October 07, 2006

A Day At The Beach

Oregon beach in the afternoon. 10-04-06 - natasha
Lichen, Peltigira neopolydactyla, found growing on a rock. 10-04-06 - natasha
Underside of an Oyster mushroom, a lilac-spored Pleurotus ostreatus variety, growing on a dead Red Alder limb. 10-04-06 - natasha
Three moths conferring on the cabin wall. Unless they're butterflies. 10-06-06 - natasha
I spent the last week surrounded by the coastal forest above a beach near Tillamook, (where they've got the cheese [ah, cheese] factory) on the Oregon coast, for a biology field trip. Conditions were rustic and I neglected to bring quite as much cold weather gear as might have been called for, but these minor irritations were already outweighed by the fact that somebody at the Whole Foods chain (don't even start) made me gluten-free biscuits. Considering that I haven't tasted anything even vaguely buttermilk biscuit-like in, oh, five years, and these were pretty much how I remember really good biscuits tasting, the incredible setting of our camp and the company of class and faculty was pure gravy (which, if you've been following along, I can only have if it's thickened with corn starch.) Also, I was not eaten by a cougar.

Then Thursday, I ate lunch in the sun looking over a railing with a view of the breakers coming in near the cape. That night some of us had a late bonfire under the waxing moon with the distance obscured in mist but everything glowing like a bluish dawn so you could see the ocean and all the sand that would have been under it at high tide. It was very good, though as occasionally happens due to various experiences and perhaps a sublimated fear of death, my thoughts turned to matters eschatological. But that was alright, too, because something about the atmosphere of the day made it impossible for anything to seem particularly sad.

So I got to thinking finally that if I knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, I would gather as many of my favorite people as I could into a caravan headed for this camp, accompanied by fabulous picnics and all our favorite music. And batteries. For the stereo, of course.

We could wander through the woods looking at the diversity of the subtle lichens and mysterious mushrooms. We would enjoy the steady, spreading spruceness of the trees. Get nettle-stung to have something suitably trivial to philosophize about and then commend the nettle for its resolute ferocity. We would gather together on the beach in the late afternoon for dancing, for scuttling over the graves of the little crabs and their sand dollar neighbors, for running wantonly barefoot over firm, wet sand after the tide had gone out.

Though we might never speak the words, all day we would spend our time saying this to each other: "Thank you for knowing me and being my friend, for wanting to spend this time together. Because of you, I haven't had to feel lost in this very large world or that my time has been wasted. It was good enough that we could work towards understanding each other, laugh at our absurd predicaments and forgive each other for all those things people need forgiveness for. Someday, though it may seem improbable, I hope we have a chance to know each other again."

We would end our day curled up together around a fire of driftwood. There would be off-key singing and off-color stories, recounting of deeds, remembrance of regrets. Inebriated or sober, we could all at last be honest about what was important to us. Huddled in our blankets against the chill of the sea at night, we would listen to the waves as we fell asleep for the last time.

And so would at least a handful of people who had loved well, and so lived well, go into eternity with smiles on their lips and thanks in their hearts for all they had known and done. Even, and this is important, for the awful things.

Yet I have it on good authority that the world is unlikely to end anytime soon. Astrophysicists are fairly clear on this point. So instead of feeling sad or morbid for having thought about that during such a gift of a day, I can feel that it made it sweeter. Because even though we are all dying at some pace or another, I likely have time yet to further connect with the people who matter to me and increase the number of people I mean when I say that. Time to gather more stories. Time to enjoy the beauty of the world and praise it. Time to weep for the ugliness of the world and try to do something about it. To seize opportunities when they come and be grateful as hell for them.

Today I can try to live as I would like to face death, so that when that day comes I will not be ashamed.

Posted by natasha at October 7, 2006 02:22 AM | Random Mumblings | Technorati links |

About the cheese. I love a good one. But I don't eat it, usually. I find you have to reserve a special place for the best food.

I used to chew bits of thick soaking paper. Just pull a tiny wad into my mouth and move it around. But the smaller the better.

The same feeling to your 'last day on Earth'. Just a wee bit o' time to clarify and be grateful for one's place.

A pleasure to read such inspired writing. And the worshipping troika! Would honor assemble them?

Posted by: Jared Scarborough at October 8, 2006 09:08 AM

Ah, the memories come flooding back. I went to O.I.M.B in Coos Bay and I remember those nights with fondness. It was where I actually learned about biology in a way you could not from the text books. It also taught me to be involved in the process of making this world a better place. Thank you for the memories of people and critters I came to love. karen

Posted by: 11 dogs at October 10, 2006 06:43 AM