It’s cooled off a bit this week, crisp and chilly in the mornings and evenings on the Oregon coast. Towards the end of the week, we saw some pretty strong winds and stretches of rain. Flowers are starting to bloom all over, and buds are breaking out from sleeping hardwoods. On clear nights, Venus as been particularly bright. This place is changing, and I am witnessing this change for the first time.
What we pay attention to changes and evolves as we age. I’ve spent time in nature my whole life, but didn’t really get to know the trees, animals, the seasons, the earth very well outside of the big things. Of course I noticed when it snowed or when a deer walked through the yard. But, I didn’t recognize the subtly of the Poplars budding first in early Spring. I didn’t know which call was a Robin and which was a Cardinal. It wasn’t on my radar. Then, something happened, and suddenly I wanted to know each one. I felt this great need to witness this life as the year passed through its cycles.
This week I spent 3 days in Los Angeles, on a retreat for planning camp curriculum for 2017. It had been over 20 years since I’ve been to L.A., so it was cool to go back as an adult and check it out. We stayed in Aldersgate retreat center in the Pacific Palisades just up from Santa Monica Beach. The air was dry and warm. There was a smell of sage and eucalyptus, and it felt like it soaked into my skin. I thought about so many movies I’ve seen set in L.A., and how the city seems has such personality that looms wherever you are. Our host David (a good camp friend of mine) told us about the celebrities who live in the condos across the street and pointed down to the beach where a camera crew was shooting. It felt like a complete different planet.
At home tonight I closed out the day by taking a sunset walk on the beach. High tide was receding, and there was a thick line of blue, silver, translucent creatures washed up on the shore. I’m not sure what they were, but my best guess is some type of anemone or jellyfish. I crossed past them and walked near the surf. Here on the Oregon coast, the sea can be unpredictable. We warn the guests of sneaker waves, these waves that surprise you by coming up much farther than the waves have been. If you aren’t paying attention, you’ll get your pants leg soaked, and in extreme situations, you could get knocked off your feet. I’ve been a good little boy, always keeping an eye on the ocean when walking. I feel kinda like the ocean is saying hello to me when water creeps up to me. Sometimes I back up, sometimes I let it get my ankles, even my pant leg.
There’s something about feeling physically a part of something. To have dirt on the bottom of your feet. To have dust from the air dried into your sweat. To have a place’s smell on you. You have to really move in a place for that to happen. I climbed a tree today, and my hands smell like wood. During my time in L.A. we got a few hours after lunch to take a break, and I hiked up the Temescal Ridge Trail. As I climbed higher, I saw more and more of the ocean, more and more of huge, sprawling Los Angeles. I pushed my time, as I tend to do when I get to hike somewhere new. I came to a summit point with panoramic views of the sea, expensive houses, sky scrapers, and miles and miles of asphalt. The wind was stronger and cooled the sweat on my neck and arms.
I sat there on a big hunk of sandstone, looking at this place, looking for some sort of meaning. What was I doing here in this fascinating spot? What exactly was going on? Did the people I passed along the trail mean anything for me? Did this view from this high place hold any significance for me? Was God in any of this, speaking something important I needed to hear? I was almost trying too hard to take the moment in. One of those times you manically try to make something important, because it just feels like it should be. The key is to just open yourself up, give the moment its time, and listen, but we often want to push it, rush it so we can get on with the next task. I turned from watching the giant Pacific and saw the wind swirl and pick up sand for a moment, make a loud whirling noise, then pass off to the next ridge. I smiled and breathed deep.
I had this comfortable relief roll over me as I stepped into the Portland Airport. I took my first foot selfie, announcing to the Instagram/Twitterverse that I was home. I parked on the street, near Belmont and walked under blooming cherry trees, petals strewn over the ground like we were all royalty, looking for a place for dinner. I found a place on Belmont called Dick’s Kitchen which makes grass-fed burgers. Their special side of the day was kale and chard braised with a balsamic vinegar. On one side of me, two twenty-something guys talked about soccer and on the other a group of about 8 seniors, the men wearing newsboy style hats, referencing Annie Hall. I was back home and it felt so nice. Oregon is feeling more and more like home. It felt like a part of it was mine.
Sitting there at the table with my carafe of water with no ice, watching people walking, riding their bikes, soaking in this new Spring, I relaxed and just watched it all, listened to conversations, took slow bites from my burger. It tasted so good. Pretty soon, the urge to get out and move, to travel through a place would take hold again. But, for that moment, I was good just to know a place, just recognize something as it unfolds and grows.