I spent the two days this past week on the Oregon Coast, in familiar yet missed salty air, hair whipped to and fro by the rambunctious wind. It has been years since last visiting those dunes, since witnessing the crush of the tide and feeling the emptiness and fullness of the Pacific.
As a child, days on days were spent at the edge of the tide pools that cluster the beaches. Teeming with life, flecked with flotsam- I could crouch for hours beside these watery universes. Feeling the stickiness of anemone tentacles against the pad of my finger, the sharp edges of barnacles under my toes. Time is inconsequential when my feet begin to disappear in the sand, when my eyes lock onto minuscule creatures of the ocean as they follow instinctive paths.
We parked and walked along the beach that I was once so well acquianted, Haystack Rock looming above- making me feel just as small as I did when I was six. The tide shimmered in and out, gossamer foam spraying our ankles as we made our way to the craggy black rocks. As I stepped up to a rock that should have certainly housed a menagerie of aquatic life, all that met me was undisturbed water and errant half broken, sun bleached shells. Perhaps a few unexciting sand fleas. I moved to the next collection of rocks. And again only found an uninhabited, ocean scrubbed rock. Not even a lonely limpet clung to the side.
We continued along the stretch of beach hoping to discover the slab that sheltered all the life I had so hoped to encounter. Each undisturbed pool made me feel sadder, somehow lonelier- almost like I was experiencing a small apocalypse passing each lifeless little basin.
The lack of active tide pools didn’t ruin the bright afternoon, fuelled by clam chowder from Mo’s and endorphins after hiking the Tillamook Head. We climbed the heaps of rocks, splashed in the shallow water and tossed fluffy sourdough into the screeching gulls’ maws. We walked hand in hand as the sea breeze drowned out our voices and gazed up at the shingled houses with their weather-worn facades and salt dabbled windows. I remembered years past spent as family on those beaches. I daydreamt of bonfires, their heat ripping through the grey, cold afternoons and of small shoulders wrapped in bright red blanket and stories of mermaids and selkies.
But I still wonder what happened to those tide pools. I wonder if I remember them differently than they were, if they never really thrived the way I recall. Sometimes that resembles life. Hoping to discover animated pools, finding instead lifeless rocks. Anticipating excitement and liveliness and experience and instead encountering frustration and weariness and hollowness. It could be work, or a specific person or place or even idea. These glittering expectations met only with reality, still gorgeous with all its imperfections, but sometimes painful and angering, confusing, depressing.
I understand that life is not a bare rock. That even though I may turn up somewhere unexpected, maybe a place I actually loathe- there is still activity. It may not be perceptible to the passerby, just like the millions of organisms in in the pools that I couldn’t see. There may be seasons of low tide, when the water is stagnant and I yearn for is something fresh, invigorating. There will also be times of high tide, when the surf is rich with change and sparkle. And just as the face of those pools transform, so do I.