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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Sneaker Waves

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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