Fall is coming to the Oregon Coast. The weather is still pretty pleasant, there are still plenty of blue skies. Looking out the window is still enough to draw you out, but the changes are clear. The deciduous leaves are crisp and falling. The cedars have shed their brown needles, lining the ground we take from office to dining hall. And, there is a cool breeze out of the north, a chill the gets into your body, makes you want to bundle up. I’ve drank a lot of warm tea this week, both hands on the mug, warming my fingers. Still, I want to go out into this, I want to experience it.
This week has settled into something that feels very much like a normal, a steady, nothing extraordinary, nothing tragic. It is something I’ve been hoping would happen in long succession for some time now. There have been regular 9-5 days. There have been moments I’ve been able to let go of obsessive worry about work, that something crucial might be forgotten, that if I’m away something could fall apart. It is a dangerous mindset to stay in for very long. I understand the need for these sorts of feelings when the time calls for it. The difficult part is convincing ourselves the time is indeed over and getting back to something we can realistically deal with long-term.
I began this week finishing up a retreat weekend, telling group leaders goodbye, processing the paper work, and shutting down the cabins. While in the office, Angie pointed out there was a bird in the parking lot acting weird. It was a cormorant, I think a pelagic cormorant. I see these birds frequently on hikes swimming near the ocean shore or sunning and nested on cliff faces. I’d never gotten anywhere near as close as this bird was allowing us access. It moved very slowly and kept a distance like it wanted to get away from us but didn’t have its usual faculties to do so. It didn’t seem particularly afraid of us either, though–it was very lethargic. Angie and I both assumed this meant it was not in a very good state.
Hope returned to camp to continue work as Program Director as the long term plans for camp are figured out. She has been on quite the cross-country trip to Tennessee, then Colorado, then back to Oregon. It was a nice relief for Allyson and I to see her enter the dining hall as we had Sunday dinner. We both got up and gave her the long hugs that say without saying, we know the journey you’ve been on, and you are here now. We are here now. You can rest. The three of us have so many shared experiences, and we’ve leaned on each other through so many things recently, it is good to sit down as the sun departs through the trees, sharing bread, catching up on the previous week. There is something about walking with someone as they leave, as they arrive, through news good and bad.
Throughout the day, I could not stop thinking about the cormorant, wondering his story, wondering what was in store for him. I found it in the North ballfield perched on wooden beams that mark parking areas, occasionally lifting his wings like these birds do when they are drying them in the sun. Later the bird had moved to the other end of the field. I wondered what he needed. If he got to the water, would he be ok? These birds are almost more at home in the water than the air. I walked towards it, hoping I might get it closer to its natural habitat. It eventually sat in the grass, and was no longer bothered by my presence whatsoever.
I called some outdoor school staff over, and the three of us spent some time squatted near it, looking at it, wondering about it. It was pretty clear to us the bird would not make it much longer, but it didn’t seem in pain, just lethargic. The outdoor school staffers left, but I felt this need to sit with it longer, that if the bird was to die that it would not have to be alone. I felt like I could give it some kind of honor that way. Soon enough I was called away to another task. I left, well aware I probably wouldn’t see it alive again.
In a week that is normal 9-5 there are opportunities to go out to eat like regular people. Allyson, Hope, and I went to the new Tillamook Ice Creamery that just opened downtown twice this week. The first night I had Oregon Blueberry Patch, the second I had Caramel Toffee Crunch. The three of us marveled at this place we live in, with the beauty of the ocean and the mountains, the best ice cream we’ve ever eaten, the Pelican brewpub where the staff knows us when we come in for fish and chips or burgers. This may be part of our normal for this season. This may be what the wind has brought in to our beautiful little spot on the coast. It is comforting to develop these little rhythms, to share them with people you care about.
Later on Sunday, I walked behind a vehicle heading down the main drive of camp and saw it slow and route itself around something. The cormorant was up again, walking with it’s wings splayed out like the Batman symbol. It was up and moving again. I approached it, and just as before, it slowly waddled away from me, it’s webbed feet thwacking on the pavement. My last image of it was it waddling off into the sunset of the driveway. I did not see it the next day. It may have found some cozy place to pass on or maybe its faculties returned to it, and it rejoined a group heading back into the ocean waters. In my mind, it will seem like this spirit I crossed paths with for a day. I hope it remembers me as something kind, I hope it picked up on my curiosity and my want to understand it in some way.
The rains came this weekend, reminding us more and more that Fall and Winter are coming. Soon we’ll have the stretches that urge you indoors if you have a choice. I am seeing the beauty in the change these days, though. The mist produced by the marine layer, glides over the mountains and accentuates the outlines of the dark green spruces. I feel like if I look at the mountains long enough, if I sit next to them the right amount of time, they might speak to me.
Allyson and I went for a hike after the rain subsided to get our blood flowing. We climbed the ancient sand dune on the east end of camp that rises up about 150 feet. As we ascended, the views opened up to see wider and wider panoramas of the ocean and then the old growth forest on the sheltered side of the hill. Each time we stopped, I felt the need to touch Allyson’s arm and squeeze it. I thought about how wonderful it is that by working at this camp, we get to bring children to this place. I think of how just being in a place like this affects a child’s development, how the simple presence of something shapes someone. What will these trees, that giant ocean, the mist blanketing the mountains affect the children we welcome here in ways they don’t even realize?
Presence can be a very powerful thing. The places we choose to walk, the ones we walk beside in important moments, the ones we tell our stories to can shape us in the same ways the stories themselves do. I look around and see so many wonderful things, so many wonderful opportunities. I hope it becomes our regular routine, to share time with each other, to hunt down the beauty in this world and sit down for this minute and encounter it side by side. Surely there is power in that, maybe even a power that might heal us.