Inspiration on the Oregon Coast

My front yard for the month…

Several months ago I bought the book,  “Bittersweet,” by Susan Cain after reading one sentence in a book review.  “Have you ever wondered why you are drawn to sad movies, gloomy days or  melancholy music?”  Sold.  Evidently, I wasn’t alone and I wanted an explanation.   I started thumbing through the chapters on my walk home from the bookstore, looking for the why’s behind my attraction to the gloomy and seeking my in print tribe of like-minded people in the process. After reading the book,  I took an online test that NPR posted in conjunction with the review and confirmed what I suspected… I am “a true connoisseur of bittersweetness:  the place where dark and light meet.”  This was not new information to me, but what was, was the author  seeing it as not  a bad thing.  Instead, she says,  “Embracing your melancholy could make you happier in the long run. We found that people who score high [on this test] also score high on states of awe, wonder, spirituality and absorption, which predicts creativity.”  I’ll take it!  Gloomy days and all.   The author even made suggestions for those who tend towards optimism, but want to embrace their melancholy (the suggestions weren’t as dark or dreary as you might be imagining). I was thrilled.  I had a diagnosis and a reason for going to a place I knew beforehand would likely be cold and rainy to spend a month and write about it along with other writing projects, a bag of knitting and a big stack of books.  I’m also understanding why I love listening to anything by Philip Glass and one round of Leonard Cohen or k.d. lang singing “Hallelujah,” is never enough.   Nor is five rounds, if I’m being totally honest.

I thought about this while walking on the beach last week on the beautiful Oregon Coast.  I’ve been here around two weeks (I’m not keeping count because I don’t want to know how close the end is),  and with the exception of the cold, rainy day when I arrived, the sun has been shining almost every day.  It’s not at all what I expected but has been a welcome surprise. When I told friends I was renting a place on the Oregon coast for the month of April, several asked me why?  The weather in April will be gloomy and rainy, to which I responded, that’s why.  My family didn’t question my timing, especially my family who lives in Oregon, because they know me and my love for a gloomy day that to me translate to “put the kettle on and get the notebooks or computer out.”  It’s a call for indoor recess that I meet with a sigh of relief and gratitude.  I envisioned being tucked away with a fire, my computer and a mug of tea, and the moody sea for inspiration.  Instead, I’ve hiked, I’ve explored, I’ve walked miles on the beach and I’ve spent time in coffee shops, cafes and the book store in town.  I’m learning to embrace and understand that the biggest part of writing is not putting the pen to the paper or the fingers to the keyboard, but rather, is letting my mind wander and taking note of the path it’s making and if it is pulling me towards a destination I hadn’t thought of.  There’s not a better place to do that than on the vast, expansive Oregon Coast and on most days, I only passing a handful of people. 

Having been born in the mountains and raised in the mid-west, I don’t know “ocean things” such as tide tables or sneaker waves or rip tides or tsunami inundation zones, but I’m feeling more comfortable and am learning the rhythm of the tides and the best time to discover star fish in the tide pools.  And I’ve downloaded an earthquake app on my phone  because I’m in a tsunami zone and my son, in looking out for my well-being, suggested it.  Although I’ve been to this part of the coast multiple times with my Portland kids, it feels new this time — new because I’m experiencing it by myself.

I’ve always answered mountains when asked, “Mountains or ocean?” In the same way I’d say salt, when asked “salt or sugar” or sunrise with the “sunrise or sunset” question.  There are several more questions that go with this “personality quiz”  my sister and I devised, possibly before either one of us had seen the ocean, so only chose mountains.   I’ve learned these past ten days that although I consider myself a mountain girl because that’s where I was born and where my barometer was set, I think it’s okay, while I’m sitting out on my deck with the sea in front of me, to say I’m an ocean person too.  And if I’m honest, I’m also a sugar person and a sunset person.  I’m unapologetically taking them all.  When I’m back in Boulder, I’ll lean into my mountain side, but right now, with the sea in front of me,  I’m claiming ocean girl for the month and am taking in all it has to offer.  It’s moody.  It’s dramatic.  It’s vast, lonely and inspiring and the perfect spot for inspiration.

I’ve found my pace, starting with coffee in the morning, switching on the fireplace, and turning the swivel chair in the living room to face out towards the ocean.  At the end of the day, I watch the cars start to line up along the road directly in front of the place I’ve rented to view the sunset.  I love the importance that is given to the daily ritual of the sun dipping below the horizon.  People bring their chairs to the beach or sit on driftwood, or some remain in their cars with the opened doors and coolers.  Last night, I watched the silhouette of a man with his dog, the only two on the beach visible to me from my deck.  They both stood perfectly still in anticipation for at least 15 minutes.  As soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, the dog looked at his owner then took off running as dogs do.  I honestly think the dog was enjoying the drop of the sun as much as his owner.  It was a beautiful moment in time and I get to do it again tomorrow night.  When I looked back through my daily sunset photos, the man and his dog are in every one of them.  It’s their nightly routine.  I love it even more now.  Meeting the end of the day with heightened anticipation even though it happened yesterday and will more than likely happen tomorrow  and every day that follows,  feels hopeful to me.  I’ve even learned wen to start Philip Glass’s “In the Upper Room” to synchronize his final and most dramatic piece to come on just as the sun makes its final dip, leaving behind a pink streaked sky.  

My sister had a friend from college that had the same response whenever she was experiencing something incredible. She’d say,  “Sell my clothes, I’m GOIN’ to heaven!” (emphasis on the GOIN’).   She was raised Catholic.  Maybe its something that all Catholics know — you don’t need clothes in heaven.  Presbyterians, on the other hand, would likely pack a change of underwear, socks and a map, just in case.  That being said,  I’m starting to tag stuff…

This morning, the sunny skies became cloudy, the temperatures dropped and raindrops are starting to fall.  I put Philip Glass and the kettle on and have declared it an indoor recess day.  My bittersweet soul is happy.

Indoor recess…