2015 has been a little rough and tumble so far. The state of my health has deteriorated significantly lately – arthritis is making basic mobility pretty difficult, even bathing, getting dressed, etc. My lovely lady Liz is a huge help, both in practice and in boosting spirits.
Liz and I love inaugurating new little traditions. Our New Year tradition is to take a midweek road trip south to visit the Oregon coast. The off season is quiet, dark, isolated, and full of that grungy, misty northwest charm.
Last year we stayed in Astoria, but this year we stayed in Cannon Beach; more expensive, but faces the ocean directly. We massively look forward to our annual trip to take in the fresh air and get out of the city for a bit. Liz and I are on a mission to “take in” the Northwest together as much as we can while we’re here.
Before going, I had watched The Coast, a mini-documentary about a young man confronting issues of mortality through surfing on the coast. I was enchanted by the little flick, and how well it captured the beauty of the rugged coastline which feels so isolated and violent – at least, to this New Englander. Increasingly disillusioned with hypocritical Buddhist teachers, I found myself looking at the wild with reverence, seeking truth in nature itself, and hopefully something that would teach me how to beat arthritis or, at least, figure out how to coexist with it peaceably.
The highlight of our trip was Ecola State Park; here, the Lewis & Clark Expedition heard of a beached whale which a local native tribe was harvesting blubber from; they sent a contingent to gather some as well and replenished their supply. It’s not hard to imagine the wonder those first American explorers felt while looking out on the rugged rocks and smooth swashes of sand, covered in bristling spruces and buffeted by raging waves. It’s obvious navigation is all but impossible off the shore. A lighthouse, affectionately called Old Tilly locally, sits just off the coast inactive, too difficult to maintain against the elements. The park seems to sit on a battleground between Ocean and Earth.
The war between water and rock showed me a lot. Waves battered rock and wore it away over years, and rain soaked and saturated earth, making the excess crumble away in landslides big and small; vegetation had to adapt, or go with it. Right on the coastline, the trees looked like they had endured a natural nuclear blast. Some were almost destroyed by erosion and had exposed root structures. But they clung on, and grew into the earth. There are a lot of broken, malformed, and misshapen trees, but this is what gives the gnarled stands of Sitka spruces so special, and what makes the landscape here feel so invigorated.
Not too much further inland grew old-growth forests, hidden from the ocean’s immediate onslaught. Taking advantage of the safety and ample supply of water, little mosses and ferns and whatnot grow liberally on dead, fallen trees, those plowed under by the whittle and decay of time, wind, water, the forces of nature. Though beautiful, incredibly powerful.
In the end, I think I did get the lesson I was looking for. I learned to respect the force of nature, and respect the force of arthritis within my own body while responsibly pursuing treatment. It also made me realize that the time may be now to acknowledge that my joint health could be improved by moving somewhere warmer and drier; i.e., leaving the Northwest. I hate the idea of leaving my adopted home, but alas, you have to respect the force of nature in your own body.
As the many plants and animals found creative way’s to adapt to the Ocean’s Wrath, I will find creative ways to adapt to my Illness’s Wrath, adapting and reforming things to make it work and proceed with wonder. To remind me of all this, I pulled a little clump of lichen off a branch, which now sits on my shrine as a reminder.
Thus the Pacific gave me my main object of contemplation for the year – adaptability! And boy am I glad to have my lovely lady to have shared the journey with.