It cooled off a bit this week on the coast with highs sticking mostly to the 50s. Clouds creeped in with more regularity, and there were even a few drizzly days. Still, I love how the climate interacts with the terrain here in the Northwest. Thursday I was walking home and it was starting to rain. The sky was gray and visibility was dropping by the minute. You could tell we were about to get a stretch of precipitation. Still, I turned to my left and was in awe by how the clouds haloed the mountains. Fogs here can be large or small, some just enough to skirt the canopy of a tall tree, others blanketed all the hills to the North.
I found myself a bit overwhelmed by choices this week. I experience this on several fronts. First, there’s all the things I could be doing around the house. There’s all the different directions with the new job I could go in. There’s all kinds of artistic projects I want to start or complete. There’s even the decision of what place to go explore next in Oregon during my free time. I tried to plan stuff to do during my trip to Portland today, but couldn’t decide. I could go to the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, parks in Portland, stay closer to home and see Tillamook State Forest–I even entertained going to Crater Lake, which is like a 4-5 hour drive one way.
For lunch in Portland, I carefully walked a parking lot of food trucks with every kind of food from Moroccan to Polish to gourmet grilled cheese to Hawaiian to Georgian (the country not the state) . I’d normally revel in the chance to eat food from a former Soviet satellite, but today I just couldn’t pick one. There were so many that I didn’t want to make the wrong choice. I haven’t had a bad meal since I came to Oregon–the food here is that good. But, I couldn’t trust that for some reason.
Then what might be the greatest decision overload of my week, I finally stepped into 2007 and bought a smart phone. I felt a little anxious about this decision, because I’m about trying to keep my life as simple as possible. I knew there would be a time when not having a smart phone would make life harder than having one, but it took me longer than most. Not having all that stuff at my fingertips helped me be more conscientious of the things around me. It made it easier to slow down. It was also cheaper. But, my new smartphone will make communication with Allyson easier, it will allow me to share my life with friends far away with greater ease. It will also allow me to have that cool app that tells you the names of stars and planets when you point it at the sky.
This talk of too many choices is definitely broaching “whining” territory, but this is what we do to ourselves, isn’t it? We got so many things we want to see and accomplish that we put pressure on ourselves, not to enjoy and appreciate as much as we can but to just do as much as we can. It’s like making yourself miserable on vacation to see as much as you can, to take enough pictures to show people, but not really sitting down in any of those places and getting a feel for what is really happening there.
I’ve wanted to experience Lent this way, slowing down, not worrying about a number of accomplishments but of a depth to whatever I’m doing. To give each thing it’s time, in it’s time, and not be thinking of the next task. I’ve been pretty average this week.
One high point during the week was on my afternoon off when I went to Cape Meares. There’s an old lighthouse there, and it’s another one of those high cliffs that rise up over the Pacific and look out for miles. As I made it to the lighthouse and edge of Cape, I heard a man asking his wife, “Do you see the whales out there? They’re spouting.” I looked out and saw 3 or 4 gray masses out in the ocean. They’d rise up and a big mist of water would go up into the air. The water was a beautiful dark blue, and the sun was bright and warm on my face. I pulled out my camera and put on my biggest lens. I wasn’t taking pictures this time, though. This was just so I could see them better.
On my way back up the hills towards my vehicle, I saw sea lions playing in the water, flipping, going underwater out of sight, then coming back up. I was high up enough to see sweeps of waves in parallel white lines making their way to shore. There were large rock formations in the water, the ocean crashing into them, then receding back in foamy white. Later on that trip, I’d see the largest Sitka Spruce in Oregon, similar in size to one of the Redwoods Allyson and I said our vows under. These great elder trees don’t generally grow more than 30 miles inland, but I see them every day now.
On my Friday fast day, I worked hard to take time to sit with my hunger and see how that would open me up to noticing other things around me. During my lunch hour, I went to the outdoor chapel at camp, hidden under a stand of tall trees, facing the lake and the mountain behind it. As I sat, my ears calmed down, and I began to hear the sounds of the water lapping against the driftwood and shoreline. I breathed in the cool, salty air and tried to let go of my checklist of people to call, emails to send, forms to produce. Just a few minutes to let the lakes, the trees, the hills speak to me.
The sun was beginning to set as I finished work, and I took the more scenic beach route to go home. At dark, I would break the fast and quench my hunger for food. My good friend Justin called me just to say hello as I was walking out there on the beach. He said he had been thinking about me and wanted to see how I was doing. I described to him the scene I was looking at: the ocean was a deep blue, we had just had rain, but the clouds had moved north. In front of me, the sun sat behind big puffy, lavender colored clouds. North, I could see the rainclouds wrapping themselves around the mountains, fogging Twin Rocks and the beautiful, green hills. Then I turned and there was a freaking rainbow over the camp to top it all off.
There are moments these days when the goodness of what I experience might be the most overwhelming thing. I have friends who love me, who check on me and are happy to share in my joy. Justin said he and his new wife Amanda pray for me and Allyson every night. I went out to the beach nearly every day this week and stared at that giant blue, crashing mass of water that sings me to sleep at night. I look out at the mountains, shaded green by tall pine and spruce–it’s some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve seen on the planet, and I get to call it home. I always feel really humbled in times like this, because it is so pure and beautiful that there’s nothing I could do to earn it. It’s an easy tendency in times like this to feel like a fraud, like I’ve tricked the universe to get stretches of life this good. There’s probably a little truth to that.
I’m always trying to think of what is the best way to use my talents and the resources I’m trusted with. How to be the best friend, coworker, son, brother, husband. It’s easy to overwhelm yourself whether it’s fear or joy. There’s a danger of freezing and not knowing what to do with any of the pain or the blessings that are given in the places you find yourself. But I am here, and there’s this voice that sounds trustworthy and wise inside me that says, “Just love it. Love it the best you possibly can.”