Take me to the river and put my feet back on the ground.— Al Green
I don’t even have to walk along the coast to feel better – I can just stand there on the sand feeling it shift under my weight. Or sand blows and stings my ankles as the wind howls. Or a softer breeze blows off the water, bringing that particular smell of ocean, a mix of salt and water, sometimes fish – or even crude oil, depending where on the Pacific coast I am. Paired with the roar and crash, and all my senses soar, and there’s little room for thought.
It’s better than a day at the spa to soothe and relax and wipe the slate clean, putting me back in my center, ready for the next thing. Like a big slug of green superfood, drunk in one gulp, coursing through my system, shoring me up.
For many years I rode my bike along the beach as I went to work or out to do errands, and the trip was always a double whammy dose of good vibes. There I’d be, bike riding fast and free and feeling like I was flying, body working and sweating and stretching and moving AND there was the water, waves, sand, sky and clouds, and always, brown pelicans and seagulls and cormorants dotting the lagoons or flying and fishing, and sandpipers and sanderlings comically running up and down the hard wet sand poking holes, looking for a meal. A lucky day might include a great blue heron.
I have certainly been sad at the beach, cried into the waves. But I always feel better when I leave, some knotty quandary or puzzle resolved, some grief put into perspective, the sense that the trials of one small person are less significant when placed in the enormous pool of water that is the Pacific.
The beach helped our marriage at one time when my husband started coming home from work grumpy and annoyed. I asked him to stop off at the beach on his way home. He arrived home later,Por more centered and lighter.
It’s that perspective, the enormity of the world and beyond that makes my own life and trials shrink in comparison. Now it takes an hour or two to drive to the ocean, and so I’ve grown attached to the rivers close at hand, the Willamette most immediately. It descends from the Cascade mountains a few hours drive southeast from me and Portland, and winds through the Willamette Valley till it connects with the mighty Columbia River, and continues another 60 or 70 miles west into the Pacific Ocean.
The power of this moving water that has traveled hundreds of miles, or in the case of the Columbia, over a thousand miles from its source in British Columbia, through Washington and alongside Oregon into the Pacific, is a mighty sweep of mind that, like the ocean, displaces all the detritus and details and picky little annoyances of life, and smashes them to bits, flung against the great basalt boulders along the shore and underwater, and brings me back to nothingness – more than than I get on the mat or on the cushion or by watching my breath.
It’s a fucking miracle is what it is and I don’t get enough, especially now that it’s cold, now that I am cautious, now that I write more than I move around. I always forget, and yet it’s always there for me, even when I am not there for it.