them. 

The Environmental Center of San Diego was one of the first organizations to come on board with Project Ocean. Led by a husband/wife team, John and Pam, their main focus is protecting public access to the California coastline. Longstanding beach trails that were historically open to everyone are constantly being grabbed up by private landowners who want to have a home right on the water. 

And, honestly, who can blame those folks? After that sunset, I certainly can’t. 

So, herein lies a wise but difficult lesson about love that this couple would teach us through their daily work. True love demands generosity and stewardship. It is not designed to be inherently self-seeking. One person’s enjoyment should not exclude everyone else’s. 

Spend two seconds on that San Diego coastline, and anyone can see what all the fuss is about. Then comes the choice. Is a place ours, or is it ours?  

Ours But Not Ours

My assessment of ECO San Diego’s mission can be summed up in a comment John made to Rod and me at the conclusion of our filming. “We love showing off our coast to people who appreciate it.” 

It was so interesting that he described it as “our coast”. John and Pam hail from San Diego. Their affection for home was evident, but it was also juxtaposed with an instinctive desire to share that with others. It wasn’t a possessive “our”. It was an arms open “our”. Their love, in practice, is turned outward rather than inward. They are protecting not to get more, but in order that more may have what they have. How beautiful. 

The earth is a place on loan to us. For me personally, my faith shapes a perspective that this has all been graciously and purposefully given by our Creator. You may have a different perspective that shapes your interpretation of the sunsets you get to witness. Whatever our perspective, I think we can all agree that this is indeed a gift, and that we have a responsibility to steward that gift. 

May we always have an arms open “our”. 

Thank you, ECO San Diego, for showing us your coast and for dedicating your life to making sure we can all chase every sunset our hearts desire, as far as the sand will let us get. 

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