Maybe it's the smell. They say the sense of smell is best at evoking memories. I started smelling it when I was still almost a mile away. That salt tang that I hadn't smelled for years brought back memories from my first sight of it near the mouth of the Columbia. I remembered the time Grandma and I came here, to the foot of Sloat Street when we were newlyweds, back almost 43 years ago. I remembered Ketchikan and Seattle and Monterey.
Maybe it's the sound. I'm deaf as a post, but the sound of the Pacific has always fascinated me. It sounds like some creature of unimaginable size slowly, rhythmically inhaling and exhaling. Like the planet itself is breathing. In a sense, it is. I remembered Vancouver and Astoria and San Diego.
But the sight of it is what makes my heart leap. With my back to millions of Californians jammed cheek by jowl along the coast, I could face west and see miles and miles of open water.
Water still alive with salmon and steelhead, sea lions and sea urchins, plovers and pelicans. Water that smelled just like this when the Spanish were here. Water that sounded like this when the Ohlone were here. Water that looked like this when there were no people here at all.