I wish I could say I had wanted to go to the beach because I was thinking about my G. Claire, and the trip Sam and I made to the beach last year in honor of her, and because I wanted this year to come full circle, bookended by the sound of the ocean and salt in the air. Sadly, none of this occurred to me until after we got home, although, of course, I had to tell Darren while we walked along the sand about how Sea Granny became Sea Granny. My symbolism loving heart thrilled at the significance when I realized just what I had unwittingly done, and then I realized, maybe this is why English majors are often scoffed at. Not everything means something, does it? But alas, I can’t help but think it does. We have to, or else trees are just trees and rocks are just rocks. What an empty world we would live in! What a desperate place to be! No, you see, we drive through dark coastal forests that are full of mystery on the way over, the clouds above the mountains heavy and somber, so when we break out to where we can see the water glinting in between the trees, the sun bathing everything in a bright white light, it’s as if someone gifted us the whole coast—served up on a platter. Enjoy, the universe said. Have a good time. There we were, the Oregon Coast Big Sur-like in its magnificence, the trees stark against the blue of the sky. We race down the rocks to the sand, and laugh when we get there, ripping our shoes off and wiggling our toes down deep. A man is painting high on the bluff above us, and I point out the windblown trees along the top, one of my favorite things to see. They’re so graceful up there in the face of all that wind, gracious in their resilience. I love them. We’re back at Hug Point, the point—you’ll remember, that wasn’t straight out of a Baldacci novel—and we go to all the same places that were magnified in little Sam and I’s minds when we were here last year. I tell Darren that at the top of this waterfall, this is where we walked back and scared the kids out, I take Darren into the caves and tell him this is where we found the dead bird. And I think he can tell I’m feeling nostalgic and a little lost, because I’m having a hard time feeling close to my younger sister right now . So he doesn’t say anything and instead just lets me show him and relive that time.
There’s new memories too though, we discover new things, and this is the way life works—all the elements are the same as last year but the variables inevitably change, so we’re here at high tide. The old road is rapidly being covered, the ocean raging against the edge of the rock, but we race through the water anyway and walk along the cutout in the rock for awhile, laughing when we get sprayed. I stop for a minute, standing here on the edge of the ocean, and look out at the mellow blue water, and I take in the tans of the sand and the sharp rise of the cliffs, the dark green of the trees clinging to the edge, huddled together, and think there’s no way this all doesn’t add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. On our way back down the old road, at the bottom, the tide whooshes in and out and we wait for the perfect three seconds to run through the receding water and back onto the safety of the sand. It comes once and we miss it, it comes twice and we charge—racing the next wave and yelling like the heathens we think we are.
All down the beach we dodge the tide, hugging the cliffs and occasionally freezing our feet in the frigid Pacific. There are huge boulders, huge scattered here and there, and I ask Darren if he can imagine what it would be like to come down the Columbia and see this coastline before people came in and changed the character of here. Now there’s a time when everything meant something, when everyone saw a spark of significance in everything, from an uninhabited coastline to a particularly breezy day. I guess there are wins and losses there though—on the one hand, magic is everywhere, on the other hand, you get the Salem Witch Trials. Ah well. You win some, you lose some.
Later, we walk the length of the beach, almost to where we can’t see we started. The sun is hot, lighting up the sand and the sea so everything is reflective, and when we sit down, backs against a driftwood log, I close my eyes and drift, listening to the ocean. I think of nothing, and everything—my Grandma, my sister, the concert we went to last night and how I cried and cried when he played Please Forgive Me, the lady I bought pottery from this morning (she told me sometimes the kiln gave her gifts, I believed her), my family at the farmer’s market, a bird we saw dying earlier.
The bird was sitting, his spindly little legs tucked underneath him, facing the bluff. He—maybe she?—had his eyes squeezed shut, against what I don’t know. Pain maybe, or fear. The wind was ruffling his feathers the wrong way and he was rocking gently forward with each gust. He was dying, waiting to die, it was clear to me, and Darren crouched and watched him for a long time. I couldn’t, I had to walk away. It reminded me a little too much of Grandma Claire, and how it felt to have sat and watched for days, stressed and tensed for three days, while she waited to go. I have often wondered what you think about when you’re dying, what it is you think of. Memories, I think, is what would float back to you. I walked around the corner of the bluff from the bird and sat down on the sand, waiting for Darren to come find me. The bird to me had flying written all over his face, he looked like he was remembering flying.
That was the bird that was dying, but soon something else pushed that thought out and I was on to the next thing, feeling the sun and the beauty of alive, the sweet smell of air and strength in my bones. All we have is now and maybe the next minute, to quench meaning from each second. Here we are, I want to tell the world, and isn’t that something?