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Sea Sounds

photo 2I 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?



Today I was walking home from class and happened upon the most amazing thing--an enormous egret flew down my street! I think I scared him actually, because I was talking rather animatedly to my sister on the phone, and then I saw his lithe little body take off down the street. So of course I ran after him, yelling EGRET SIGHTING GOTTA GO at my sister and alarming a whole crew of gardeners in my neighbor's lawn, and found him walking carefully through a patch of grass around the corner. Each step was slow, thoughtful, pre-meditated. Oh to think so much on my own pace--who would I be if caution defined me? This egret friend was standing outlined against the house, a lovely vision of white in an otherwise unexceptional suburban scene. If only I were an egret, the lines of my body long and sinuous--to be so light and delicate, shed this clumsy earthbound form of mine and stalk with calm precision from the sky, that would be a delight. I wonder if I ever feel as tranquil as he looks. Once I remember coming home from a trip years ago, I was 13 or 14 maybe, and a blue heron had descended into the fish pond of our house with no way out. He was hoping for a koi snack but instead fought a vicious battle against the glass. When we came in he made one last desperate attempt at escape, nearly beating himself to death. Feathers and blood were on the windows. Finally, my Dad waded in with a blanket, and right before he threw it over him to carry him outside, I got a good look at his eye. His pretty head was leaning back and he was so tired, he had resigned to his fate--whatever it was--not even wary anymore. Defeat. I hope I never feel as beat as he looked.

xoxo, Lauren

Funny Story True Story

The other morning at a far too early 5 a.m., a thunderstorm broke out directly over my house. Although the rain was a soothing sound, reminiscent of the weather of my motherland, the thunder wasn't. And then, to make matters worse, a raven started cawing outside my window. My first thought, I'll be honest, was not the brightest--do birds get wet when it rains? floated through my sleep-deprived brain before I was filled with a sickening sense of doom. Oh God. I thought. Things are not looking up.

Why? you might ask. RAVEN MOCKERS, I would respond. Here's the thing: first of all, there are a lot more ravens on campus than I remember, which is never a good sign. I both fear and admire these shiny feathered harbingers of bad news, but I do not trust them. Not for one second. Yesterday I was cutting through a lawn and all these ravens were looking at me and not flying away like they should, and I almost shouted, You don't know me! but thought that might cross the crazy line. I don't know. I'm still feeling it out. Second, I'm taking a class on Southern Literature, which started with Pocahontas. Found out the hard way that the Disney version isn't real.  Pocahontas was a ten-year-old who was traded to the English in exchange for a copper kettle. No talking willow tree, no cute raccoon, no painting with the colors of the wind, no interracial love story. Thanks a lot, Rebecca Mark, for ruining a beloved childhood classic. Apparently the legend was concocted by a bunch of Southern plantation owners looking to make all kinds of fortune on that fertile southern ground, but who needed to cover up the fierce genocide that was happening here in the good old U.S. of A in order to convince investors and potential settlers to hop on board. Great. Then we went on to study the trail of tears--less a matter of Southern Lit and more a matter of a professor on a crusade to bring light all the terrible things white people have done to non-white people ever.

So now I have terrible, inescapable white guilt--I tried to get out of it, as feeling guilty is something I make a point not to do, but then Professor Mark started ranting about how nearly every person, even Indians, had slaves if they had a little bit of money, so no such luck. I might still be safe, I'm pretty sure that none of my ancestors were rolling in it, but still. Outlook not so good. So then we start reading this book called Pushing the Bear, a multiple perspective narrative of the Trail of Tears, which is even more of a downer than anything thus far. That's where the Raven Mockers come in. They are evil beings in Cherokee mythology, and without delving into too much detail, suffice it to say that they feed on the dying and consume souls, causing all kinds of bad things to happen, none of which are pretty. The sound of a cawing raven then means that someone will soon die. Needless to say, there were a lot of Raven Mockers on the trail of tears.

Hence my terror a few mornings ago--and why I no longer read Pushing the Bear before I go to bed at night. Far too vivid dreams for comfort.

The only good thing that has come out of my Lit class so far is that in our last class this aforementioned Professor gave an inspiring speech about story-telling and how it is the food of the soul. How did women in the Holocaust survive? They told each other recipes. How did the Cherokee survive the trail? They recited their legends and stories. It is the only thing no one can ever take away from you! she said emphatically. Never let anyone take your story, it is all you have when you have nothing! It will remind you who you are! When you have lost that, you are done for--you might live in body but your spirit will be gone. Your story validates you, you are writers! You know this better than anyone!

It was perhaps overly dramatic but I think, to some degree, true--I know, especially when I was abroad and even sometimes here, telling my friends or even other people stories from my life made me, in some ways, feel validated. Better. I was still someone even if no one else knew it. Maybe that's why I write so much. But who knows. That's a psychoanalysis for another day.

In other news, I'm taking a class on the poetry of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, best friends until the end. But that's not what's important here--I took it because of the delightful professor, a pedantic older gentlemen who looks and acts just like Mr. Rogers, until he opens his mouth. The other day he came into class wearing a bright yellow sweater and a girl commented, I like your sweater, it makes me happy! And he responded, well it makes me warm.


xoxo, Lauren