Two Oceans: A short comparison

 Having grown up in the south near the Atlantic Ocean I took for granted its warm and mostly gentle nature. Going to the beach nine months out of the year was common for me and my friends and family. And we wore bathing suits from March through November sometimes. The only time I saw the Atlantic raging like a madwoman was during a hurricane, and there were plenty of those times. I remember riding out the storms in everything from a solid cinder block house to a rickety old trailer that barely held on to the ground with its aluminum posts. It was exciting and, I now know, dangerous, living in hurricane alley. But I have to say I prefer those seasonal storms, with their lusty winds and humid aftermath, to the almost constant cold wind and rain that barrels down from Alaska for most of the year on the Northwest Coast. Sometimes it feels like there is a hurricane season here, but it lasts for three seasons instead of one.

 The Pacific Ocean seems to be angry most of the time. Mostly, it is cold and unpredictable. Only brave surfers dare to go into the water past their knees, and a wet suit is required. The Pacific Ocean never seems to rest, always moving, churning, wearing away at anything in its path. Although…it is an awesome sight, sitting on the edge of a cliff watching those monster waves pounding on house sized rock islands, shooting their spray up a hundred feet or so, and breaking off pieces of rock to tumble on the bottom. Instead of shells, the NorthwestCoast mostly has rocks on its shores. If you sit down and look closely at these crunchy piles, you will see a garden of delight, an orchestra of color, all in the shapes of rocks. Over the years we collected a few pounds of beach rocks which we put into our rock tumbler and then into mason jars for some later projects. People make all kinds of things with rocks around here.

 But the real gems are the agates. They are made from some sort of ancient volcanic ooze that flowed down the “wild” rivers nearby about a thousand years ago, and can be any color from clear to yellow to bright orange to blue. You know you have an agate when you hold it up to the sky and you can see through it. There are lots of agate wannabes though, and many a newcomer has walked away with pockets filled with common rocks instead of the treasured agates they thought they had. Hunting for agates entertained us for a good three years. But we found out that we were part of a dying breed. The agates are much smaller now than they were just ten years ago, and it seems that the tourists have “taken them all” anyway, according to a local woman. Eventually I decided I didn’t need that many agates and stopped collecting them. Plus it made my neck hurt, bending over for hours at a time. This was also around the time when I realized it would never be warm down there on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

A bit more rewarding than agates, in my opinion, are the sunsets. When it’s not overcast or raining and you get the chance to see them, they are almost always spectacular. And you can watch from inside your car if you want. The Pacific sunsets are at their best during the season changes. I’ve always been a sky watcher, but even more so here, since the sky is so dramatic. Sometimes in the evening I make it down to the ocean to take a picture and sometimes it takes me by surprise and I simply stop what I’m doing and just sit and stare with my mouth open. Either way, it’s magical. The sunsets and the agates are two things I will remember fondly.

 Well, there is also the driftwood. So much wood washes up onto the beach in the winter storms that people come by in pickup trucks and fill their empty truck beds with free, wet firewood. Some people even bring chainsaws. I guess nature provides in all sorts of ways, and opportunists never miss a beat. I personally have never brought driftwood home to burn; it’s too pretty for that. But I have gathered my share of smaller pieces to make into primitive art or to lie in my flower beds or on the porch as a decoration. I’d like to bring some of it with me to the East Coast but I think it would be sacrilegious. Of course, the East Coast has driftwood, just not as much. 

The point I’m making is that going to the beach is very different here. Jackets, and sometimes raincoats, are required. Shoes are also necessary, for me at least. When I leave the beach here my cheeks are red, not with sunburn, but with cold. I still have to catch my breath from all the beauty when I sit there for a while, but it seems I am almost always shivering. One young woman told me that having an “arsenal of jackets” was the best way to get along here. She was right. My jacket section of my closet takes up almost as much space as my shirt section. It’s also good to have a few pairs of boots. Save the flip flops for Southern California or the Central Valley, or the Southeast.

 *****

 When we first moved up here to the far west corner of “sunny” California, I was ready for the lack of heat and ultraviolet rays; at least I thought I was. The summer we moved here I had just been diagnosed with melanoma and had developed a fear, no, I guess it was a phobia, of sunshine. I had the pea-sized cancer removed and made a commitment to heal myself from the inside with healthy food and healthy thoughts, while protecting the outside, my skin, from the sun’s “harmful” rays. Living up here, with the tall trees and all the moisture they require made that last part easy. Seven years ago, as we drove through the dense fog in the middle of July in our last U-Haul, I knew that getting a sunburn was not going to be a problem. I’ve only used sunscreen three times since we’ve lived here—all three times were when I was working in my yard—not on the beach.

 Still, with all this lack of worry about my delicate skin, I miss the warm Atlantic. I long to go there when it’s still spring time and there’s no danger of too much sun, and ride the waves like I did when I was growing up. I have never worn a bathing suit tothe beach here, or even shorts for that matter. I have never put more than my two feet into the water of thePacific Oceanand have always brought a hoodie with me. It’s a different reality, going to the beach these days, but I know that thePacific Ocean has given me what it could. Now it’s time for me to begin the next chapter of my life near its sister.

 So, I will capture as many sunsets over the Pacific Ocean as I can between now and the time we drive away. Then, when I feel settled on the other side of the country, I will get up early, before the sun, and go down to the beach to welcome him to his new day. I will ask him to be kind to my skin and to shine through the clouds and fog when he arrives here in Northern California three hours later. And I will appreciate the simplicity of that yellow-orange ball of fire slipping up over the flat eastern horizon. No parade of storms. No “cool” rocks. Very little driftwood. No agates to hoard. Just the sand and the water and the thin line of horizon showcasing the changing light. I will welcome the day in silence and awe, knowing that someone over here on this opposite coast will watch as this same sun slides down over the rough and choppy Pacific waters with as much bling and audacity as it can muster…assuming there is no cloud cover. I will have my memories of these sunsets and that will suffice.

1 Comment

  1. Mom

    I love this Theresa. You have effectively given us Easterners a glimse of your West Coast beach experience. So different from our warmer weather.. I wanted to put a sweater on as I read your description, lol. Soon you will be here in the warm Virginia Beach, beach scene. This record is priceless!

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