I thought I would only be here at the beach for 3 weeks before returning to Portland, but over time I began to see how strongly the forces of the universe conspired to keep me here until I catch my breath. This seems to have involved finding ways, all of a sudden, to jump a hurdle or obstacle I thought was “impossible.”
When I left Portland to set up basic camp in my new home on the ocean, I made the decision to have my mail held. This decision was based on my concern about how my current mail carrier tends to stuff all the advertisements into my mail box first, making it hard for the actual mail to make it all the way in. Since I wasn’t going to be around, and both of my next door neighbors were at Burning Man, and I wasn’t sure Mike and Kelly could come over often enough to untangle the mail from the mail chute, I decided this was the best course of action. Perhaps, too, at some level I wanted everything to stop for a while, so I , too, could stop having to field everything.
When I filled out the card at the post office down the street from me in Portland I thought I was overshooting to give myself 3 weeks. But it turns out I am meant to stay another 2 weeks more than that.
For most of the past month I have said “I’ll be back in two weeks.” Then “I’ll be back in 3 weeks.” I even made plans for when I got back. But as the time approached I noticed I was getting rather nervous about going back. That same feeling of my nerves running in high gear and not being able to stop was keeping me awake at night. Still, there didn’t seem to be anything to do but go back. The mail had to be picked up. No one else could do it but me. The bills had to be paid, and I wasn’t set up to pay them all online.
And then, as one of my friends in grad school was so very fond of saying, life happened after I made the plans. Mike was swamped with work and sudden looming deadlines, and he wrote to tell me he didn’t think he could come out to pick me up and still get his work done. As a free lance film maker and editor, he often has sudden and varied jobs with tight deadlines and clients who want to see many versions quickly before they are satisfied. So I told him I would see what I could do about the mail and the bills.
It turns out it was easy to extend the hold. It turns out it was also pretty easy to find the info on the phone that I need to pay everything that was due. Suddenly the absolutes had melted away. I didn’t have to go back to pick up mail and pay bills. Just like that, what I thought I had to do, I didn’t have to do at all. I could do it another way, and stay.
I’m glad this happened because it gave me a lesson in not locking myself into what I believe is absolute. In fact it’s funny to me now how absolute I believed picking up my mail and paying my bills would be, as if there were only one way, one time. Sure, I am going to have a lot of mail to pick up when I do go back, but so what? They are happy to hold it.
I ought to know I talked to them 4 times in one day.
I’m glad I stayed. Not only because it seems to grow more beautiful each day, if such a thing is possible, but because I’m learning something about how to sense an authentic timeline for my own well-being, something that has gotten somewhat misplaced in the last few years of moving. Selling and buying a home ends up imposing arbitrary deadlines that seem absolute and that require we live or suspend living by them. I felt that especially in the crunch to sell my place on Van Buren Street and close on the Portland condo in time. Long after my nervous system needed everything to stop so I could rest, I had to keep going on the arbitrary real estate roller coaster. I may still be recovering from that.
Buying the beach trailer was a whole different experience. There was a deadline, but since I didn’t have to sell one place to buy the other, I could give myself more time in the big picture. It’s taken a while, though, to come out of that “flight” mode. I think it’s just starting to happen. Here are some of the signs of slowing down into the present moment I’ve noticed and appreciated lately.
One of the first things is what I’ll call “the Goldilocks effect.” When I first looked online and found this trailer, I learned that most houses, condos and trailers close to the beach seem to be sold “as is,” meaning everything that happens to be in it also comes with the sale. In this case, that meant there was already a bed, a dresser, a fouton in the living room, a small butcher block table in the kitchen area, kitchen chairs, bath towels and even dishes and pots and pans. There was a poignancy to this that was hard to dismiss. The woman who had owned this before had traveled from far away to be here at the Oregon coast, and I still think of her and thank her each time I use the tiny screen that keeps little pieces of food from going down the kitchen sink drain, or when I look at the seashells on the mantle or the wooden oar on the house carved with the address, or the old buoys hanging from the porch rafters. She definitely liked lighthouses—I’ve kept a lighthouse clock in the kitchen, and Romeo and I take a nap with a lighthouse throw each afternoon.
But over the last several weeks this place has slowly come to feel and look more like mine, even though I came with a bare minimum of my own furniture and things. Yet it isn’t the batik of fisherman from Thailand or the charcoal self portrait from my art teacher of long ago I’ve put on the living rooms wall that make this so, although they do help me feel at home. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi now that somehow makes it look and feel like it belongs to me. I was pleasantly struck by this for the first time several days ago when Romeo and I approached it from the direction we often walk away from it in the morning, returning in a loop. This time I was aware that I was actually walking toward the front of the house—and it looked so cute. That’s my house! I said to myself for the first time—and I saw that it looked like mine, not the interesting property we had first driven up to.
A dear reader of mine suggested I reread A Gift From The Sea when she learned of my new adventure. I’ve read the first chapter over again, and plan to take it back to me to Portland this weekend, to remind me what I can return to when I’m ready to go back.
It’s been over 40 years since I first read it, so I didn’t really remember anything about how it started. I was struck by the fact that in the first chapter Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes of the spare furnishings in the beach cabin that will be her home for several weeks. She writes of how she drags driftwood and sea vines home from the beach, and shells, too, calling them “curious hollowed out shapes reminscent of abstract sculpture.” She goes on to say that “With these tacked to walls and propped up in corners, I am satisfied. I have a periscope out to the world.” At this point I had to put the book down for a moment and take a deep breath, because this is exactly what I have done myself.
This weekend I’ll return to Portland, lug my mail home, see if I have my ballot and my property tax bill, check on the winter squash I left ripening in the beds bordering our condo parking lot, and meet up with friends. I’ll also be making arrangements for another Silken Windhound to come be part of our family, too. But in my pocket I’ll carry this:
a small tide table for 2016 given to me by one of my new neighbors. I’ve seeen him a few times walking in the afternoon when he gets off work, cutting down from the grocery store to the sand. He’s lived here for many years. I treasure this “welcome to the beach” gift. I love these columns of numbers, even if I don’t understand exactly what they all mean. They remind me of a deep rhythm I’m learning to live by, to walk by, and respect. And when I am back in the city with its many arbitrary schedules and timetables, I can look at this and remember the vast elliptical mystery of the pattern in which the waves approach, recede and wash themselves ashore in accordance with the moon and the sun and the seasons. Maybe I’ll even hear them whisper inside my head. That’s the kind of timetable my heart beats to.