Readers, thanks for checking out my On Oregon
blog the last four years. It's been a great run of something like 100 or more posts, and I am also thankful to Powell's for letting me run with my Oregon ideas. Here's my last post, and, fittingly enough, it's about the most important Oregon thing in the world to me: our publicly owned beaches.
In the spring of 1997, not long after my 33rd birthday, I awakened in my Portland loft to the reality that I craved a total revolution of my mind, body, and spirit. Truly, I was lost as a human being and unable to envision a path to fulfilling any of my dreams. On a whim, I accepted a teaching job at a small rural school on the Oregon Coast, needing to believe something transformative might happen to me. I honestly felt this was my last shot at doing something important with my life.
Something did happen after heading west. I met the beach, we fell in love, and it has since become the greatest creative, spiritual, and sensual force in my life. But my transformation only manifested because I live in Oregon, and long ago the state decided to forge an exceptional path by protecting its ocean beaches, its "great birthright" as former Oregon Governor Oswald West defined it, from prudery and privatization. That exceptional path also guaranteed public access to the beach — by law.
A couple years after relocating to the coast, I started going to the beach with my three big dogs, in relentless fashion, at all hours, in all weather, using all senses, usually clothed. Strange and wonderful things unfolded at the beach, and I heard the "old voice of the ocean," as the poet Robinson Jeffers called it. In hearing the "old" I began hearing something new: a passion for living, caring, and creating that I never knew existed within me. I also began writing about these very things.
By the way, I've never paid a cent to use the great birthright, a tradition I hope never changes. If it does, Oregon is surely doomed and we already know the culprits — plutocrats who never visit the beach; they only want to own it.
I intended to stay one year on the Oregon Coast. Now, I'm enjoying my 16th year in residence, and I estimate that I've rambled the great birthright close to 10,000 times and written a million words about my experiences. I've run into coyotes, sea lions, deer, sages, prophets, madmen, magic forts, marijuana dealers, eagles, herons, pelicans, whales, Ken Kesey's ghost, 50 shades of stratus gray, holy fires, mermaids, and a Sea God's sculptures. I've inhaled salty fog and hurdled over rotting kelp. I let a million gallons of rain erode the procrastinator I was in Portland. I saw everything through the keyhole of a limpet. I learned the definition of beauty and art and met the hardest of hardcore Oregonians walking in slanted sleet. I found myself and a literary voice.
Oregon's beaches can help you find yourself too. It all depends on what you seek: privacy, creativity, recreation, rain, solace, escape, confession, unpretentious family time, God, god, gods, contemplation, inspiration, transfiguration, transmogrification, an agenda-free zone, forgiveness, redemption, simplicity, passion, connection, maybe even a little fun, hardly ever the sun. Or perhaps you seek the unknown and want something unexpected to unfold in real time. Oregon's beaches offer that as well, especially in the winter. Really, anything is possible because guaranteed access makes it possible and access guarantees something tactile can happen.
Something wonderful always results when something tactile happens at the beach. But for anything to happen, you must walk upon the beach. Looking at it from a moving vehicle or the comfort of a living room pales in comparison. In fact, it's not even worth comparing.