I returned to one of the many spots I’d wanted to explore between Gold Beach and Coos Bay the day after I drove up to Coos Bay. Another sunny day on the coast. Not at all what I expected from December in coastal Oregon from what I read of the annual weather here. But I’m not complaining. So far, it’s been a nice combination of moody storms, of the gale-force wind and rain variety, and sunny skies. When I awoke to another sunny day, I knew I had to get out some, even knowing I have a goal to finish a writing project I’m currently working on by the end of this month. A sunny day on the coast in December is hard to ignore. I wrote for a few hours, and then headed back up the 101 to the place that most appealed to me from the road on the drive the day before. It is a seastack further offshore, but it is still connected by a strip of land. It has not yet been completely separated from the coast by the powerful forces of the ocean. There are plenty of places here where you can fulfill your urges to stand atop a seastack during low tide, but for some reason, this one, with its strip of connecting land, called to me to explore.
As I pulled off into the parking area, one other car pulled in at the same time. Other than that, just one other vehicle was present. A man stepped out of the car he arrived in at the same time I did. He looked around a bit and then commented to me about how beautiful it was. This began a lovely several minutes of conversation. I found out a bit of his story, and he mine. He was driving the coast road from Seattle south to southern Cali until he had to turn west. Turns out, he lives in Austin. He found it very amusing that I had lived in Austin for ten years and, after hearing that bit of information, held out his hand to shake mine and properly introduce himself. He was a delight. We parted ways, he giving the slight bow of respect of his native culture, and I a wave and nod in return. These types of exchanges out on the road are common. They are brief moments that, when stitched together, create the fabric of experiences that remind me of our common humanity, of the fact that everyone has a story, everyone has something to give, if we take the time to listen. It is one of the beautiful gifts of sharing the journey of life on this third rock from the sun. I can’t say I always appreciated that as much as I should have but living out here the way I am is fine-tuning my appreciation for more than just the beauty of the places I visit.
Bruce headed off to continue his journey down the coast, and I headed off to continue mine down to the rugged piece of land below. One thing you find out quickly in places of spectacular beauty is how little justice photos do. It is impossible to convey the grandeur of what you see in front of you on a two-dimensional image with edges that box in views that go on forever. Oh, I try, all the time, as the more than 8000 images currently in my library can attest (these are not just from this trip, but I do admit that number of photos is completely insane, and I am slowly going through them to weed out the unnecessary ones). And I tried here, as well. But the scale of the rising tuft of land I climbed or the force of the water rushing through the opening in the rock or the play of the water against the pitted, craggy surface of the seastack I sat upon looking down into the ocean below are impossible to capture well, if at all.
I walked down the coast trail until it split in two, with a detour down to the seastack and the two coves created by the piece of land leading out to it. On my continued decent, I couldn’t resist a climb up a soft tuft of land that jutted out over the beach below. I love that feeling you get at the top of something, looking down and out over a forever landscape. You feel invincible and vulnerable at the same time. It’s that line between two opposing forces: gravity and flight. A feeling of what it must feel like to be soaring over a land on your own wings yet realizing at the same time that you do not have wings at all and are bound to the earth by the force of gravity.
I stayed atop that tuft until the rocks and water pulled me down and closer. This little strip of land screamed for scramble and exploration, and the more a person climbs and scrambles, the more you realize of its hidden gems. It’s been explored a lot. You can tell by the well-worn paths created by the same curiosities among visitors to see what lies here, or over there, or up there. A perfect ledge upon which to walk to read a perch that thrusts you out over the ocean is one that not many can resist. I certainly couldn’t. I took satisfaction in knowing that while so many others obviously enjoyed exactly the same things I was currently enjoying, I was alone in my reveries and explorations at that moment. I could then at least pretend to be that first explorer discovering the wonder and power of ocean against rock. I perched, I scrambled. And I discovered something I did not at all know existed as I perched on one of the overlooks.
I saw a place where the water moved past the rock, and flowed under it in a powerful rush, before sweeping back out. A cave of sorts, it seemed. I watched from up high, and then had to inspect up close. The tide was out. Good thing. As I got closer, I noticed three other people looking at something on the other of the “cave.” I let them finish their explorations while I went to look more closely at the place I’d seen. This put me right at the level of the water rushing in, standing on top of some smaller rocks, very much attuned to the force around me. It was amazing, and I also realized what the three others were looking at. The “cave” went all the way through, and they were watching the show from the other side. I went around the rock and met the three, and their little rock-climbing pup, as they were leaving. We chatted a bit before trading places. The view was even more powerful from the other side. I watched from above for a while, before climbing below into a rocky bowl, level again with the water. I was even more aware of how powerful this water was as it came close enough to get me wet and at the same time completely attuned to the fact that I was in a bowl of rocks over my head where, during high tide, the water would surely be above my head. It was a bit scary and a bit exhilarating. The same contrasts I feel at being perched up high.
That is so true of this life we lead. It’s full of contrasts. Often we experience these contrasts simultaneously, and they can leave us feeling perplexed and confused. But I also think it’s the beauty of life. These contrasts keep us on our toes. They play off of one another and remind us of the complexities of a world we like to see in black and white. Our world is so much more than that. It’s a puzzle that never gets solved. A gift that you can unwrap forever. A secret that will be told for the rest of your life. We have much to learn about this world we live in. The opposing forces of water and rock, gravity and weightlessness, that exist here on this coast have something to teach us about the connections and human experiences that shape a life and make us who we are always becoming.