This week is was chilly on the coast. There was still sunshine, only a little rain, but you wanted sleeves on these days. My wife Allyson was still away this week, but by the weekend I would join her and my family in Florida for a get-out-of-town-before-summer excursion. To feel ready to take the time off, I’ve been putting in a lot of hours at work, recruiting summer volunteers, training people, trying to tie up the loose ends. That tunnel visioned focus couple with the bachelor week at home have put me in some solitary head spaces. I find myself turning inward, pondering a lot, imagining a lot, really chewing on certain ideas or stories.
On Sunday, the three retreat groups I hosted left at about noon. After completing vol. 16 of this weekly post, I wanted an afternoon adventure, so I drifted up to Cannon Beach to explore. I had a late lunch at Bill’s Tavern and Brewhouse at the bar. I people watched, listened to conversations of patrons and of workers. Afterwards, I had a Mayan hot chocolate and a few artisan turtles from one of my favorite places on the coast, the Chocolate Cafe. I sat at a little table alone, sipping the warm spicy chocolate, looking at the mountains, watching cars and people pass by. I enjoyed this time as an observer, a solitary ghost passing through.
I love to travel alone. It’s not that I dislike traveling with people. You get closer to people when you travel. But, I get this rush when I venture out on my own. Then I settle into this comfort as I choose places to linger, things to enjoy like food or a beautiful scene. When we travel with others, we are often so tuned into trying to figure out what everyone wants that we paralyze ourselves from making any decisions or taking any chances. Traveling alone becomes a sort of fantasy, a movie that you are starring in.
My next move Sunday afternoon was to hike in Ecola State Park, an area with jaw-dropping views of Cannon Beach and the Pacific Ocean. I set up a hammock near the edge of a cliff that looked out over Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Sites like this in my new home give me this euphoric feeling to explore–there’s something I feel like I need to absorb or get out when I’m there. I need to take it in more, or I need to write something down about it or make some art out of it. I don’t know what to do. This is a place where encountering something alone can conjure up unsatisfied feelings. I just want to show it to people. I want Allyson next to me, thinking I’m being a bit selfish to hog it to myself.
I watched Amy this week, a documentary about Amy Winehouse that puts her ridiculous musical talents on display and show just how tragic her fatal flaws were. I’ve been in love with her music since my good friend Randall told me I should listen to her, and then she happened to be the musical guest on David Letterman that night. If you know much about her at all, you know this chick had major demons. And the film didn’t play that down, but I couldn’t shake thinking about her life this week. I had her music on loop at work. I find myself really drawn to people who struggle, who a lot of people find it easy to toss aside because their demons seem too tough to overcome. Ultimately, Amy Winehouse succumbed to her bad habits, but it wasn’t before she produced some fantastic art, that I won’t let go of till I’m done. Her music is beautifully crafted, but it’s crude and talking about some dark, difficult, down in the gutter type stuff.
I thought a lot this week about how someone can be in the depths, but still produce something from it that haunts people long afterwards. This doesn’t seem bad or good either to me, it’s just something that hits me hard, that I feel like I need to sit with and consider. I think about how Jesus always choose people with habits, people were easy to write off. I get that. I don’t think Amy Winehouse is a great role model or anything, but I think she spoke a lot of true things and got at some stuff a lot of people understand. And for a good bit of life, that’s what we desire most–is just for one, two, a few people to understand. I remember this moment sitting in a bar in Murray thinking, man I feel more drawn to these people than I do a lot of Sundays in church. I’ve never been to most of the dark places Amy went, but there’s something in her life, in her voice, in the stuff she wrote that compels me, keeps me thinking about her. I hope this kind of remembrance brings her some kind of honor. I hope she found at least some peace.
Towards the end of the week, I was taking a wet suit I left out to dry back to the boat house. They’ve been rebuilding the pier next to the boat house, and this week they poured a concrete slab on the shore to anchor. I stopped for a moment to admire it and look out over the lake and the green mountain behind it. I saw that Rik had signed his name in the cement. I love moments like these, these time capsule moments when this thing that should last decades is imprinted with this tiny history of who was there. I found more names, more Magruder staff, some of the outdoor school staff. Then, in the corner I saw “Troy,” printed among the other names. It was this touching surprise to me that someone thought to put my name there, this idea someone thought I should be remembered on this spot. It’s one little piece to help pile up these feelings that this place is becoming more and more home.
On Saturday, I woke early, filled up the animal bowls, took Digby out one last time and pulled out of camp for what would be a week. I got to Portland early, rode the MAX, met a pastor in Tabor Heights, then took the MAX the rest of the way to PDX. I would spend most of that day being a solitary traveler. Long travel days like this are such a time warp. You hardly talk to anyone more than 5 minutes and in a matter of a day you end up on the other side of the country, hardly moving yourself.
It’s easy on these types of days to get into some meta-headspaces, where you feel almost like you’re watching yourself doing what you’re doing. During my layover in the Houston airport, I decided to take a break from listening to podcasts and switch over to music. You know those moments when you hear music, and you feel like you’re in the video? I put this song I recently downloaded, The Knife’s cover of “Heartbeats.” I want you to hit play on the link below, and just imagine walking slow and confident down a terminal.
Imagine the way you would stride, imagine passing people, maybe dropping your shoulder to miss people. I don’t even know what I felt like I was doing, but it felt pretty awesome. I would choose a song to watch the sun go down over the Houston horizon before boarding the plane to Pensacola. I thought of how easy it is in an airport to sit still, read, listen to your device, and get on the plane, but how there are little adventures waiting even in the capitol of temporaryness.
I deboarded around 10:45 pm, and one of my staffers from last summer, Joelle, was waiting to pick me up. She happens to live right next to the Pensacola airport. It’s good to know people in faraway places. Joelle is a ball of enthusiastic energy. She shows her happiness in a very outward way, so she is the ideal person to have greeting you at the airport after a long travel day. She happily drove me the 45 minutes to the rental at Navarre Beach and caught up on the past year.
Then there was Allyson greeting me after several weeks of separation in the driveway of our week-long home on the beach. We embraced in one of our long hugs, something we’d both been waiting for more and more as this day approached. I visited with my mom and dad for a few minutes before we all retired for the evening, where I would climb into bed with my Allyson and rest a little easier next to her once again. I appreciate those days I find myself alone. I like to ponder things, it’s a big part of how I process my world. I like to explore and observe. Still, all that work feels to me like research or practice for what I will eventually share with the people I love. I think it’s the way I work. I spend time soaking things up, figuring out how I want to explain it, where I want to pull meaning, why things hit me like they do. Then I have something to pass along to the world, to the ones I love most. Maybe there’s something beautiful I’ve unlocked in the past week that I’ll share in the next one. I keep believing there’s some reason all these things compel me, there’s something I’m here to do, something is to be honored, something is to be loved with great passion in a way that will change us both.