Monday, July 18, 2011

Ocean in View

When the Lewis and Clark expedition reached the Columbia River estuary in 1805, William Clark had this to say:

"Ocian [sic] in view! O! the joy."

After the long, dangerous, and exhausting slog he and his party endured over the year and half leading up to this arrival, I can hardly imagine the joy Clark must have felt with the end in sight. 200 years and an extensive network of roads and ferries later, the journey from Texas to the Pacific coast of Washington is practically routine, and I opted to complete it yesterday afternoon.

Seattle and Phoenix, my old hometown, are both blessed to be within day trip distance of some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the United States. The Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, and Saguaro National Park dot the southwest, as Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Olympic National Park do in the northwest. Still, traveling from one to another is like going to a different planet as the southern desert slowly gives way to the northern rain forest.

Ruby Beach was shockingly empty when I arrived. A few tourists milled around and took snapshots at the estuary, but no one seemed interested in venturing far from the parking lot. That seemed absurd to me, as the beach goes on for miles in each direction. So I ventured north, then south, not looking for anything but what it was like to be at Ruby Beach, listening to the melodic pounding of the surf.

After a while I realized how empty the place was and felt the urge to start running. I took of my shoes and ran in the surf until my feet went numb. When I saw, but couldn't feel, a cut on one of my toes after tripping on a rock, I thought better of that and put my shoes back on. As I walked and the sensation returned, I felt the pebbles of the beach under the soles of my shoes like a swarm of prickly interlopers. Such is the richness of sensation at the beach.

Feeling a bit like the only human in a timeless world, I started acting silly. First, I sang this:

Then, I sang this, but much louder:

Anyone watching would have very confused ideas about what kind of person I am. They'd probably be mostly right.

With no one watching and no sound but the endless churning of the sea and the occasional squawk of a gull, I suppose I meditated for a while. Or prayed. Mostly I just sat and listened, and practically begged for some kind of inspiration to strike my mind. It doesn't work that way, I know. Even in a place as numinous as the Olympic coast, insight is never reliable, and inspiration never comes simply when bidden. It did feel good, though, just letting the noise flow through me and running till I could barely breathe anymore. Most of all I felt like I was doing what I should be doing, as though I were fulfilling a purpose. It would be an odd thing, to feel a longing for purpose, if there truly weren't any plan behind the curtain.

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