A few years back when I still lived on the Palouse, Romeo and I were taking a walk on the trail at the edge of the University of Idaho. It was the time when my chapbook If A Sparrow had been selected as a finalist in the 2012 Open Poetry Chapbook Competition at Finishing Line Press. I was starting to do more art, and I felt like things were speeding up in my life. As we walked over a bridge to get back down onto the trail, the wind picked up my hat and lifted it off my head. It was as if the universe was replying, “yes, hold on to your hat!” I laughed at the symmetry between my thought process and how the wind corroborated with it.
When I first moved to the Palouse, it took me a long time to get used to the absence of ocean. In time, I began to realize that out there, the ever changing sky was actually my “ocean,” and the sound of the wind in the trees, the sound of the “waves.” That helped me settle into the slower shifting time of earth-oriented rhythms apart from the tides.
My visits to the beach this summer that preceded this amazing move cued me in again to that cycle of time tied so closely with the tides and the moon. It felt like the most authentic calendar possible, and I longed to measure the hours of my life by it.
When I first came to start living at the beach nearly a few weeks ago, I quickly discovered that to my dismay I had accidentally left the backpack behind I always use that was filled with essentials like Romeo’s collar and service dog regalia and my own favorite hat and head bands, things that were absolutely required for my city life. It was still sitting at the back door in Portland like it always does, waiting for me to pick it up. Only now I was 2 1/2 hours away.
At first I wrung my hands in anxiety and then I kept holding them palms up to shrug and giggle nervously each time I discovered that something else I always use and need in the city was indeed in that left-behind backpack. When it was time to drive to the next larger town to get some supplies at Fred Meyer, I wasn’t sure if they would let me in the store with Romeo. My son said let’s just go, and if they ask you to leave, we’ll do the shopping and you can wait outside in the car. And so we went. Apparently the universe no longer wanted me to “hold on to my hat” literally, but was asking I take a whole other kind of risk.
No one, but no one, said a word. The same thing happened the next day when we went to a time honored health food store in the town just to the north, so I could get some tempeh and a few other co-op style items. So several days later, when it was time to walk the 1/2 mile up to the nearest market for a few things I could carry without my backpack, I took a deep breath and said to Romeo “let’s take a walk and see what happens.”
Nothing. Well, actually the checker just said to me, “can I pet him or is he a service dog?” I told her he was working and that was that. She complimented him on his good looks and gentle demeanor. She almost resented the fact she couldn’t reach out to pet him, but also prided herself in knowing it’s not a good idea to to that with working dogs.
The ordinary here is not the ordinary I have been used to. It’s definitely a more relaxing ordinary than I’ve had in a long time. And what is more, the majestic is actually ordinary, at least in the sense that it happens all the time. There was the night I went out with Romeo into our new yard while he took care of business before bed. As always from my place, I could hear the waves crashing on the shore. The night was clear and crisp. I looked over the trees in the direction of the ocean, and there was the Big Dipper pouring itself into those waves. To the east a bit was Casseopea. Two old constellation friends I have hardly seen at all in the last year. It felt like a family reunion.
We have been able to walk twice a day on the beach, but a couple of times even after those walks, I have just felt like going down to our lookout bench for a few minutes to watch the sun set. Each time has been totally different. The first time the sky was clear, and the waves were calm. The tide was coming back in slowly. After sitting there for a few minutes and snapping a couple of photos to send to the kids or try to paint from, I turned around, grateful for my dose of sunset awe. There before me, at what had been my back, was the rising moon, with sky and scrub and path on the hillside backlit with the last bits of sun. I gasped. Here is what I made of those moments in pastel.
There are two windows in my living room kitchen area through which I can see a patch of the ocean. So last night when I saw that the sunset was going to be unusually dramatic, I threw on my shoes and a jacket over my apron, left my cup of carob fudge and frozen blueberries on the table, and walked down the hill to our park’s lookout bench again. This time there were storm clouds with breaks for dramatic light, and a frothy sea shrouded in mist and shadowed by the clouds. As the tide receded the sand was backlit by the fading light. Just out of the mist were two figures, arms around each other. They were kissing. Here’s what I was able to capture from memory, which was the moment they pulled away from each other.
A long time I wrote a poem about the apron I happened to be wearing, one that a friend from high school and college had made for me. I wrote of it protecting me years after my youth, helping me find what I called “the shine.” I had thought about taking it off before I went down, but really I didn’t want to miss a second of the orange and blue and yellow light before it disappeared behind the purple-gray of the clouds, so I kept it on.
I’m much older now than I was when I wrote this poem. My hair is now silver, like the rivulets of water carving the sand from the small creek that feeds down onto the beach at the bottom of our hill when last light casts its magic for a few moments. And I’m much, much older than I was when I first began to learn how to paint in watercolor, when one of my constant themes to learn horizon and reflection was a sunset over the water. I painted this scene again and again, miles from the ocean, not knowing I would live near one in my twenties and again, much later, in my sixties. These sunsets I am honored to witness each night have brought back the memory of those small, careful watercolors, and how as a teenager, I was captivated with it, and I lost myself in the reflection of the light on the water. I didn’t paint these scenes over and over from a photograph or a trip we’d taken. I don’t know where the desire to paint them came from. As I look out on the ocean here, now, I am reminded of them. Could it be that I was painting myself forward several decades so as to recognize when I had landed where my soul needed to be?
Here, unlike in the poem, the shine is not buried so deep. In fact it dances on the surface of things, right at hand, in the passing of the day, the rising and falling of the tide, the sun and moon. “Always never the same,” as one of my new neighbors likes to say. I told him he’d gotten it just right.