Time and Distance by the Sea

Happy holidays friends,

It is lovely to see you again. All kinds of doings here at the edge of the continent. We had a quiet Halloween followed by a quiet Thanksgiving followed by the melee that is decorating our house for Christmas. We are up to five trees (three full size, one half size and a mini). I swear that five is plenty and we do not need any more, but I said that, so clearly I am either lying or delusional . . . both things could be true.

I hope you are enjoying tons of friends and family time. I feel like I might keep ringing the same bell, but we are still acclimating to the isolation. For months Cody and I have been managing this creeping outsider feeling by venturing out, as much as possible, and walking on the area beaches. Now, it may seem counter intuitive to combat feelings of loneliness and the overwhelming absence of close friends by staring into a seeming endless watery abyss that stretches to the edge of the known world, but it works for us.

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The thing that moves me so much about the mighty Pacific Ocean is not how I feel when I look into it but rather how I feel when I brave the frigid arctic waves and then emerge from it. I have a growing sensation of might and awareness of perseverance that comes over me as I walk out of the ocean and onto dry land. (There is also a distinct feeling that I might lose a toe or two to the cold so it is not all magical I sure you). However, particularly on a gray day with the sun partially masked by the thick clouds, with the roar of the sea behind me and the sand and rocks backed by arboreal coastline before me, I wonder if this is how those first tetrapods that limped from the Devonian sea on their way to becoming humans must have felt. There is a wash of newness inherent in walking out of the sea.

This experience lands squarely between a salt water baptism and what it must be like to be one of those little gooey dinosaur toys that expand when you put them in water. There is an unspoken expectation of transformation that may or may not last until the next  submergence. This is one of my favorite parts of our beach walks, I am communing with dinosaurs (I’ll save the giant beach bird dinosaur talk for another time as it is its own thing). I am also engaging in a personal sort of time travel, which I think is why I am incapable of discerning time or relative distance while on the beach.

I find that the beach itself has a unique ability to bend time and reshape distance, a terestrial Whovian TARDIS. Some days it feels like I have been sitting digging for agates on a pebble beach for fifteen minutes only to find it has actually been an hour and a half. Other days I am sure we have walked three miles down the beach in search of shells and tide pools only to turn around and see that we are still so close to the car that I can read the license plate. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to this temporal rift.

I have tried to codify this madness so that I have a better sense of how far we actually travel. How much coastline has passed under our feet. What tiny portion of the vast Pacific have we gazed at in wonder. I have no idea, but here is what I have come up with:

  • Any time I can see the ocean it is three feet away
  • Any time I can hear the ocean it is in the back yard (this is similar to the Montana version where the moose and bison lived “in the back yard”)
KODAK Digital Still Camera
our actual back yard
  • If I want to go out and play in the ocean and the tide is in, it is six feet away from the beach head
  • If I want to go out and play in the ocean and the tide is out, it is three miles away from the beach head
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the tide is coming in
  • Each time I travel uphill it is a mile, if the hill is steep it is two miles, if it is so steep I have to stop it is five miles
  • Each time the sun comes out and shines on my face, we have only been on the beach five minutes
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all beach access requires some climbing
  • When it is raining on my hair all distances are eight miles (this included the distance from the grocery store to the car)
  • When it is raining but not on my hair any distance is half a mile
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it is almost always raining a little
  • The time between the moment that I get something sticky on my hands and when we finally get back to the car is at least two hours (three if the car is uphill or my toes are cold).
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lots of things are sticky

Given all of this, I might appear unappreciative of the majesty of the setting, or the opportunity to explore in such an truly remarkable place.  And yet the exact opposite is true, I really do love it. I just think it is possible that the same mystical force which connects me to the origin of terrestrial life on earth while walking from the sea, also colors my perception of space and time while walking through its sphere of influence.

Time stops on the beach. It is impossible to distinguish anything from right now. The power and mystery of the ocean roaring and pounding right at my feet demands immediate attention.  There is so much out there, so much unknown and unknowable. In this place I am at once a solitary entity and also a thread in the tapestry of the whole of time and space. It is impossible to be alone here, even when I am. I think that’s good.

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While living in Montana or Boise, Cody and I could be alone at home but we knew that the world just outside our door was teeming with life. Friends and family nearby, an easy call or, in some cases, a few minutes walk away. It is harder here, I opened by noting the isolation, but it is impossible for me not to be affected by the connectivity of the water. In both where we were and where we are, we have always been a part of something bigger, outside ourselves. So here we are now, and the larger force around us is ancient and in some ways cosmic. It certainly is not a substitute for all of you, our remarkable friends and family, but it is a pretty special placeholder.

We miss you all. We hope you have a brilliant holiday full of love and laughter. Enjoy the time you have with those you hold dear. As you look ahead to the new year know that you are always welcome at the beach.

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