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.