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There are dandelions growing on my coat. I don’t know how they got there. Their leaves are prickly, toothy, like lion’s teeth. Their arched stems curve like the nape of a neck; their heads suffuse themselves in halos of gold in the sunlight.

I walk with my coat on in summer, despite the heat. Despite everything. The dandelions wave their sunny heads, brush my paper-pale skin, and I find myself grimacing as they dust my skin with pollen.

I hate them. Why must they be so cheerful?

I walk down the sidewalk, seeking shade. Dandelions have taproots: long, thick central stems growing down like vines into the soil. They can be as meager as the first root of a seedling — that simple white maggotlike appendage that first emerges from the brown pebble — or can be as thick and broad as the muscular thighs of a yucca. The taproots of dandelions are ropy, growing with knots like corded rope, and those knots tickle the insides of my coat as I walk. Their roots are still growing, I realize.

When did they get here? I must have walked through a field at some point, picked them up like how cows collect burrs. Last I went to the woods, the air had been filled with seedlings like dandruff from the clouds. For the dandelions now, maybe I will pull them out one day. For now, though, it would be too much bother.

Besides, they are pretty. But I will remove them when they become too much of a burden.

I walk on the sidewalk, feet burning through the soles of my shoes from the heat of the sidewalk, and I consider my disposition.

Rulers used to love dandelions. They cultivated them like we do lawns — the kind of lawns I step across on my way between classes, the kind that soak up enough water to drown California up to the neck — and they were considered beautiful. Rulers grew dandelions for the fields of yellow, the ever-green elegant leaves, the sea of clouds they became for weeks on end when it came time to spread seed. But at some point in history, for reasons I never looked into, the rulers stopped loving them. Grass and manicured sculptures became the peak of gardening, tulips and purebred roses became the mark of wealth, and dandelions found a new home in the category of weeds.

I wonder why.

I walk. I am done with the houses. There are no trees here, in the neighbourhood, and I seek shade. I hunch my shoulders for now, against the sun, feel the heft of the oil-heavy black fabric of the coat on my shoulders. My coat weighs two pounds on a good day, and right now it weighs five. I checked this morning, on my way out to work. It is a beloved coat, and I would not part with it for the world.

Five pounds. It feels like it is so much more than that.

I turn toward the beach, toward the sea, and put the houses behind me. I had travelled along the sidewalks by the manicured gardens because I thought that they would provide me shade, keep me from sweltering in the sun, but the residents must have cut their trees when I wasn’t looking. The neighbourhood is not a friendly place anymore.

Best to travel along the beach, then. There isn’t shade there, never has been in my history of living, and I can’t swim because the water is polluted with ship oil, trash, and cyanobacteria blooms.

The blooms are so severe that the water colours red like blood in summer.

But I go there anyway. I turn left on the path, and hope that, with the sea breeze, the air will be cooler.

The beach roses are fragrant this time of year. They bloom pink in simple five-petaled blossoms, looking more like large apple blooms atop scraggly thornbushes than anything else. On my shoulders, my dandelions wave in the breeze, tickle the nape of my neck, and I inhale their sour smell along with that of the wild roses.

I wrinkle my nose, though the smell of dandelions isn’t so bad. Once an annoyance, their roots are now welcome, keeping my coat from my skin, airing out where the sweat has turned to rivulets running down my sides. I stumble down the rocky path, across the beach, and I am here.

It is an expanse of beach. That’s all. The shore has grey rocks instead of sand, black boulders instead of dunes, roses instead of plover's nests. The beach is grey. That’s all.

Why had I been expecting something more?

I walk toward the blush of the setting sun.

Did you know that roses all once looked the same? They were simple, fragrant, beautiful in their own right, yet so very violent. Roses once grew hardy between tough rocks and hard-packed sand, soaking up the saltwater and expelling minerals through their leaves and roots. With their very presence, they cut and maimed, many-directioned thorns like those of blackberry vines, and they spilled so much blood over the years that they grew a taste for it that lasts even today.

Now, though, after centuries of careful cultivation, roses are weak. We made them so. We today have strains like Big Red – barely able to handle aphids, petals falling weak to snails, pitiful with thorns so brittle they snap off in the wind, blooming so tight that not even the smallest gnat can wiggle its way inside to pollinate. No smell, either, to Big Red. Strains these days exist for their blooms: big, beautiful, long-lasting, looking like the perfect ideal for a rose, if you can keep them alive in all their hideous deformity.

I don’t hate them. They are just so sad.

I wish people paid more attention to beach roses instead.

I walk. I step over a discarded soda pop can, crumpled from pressures I can scarcely begin to fathom. Waves lap at my boots and at the edge of my coat, and I turn it away before the salt can ruin the oils in the canvas.

The wind whistles, heard just above the lapping of the waves and the crunching of gravelly rocks beneath my boots. I inhale the smell of the sea, and in the wind my dandelions tickle the skin beneath my ears.

I step over a large rock, one keeping a tidepool in its shadow safe from boiling in the sun. When I try to think back to what I had been musing – something about flowers, I think? — I find that my thoughts have fled, I look around briefly. When I do not see the item of my contemplation — how would I recognize it anyway? – I let the topic drop from my mind.

My mind is so empty these days.

The wind is delirious and the air is dead, rotten like the seaweed. I had hoped that staying near the waves would help me keep from overheating, but it looks like I was wrong. I stumble, feverish and unaware, across the pebbles. My steps scatter small crabs out from where I trip over larger rocks, and I would be grateful for the protection from barnacles my boots give me if I were more aware, but I know nothing. The world is the white sky, the suffocating smell of seaweed and rot, and the boiling heat.

I must keep moving forward.

The dandelions on my coat are softer now, like they have been cooked alongside me. Maybe they have. My coat is warm, warmer than it should be, and, I think with faint disappointment, that my flowers may well be fading. They have not received water, not since I noticed them, and their big toothy leaves lie flat on my back and chest where they had once stood proud at height.

How long have I been walking?

There is a garbage pile heaped in front of me. Or no, it is a cliffside, a sheer wall of jagged sandstone. Or, no, it is both: It is a bluff, a gaping face of trash and sand piled straight up, embedded in the earth where the land ate into all the remnants left from the careless people who thought they had visited here before. They were wrong, thinking that they had been on the beach. You can't just bring your body here, you need to be. To walk the beach, one needs not just take a temporary visit, but stay for so long one forgets what it is like to live outside. Only then, when you have all but forgotten your own name and purpose of living, may you leave.

But then, who am I to police the ways of walking the beach? My way may be different from that of others, and the ways of others may be different from mine. Acceptance of differences is a virtue. How had I forgotten?

I will likely forget this chain of thought, along with my revelations, in just a few minutes. The beach takes all.

But I digress. My dandelions wave in the breeze, wilted and soft, and their browning halos encourage me to approach the pile.

The metal is rough in my hands. The cliff is threescore of my body length toward the sky. I take a breath, and the scent of dandelions, sweet and sour and yellow, fills my lungs. I imagine that the air is so suffused with their scent that it turns my blood gold.

I take another yellow breath. Another. Another. Why is it not working? I am not ready.

Can’t I just stay at the beach forever?

I have had this thought many times. My coat is heavy, weighing what feels like fifty pounds on my shoulders and back, and I find that I am standing hunch-backed against the weight of the sun. Against the weight of the world. I am so tired, and the dandelions – I have not always had them, but now I do, and I wish for them to prove their worth – are not enough to do the climb for me. Must I put in effort to leave? Couldn’t I just wait this out, let the dandelions brown on my coat, blacken until they are matte and flush with the oil-soaked fabric on my shoulders? Can’t I just ignore the cliffside, stay where I am now, never need to try hard again because I am already at the level of the sea? Can’t I just wait for the cliff to crumble on its own?

I am so tired. Must I keep going?

I very nearly did stop there. It was not the dandelions, though, that made me continue. I have been on this path before, and I will walk this path again – again and again and again, perhaps for as long as I live. Or perhaps only for as long as I know this to be the only way through life. Perhaps once I have found another path, I will never need to walk this one again, if ever.

This is all to say that I see the sun, how it is setting on the horizon. Though it is blisteringly hot now, so hot that the dark stones under my feet feel as though they are coals, I know that the sea will soon win her daily battle with the heavens: should I stay longer, I will get my wish for chill.

But that too is not why I left the beach. Not what motivated me to climb. As the dandelions waved on my shoulders and the sun lowered herself gratefully to the cradle of the horizon, I felt awful.

Did I truly want to live this way? I hate myself, on this beach. Hate myself, and hate the world. When I am on the beach, I tell myself that I am walking the shorter path, the more honest path. I don’t think it aloud, not even in words, but that is how I feel. The roses are analyzed and thought improper, the sky is seen in its hexadecimal values and deemed unsatisfactory, and the waves are seen not as waves but as a force set on destroying all that I hold dear.

What is this way of living?

Now,in a moment of clarity, I recall: the world is not all bad. The world is not all bad. It only seems that way because I am on the beach.

I stumble up to the cliffside. I put my hand on a thick, ragged piece of metal, one of many on the sheer wall that climbs so high. I smell the dandelions, the sharp fragrance of roses on the wind, the rotting garbage before and above me, and the deep, earthy aroma of sandstone mixed in with the heavy life of the sea.

I take a breath. Another. My heart is not set – I am not sure if I want to leave. Not sure if I can. But I remember now, like remembering a billboard only at a traffic stop, that I can leave the beach because I have left before. I have walked this shoreline path before, and I can do it again, and I may have to do so for the rest of my life: endlessly enter and leave and reeneter and releave the beach, and I am capable of leaving. I can only hope that my struggles against the beach and cliff will, in time, wear a trail so it is easier each time.

But that is not my motivation for leaving now. I leave now because it is what I must do to continue living. Because life on the beach — existing without effort and without joy — is not what I consider living. It is purgatory, nothing less.

I take the metal in my hand. I put my foot against a toehold.

I take a breath.

I climb.

I stumble across the last of the garbage heaped on the beach, up the pile, up the grass that covers the ridge, and back into the neighbourhood. I am weary, breathing hard, muscles burning. The sun blooms red on the horizon, and the dandelions have wilted on my coat from the heat, lying flat and lifeless against the canvas. Even they couldn’t last forever, despite their hardiness.

I have lasted longer than they. But now, in the cooling air, I see: they are perking back up. Or maybe they have always been well, and it is merely my attention to them that has changed. The beach had made me cynical, unwell, sick of mind. If that is the case, then my love of the world is now returning, and so too, now, do the dandelions.

I walk along the pavement. It is so easy, compared to the slippery rocks and tidepools of the beach. It feels only minutes, free from the shore, before I am home.

I walk through the garden. My calves are sore, my hands swollen and scabbed from the climb.

I go inside.

I shut the door. Unlace my shoes. All rote motions, mind not yet fully returned – my body has left the beach, but it is taking time, as it always does, for the rest of myself to catch up.

My hands are gritty with sand and oil. I wash up.

As the water runs over my hands and turns grey, washes down the drain, some part of me returns with a click.

I turn off the tap. And, after a moment’s consideration, I take my coat outside to soak the dandelions with the hose.

May the dandelions – and myself — live for tomorrow, and may we live for many tomorrows after that.

Thank you, dandelions, for always being with me, even when I am at my worst.

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