I eagerly await the hard rains of winter on the Oregon coast. Life always becomes leaner and my writing begins to move in mysterious, fluid directions. I feel a new book coming on.
But, for now, fall lingers, pumpkins ripen, high school football teams clash spiritedly in the night, and I habitually visit my beach with Sonny the husky, stare at the ocean, ride a wave of consciousness in the past and present tense, and write with the intent of purging linearity because the awesome liquid in front of me defies a single literary dimension.
The latest wave:
My teaching job at Newport High started a month ago, and I can't get something one of my seniors wrote out of my mind. She opened her "Story of My Life" essay with one of the most elegantly poignant paragraphs I have ever read. Her family had to leave their home and horses in Montana because of some unstated calamity. Snow was falling. The car was packed up and the Oregon Coast beckoned as the new Promised Land. The family had lost everything but they still had each other, only each other, and faith. Without even knowing it, my student had written one of Bruce Springsteen's best songs from Darkness on the Edge of Town.
I told her to keep going and going and going and see where the essay ends. Maybe a Pulitzer Prize in fiction or, better yet, a spectacular private revelation that helps her transcend a difficult time in her life. What unique talent she possesses and utterly without affectation. Her limitless ability reminded me of something I recently read in the new mammoth Autobiography by Mark Twain (Vol. 1). He included an extraordinary letter by Helen Keller, one he eventually read to a national gathering of advocates for the blind. Twain believed the letter "would pass into our literature as a classic and remain so." He was right. Keller was writing about the blind, but it could have been one of my students. She wrote: "They ask only opportunity and opportunity is a torch in the darkness."
Can we start lighting more torches for young people in this country? They'll carry them well.
On my walk, I found three limpets, always a signal of something good coming my way. I wish I could train Sonny to find limpets. She would then exist as the only dog in the world with this exquisite expertise. Limpets, limpets, limpets. Have I become the world's foremost authority on the sensual, artistic, and educational use of limpets? Perhaps. Certainly the world's foremost culinary authority on limpets was the late naturalist Euell Gibbons. In his 1964 book, Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop, he has a chapter gloriously titled "The Edible Limpets" that includes a recipe for limpet chowder. Yes, limpet chowder, and the recipe involves hay. (Note to self: try this at home and write a column about it.)
I serve as advisor to the Harbor Light, Newport High's news magazine, and I have an idea for a special issue the staff might enjoy producing. Through Facebook we find some forlorn teenager in Nebraska surrounded by endless flat fields of genetically modified corporate corn. Make it a girl, an aspiring poet or rock and roller, from the landlocked middle of arid America who has never seen the ocean but can't stop dreaming about it. The staff washes cars and raises money to transport her to Newport. The only stipulation is that she has to wear a blindfold on the drive from the airport to the coast.
She arrives. She can smell the salt. My editor holds her hand as she walks out to the beach. She removes the blindfold and we take a million photographs of her first view of the ocean. This is the golden cover shot and we make high school journalism history. I'm not joking. Send donations to me care of Newport High School. Think of the mighty spiritual service your contribution will enable.
A couple of days ago, in the afternoon, I saw an astonishing number of birds 50 or so yards offshore in some kind of feeding frenzy. In all my thousands upon thousands of rambles along Oregon's socialist beaches, I have never seen such a sight. Herring? Smelt? Who knows.
Later that evening I returned to the beach and a lone pelican was waddling around in the company of 500 gulls. I got within a miraculous 20 feet of them. I think the pelican winked at me. All the birds appeared gorged, utterly listless, dazed. High?
A big election looms. I wish gulls and pelicans could vote. I watch them a lot, and they seem infinitely smarter than the average undecided voter.
A hundred feet away, waves are rolling and rolling in a seven-second period across a crisp green ocean. Technically, according to Willard Bascom, who wrote Waves and Beaches and The Crest of the Wave and was probably the world's foremost scientific authority on waves, the term "rolling" is incorrect. (FYI: the world's foremost poetic authority on waves was John Keats, who wrote, "Oh ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired / Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea.")
These particular waves are "plunging," meaning there is space underneath when the wave breaks the surface. Contrast this with "spilling" waves, where there is no space and the break is mushy. Surfers love plungers. So do pelicans. They use plunging waves for lift and the resulting undulation of their flight is sheer poetry and ecology to behold. Watching their dipping formations is a guaranteed salve for any vexed eyeball.
Speaking of Keats, I notice that someone finally took the slim volume of his poems I stashed in the riprap at the beginning of summer. Someone stole poetry! Shelley is next. Then Lord Byron. I'm going to hide all poetry from the English Romantics in the rocks, and I want all of them stolen.
On the subject of poetry, I recently read a collection of Arthur Rimbaud's letters and was shocked to come across a passage where he insisted to a friend that "keeping it real" in poetry is crucial. Keeping it real? And I always thought that hackneyed phrase originated from rap music. Rimbaud also wrote: "The poet, therefore, is truly the thief of fire. He is responsible for humanity, for animals even..."
Thief of Fire! What a great name for a rock band. I look around me and here come more band names: Legion of the Limpets, Sinner's Bonfire, Crab Detritus, Servants of the Kelp, Vulnerable Gulls, Kill Your Smartphone.