(Originally published in 2013)
My husband and I just returned from our most recent trip to Lincoln City, Oregon. We’ve been going there since 1984 – when we discovered the magic of Lincoln City on our honeymoon. We were trying to figure out how many times we’ve been there in the last 29 years, and we figured we’ve made a pilgrimage to Lincoln City probably 27 times – every year, with one or two exceptions.
You know how photographers do time lapse photography to show Nature unfolding in quick time? Yeah, I’m thinking if we took the days my family has spent in Lincoln City and sort of condensed them into a time lapse photography kind of deal, we’d see something like this…
There we are in 1984 – young, confident, and hopeful – starting our life together – unaware of the challenges ahead, and unaware of the blessings, either – running on the beach – limbs strong and quick and joints well-oiled. My aunt Junie showed me the art of agate-hunting when I was a youngster, and now I’m teaching my new husband how to pick up the glow of an agate on the beach – how to discern the difference between a bona fide agate and a rough piece of quartz…
1992: Introducing our firstborn to the ocean for the first time. His baby body rests on my knee, facing out to the sea. His eyes have locked onto the ocean and taken note of it – he’s chewing his lower lip, eyes moving back and forth along the sea’s horizon, taking in the sights and sounds and smells. It’s becoming a part of him.
1994: We have come to Lincoln City as parents of childREN. We are old hands at parenthood now. Today it is our youngest son’s turn to meet the ocean. We take off his booties and lower his toes into the water. It is a sort of ritual baptism of baby feet – a bonding with the Pacific.
1999: The sons are playing with the surf – letting the waves chase them up the beach. The ocean is their comfortable old friend now.
Jump to April, 2008: I am in crisis. Struggling with severe depression. I am desperate to escape from myself and my constantly-churning thoughts. Oldest son knows I need to get away and asks me if I’d like him to go to Lincoln City with me for Spring Break. How many 16 year-old sons do you know who’d be willing to accompany their moms on a 14-hour (round trip) road trip? I am blest beyond words. On the way to Lincoln City we stop and visit my Aunt Junie, who shares our kinship with the ocean and lives in Depoe Bay, an hour north of Lincoln City. I confide my struggles to Junie, and the feelings of guilt and unworthiness that seem to be a symptom of my illness. Junie is appalled at my feelings of worthlessness. “All her instincts” tell her that I am a good person, she says. “There are no unrightable wrongs, no unforgiveable sins, no fatal mistakes, no fatal diseases, only the eternal now.” She is like Yoda.
July, 2008: Still struggling with the depression. Lincoln City is my respite. I sit on the balcony in the sun and look down on the beach and watch the sons running and cavorting on the sand below. There have been times lately when I’ve wished myself not born. But, watching my sons, it hits me that if I hadn’t been born, they wouldn’t have been born, either. They give me purpose. And the ocean gives me comfort. We stop in Tilamook on the way home and I am drawn to a garden plaque that quotes The Great Agnostic, Robert Ingersoll: “The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here.” On impulse, I buy it. It will sit in a place of honor on our mantel when we return home.
2009: The family meets on the Oregon coast to celebrate Aunt Junie’s life, and spread her ashes on the ocean. We will not get as far as Lincoln City this time, but the ocean that she is now a part of will touch the beaches that have provided such solace to me over the years. And every time I’m near the ocean, I’ll think of Junie – her humor and wisdom and kindness to me.
2010: Hoping, but not with high expectations, I ask my youngest son, who’s just turned 16, if he’d like to make the same road trip that I made with his older brother two years ago. To my surprise and delight, he says he would! We spend two days at the ocean – flying a kite, looking for agates, running (well, okay, he’s doing most of the running now) along the beach. Before we leave on our trip I ask Xander if he’s remembered his swimsuit, long pants, shorts, sweatshirt, sneakers, toothbrush, and sandals. He assures me he has. When we arrive at Lincoln City, I realize that I am the one who’s left her clothes, laptop, and toothbrush back home. It is all very humbling. But there’s a certain freedom in the forgetting, too. I’m scraped down to the bare essentials. Having no laptop is a good thing. I have become big into photography in the last couple years, and I have, at least, remembered my camera. Camera, son, ocean, and the clothes on my back – what else does a person really need?
2013: The sons are all grown-up now. They have jobs and things to do. For the first time since we became parents, we will be making our Lincoln City pilgrimage alone. We eat at our favorite eatery there – The Lighthouse Brew Pub – take long walks together, hunt for agates, and remember together who we were when we first found Lincoln City. Young, strong, confident, hopeful. Our lives stretched out ahead of us. And we think about all that’s happened in the 29 years since. And it’s all been good. All of it. Even the bad stuff has been good, really. Just like those blossoms unfolding in time lapse photography – our life together has unfolded most wonderfully.
For the accompanying photos, go here –