If an Oregonian strips naked and dives into the ocean, and no one is around to see, is it a crime?
Not too long ago, Sonny the husky, a friend, and I cruised south down my local beach. No one was around except us.
Something seized me. For some unknown reason, I wanted to rip off all my clothes and jump in the ocean. There was no desperate need for ablution. There was no existential crisis in play. This wasn't some protest against American prudery.I simply felt total elation about all things in this world and wanted to go underwater, then, there, now, and revel in the greatest connection on the planet.
I asked my friend if she wanted to join me. She said "yes." We swiveled around, didn't see anyone, which surprised me because it was four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon and pushing 70 degrees on the Oregon Coast.
Would our plunge constitute a crime? Would some archaic clause in Oregon's Revised Statutes define my spontaneity as indecent exposure? Would the authorities send me to jail for making a primal return to the sea?
Had I seen another human on the beach I would have never considered the idea. I'm a writer not an exhibitionist, although the two are closely linked.
We looked north, we looked south. No one. This wouldn't take long.
"Free and uninterrupted use thereof," reads the famous 1967 Beach Bill that enshrined forever the sacrosanct notion that in Oregon, the public owns the beaches, access is guaranteed, and creative frolicking doesn't cost a cent. One only needs imagination and a little juice in life. I might also add that a great law means nothing if you don't honor it, remember how and why it became law.
I heard the immortal Oregon beach gods: Oswald West, Samuel Boardman, Tom McCall, Bob Bacon, Matt Kramer, Sidney Bazett, and Bob Straub. They transmitted a message from the bipartisan beyond. Do it Matt Love! We politicked this for you. We kept Oregon's beaches free when clothed sinister forces wanted to privatize them and monitor behavior by video surveillance. We've been dead a long time and want to see some action! Get it on!
Time to honor.
We shed our clothes in an alcove that hid us from view and sprinted a football field to the ocean. Sonny followed us howling her husky howl. We dove in. We screamed. Salt never tasted so good. I stood up from the water and scanned north. There was someone sitting on a bench, a woman I think, a quarter mile away, staring our direction. I waved, she didn't. Could she see us? Was she calling the cops? Documenting a possible crime with her fancy Orwellian phone?
Sonny won the sprint back to the alcove, and my friend and I donned our clothes in record time. A few minutes later I emerged from hiding and saw several families and a local character I call the Kelp Man coming from the north.
The woman on the bench was still there. I wasn't worried, not one bit, about her political or sensual proclivities. No district attorney would ever prosecute because no Oregon jury would ever convict us after they heard me give up my Fifth Amendment right and self incriminate with passion.
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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