This week, the Oregon Coast was dominated by clouds and haze, with several days of drizzle that left puddles on the ground, which is saying a lot in a place so sandy. We’ve had a good bit of wind as well, which whips up white caps on Lake Smith and makes the ocean roar pretty ferociously. When you coat all that with a gray haze, there’s a beautiful mysteriousness to the whole place that makes it feel even more alive. This is a new kind of June for a guy who has spent every summer in Tennessee or Kentucky.
My mom and dad made the long trip to come and see this place that I’m calling home. It was my mom’s first trip to Oregon and the first my dad had made in about 50 years. One of the difficulties of wanderlust is that it can become pretty solitary. I have this strong desire to adventure, to explore, to see fascinating new places. The unfortunate side of this is that this urge draws me away from the people in my life I know and love. It has nothing to do with why I like to go, in fact it is the thing that most makes me hesitate. Living in Oregon, this new, fantastic place is the stuff of dreams for me, but I experience these dreams far away from most of the people I’ve known my whole life. Times like this, when people visit even though they don’t have to, despite the long trip, I have such an overwhelming feeling of connection and love. What a statement, to travel a long distance just to spend time with someone.
Outdoor school held their last week for the Spring semester. Oregon schools often send their entire 6th grade classes to at least one week off-site to learn in outdoor environments. Northwest Outdoor Science School hire a staff to come in for about three months, much like our camp summer staff to lead programming for these groups week to week. These guys become like family and we watch them through the typical highs and lows of camp. They choose camp names that they go by like “Bobcat,” and “Dandelion,” and that’s often the only name we know them by the whole time. On Friday, they said goodbye to their last group of students, then they packed and cleaned, and we said goodbye to them.
At lunch this week, my parents and I went into the dining hall and there was a group of Outdoor School staff. I introduced my mom and dad, and they introduced themselves, first with their camp names, but then, feeling a little awkward saying, “Hi I’m Bobcat,” they offered their actual, given names. This was the first time I had heard Bobcat, Baguera, and Fish’s name, and I had talked to them nearly every day for the past 3 months. It was strange to have this sudden reveal. It was just their name, but I felt like I had learned something deep and personal about them. I felt like I knew them much deeper finding out these little facts that you normally get down within the first 20 seconds of meeting someone.
It’s interesting how a change in environment can shape your identity. Hope and I talked this week about how it is so easy to be someone else when you go to camp, when you travel in general. You can use a new name, be a different personality, fit into the group differently. You can completely remake yourself. I think no matter where you go, the place reshapes you in some way or another. Sometimes you find yourself going far away. Sometimes you realize how you should be when you return. Sometimes you feel more like Bobcat than your so-called “real world,” self. I think it’s best when you try to be some new version of yourself rather than a whole separate identity, but being in a different place shapes us all differently.
I tried to take my parents to as many places as I could without exhausting them. I worked mornings, and showed them around Camp Magruder and the Oregon Coast most afternoons. We saw Short Sand Beach, Neahkanie Mountain, Cannon Beach, Cape Meares, Muson Creek Falls, Tillamook Cheese Factory, and lots of great places to
eat. One day we were walking the trail that leads up the camp’s big sand dune. It’s about 150 feet tall and gives you some amazing views of the ocean. I just meant to take my parents to an early view point, but my dad insisted we continue walking the dune. As we walked, I kept hearing my dad say, “This is cool.” I repeated a similar string of lines the first time I walked the dune trail.
It was such an uplifting feeling to see my mom and dad wowed by all these things that have wowed me. I am confident in my own wonder and awe with everything here. It pulls on me and brings me into this joyous space. I am so happy to be alive, but even more, so happy to be alive in such a place. I’m finding this new version of myself, something I’ve been searching for. I’m finding part of it here. I just hope that the people I love understand this too. To hear my parents talk about how amazing this place is, to repeat some of the same things I’ve said myself about these places gave me such a warm, comforting feeling.
As we grow and change. As we name ourselves, build our homes, fall in love, we are stepping out into brave new lands. We choose these lives for ourselves, and we don’t usually know what will come. We hope desperately that the ones we love will look at us as we grow and still know us, that they will call us by these new names and see inspiration in our loves like we do.
The morning of the last day my parents were here, there was a big minus tide. We walked out on the sand in places that later that day would be several feet under water. We hopped puddles, cross temporary creeks and walked to the edge of the water. We turned and the beach looked so far away. Sometimes you just want to keep walking until you get to the edge of the land. You turn, and that is when you realize that you have come so far. I looked at this place, this wonderful new chapter for me, and there was my mom and dad, the two who have been with me my whole life. I know there will be many more too to share in this joy.
Standing on the balcony of the motel my parents were staying in before flying out the next day, you could see Mount Saint Helens in one direction and Mount Hood in another. The clouds cleared out from them, and we were treated to clear views from our little concrete balcony. The three of us stood there quiet for some time. I put my arm around my mom and my hand on my dad’s strong shoulder. There was this part of me that felt the need to say something, to guide us towards something, to figure out what would be next. I hushed that voice, told it, “this is just fine. Let the moment be what it will be. This is plenty.” We stood there, holding on to it tight. My name disappeared for a while. We were all the same name, but even that was being changed to something new in the sight of those big, beautiful mountains.