The Oregon coast is my place of soul-restoration. I haven’t been there in a while but I’m going soon — in the middle of winter. But the time of year doesn’t matter. I don’t need sun or heat or long days or pristine beaches or picture-perfect anything. I need rocks and rugged coastline and crashing waves and mountains that go straight into the sea — or perhaps they rise out of the sea. Who knows.
What matters is the power of that ocean and the rocks that stand, in spite of the currents and tides and storms. And the sea lions that create their life on the cliffs beyond our footsteps. And the whales that cruise in the deep and spout on the edge of our vision.
I’m fascinated with the driftwood that piles along the rugged beaches — humongous logs and small pieces as well. My dad collected a piece decades ago, stained it a rich brown, making it resemble a turtle’s shell. The piece sits in the weather on my patio.
Four years ago, on my epic 8,000-mile drive around the country, I stopped at Cannon Beach, Oregon — a familiar place since childhood. This time was different because I was beginning a new time in my life. I had retired a year earlier and my mother had recently died. In fact, the purpose of my trip was to return her ashes to Oregon for burial and to deliver some of her personal effects to friends and relatives along the way. The trip proved to be a long farewell to her and a long beginning to the rest of my life.
But at Cannon Beach I had time to walk among the rocks and driftwood, to feel the wind in my hair, and to comprehend the changeless and every-changing ocean. This place was the farthest west I would travel on this trip — from there on I was heading south and east toward home, though by a new route.
In a small gift shop there I bought a memory — a hanging made of driftwood, connected with heavy brown string. Nothing added to it to make it colorful or fancy. Just unique pieces of grey driftwood plucked from the coastal accumulation.
For a while it hung inside my home — it seemed like the best place at the time. For the last three years it’s hung outside in the weather. After all, it’s the weather and the ocean that made it into driftwood in the first place. No need to protect it now.
Two weeks ago, the string broke (after four years) and the hanging was in a heap on the concrete. Nothing was damaged. Just the string at the top had frayed.
So this weekend my son and I put it back together. This time we used fishing line to make it more weather resistant. We created our own knots with the heavy plastic twine (the Boy Scouts would definitely not approve) and finished them off with hot glue to guarantee they didn’t loosen.
Maybe that’s how it is with our memories. They come apart, fall to the ground, and we restring them so they move more easily. Perhaps its the same with our souls. Sometimes, they come apart, nearly to the breaking point, but we put them back together, to give them more freedom, more movement.
I look at my driftwood every day and remember the ocean. It’s enough to restore my soul.
Until next Tuesday . . .