“No one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out poetry”
The roar of the ocean is everpresent, our soundtrack, sometimes cut by tiny needles of trees or more substantial trunks, ever rising. With each crest of a wave, thousands, millions of water molecules fall, drawn by gravity to the water’s surface, transformed to white foam upon impact. Each of these droplets has a history- they may have lived inside a giraffe’s intestine or viewed a valley from atop an alpine glacier. Some may have lived inside a cloud for days upon end, gathering strength and courage before the fall. And then falling, faster and faster, to hard pavement below. Some may have been salty, tears streaming down the face of a heartbroken lover. Some lived as tears of joy. Some may have come out of a faucet, joining hands briefly with soap, feeling the touch of a human hand, caressing, before rushing down the drain. Some inevitably floated down a stream and absorbed by the ready gills of a salmon or a mayfly nymph, only to be stripped of its Oxygen and spit back out in a stream of hydrogen bubbles. Some rested as dew on the velvety petal of a red rose while neighbors rushed into a storm drain and into the sewer system. And still others sit drying on the surface of a surf or snow board. The story of water is endless, historic, eons-long. Some water molecules may have done any of these afore-mentioned adventures, and ended up crashing on the surface of the beach, a beach I happened to be visiting last week. Every molecule, carrying with it a piece of history.
My friend Claire thinks it silly to call any visit to the Oregon Coast a visit to the “beach.” As a native of Australia, she finds it funny that Oregonians flock from any hot (80 degrees +) weather inland to Cannon Beach or Newport, taking deep sighs of relief upon arriving at more reasonable temperatures (60 degrees, if that), driving wind, overcast skies, slight drizzle, and always freezing water. Sometimes in the summer the coast is a place to go for sunny skies and enjoyable surf but more often than not, the Oregon Coast is a place where we go to cool off. Over the last week, I have revived myself in the driving wind, flying sand, and salty, damp air of the Oregon Coast. Last weekend, I spent a couple days in Seaside, OR where we walked under overcast skies on a damp promenade and were spectators at a classic car show where dozens of old cars, waxed and colorful, brightened the Saturday gloom. We baked bread, drank wine, and took a midnight walk on the beach where the ocean, black and invisible to our right, threatened its dangerous depths.
And then last week, I headed a bit south to sunny (!?) skies and windy days spent at Camp Westwind, near Lincoln City, OR. I was with the 5th grade class I work with and we spent our days making musical instruments out of driftwood and shells, carving walking sticks from salvaged beach wood, and hiking around the large property learning about coastal ecology. One of the days in our science rotation, we climbed a ridge, observing its rise and fall, its diversity of plant life, knowing we were climbing a mountain of sand. We reached a viewpoint, looking out at Cascade Head looming bald and brown to the South, another tall hillside to the North. Trees exposed on these coastal cliffs leaned into the sand dune hill, hugging it, leaning away from the rushing wind and its blasting force. The waves below broke continually, each molecule making a roar of music with the other, the tiniest slap magnifying itself one million times.
When I walked out on the beach at Camp Westwind, I was reminded of another beach I visited two years ago along a different coast. It was July 23, 2010, and my aunt Mary Jo and I were half-way through our trip through Scotland, where we spent two weeks driving around the outer border of the country, including much of the highlands. We took a day hike to Sandwood Bay, a beach accessed either by boat or by a 4.5 mile hike. Along the way, we were only accompanied by waving grass, still lochs, a few streams, and seemingly endless valleys, hills far off on either side. When we got to the beach and its wide sand, dune grass, tall cliffs, and emptying estuary nearby, we set up our hampers with some fellow hikers, including a young couple (Iain and his Swedish wife) and their two beautiful girls Freja Iona and Ajla. We all ate our food, talked, shared biscuits, and watched Freja run up and down the tall black rocks, play in the sand, show us the kelp she had found, and drink salt water- all with complete abandon. Iain passed around his flask of whiskey for a wee dram, and for a moment we were all captured in time, surrounded by turquoise water, white sand, bright sunshine, and good company. I think back to this day and the little details captured in memory, immortalized by the magic of the ocean. Sandwood Bay and Camp Westwind- different oceans (Pacific vs. Atlantic) but the same sense of wildness that one feels when their hair is whipped mercilessly about their face, the sun warming the sand, and the endless roar of crashing waves.
I just finished The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch, a mesmerizing story about a young thirteen-year-old boy and his infatuation with the ocean. Driven by his passion, Miles finds the ocean delivering strange and wonderful creatures to the bay beside his house: a giant squid, tiny phosphorescent fish, invasive mollusks, among others. Wrapped up in the book is an underlying theme of care to our planet, and Rachel Carson is mentioned many times. Both Miles and his hero, Rachel, warn us readers and ocean lovers that the future health of our favorite wild spaces is determined by our ability to pay attention. Terry Tempest Williams also writes extensively about this. To notice what impact we have physically, to learn as much as we can and pass on this knowledge to others, and to notice the little wonders of the coastal ecosystem that inspire us to care just that little bit more. Last week, the fifth graders practiced looking closely at nature, and I practiced my skills alongside them. The ocean brings us peace through its wildness. It is vast, but it is also fragile. With our trained eyes wondering and noticing together, we can preserve these spaces that revive our spirits- our Coasts with their driving winds and soft sand, large rocks and sheer cliffs. Places that we visit to connect, revere, and wonder, always wonder.