Monday, June 4. 5:10 a.m. I sit in my truck parked in front of the Fishermen's Memorial in Newport and watch a clammer gearing up to depredate the low tide. My black coffee tastes good. Light is coming. Rain threatens. A few sprinkles reconnoiter for an imminent invasion.
A mix tape from the Analog Stone Age blasts some classic rock through the speakers: Who are you? asks Roger Daltrey with such urgency that it compels you to answer... unless you can't.
I think about the lyrics from "Who Are You?" by The Who and how it embodies my philosophy of teaching writing to students. Virtually everything I do in class at Newport High School, where I teach, orchestrates young people to ask the question Who are you? of themselves and to try to answer it through as many modes of communication as possible: essay, poetry, fiction, memoir, music, photography. I join them in the process and derive virtually all of my writing from the experience.
A car passes and parks in front of me. A vintage Mustang. That would be Matthew, a senior at Newport High, on the last Monday of his high school career, and he's the first to arrive for my fourth annual senior beach walk. I started the event when I began teaching at Newport High School in 2008 and conceived the idea after reading a line from one of the greatest walkers in American history, Henry David Thoreau: "An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day."
It sure beats watching television.
There's never an agenda when we hit the free sands and walk together as friends, Oregonians, and countrymen. We just walk, run, skip, climb the North Jetty, build cairns, play, throw rocks, pose, dance in the rain, and then rally at Pig N' Pancake, where I buy breakfast for anyone who shows.
Another car pulls up. Then another. As we wait, I tour a couple of the students inside the Fishermen's Memorial, one of my favorite places in Oregon and a great place to sit, muse, and ask questions.
At 5:35 we begin our walk, 13 students strong.
A few minutes later, we reach the sand, and it takes me all of 30 seconds to discover a limpet. I hoist it proudly and then whip out my camera to shoot photographs of the seniors through the keyhole. It is possible that in recent weeks I have become the world's foremost obsessed authority on using this technique. Why this particular obsession manifested is beyond me, but I don't fight it.
We keep moving south, absorb the green magnificence of the Yaquina Bay Bridge, and ascend the slick boulders of the jetty. I take more pictures and then instruct the students to pick up a rock and get ready to throw it into Yaquina Bay. Wait. Wait. Wind up! Throw! I suggest: Let this action become a metaphor for your future. Create an elegant ripple in your local water and create an elegant ripple in your larger world. We need them from young people. Graduate from high school and ripple through the days. Never stagnate. Stagnant people became soulless characters in Bob Dylan's most savage songs, and you don't ever want to become one of those people. They stop asking who they are. Dylan answers for them.
Time to go. We commanded our usual table at Pig N' Pancake and the ordering commenced. Two boys wanted chicken fried steak. On a Monday morning before school? Hey, they got up to walk with their teacher one last time, so why not?