The Other Ocean

This post was written in August 2007 during Phase II of our Big Adventure, camping across the US.

We arrived at the Pacific Coast here in Oregon two days ago. It’s an amazing thing to see the other ocean, having been at the Atlantic Coast only three months ago. More than anything else, to say that we swam in two oceans in one summer captures the essence of our travels. We have come a long way.

Our experience of the Pacific has been quite a bit different from the Atlantic. This is what I would describe as a rock beach. The shore arrives abruptly, often at the edge of a cliff. It is cold here too. While there are many rock beaches, there are also some sandy ones and yesterday we found a beach more like those on the southeastern coast, ideal for swimming. In order to make the claim that you’ve swum in two oceans, you have to swim in the second one too. The trouble was the temperature. It was cloudy by the time we got to the beach and it had been foggy most of the day. The air temp was somewhere just above 70 degrees; the water was even colder. It was so cold that in less than a minute of standing up to my ankles, my flesh was not just numb, it hurt. But, I was determined, even more so than the children who perhaps wisely opted to stay clear of it. I realized the only way to do it was to run in as fast as I could. Elisabeth and I made a pact, “At the count of ten we’ll make a run for it. Ten, nine, eight….”

When I dove beneath the waves and came up for air I couldn’t breath; the cold had literally taken my breath away. But I wasn’t dead, so I could say I’d done it. I dove beneath another wave before turning back for the shore. It was funny, while the air had moments ago felt cold on my skin it now seemed fairly warm in comparison to the shock of the water. I went in two more times before giving it up. Elisabeth was already wet and the boys soon followed suit. Jessie scampered among the waves at the shore line and could say with the rest of us that she’d been in two oceans, just not as deep.

Our first day though was perhaps the most remarkable. We’re camped at Sunset Bay State Park, which is just a short walk from a little bay up the street. It fits with the image that Lisa and I had about Oregon: rocks, pine trees, lots of steep hills and then, the water. The tide was low when we first arrived. That was another thing to learn about, the tides. When it’s down you can venture quite a distance out into the bay, climbing over algae covered rocks to discover innumerable little tidal pools with tiny crabs and fish and anemone and sea urchins and really, more stuff than we could name. The kids loved it and headed out as far as we could possibly go, to see the actual ocean. We were climbing around in our swim suits, no shoes and the going was rough; still we saw quite a bit.

Later in the evening we came back, this time in our water shoes to venture a bit farther, the tide being even farther out. We added starfish to the list of new critters. We saw brown ones and orange ones and picked them up to look at the intricate mysteries of their undersides. “Look Dad, this one’s eating a hermit crab!” “Really? How can you tell?” “Well, this is its mouth, here in the center and it turns its stomach inside out around the thing it’s trying to eat.” I guess they were paying attention back a few months ago when Lisa was trying to teach them about sea life at home school.

We drove down the coast a little ways after that to a “Sea life viewing point” and were privileged to sea a merry band of sea lions on a rock several hundred yards from our little station. They were all barking loudly and their voices were quite clear above the surf and the wind. There was a gray whale not far away and we could see his (her?) spray occasionally as he waited patiently for one of the lions to venture out alone. I think it must have been whale dinner time. We couldn’t see these animals close up, but we read the chart and found that there were a wide variety of them including sea lions and elephant seals and several others I can’t remember. I do remember the barking and the wonder of seeing these things in the wild, without animal trainers stuffing their mouths with dead fish.

I generally wake up earlier than everyone and, when I can drag myself out of bed, like to get up for some solitude and for some time with Jesus. I headed out to our little bay and was privileged to see the sea lions again, this time frolicking (do sea lions frolick?) in the bay. There must have been five or six of them swimming around. They seemed to be enjoying themselves in the whale-free bay. For me, just watching the waves crash into the rocks was deeply moving. The sea seems quite alive, pulsing and moving up and down in its inexorable and timeless energy, driven by the moon I’m told. It is an awesome thing to behold and in some ways the most incredible thing we’ve seen on our journey. It fills me with awe and wonder and even a fear as I am made to know my smallness and made to wonder again as Johnny Cash puts it, quoting Psalm 8, “What is man that you are mindful of him…that you care for him (and for me!).”

As I ponder the waves and the limitless sea, I feel a connection with the land of my birth and its many rocky shorelines and foggy days. I suspect that the coast of Scotland is like the coast of Oregon in many ways, with its maritime economy and its many brave sailors and fishermen who daily ply their nets to earn their bread, and the many who haven’t returned, buried in the sea. I am reminded of the scriptures that teach in the end that the “sea shall give up its dead,” who like all of us will be resurrected and made to know our Creator and our Judge. It is too wonderful for me.


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