Sonny the husky and I wandered the wrack line of our local beach after a fierce storm. We were cruising south, inspecting the interesting detritus when we encountered an immobile cormorant apparently in the final stage of life.
The bird saw us, whipped its formidable beak our way, and discharged a savage warning hiss. We got the message and gave it a wide berth to die in dignity and perfect concert with nature, say, unlike how most Americans demise.
Creatures die and beget other life, other notions. The same is true with once-entrenched, sacrosanct, but now dead, beliefs held by humans. You can find these beliefs resting at the metaphorical wrack line, washed ashore, dead: slavery, segregation, the divine right of kings, a geocentric universe, and, most recently, homosexuals as immoral people undeserving of legal marital status or protection from discrimination.
Many Americans still refuse to accept the death of the latter belief, but if they paid better attention, they would already know it had washed ashore, in broad daylight, decomposed, and then returned to the sea, where it birthed something new, something vastly more democratic (and I'm not talking about the political party).
As Sonny and I circled around the cormorant, I saw an elderly woman 50 yards away, walking north, my way, clutching a Chuckit with a tennis ball. Farther down the beach, across a creek, I saw another woman making her way south down the sand using a staff.
Halfway between the women, a brown poodle played alone in the surf. Why wasn't the dog with the woman with the Chuckit? Strange, I thought.
Sonny and I veered toward the woman with the Chuckit. We all met.
"Hi, there. Hey, there's a dying cormorant not far away. You should keep your dog away."
I assumed the dog was hers.
"Oh I don't need to worry," she said, gesturing at the poodle, who was now heading toward the other woman. "She's going with my partner today." The woman went on to explain how she and her partner typically split up at the beach and one heads north and the other heads south. The dog has to decide which master to follow.
I thought this about the best story I'd heard in a long time and thought I might have stumbled across the magic key to maintaining a healthy relationship.
We walked along together for a while, chatting about something I no longer recall, but the story was so alive and writing itself with the rhythm and surety of the incoming waves that I finished it by the time I said goodbye to the woman.
The next day I watched undetected the same two women approach the beach from their car. The poodle tagged along. One headed north using a staff to traverse slippery rocks down to the sand. The other headed south with the Chuckit and tennis ball. The poodle went for the Chuckit. I laughed aloud.
Freedom is such a beautiful thing to behold, although fighting the battle to achieve it can be the ugliest thing in American life, because people who don't want freedom for everyone can get incredibly ugly when they know their myopic world view is slipping away. Just ask the segregationists.
The cormorant wasn't there when Sonny and I rambled past the spot where I last saw it. It was gone.
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Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain