Tuesday, October 11, 2011

oceans edge

I lived by the ocean for seven years. When I drove off the Alaska ferry in Bellingham and turned my back on the sea, it was like leaving someone I loved. In this landlocked country I see mirages everywhere: the long expanses of field, rippling like an inland sea. Snow on lakes like frozen waves. Sometimes, briefly, a small surf on the pebbly beach of Wallowa Lake.

But it isn't the same. For seven years I heard the ocean's heartbeat, the breakers pounding on the reef, the insistent chime of the buoy out in the Eastern Channel. It was like living with a moody stranger--you never knew what you would get. Sometimes, a placid calm, the fog kissing the water so that we had to navigate with compasses mounted on our kayaks. Sometimes an unexpected swell, rolling in from Japan, tossing our boats like driftwood. Sometimes the bright diamond sparkle of sun. Rain, pockmarking the grey surface. The extreme low tides of late winter, and the sneaky high tides of summer. The ocean was a presence I could not discount or turn away from. Its moods shaped my days. Would I be stuck on the beach under a tarp, unable to paddle? Would our skiff's anchor hold, or would one of us have to swim for it? Would the tide drain out, a plug from a bathtub, leaving us high and dry until it flooded back in? These were all things to know.

Mountain life can be compared to this. It has started snowing already, the line of white marching down the golden tamarack slopes like an incoming tide. If I go out, I need extra of everything, hats, gloves, socks, is it safe to stay overnight or will snow fall, muffling footprints and closing the trails? It is in one way the same and in others, not the same.  Finally this weekend we pried ourselves like clams out of the county and drove west.

There it was, the ocean. I felt like I could breathe, great wet breaths of soft, rainy air. My hair curled. A soft rain fell without a sound. I remembered this.

The dogs weren't quite sure about the ocean. Aluco (l) was scared; Sierra ignored the water, and Cale wanted to run and run. A dog after my own heart!

An admission: when we pulled into the campsite, I sat there in the truck watching the rain bead up on the windshield. A thought crept into my head: A motel. I remembered all the days of rain in Alaska: hiking in the rain. Running in the rain. Camping in the rain. After awhile, I forgot that there was anything other than rain. It was the constant heartbeat I lived with, like the ocean. So we threw up the tent and slogged around in our little-used rain gear. The next day, we were rewarded with this:
The rain came back in, like it always does, and we had to leave for home too soon. I don't want to live in a rainforest again; my knees ache and it feels too isolated in a curtain of fog. We used to say that when the sun came out, it was the most beautiful place on earth, and it was, but that does you no good when the sun rarely comes out.

I'll miss the ocean, but I'll take the landlocked mountains. I'll take the certain stars at night and the sun-drenched afternoons by an alpine lake. But I'll be back to the coast again for a tryst or two with the waves, because I can't stay away forever.


  1. That's how I am with the aurora, always thinking I see it on the horizon but it is usually light pollution.

    There's a saying about Juneau (and SE Alaska in general): "It's like having a really hot girlfriend that is sick all the time". Breathtaking on sunny days, but non-existent on rainy and foggy ones.

  2. HA HA, hadn't heard that saying!

    Anyone having trouble commenting? I am, on other blogs. If you are, let me know at maryellenemerickATgmailDOTcom.Thx

  3. Ah Marre the pics are beautiful. Glad you got to have at least one day full of beautiful sunshine. Hey and curly hair isn't so bad for a day or two. The best part I think si being able to spend that time with your true love. :)

  4. Oh and no problems commenting for me.

  5. Mary, thanks for this. I'm getting so excited for Sitka. Even though the dark and rain might eat me alive. I'll be there on my birthday, 1/13, so maybe you should time your visit with that? Oooh, we could have great fun! Do you have any Sitka books or books on Alaska's tides that you could loan me? I'd mail them back to you over Christmas before I left. Let me know. Lovin' your blog...

  6. Great! Loved the photos and the rain forest/mountain similarities and differences. Glad you had the trip, with your love.


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