A Jetty Runs Through It. Water, Life & Transformation.

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North Jetty, Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington State

I stand on the rock jetty with the mighty Columbia River on my left side and the Pacific Ocean on the right. This is where they meet.  Where their separateness joins. The meeting of the waves is fierce as the surge of the river encounters the power of the ocean. There is a life metaphor here.

The river side seems calm compared to the ocean waves. Yet its power is there, submerged beneath the surface.  A whale spouts. A fishing boat moves along. Seals pop up.

Underneath the surface, just before the river heads out to sea, are sand bars; sediment built up from the bottom. The bars are treacherous. Boats, incoming from the ocean, must navigate them in particular ways to stay safe. This area is known worldwide as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” Over 2000 large ships have sunk here since 1792. There are many secrets at the bottom of this river. Unfulfilled dreams.

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Columbia River, south of the North Jetty.

Looking to the other side of the jetty, the ocean waves seem soothing. Moving to the rhythm of the moon, they swell, bathe the sand and return to their depths. I take comfort in the repetition; reassurance in a chaotic world.

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Beach at North Jetty, Cape Disappointment State Park

But, when the waves encounter the jetty, they protest the barrier stopping their surge. Hitting hard against the rocks, their chaotic spray rises to splash over the rocks above.

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North Jetty.

At the end of the jetty, the ocean waves meet the river surge and a joining occurs. Sometimes it generates large clashes of waves. At other times, the strength of the encounter does not show as much on the surface. Yet, underneath, both bodies of water are being transformed. A new creation emerges.

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North Jetty.

Rivers and oceans surge within each of us, bringing both the nurturing waves of life and heavy buried sediments of our disappointments and grief. Steady rhythms and interruptions of chaos.

Our inner waters are always seeking places to flow. To heal. To transform.

We often create a jetty to keep parts of ourselves separate or to reign in wild waters. Because it feels safer. Because someone told us to hide parts of ourselves. Or said to not make waves or create strong currents that challenge the status quo.

It takes fierceness to claim who we are, how we look, who we love, what we believe. We risk crossing sand bars of old sediment to allow a meeting of the parts of ourselves we have segmented. Clashes are inevitable and they are not the final determinate of a life. They are a way towards freedom.

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Beach at North Jetty.

Party at Pismo Beach

It was like the Cantina tavern scene from Star Wars, only on a public ocean beach. It wasn’t pretty.

We were headed to San Luis Obispo, California, when Bill saw the sign for Pismo State Beach. “Let’s stop there,” he said.  We had made sandwiches for a picnic lunch along the way.

Pismo is the only beach in California where it is permitted to drive a standard highway vehicle along the shore. This is critical information for this story.

Our turnoff led to the Oceano Campground area which is close to the sand dunes. A check-in booth was at the end of the road which then turned into sand and led to the beach. A line of vehicles waited for admittance to drive on the sand. A line of vehicles on the beach was coming towards the booth, done with their day’s adventure.

We took our lunches and folding camp chairs and made our way to the beach with a cloudy sky overhead.

It’s hard to describe the scene so I’ll let the pictures that follow do most of the work. Here is a litany of what we saw: A few people walking on the beach, people fishing, recreational vehicles, trucks, many with flags flying from their antennas, cars – including a red sports car, ATV rental buses and vans carrying people off to raucous sand adventures, police patrol trucks with lights on top, bicycles, horses, people walking dogs, a bi-plane soaring in the sky above with “RIDES” painted on its underbelly.  Oh, and vehicles stuck in the sand.  And people who had fallen from bicycles stuck in the sand.  And private trucks offering to pull vehicles out of the sand – for a fee.

People living in the houses abutting the beach are a daily witness to the spectacle.  Perhaps a bit like sidling up to the bar and watching the patrons. Plenty to entertain, amuse and sometimes shock.

And yet there was something missing . . .

The Monarch Butterflies who flock to Pismo State Beach and its eucalyptus trees to shelter during the winter had finished their sheltering last month and moved on. Pismo Beach hosts one of the largest colonies of Monarch butterflies in the country; over 25,000 have wintered there over the last five years.

Monarch butterflies at Pismo Beac

Monarch butterflies on eucalyptus tree leaves, migrating through Pismo Beach. Copyright Tom/Michelle Grimm.

Life is incongruous. I cannot meld the image of the butterflies with the cacophony of the sand parade on the beach.  We were there in late winter; summer would be even more wild as this traveler’s picture suggests:

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Photo from Jay Shelton, travel writer

In the end, this was a party that left me with a bad hangover. Whatever are we thinking that we crowd our beaches with machines that ride roughshod on natural beauty as if to say, “we control; we’re in charge.”  Human domination run amok.

Across the country this year, the weather has reminded us that we are not truly in charge.  Perhaps the weather is having its own party at our expense in a “turnabout is fair play” moment.

Are we listening? Are we willing to change?

 

Post by Diane.

The Roadrunner, the River and the Border

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They sit on a desert path bordering the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park in Texas: The “No Wall” cans for collecting money and the handmade wire roadrunners and scorpions.  Mexico is visible across the river. I put my $6 in a can and take a roadrunner.  I wonder who will retrieve the dollar bills as we continue the dusty walk and fade out of sight.

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Limestone cliffs with rock art from thousands of years ago line the trail.

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I have never been by the Rio Grande river here as it borders our two countries.  It seems so peaceful in this spot.

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This water and this land have been life-giving for thousands of years to Indigenous communities, Spanish people, Comanche Indians, Mexican settlers, and Anglo-American farmers. In the quiet walk along the path, I hear whispers of those communities through time.

“Histories never conclude; they just pause their prose. Their stories are, if they are truthful, untidy affairs, resistant to windings-up and sortings-out. They beat raggedly on into the future….” Simon Schama.

A short way down the path, modern tourists relax in a hot spring that bubbles with 105-degree ancient water. The spring is surrounded by the remnants of the bathhouse built in the early 1900s by J.O. Langford from Mississippi. A Mexican family was on the land before that. More whispers from the past.

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National Park Service Photo/Cookie Ballou

The wire roadrunner in my pocket pokes me. I wonder again about who made it. I am curious about what their future will be.  The masking-tape price tag that was wrapped around its neck is now taped to my Kindle. I want to remember that all lives in this world are not equally valued and sustained.

However, there have been valued and sustained relationships between the communities existing across this river from each other.

On President Trump’s inauguration day last January, some of those communities joined together in protest of the suggestion of a new wall. Demonstrating cross-border solidarity and sisterhood, some 50 women from Texas and Mexico gathered along the international pedestrian bridge between El Paso and Juárez to braid their hair together. Xochitl Nicholson, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said the decision to braid hair was symbolic in several ways. “We wanted something that referenced women directly, but that also sends a message about our common heritage and common backgrounds in a broader context,” Nicholson said. “It’s a symbol of collective strength.”

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Photo by Sasha von Oldershausen

Earlier in November, West Texans met in Presidio and walked to the international bridge between Ojinaga, Mexico and the United States  where they met up with their neighbors across the border. It was a solidarity march designed to show that they are all part of one border community.

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The Rio Grande river flows 1,240 miles between Texas and Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, it changes shape and depth as do the borders on either side. As I gaze across the river to Mexico I see small towns, farms, desert land and beautiful mountains.  There is no one definitive way to describe a border.

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There is no one definitive way to contain this border. People disagree on what needs containing or if it needs containing at all. Life is complex and to say there are no problems along the border would be naïve.

As I walk with my friend, who lives in the area, she tells me of two friends who were returning to their car at dusk from a hike and saw what appeared to be a drug transaction happening. They rushed to their car hoping not to be shot in the back. Drug dealers don’t leave witnesses alive here, she said.  She never goes on the familiar backroad anymore because of too much danger from drug cartels.  “Those of us who live around here are concerned about the cartels much more than the others who are crossing.”  She does think there should be a program to give people temporary visas to do work in our country.  “Many people depend on those workers.”

The roadrunner symbolizes something about the journey that people take across the river “road” – dashing after hopes of a better life or those driven by greed to increase wealth through destroying the lives of others.

Perhaps, like me, your knowledge of a roadrunner was falsely informed by cartoons of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner and the coyote’s numerous failed attempts to catch and contain him.

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Watching a real roadrunner dash across the desert, I was reminded they are much more complex than the cartoon depictions I absorbed.

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The border is more complex than I knew. I keep the wire roadrunner to remember the human connection at the border. To remember that not having all the answers can be an opening to revelation.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. —Wendell Berry

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Post by Diane in honor of the person who made my roadrunner.

It’s Worth the Drive: Part Two

A previous post, It’s Worth the Drive, was about the unexpected discoveries of food on the journey. Arguably, not everything is about food…

We left Seattle on February 25th. We had a pretty substantial itinerary ready for us before we left.  So, not every stop we made was unexpected. Nevertheless, each stop held something special or unexpected for us. Each stop was worth the drive. Here are some examples:

Our first day was about a 400-mile drive that took us through Central Washington into Eastern Oregon. Once we passed Pendleton we were heading up to the high plains of Oregon into the Blue Mountains. Our first stop was Baker City. 

Lookout over Pendleton, OR

Pendleton Overlook

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Blue Mountains – Dead Man’s Pass

 

The drive there took us through some spectacular mountain ranges on either side of a long valley. Baker City’s elevation is about 3,000 feet. For the next three weeks, we would stay between 2000 and 7000 feet; with a few dips to about 500 feet. The elevation would change during our drive but the terrain never did; it was spare, dry, open, filled with sagebrush or cactus or small scrub trees, with vistas pulling our eyes to the horizon. We were in what I would call the high desert and would stay there for three weeks.

Baker city has a charm that some small towns seem to wrap around themselves like a warm blanket. Nestled in the mountains, mining is a major part of their identity. Eastern Oregon University is in Baker City and expands the reach of this small town. And a very good local brewery adds to its sense of place. We had good small-town food that first night at Barley Brown’s Brew Pub.

Baker city is worth the drive for some beautiful terrain, an introduction to high plains, and a small town with great character.

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Baker City Hills

Our second day was also a long one, about 450 miles, and it took us from Baker City to Ogden, Utah. We’ve covered part of this drive from Brigham City to Provo, Utah in a previous trip. What I really want to lift up here is that the drive from Brigham to Provo is jaw-dropping. The Wasatch Mountain range is a 100 mile rampart that stretches along the eastern edge of that valley. The Golden Spike (a ceremonial final spike driven to join the rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the U.S.) was driven into the earth just a little east of Brigham City. So, whatever your religious affiliation or transportation preferences, this is a Drive that is very much worth taking. 

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Wasatch Mountains – Ogden, Utah

Well, the point of this post is not to give a day by day travel narrative. I will but that must include refreshments at your house. But what I really want to say is that planned or unplanned each day has its own surprises. 

So, on the drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona, we came across a road sign that said Petrified Forest National Park ahead. Well, when I was five years old, my mother, grandmother, uncle and I took a drive from Los Angeles to St. Louis along Route 66 which just happens to go through what is now known as the Petrified Forest National Park. In 1952 it was not yet a national Park but just a stop on the road. We stopped there for a short visit.

Diane and I, on the spur of the moment, decided to take the exit. This is one of those few national parks where the entrance to the park is about 500 feet from the exit ramp. 

It was not a promising stop. Every place we looked was flat.  We stopped at the visitor center to get some helpful information on how to plan a short tour at the park. A half-mile later we realized that sometimes flat means that you can look down from above and we did. Do I use the words stunning, awesome, beautiful too often? The Grand Canyon has greater grandeur, the Badlands National Park is more intense and its terrain starker, but this park had expanses that made my heart ache for boundaries. Miles and miles of the beauty of erosion. And an environment that turned wood into stone and has not changed for millennium.

This place, with all its beauty, was not on our itinerary. It was worth every mile of a drive to get there.

Post by Bill. Photos by Diane.