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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

When The Woman Who Runs first overcomes me on the trail and glances back, I notice a soft light that seeps from her spirit into the air surrounding us both. Slender and athletic, she is half running, half walking, and her voice, when she speaks, is warm and inviting. She appears to be slightly older than I am, but my perception is colored by the fact that I often imagine I am still 25. Her form disappears, and I get lost in the passing conversations of others on the trail as my charge for the day, a senior black lab, slowly guides me along the trail.

Nearing the end of my walk, people dressed as bumblebees and flowers are staffing what appears to be a finish line. As I near the corner past their station, The Woman Who Runs passes me again and turns her head as we exchange glances. She pauses for a moment, and I ask her if she is almost done.

“No, I am part of an endurance marathon.”

“How long does it go for?”

“Today through Sunday.”

When I express my incredulity, she explains that participants will run/walk for 12, 32, or 48 hours, no breaks, no naps….day and night until the goal is met, around and around this lake. A young man passes, and he flashes his number, explaining that his color badge means he will be running for 12 hours. The Woman Who Runs, still running in place as we chat, shares that she is choosing to run 36 hours, and she waves goodbye.

In her absence, I contemplate my lack of physical stamina.

Often wracked with hip pain and foot pain, making it for these three miles had filled me with a sense of accomplishment until I pictured this joy-filled woman moving through the wood-lined path for another 24+ hours. Self condemnation begins to flood my thoughts, and my abilities now appear meager, eating away at the banks of my self-confidence.

And then a quote floats like a raft into my thoughts:

Comparison is the thief of joy.

I think back to The Woman Who Runs. Her light, her glow, her warmth…those emanate from her because she is anchored in who she is created to be. She runs. That is her happy place. And in her wake, joy trails her like soft perfume.

I can’t run for 12 hours. Or perhaps I have no desire to. But I will sing Baby Shark for hours in a car with small children and revel in the explosive laughter of small ones making rude body noises. That is music to my ears, and it brings great joy. And when I walk, even at my slow pace, in woods and near water, my heart explodes with love for the Creator of all this beauty and with gratitude for the Lover of my soul.

So tonight, I think, I will travel back to the lake as the sun sets to sit along the shore and await a passing appearance of The Woman Who Runs. Perhaps I will bring my guitar and sing praise to the hills and valleys, to the rivers and the sea as I wait.

Should I be blessed with another encounter, I anticipate The Woman Who Runs will still leave joy in her wake. I celebrate that.

She is The Woman Who Runs.

But I am The Woman Who Sings.

And I will send my songs across the water like skipped stones, and, hopefully, joy will travel like ripples to the shores of the lake in the wake of the notes.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

The ritual is set early in the morning after study. Go to a site with radar images and look for where the green blob that is characteristic of the Pacific Northwest is NOT going to be. If it is absent from the coast, go to the site that measures the tides and look for ones that are abnormally high during the daytime followed by exceptionally low ones. If there is a strong wind predicted, so much the better. Check and recheck the calendar to make sure there are no pressing real world tasks. And then, if all of the stars align, head for the sea.

Like moths drawn to a flame, my husband and I are compelled to rough seas and deep waters. To stand on a sandy shore and watch as it disappears in an ever encroaching surf is a miracle that unfolds in the making. The sea coughs up its human debris and remnants of the earth’s natural beauty as logs intermingle with flotsam and jetsam, tossed and rolled helplessly in the surges and retreats of an incoming tide.

What is it that compels us there, we have wondered, as have several of our friends. What thoughts abound when standing on a jetty pummeled by reckless waves? What fears encroach in the crushing, incessant roar of sound that takes no breath or break?

Perhaps it is simply this: in the listening and watching, we are reminded of our insignificance, and our human striving and planning wash away in the convulsing sea.

It is impossible to stand in the presence of twenty foot breakers and not be reminded that a power infinitely greater than our own has taught the seas to go this far and no further. As they crash skyward and dissipate in the air, their spray cold and soft, so do our own obsessive thoughts. As the jetty stones shutter, overcome by the surge, we too can recognize the uselessness of any struggle against the forces of nature put in place by the Creator of the universe.

No amount of human striving or planning can change the course of these waves. No amount of worry will keep the tide from the shore. And no misperception about strength can stand in the face of an encounter with rising seas overcoming human endeavors to keep it tamed and safe.

And so we come here, to these waves. We come here to embrace our frailty…to be reminded that any sense of self- importance is an illusion of grand delusion. We come here to let these waves, these winds and these shores remind us that this life is but a whisper, a soft note in an ever changing symphony written and rewritten on every new tide.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Having come to a love of nature in his late sixties, my husband has become a man drawn to the edges of wild places. Often, I will round a trail corner, having encouraged him to journey ahead, and find him standing on a solitary bluff lost in thought. Or perhaps it will be a rock outcropping leaning into a rugged sea. My philosopher’s heart rejoices in the knowledge of his ever deepening love of adventure. My wife’s heart skips beats at the thought that his novice wild spirit will send him plummeting below to an untimely end.

With this in mind, when last winter a promise of high seas and wild weather called us to the Oregon Coast, I began to research what the weather forecast predicted would be dangerous “sneaker waves”. Regular waves, I had noted throughout my sea loving life, lose their energy as they encounter shore, with the tilt of sand, rocks and log clusters, and inertia pulling them safely seaward. But sneaker waves are unencumbered by the laws of physics and gravity. Racing silently towards shore, hiding in the well behaved waves, they steal the energy of obstacles, picking up speed as they surround rocks and climb the shore, ever higher, ever faster, free from the constraints of the beach’s topography.

I explained the nuances of sneaker waves to my husband before our beach walks, regaling him with stories of the videos I had watched, and tried, as best I could, to leave him to his best devices. He is, after all, a man and not a boy. To no avail, I found out, when later in our walks, encouraged by the rule breakers, he moved ever closer to the edges of rocks and pounding waves along with the others who seemed to me to have death wishes. Yet, he survived to adventure another day.

Those memories flooded back when a few days ago we stood on a Washington coast in the flood of waves striving for shore. He looked longingly at the adventurers standing on the jetty as wild waves punished the rocks sending fountains of spray into the air. I encouraged him upward. And when he returned he stood on the safe shore beside me as waves washed ashore. Ever vigilant, I noted one coming in like a stealth bomber, and I cautioned him. He stood unmoving. Again I cautioned…as it crept closer gaining speed. Again I cautioned…as it devoured the shore rock gaining speed. Finally, he relented and walked backward, ever the boy, at his own sweet time. The wave swept over where moments ago he had stood, a shallow one but a sneaker nonetheless.

I remind myself in these heart stopping moments, that should he meet his maker in those times, most of his pension becomes mine…that I will not be left destitute. But he so much more than a comfortable retirement to me. He is that man who has been champion and healer for these thirty plus years, responsible and focused. And he is now also reclaiming his own boy’s heart, playing in the woods, making bows and arrows out of sticks and fighting off imaginary wild animals, as boys are wont to do.

If I am honest, part of me wants to stand on the edges of his shores, where overwhelmed by beauty and experience, the gift of wild moments is embraced and celebrated. But I have become too adept at reading sneaker waves, so I stand on my own edges much closer to domesticity and lift up silent prayers for his safe return.

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