This week beautiful, pleasant weather tightened its fist and held on, resisting the rainy, cooler weather that is undoubtedly on the way. We had a lot of good cloud days–days where puffy clouds frame everything else. They give you a sense of the bigness of things. They create scenic moments. They draw your attention to something you should probably be paying more attention to.
This week we were visited by our good friends, James and Sarah. James is my oldest friend–we’ve known each other since the second grade. James and Sarah have done their share of living far away, and it’s been nice to take the long journeys to see them and to feel like some friendships don’t wane so much with distance. When you can sit down with an old friend and talk like you always have, even though the setting is different, even though in many ways you are different. An understanding subsists that doesn’t seem to go away in our best friendships. We could get together on Mars in 200 years and pick up where we left off.
There are so many places we’ve been in Oregon that seem to us like a secret or a bit of good new that you want to just go tell to everyone you know. Certain places really make you think of certain people. You think of some fascination you share, some appreciation you both pick up on. You see a certain site, you take a certain walk, you taste a certain taste, and you know you want this other person to have that too. You can’t wait to see their reaction to it. You hope it will blow them away the way it did you. That you can both marvel at how wonderful this thing is.
We had a lot of places in mind for James and Sarah. One of the first days they were with us, we drove east of Portland to the Columbia River Gorge. When you have the second highest continuously flowing waterfall in North America right off the interstate just down the road, it’s pretty easy to immediately blow your guests away. We took historic highway 30 up to Vista House at Crown Point, so they could look down miles and miles of the Columbia River and the mountains it cuts through. We spent a lot of time there leaning against railings, just looking. Next, we would move down the road a few miles and see an enormous waterfall.
Making our way to our home on the coast, they both went on about how beautiful the scenery was to them, how new it felt. They would say this each evening on the beach as the sun sat. This talk enhances those feelings that Allyson and I still have that are very similar. We still catch ourselves saying to each other, “We live here.” I feel this great appreciation for most of the stuff we see in our new home. It’s so new that I don’t exactly understand it yet, the way I do for places I’ve lived much longer. This is the thing with new love. We are blown away, obsessed with it, but we still don’t really understand it yet. We wonder what it will mean for us, if we are compatible, all the while unable to take our eyes off it.
Later in the week, we took most of the day to visit Astoria. We took James and Sarah to the site of the Astoria Column, and thought the column is closed for maintenance, the hill where it stands still gives offers fantastic views far beyond the city. As you turn, you see the city, the Columbia as it empties into the Pacific, Washington just on the other side, the Youngs River, the Lewis and Clark River, Saddle Mountain, valley farms, mountains rising all around, and beautiful blue water. We spent 20-30 minutes taking in the views. I returned from the bathroom to see James and Sarah sitting in the grass, like they were having a picnic, looking over miles and miles of scenery.
I read that Humpback Whales had been cited in the Columbia River near Astoria earlier in the week. This is evidently pretty unusual, based on all the buzz it was getting. Scientists are concluding the warmer ocean temperatures are driving the fish they feed on farther into the river, so they are following. It seems like a cool little side effect of the dry summer we’ve had and this bigger warming trend that’s going on in so many parts of the world.
We didn’t see any whales as we strolled on the Astoria Waterfront, but we did see many of the returning sea lions, who swam through the waterway and jockeyed for prime positions on the pier. In recent years, Astoria was used to several hundred sea lions during certain seasons. This year a news station reported more than 2,300. It’s crazy to witness the domino effect of changes that one change brings.
On the day before they were to fly out, I drove James, Sarah, and Allyson to an Air BnB home in Vancouver, Washington. Allyson was also leaving to visit Kentucky. I told them all goodbye with long, thoughtful hugs. I got in the Civic Hybrid and drove home through the lights and bridges of Portland, the Tillamook Forest, back to the coast, this home for me that I’m still getting to know. This home that is getting to know me.
On Saturday, I woke to a long day where I would lead activities for most of the groups we had at camp. In the afternoon, we had two fairly large groups scheduled for boating at the same time. One group was a Presbyterian group who looked to be mostly middle class and white. The other was a Somali group. I had both groups show up at the same time. There were nearly one hundred people. It was a chaotic few hours where I found myself constantly checking life vests, launching boats into the water and later paddling out to rescue boats. Many people had never been in a boat before. Many were speaking Somali. I thought about how different these two groups were and how this could be an incredible learning experience or an uncomfortable flop. In the end, I think everyone who wanted to go out, got to spend some time on the lake.
Changes have abounded for us this year. At this point last year, I had never heard of a camp on the Oregon Coast called Camp Magruder. Now, here I am welcoming my friends and family, showing them around like a tour guide. Here I am on a lake near the ocean, rowing out to help a Somali family get back to the dock. I tied their boat to mine and began to row. I talked to a mother about moving to the U.S. from Somalia. So many are moving to new places, following one thing to something new. Some things will change, some will remain. Maybe we will look hard for the good and be able to share it. Maybe we will offer up our best and pass it on.