We first see ponies grazing on the cliffs of the Dale Peninsula. There is a white one and a brown one, another white further towards the cliff edge. They see us, with little interest. Their heads rarely rise from the low grass they're nipping.
I don't think they're wild, but they look like they could be. They're short, fur thicker around the ankles, manes and tails blowing in the wind.
Cousins have joined us for the last couple of weeks of walking. Alison and Michelle are a syncopated generation with me and Eileen: Michelle Eileen's niece, making Alison my first cousin once removed — boomer, gen x, millennial, gen z, all spaced about 13 years apart.
They used to live in Seattle, but moved to Arizona in what must have been my junior high times — I can picture the bangs I still had in the photograph: me giving Alison her first-ever birthday present, a giant purple bunny I knit.
She must have vague too-young memories of me the way I have of Michelle: me showing Ali how to weave grass blades in a park; a much-younger Shelly making Santa Lucia buns in our kitchen. It's a product of big family: a jumble of mismatched ages, so many we take family for granted.
But Eileen and Michelle have made this happen. Alison is home from college for the summer, Michelle's teaching has finished up, I'm between jobs. So we're out here walking together in a fantastical place that's new to all of us.
We see the coast ponies again on their first day of walking. Eileen and I are used to the endless beauty of cliffs above the ocean, strange geologies that leave calved-off shards poking up from the seabed, striated natural murals, wave-worn arches. But it's fresh again through their eyes: the aqua-blue water, the omnipresent variety of wildflowers. And then horses, casual above vertiginous sheer drops, and inured to passersby like us as well.
It's a readjustment, walking in new company. My stride is too long for the group. I'm not in a hurry, but neither do I have a habit of pausing, so I keep finding myself well ahead while others stop for views, snacks, photography. I don't mind waiting, but it's conscious work to slow.
We settle into group rhythm, and it's lovely to walk, sometimes together and sometimes apart. In days on the trail, there is time to learn that my younger cousin writes fiction, jokes readily, hikes fast when she has a mind to. My older cousin is always smiling, a deep listener who needs…