We saw the pretty and the not-so-pretty sides of Spring this week on the coast. The weather has had frequent mood swings, bouncing back and forth in the same hour between something you want to go spread a blanket and basque in or something you want to take shelter from in pajamas and a warm fire. Living in the Pacific Northwest is instilling this instinct in me to be quick on my feet when it comes to beautiful weather. I’ve always been of the thinking that any warm, sunny day spent indoors is a waste of our time on this Earth, but that feeling has intensified down to the minute here. You just don’t know how long that sunshine will last.
I went for a run Monday, making it to Rockaway Beach in about 20-25 minutes. It was chilly, but had been a fairly clear day, with only a few snaps of rain. About halfway back, it began to drizzle, then quickly began to rain harder. Gradually, it started to hurt more and more, and I realized I was being pelted with BB sized hail. It went from annoying to straight painful. The hail was coming from the West, bombarding my right side, and for me to run towards home, I had to let it keep doing that. I tucked my head into my left shoulder, rain sideways for a stretch, and finally took off towards the edge of the sand not sure if I would hide in the beach grass or under a piece of drift wood. I was just looking for a way out. After several minutes, it subsided, but my clothes were wet, and I had red welts all over my right side.
On Wednesday, I got out to run just as the sun was setting. There were few clouds in the sky. By the time I made it to Rockaway, it was beginning to get dark. The moon and stars took effect as I made my way back. I ran right next to the surf, so the tide would occasionally come up to my feet, and I’d run through its shallow edges. As it drew back revealing that shimmering space of sand just touched by ocean, I could see the reflecting of the night sky below my feet. I would look up to see the moon and stars, then look down to see them. Night had completely set in by the time I got home, but it was plenty bright for me to make my way with no artificial assistance.
What a difference a couple of nights or even 30 minutes or so makes. If I had started either run slightly earlier, I would have had a totally different experience in both cases. Several times this week, I looked around me, expected one thing and got another. Several times I wondered how long something would last. When you find your intuition failing you on multiple occasions, you wonder if anything has a reliable pattern or if its all random chance. How should you feel about this? Is it demoralizing? Is it comforting? How could you ever be sure what it is anyway?
Thursday was St. Patrick’s Day, which has a special relevance for me, because in 2002 I found out my close friend, Mark died that day. He was this incredible force of positivity and easygoingness. When he died, he was one of the most adventurous people I knew. Every St. Patrick’s Day, I try to do something he loved, something we shared as friends, or just something I think we would appreciate.
Allyson and I were picking up friends at PDX later that evening, so I took the afternoon and went to the Columbia River Gorge for some hiking. I started at Multnomah Falls, the highest waterfall in Oregon, and I took a 5 mile loop trail that would go to the top of those falls and come back down at Wahkeena Falls. The Gorge is maybe the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, so it seemed like a pretty fitting way to honor Mark. There were new waterfalls around nearly every corner. The trail winded around large moss covered walls of rock, rounded by the elements. It felt ancient. I hiked at a brisk pace, because I had a time limit, but I tried to stop periodically just to take in what was happening to me. This is the problem during stretches of efficiency and tight scheduling. Your body does what it needs to do in these stretches, and it doesn’t include slowing down to reflect. Remembering a dead friend requires reflection, it requires slowing down, being a bit inefficient.
I whispered a conversation with Mark on the trail. I asked him questions like, “Can you see me? Do you follow me? Are you in one place or many? Do we all just keep pieces of you?” I hoped he followed me, at least that afternoon. I spend a lot of my time whispering things, documenting things that I’m not sure anyone hears. Do the trees hear my conversation? Does God hear what I pray? Does Mark know that I miss him, that I want to show him this new home of mine, this life I have grown into? I don’t know. But, it feels like it. As I talk, as I pray, as I try to make some sort of conversation with these presences in my life I feel closer to them, I feel them responding to me in some way that works beyond my five senses.
That night we picked up our visiting friends Katie and Quint and PDX and drove them through the coastal range to our home on the Oregon Coast. About the moment we got out of the car, the power went out everywhere. We later heard the supplier line was down, and most of the North Coast was without power for about 6 hours. On top of that, the camp’s generator wouldn’t start. I spent several hours outside as the wind picked up and chilled me under my light, long sleeve shirt. The Camp Director, Steve joined me and stayed up nearly the whole night trying to get it up and running.
I remember a moment out there when everything around me was completely dark, allowing the moon and stars to be the only light visible on our little spot of the Earth. It was enough to make that dark sky a tint of navy blue. I looked up into that big sky, and turned slowly seeing the mountains, the tall trees, the plants of the garden swaying with the wind. If I was still enough, if I sat in it long enough, I could see in the dark on a night like tonight. There was no need for a flashlight. It was late and I was exhausted, but I was also wrapped up in an unobstructed night sky. This was unique–it might be a while before I saw this again. This was what I needed to take from this.
On the way to Portland after my gorge hike, I chose music that reminds me of Mark: Pavement, G Love and Special Sauce, Dave Matthews Band, De La Soul. As I retired on that long night by candlelight and my laptop’s remaining battery life, I would watched four old videos with Mark in them my sister sent me that had been digitized from VHS. I had a small high ball of bourbon with my old friend. I talked to him about this year, where I’ve come, where I’m at. What I think he’d enjoy about our new home, the things I’ve wished we might do now if I had a month or a week or a day with him again. There’s no way to know for sure how long it would last. I don’t know how long I’ll even last, so I stayed up really late. There were so many things that felt important to do that day. Things I did not want to chance with tomorrow.