By James Lenthall
On a magical day earlier this month I sat horseback on a narrow mountain ridge in a remote stretch of Montana wilderness, high above the tree line, hooves in the snow. Around me, a majestic view beyond anything I’ve seen on film. With a panorama embracing hundreds of square miles, the only manmade objects in sight were the saddle I was riding on and the clothes on my back. Life’s usual trivia faded from thought and life back home felt impossibly distant. Many of the treasures so dear to me – the ocean, my boat, Dana Point Harbor – lost just a little luster. My mind seriously toyed with a radical lane change to pursue a cowboy life. As I descended the mountain, these thoughts wouldn’t escape, couldn’t escape, and they began to alarm me. Would I recover the marvel of the ocean when I returned home? Could I return to the boat life with the same devotion as I had left it? Or had this wondrous Montana day devalued all I’ve invested in making a life around the Dana Point Harbor? For a few moments I was frightened by the prospect that I’d poisoned the ocean lifestyle I define myself by. Then I began to realize that as fantastic as this day had been, much of the magic was a product of how novel this adventure was to me. It was so radically different from my experiences along our coast or out on the ocean.
There’s hardly been a day in my life when I wasn’t blessed with at least a brief peek of our ocean. So many of my days have been spent on the ocean. And the vast majority of those from the shores of Dana Point. I don’t believe I’ve ever lost an appreciation for how stunning my surroundings are, or how embarrassingly fortunate I am to call this home. Yet, no doubt there are days when I go about the habits of life without stopping to smell the salty air, to listen to the waves lapping our shore, or to ponder the motion of my boat rocking gently in her slip. There are days when this coastal life veers into a routine that conceals its allure. These are the days – left unchecked – that dare to desensitize us to the spectacle around us.
So I wonder, does a cowboy riding a remote stretch of Montana wilderness surrender awareness of his great fortune to the cycles of daily life? He must.
Countless times, family visiting from out of town, or a friendly tourist, will point out how marvelous Dana Point is, how fantastic it must be to live here. “Yes, it is.”, I acknowledge automatically. Usually, I move on with the habits of my daily life. But occasionally, gratefully, these remarks nudge me as a sharp reminder to stop in my tracks, to take a deep breath and survey my surroundings. Then a smile and a chill down my spine.
At sea, there have been divine occasions of a panoramic view of an endless ocean where the only man-made objects were the vessel I was riding on and the clothes on my back. Next time I will wonder, how would a Montana cowboy perceive this moment? Would the usual trivia of his life fade into the background, would home feel impossibly distant? Would his endless mountain views lose a little of their luster? Would he fantasize of moving to the ocean and discarding the cowboy way? Probably. For a few frightful moments.
When I returned home from the vast Montana wilderness, with my reset button punched hard as a challenge to my way of life, I raced to our harbor to test the endurance of my relationship with the ocean, with Dana Point Harbor. With a rush of tremendous relief, my love of the sea, my devotion to this life, were restored to their true and tested order. Near the top. More than that, with my faith challenged and triumphant, I committed myself with renewed spirit to do my part to shepherd our Dana Point Harbor into a wondrous future for the next generation, in honor of the past generation, and for all the visiting cowboys.
James Lenthall is a lifelong Dana Point resident and boater, and presently serves as president of the Dana Point Boaters Association, chair of the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board, and as a director on the board of Dana Point Yacht Club.