Weather on the coast this week seemed very normal–a mix of sunny and cloudy skies, temperatures ranging from the 50s to the 60s. This has been my experience with the Oregon Coast so far, this beautiful predictability. It certainly has incremental changes. It may be clear one minute, then raining the next. You may be tempting a sunburn one hour, then need a jacket because it is foggy, breezy and cool. But, even those instances that are unpredictable are predictable. I don’t know when the fog will roll in, but I figure I will see it each day. I don’t know when it will drizzle this week, but it probably will. The temperatures will stay steady, the sky will change before my eyes.
Some days there is a fishy sort of ocean smell that can be pretty strong. I’ve picked it up on the air coming out of my house some days, and I’ve recognized this is another large group of Velella washing up on the shore. Velella are these small blue jellyfish that are also called sea rafts, purple sails, or blue sailors. They have these clear flaps that stick up like the sail on a ship. The wind catches them and moves them on the ocean. I’ve read that during certain wind currents many of them will wash up on the shore. Over the past several weeks, on certain days, you can find thousands washed up on the beach. This has happened at least 5 or 6 times this month. They dry out and become flaky and get washed farther up the beach before getting buried under a layer of sand. This creates several rows of Velella at different stages of decomposition.
I am fascinated by jellyfish, some of the earliest animals to exist. They hardly have a brain to speak of, just a clump of nerves. They float along, engineered to swim, to catch food, and to digest. They are so good at this, they’ve lasted. They’ll probably last longer than we will. One of the poems I just got published is about me watching jellyfish in an aquarium, about getting hypnotized by them, and in that trance wanting to just stop having to think. Just to move like them. To just pulse and move your body through the water. To only care about moving on and growing. When I’ve been in my own head too long, thinking way too much, I want to be like the jellyfish in that aquarium–to move and grow the way my body knows to. I don’t know exactly what to feel, how to approach all these jellyfish washed up on the beach. I try not to walk on them, not just because I don’t want one stuck to the bottom of my foot, but also out of some kind of respect for the dead. I hope they have lived what is a full life for a jellyfish. I hope they are continuing a balance of life.
I got a visit from two good friends, Katie and Brian, this weekend. They are two I watched grow up at camp. I saw them come to camp separate from each other for many years. Then they met and fell in love. They have been married for several years now and live in Seattle. It is interesting to me how relationships evolve over time. I remember leading camps they came to as teenagers, writing letters to them offering advice for their high school problems, teaching them to be counselors. Now Katie works for World Vision and Brian is just about to get his PhD. We are part of a small group of friends from camp who ended up in the Northwest. What we are to each other has morphed and grown into this thing I’m not sure any of us would have predicted.
I’m writing this on the anniversary of my wedding eight years ago. This is the first anniversary where Allyson and I are not living under the same roof. We have celebrated in a lot of different ways. Some were very low key, some were more extravagant. Some were spent with other people, some we only saw each other the whole day. One we even spent in Italy. This one, we shared over a skype call. The night before, I went through old videos from some of our trips. I listened to recordings I have made for her. I have very much become a documentarian over the years, and it offers these great little glimpses of who we were leading up to the present. I can hear what I felt, how I described those feelings, how I expressed my hopes and my joys. I can see us, knowing a little less than we know now. I am reminded of all we’ve seen, all we’ve been through. I’m reminded how much I love my wife and how special this thing we are creating together feels.
Saturday night, Katie, Brian, and I went out to the beach and built a fire to roast s’mores and watch the sun set over the ocean. This is the stuff of my Pacific Northwest fantasies for when friends visit. Sitting out on a big piece of drift wood as it gets dark with a warm fire, the sounds of the waves in the background, laughing and enjoying the
unbelievable gift we share in sitting with this scenery sharing friendship like this. My cat Moises followed us all the way out to the beach. It was the first time he had left a 20 yard radius of the house. He followed, meowing, and the meows became more urgent when we emerged from the woods and saw the open swath of ocean water. This was the first time he had ever seen the ocean.
Moises spent the rest of the night retreating to the treeline and meowing at us, then getting brave enough to approach the camp fire and nuzzle up against our elbows and knees. I thought he would never venture far enough to see the ocean, yet here he was as we watched the stars emerge over us. There we were sitting around a campfire making s’mores. How many times had we done this before together? This time, though, there was that big Pacific Ocean next to us. Sitting around those Wilderness campfires years ago, it would have been fanciful to imagine that we would be doing this. If we had planned this those years ago, it would not have gone right. When I tried to predict marriage many years ago, I was wrong there too. We all moved and swam the way our bodies took us, in the directions that made the most sense for our bodies. That movement brought us to the beach this week. I am anxious for the cycle to repeat. For more to join. To see how this great big love continues to grow.