I had been driving along the south Oregon coastline on the PCH in the midst of a massive low pressure system. The wind was strong enough to pull my van into the shoulder and then shove it back into the middle of the highway and the rain was so saturating that it not only ran down the outside of my windows, but the inside as well. It was a crummy day, yet I still found myself marveling at the ocean and the jagged rocks that rose majestically out of it, as well as being fascinated by the various colors of the sandy and rocky beaches I passed by. I hadn’t seen many decent places to stop along that stretch of highway, but when driving around a bend, I came across a nondescript road off to the side that led to a smaller beach and it struck my fancy. I pulled off, drove down the muddy and puddle-riddled road to the parking area, and got out to explore.
The wind hit me with great ferocity as I jumped out into it. The intensity of the rain was starting to build up again and it slapped me across the face. Pretty much all of my clothing was constantly damp at that point, as I’d been driving through the Pacific Northwest for almost two weeks through one storm after another, so the thought that went through my mind was one of irony as I grabbed a soggy jacket to protect myself from the onslaught of moisture outside. I ran out onto the beach, and quickly stopped as I came face to face with a force I had not been acquainted with before. I’ve grown up along the great lakes and I’ve seen powerful waves before, but the ocean is a completely different animal than a large lake and these waves demanded deference. I felt awe and apprehension as I slowed down and timidly walked along the upper half of the beach. On a normal day, I’m sure it would have been a pleasant place, but now the wind tossed the water in a frenzied manner and sent it crashing up the beach quite a ways. The rock formations that stood solid in the agitated sea were occasionally engulfed by a wave and in wonder, I tried to calculate how tall they and the waves might be. Even the waves that crashed onto the beach towered above it in all their terrible glory. Further down, a swath of sand ran between the water and a giant cliff face and I made my way towards it. As I got closer, I observed how at the end of the beach, the waves rushed forward and slammed violently into the wall of rock, crawling up the face as far as they could before dropping down and grudgingly slinking back to the shore. I think I felt very small in that moment, knowing that if I went too far, I’d be caught in between the two, the lone ingredient in an unpleasant sandwich which I wanted no part of. I went as far as I was comfortable going and stopped to gauge how I felt in relation to my surroundings. My breath was caught slightly in my chest and adrenaline buzzed quietly through my veins like a radio playing at the lowest volume possible. A few steps would be all it would take to put myself into dicey territory, as I’d have nowhere to go if the water rushed at the cliff face, and I felt light in the head, standing on the line that divided safety and danger. My feet were immovable and I spent a few minutes there, holding in my hand and playing with each passing second in the ever-fleeting timeline of life, savoring each flavor of sensation and emotion, and allowing the moment to seep into my essence and tie into my atoms. The ocean roared in my ears and the rain pitter-pattered on my hair. The temperature was chilly and made the tips of my fingers tingle. Everything was beautiful and terrifying and it had my full respect. It took a lot to pull myself away from that spot and head back to my van, as the rain was coming down in larger drops and I still needed to get to California, but I reluctantly made my way back up the sand, looking at every rock and piece of driftwood along the way. I still felt the tug of the ocean as I opened my door and looked back. It was a brief visit that beach, but a poignant one; a delicate reminder of my mortality and that whatever power I think I have is just an illusion.