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  • 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.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

The first years living in our new home, one of my daughters decided she wanted glow in the dark stars on her bedroom ceiling. For some reason, we complied, even knowing that the uneven surface of what is now known to be asbestos would make a poor surface for adhesion and that the stars would, in all likelihood, slowly surrender to gravity.

Thirty-three years later, those stars are still tenaciously clinging to the ceiling, never really noticeable in the day time. In fact, since it is mostly light when I enter the room, I generally never consider them.

But in these dark days of winter when the sun is down by five and doesn’t make a reappearance until seven the next morning, I sometimes find myself carefully picking my way through the dark in her old room where my office now resides, leaving the light off so as not to disturb my husband in the next room.

And so it was this morning as I carefully shuffled to my dresser. Pulling out the drawer, my eyes were drawn up to the ceiling, where a field of dull lime green stars spread across the asbestos sky. As I stared, caught off guard by their presence, I thought about that little girl whose head had lain on a pillow… a girl who perhaps found respite from the dark…a girl who fell asleep dreaming of stars.

That little girl is a mother now, to three children whose rooms are ornamented with every possible layer of magic. Nooks and crannies have soft, stuffed creatures waiting for revelation. Wispy white nets are draped from impossible places, and they sleep under their own star-soaked skies.

And her childhood stars? From her old room, they now beckon me, both mother and grandmother waiting on the threshold of a seventh decade.

Oh, the pull of those stars. I stare and wonder into what dreams they invite me. My own young girl’s heart has been strangely awakened in this pandemic time. All routine has been ripped away, and in the quiet and lack of chaos, burning questions have emerged. Who am I if my identities have been stripped away in deference to the science of protection? What long silent voices clamber for attention if the sounds of children and grandchildren are stilled? What dreams are left unfulfilled? Unremembered?

This time of forced solitude confronts every aspect of self that had been developed to cope with the stresses and joys of what passes for modern life. My heart had been dulled by the requirements of a filled calendar, and my soul, I now realize, has been asleep.

In the painful reawakening, in the renewed listening, the whispers have become more insistent now, and, as with any new venture, they swirl in confusion and demand clarity. Every day is a new permutation of what “now” should look like. Every day, the formulas I messily scrawled across the board to make sense of my world the day before have been erased by an unseen hand. And I must begin again where I am.

The future is unseeable and unknowable. The answers are elusive. But the stars? The stars remain a certainty, with fixed positions that only seem to change as our perspective shifts.

In these dark times, perhaps I need to remember the lessons of glow in the dark stars: how their presence is always there, though unnoticed in the light of day…how their soft light is a constant, although an intention to look up is needed…how their staying power is tested and proven.

But perhaps, even more, I need to seek companionship with my own young girl within, who once stared at soft shapes in a pine ceiling at night and felt a strange pull towards the unknown… a girl who listened to Tchaikovsky and conducted symphony orchestras…a girl who fell asleep dreaming of adventure and freedom.

That little girl within, long hidden, long unattended to, is still looking up at her own dim shapes etched in wood. And perhaps now is the time for me to reclaim her night sky and name it as my own


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