The week had its beginnings for me Saturday night in Salem. I had finished up a long day of interviews, and Hope arranged for us to eat out with two campers from the summer and their parents. Anytime, you visit someone after camp and spend time with their family, there is plenty of potential for awkwardness. You are out of your camp element, the campers are out of their camp element, the parents don’t know you. This dinner was nothing of the sort, though. We had conversation the entire evening, no one was left out of it, and we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. These are the parts of camp work that make it more than a job. These are moments that turn what I do into more of a lifestyle. It’s wild sometimes to find yourself in a Thai restaurant on the second floor of a downtown Salem mall with the family of two kids who spent the week under your care talking like old friends. Even so, this is what the job does for you if it’s done right.
From dinner, Hope agreed to tag along with me to Portland to meet my family at the airport, getting in around 8:30pm. It had been a warm, breezy day, which we appreciated after so many cold, rainy ones. We waited in the Budget rent-a-car parking lot on a clear Pacific Northwest night for their shuttle to arrive. Then the doors opened and my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, and their two kids unloaded. They had left from Nashville, laid over in Washington D.C., then flown all the way to PDX. From there, my family followed in the rented Ford Expedition through the Coastal Range all the way to our home on the Pacific.
I woke fairly early considering the late night and that daylight savings had begun. I volunteered to take Elliot and Adelyn to the beach. I have been thinking about having my niece and nephew out as long as I’ve lived on the coast. I feel like Oregon is my playground, and I connect with my youthfulness in a deeper way by getting kids to play in it. Out on the beach, we played chicken with the tide. Adelyn was not fast enough and got her sweatpants wet. We built a small fort out of driftwood. I finally got Elliot to work up the nerve to let the surf wash over his feet. It was cold, but it wasn’t long before he started splashing around. Then he didn’t get in from the tide quick enough and got his pants wet.
On their trip, we managed to take the family to nearly everyplace we planned. The overlook at Neahkhanie, Short Sand Beach, the Astoria Column, the Astoria Wharf Sea Lions. We ate lots of good food. We got rained on, but we also actually had some nice stretches of good weather. One night we built a fire on the beach at sunset, which is basically a quintessential Pacific Northwest experience for me. I love sitting in the beach sand next to a blazing fire as sunlight wanes over the ocean. I love to hear the crackle of the fire mixed with the roar of waves breaking. A beach fire takes me out of my own head for a while. I can drop the things I’m worrying over, the tasks that will be waiting on me when I return. I could just be with people I care about, sitting around the flame as it more and more becomes the brightest light we can see.
I’ve had on my mind lately how the actions people witness from us can have an enormous impact. I recently watched the movie Selma, which chronicled the story of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 that lead to the Voting Rights Act. I was expecting the movie to be well-done and interesting, because of the history, but it hit me much harder than I thought it would. I have been much more compelled lately by brave statements. I see what people did in Alabama in the 60s, and I am astonished. I hope if I have a chance to make a difference like that, I will know what to do. I think about my family, my niece and nephew, my child on the way and how I want them to feel like I’ve done something that matters. Selma illustrates how just walking from one place to another can be the bravest thing you might ever do. The movie closed by doing one of those montages where it gave a sentence or two about what each character went on to do. I got teary when it showed MLK’s postscript. We all know what happened to him, but it struck me deep to read he was assassinated at age 39, which is what I’ll turn on my birthday later this year. I can’t even explain why it hit me like it did.
I stayed up late Tuesday night, pushing to 1am, when my family decided to drive out to Portland to catch their early flight back East. Tracye and I had stayed up late talking nearly every night she was here, like we often did on weeknights as teenagers. She went to bed for a few hours, so she could be on her game getting two sleepy kids ready for a full day of travel. I stayed up catching up on work emails. I got through about 80 of them. I am looking forward to more balance in these respective worlds. I’m striving to have me work in hand much better in years to come, so I don’t feel like I’m constantly catching up while everyone else is sleeping. I don’t want emails to occupy all my spare moments. I’m hoping to pass something on bigger than emails. The Expedition pulled out just after 1am on a drizzly Oregon Coast night, almost as quickly as it had pulled in. I waved goodbye until I couldn’t see them, as I like to do. Sleep came easy that night.
On Saturday, I got out with plans to hike the Clatsop Loop at Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach. As I arrived in the Parking Lot, signs informed me the road to Indian Beach (where the trailhead begins) was closed. I decided to try to jog the 1.5 mile trail from the main lot to Indian Beach, then attempt to still squeeze in Clatsop Loop before I was due to meet some friends for dinner. About halfway on the trail, I rounded a corner to find the trail totally non-existent. A mudslide had wiped the trail and its footbridge and wooden stairs downhill about 100 feet. I figured it would be a simple crossing involving a little climbing, but then I’d be back on the trail on my way.
I climbed down the hill, careful not to get my shoes muddy, balancing on a fallen tree trunk. Next there was a five foot drop off or a muddy foothill to my left that I’d have to hop onto. I decided that climbing down would be more work than hopping, so I jumped off the tree trunk, leading with my right foot. As I landed, my right leg sunk into the mud up to my knee. I tried to hop again, this time leading with my left hoping for something firmer, but it sunk ever farther. I stepped 3 or 4 more times, each time sinking that deep before I got to firm ground. My shoes were coated inside and out with mud. From there, I could pretty well walk wherever I wanted.
Several more parts of the trail were gone beyond recognition. I was pretty astounded by how much this landscape can change in huge ways. I have no idea how long it will take to reconstruct those parts of the trail that are just gone now. So, I did some bushwhacking, until I finally met back up with the trail for good. I was muddy and wet, but I had the whole trail and would soon have Indian Beach to myself.
Once on the beach, I took off my shoes, socks, and sweatpants and washed them on the smooth, round rocks of the creek that empties into the ocean. I spread them out in the sun and breeze to dry. It was like I had washed up on the shore, with no sign of life. I thought to myself that I had to get in the ocean under circumstances like this. If I didn’t do it on a day like today, alone on this beautiful beach, when would I ever do it? So, I took the rest of my clothes off and trotted out into the surf. I didn’t go under all the way, because my sweatshirt was the only thing left dry, and I didn’t want to get it soaked when I put it back on. Still I felt like I had immersed myself. In the ocean water. In the beach. In that whole rugged cliffside. For a time, I was giving myself over to it. I splashed in the foamy surf, water up to my hips.
This would be nothing Earth shattering. It’s no monumental feat to shed your clothes and get in the ocean. It just takes a little spontaneity. For that afternoon, though, in that place, I felt like I had come up with a pretty good way to spend the time given to me. There will be other situations, with other people. I will be called on to do many different things in this life if I’m fortunate. I hope I am true to something bigger than me, that I don’t choose the safe and comfortable choice when there are deeper things on the line. I hope I’m not too hesitant to make myself a little vulnerable and wash myself in that huge, powerful, but beautiful sea. I hope when doubts creep in, I’ll continue to ask myself, “If not now, when?”