Coastal Trails

My heart races as I descend the stones thrown recklessly at the edges of the earth. 

These coastal boulders are mighty as they break the waves, which threaten to wash away the trees and green shrubs, homes of bears and cougars. Whoever tossed them aside was very angry. 

White foam bubbles next to my fingers, which clutch sharp edges as I climb down. I attempt to go backwards, then turn my body around, facing the earth. 

Face your fear. Face your shame. Face your life, the stones murmur.

For me, the taste of death is familiar. 

I panic momentarily, then feel relief knowing I’ll most likely make it out. I’m not tired; I’m terrified: terrified that I’ll die, terrified I’ll live. This is where I live. 

Scooting my butt little by little, I release my hands and fly downward, landing on the sandy beach.

I am from here, from the wild. My home is amongst beautiful, unpredictable danger.

The three strangers who advised us to turn around in our descent—now, our rescuers—pepper us with questions. Momentarily, I wonder if these men are dangerous, but given they’ve just rescued us and they’re swooning over shells washed ashore, I decide to trust the goodness of the rescue. 

“Where are you from?” and, “What’s your name?” and, “Did you see that wave hit the headlands, now?!” the third man exclaims. He’s slightly taller than everyone else, covered in facial hair, with an expensive camera glued to his hand. At every other sentence he stops to look into the shutter and either snaps a picture or tells us what he is looking for. 

We quickly learn he came hiking solo and was plucked off the headland by the other two gentlemen hiking together. So, the two pals on their annual hike have now added additional wilderness travelers to their company. We meander back towards the opening of the river and run into high tide. 

Setting my pack down, I wander back toward the river on well-worn foot trails. A bald eagle patrols the banks here. He flies in and then out, leaving me be. I watch one of my new friends cast his fishing rod across the river, in rhythm, waving his hand like a wand over the water in front of us both. I sway. He turns, grins, and says, “Would you like to try?”

“I’ve not really been fishing before,” I reply.

He hands me the rod with some simple instructions. Both of us are aware of the fish jumping and hiding when they are seen. He mumbles something about coming back in a few minutes, telling me to keep practicing. 

I toss the line once or twice, tangling my feet in the grass below me. I reel in the line, untangle my feet, and recast. Each time the lure and hook land, a rush of adrenaline-calm pulses in my veins. I look over my shoulder. “He still isn’t back,” I whisper.

Inhaling the salt and grass and blue sky, I whisper to the eagle, “How do you do it?” I reflect on home, and grief tumbles out in tears. The lost relationships of the past few years since I admitted that I bore the cost of sexual trauma has drained me of goodness. 

I cast. I cast again. 

In the early days, I believed my church community would love me in spite of my childhood abuse, but quickly I’d realized that it was a mark of shame I would never be rid of. 

I cast. I cast again. Tears. More tears.

It ended in silence. Lost relationships. Hurt so bad I thought I was having a heart attack.

I cast again. Tears.

I won’t be that woman who is silenced—too wild to remain that way.

My line goes taut. I scream, “Help!” I reel, reel more, as this fish dashes back and forth, dragging me into the river’s waters. “Help!” I reel. Reel more. And, more tears. 

I see the fish sloshing up near the shore, not convinced he’s beaten, and I pull him closer. He flops on the shore. I pull him farther from the water. 

My dear friend races to my side, looks at the fish, and squeals with delight. She grabs the fish and we are both yelling, Who is gonna believe this?

None of our newly formed group are needed back home yet, so we set up near the eagle’s watching-tree and the mouth of the river for the night. Having spent most of the day in terror, I lay on my back, flat on the long sand beach next to the river. The sun is still awake, lingering on the sea’s horizon, and I drink in the beauty. The men whip out their blades, clean the fish, and roast it on hot coals.

In the wild, the unknown becomes the normal I need. The wisdom of God in mothering me through adventure plants the seeds of hope I’ve needed for a decade.

Danielle S. Castillejo grew up in the swirl of a mixed identity, with a German father and a Mexican mother. With her four children in school full time, she applied to graduate school at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Before her second year of graduate school, she was invited to explore her story through a Story Workshop at The Allender Center. She went on to complete Levels 1 and 2 of the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care and the Externship. Since our culture has experienced such an intense ripping and cultural identity crisis, Danielle addresses internalized racism and its effects personally, in her family, and in her community. She encourages other healing practitioners to do the same. Danielle began this process with her MA in Counseling Psychology and studies at The Allender Center. Danielle loves the anticipation of spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest, with the return of long days and sunlight absent in the dark winters. You can easily find Danielle out on a trail or working in her yard. You can also find her online at