We quickly surveyed our previous adventures. There have been three camping trips since Cedar was born, each for three days and two nights. There was three nights we spent on Whidbey for my sister's wedding this August, and two nights on a whirlwind trip to San Diego the year before, for my cousin's wedding. There was another two night trip to Portland, an overnight with my family in Grapeview, and many weekends spent at Grandma's in Olympia, but that's it.
We have not been the most adventurous of new parents, but we've tried our best to have some fun. It feels necessary for me to get physical distance from our house where Cedar and I spend so much time, but it's also tiring to pack up all our clothes, food, diapers and gear, tiring to try and get Cedar to nap in unfamiliar places, tiring to disrupt our hard-earned schedules and get not-so-great sleep on impromptu beds on the floor, and tiring to then unpack, pack, and unpack again when we get home, do multiple loads of laundry along with the dishes left in a hurry in the sink, and then try to get back on our usual schedule so that we can keep our appointments with others the next week without Cedar being an exhausted mess.
But it's still worth it. And I still get that same familiar rush of anticipation and relief that I always have when we finally have everything into the car and we are off! Driving down I-5, Matthew driving, me playing DJ, coffee and tea warm in our mugs, and Cedar happily staring out the window in the backseat. We almost always aim to travel when Cedar is due for his nap, because as long as we keep driving (without having to stop at lights or in traffic), he will keep sleeping for at least 40 minutes, but hopefully 80 or more-- two sleep cycles, his usual nap length. As he begins to babble and show signs of drifting, I'll keep peaking back into the mirror that faces him to see if he's nodded off yet, and when his eyes finally close and his head lolls to one side, I'll give Matthew the 'asleep' sign we've developed (fingertips closed together), and then sigh as another layer of relief washes over me and I settle back into my seat for the ride.
I love road trips. I love that my husband doesn't mind driving the majority of the time, or more like all of the time ever since Cedar was born since I am sometimes needed in the back seat to feed or distract him during the last leg of a trip. I love the feeling of leaving the city and entering the rural; winding through country roads lined with towering maples, passing other people's homes and new territories they call familiar.
For our honeymoon over three years ago, we spent over a month exploring Canada and the Rockies, before coming back to Seattle to settle into our new home and life. "Purpose for your journey?" the border patrol asked as we barely snuck through to Eastern Washington before they closed. "You took your wife camping on your honeymoon??" He asked. We laughed. Yes, it was a mutual choice. We'd just relocated from Olympia to Seattle, neither of us had jobs lined up for the fall, but we had a wad of cash gifted to us by our wedding guests, so we had a rare flexibility to not have a rigid return date, but on the other hand, we knew that we probably shouldn't push our luck-- especially once we had to take our '89 Ford Taurus station wagon into a shop for repairs.
As it was, we were able to decide we were ready to go home before we were "forced" to go home, and upon returning home, Matthew received a job offer for a position that had initially turned him down. The stars were still with us! We dove into retarring the deck before the fall rains kicked in, and then took off for a friend's wedding in Leadville, Colorado, before returning in time for Matthew's first day of work.
I have fantasies of taking off on another trip like that, only I know that it'll probably be a couple years at least before it might actually be pleasurable to attempt a long trip like that with a young one in tow. I have fantasies of us having some kind of camper van so that we don't have to deal with setting up tents every night or getting wet, and of us dipping back into a remnant of our old hippy existence, living close to the elements, sitting around a fire every night, sitting in the sand by the ocean for days on end, letting the sound of the waves sink deeper and deeper into our skins.
Ever since Matthew and I have been together we've had a ritual of camping at the ocean every summer. The first year we went to Shi Shi, hiked far down the beach with our packs until we were far from other campers, close to a stream for water, and close to the area with the arches and most amazing concentration of sea stars and anenomes I've ever seen. By chance we ran into a friend and his ten-year-old daughter on the hike, and they camped a little ways from us, welcome unexpected companions by the fire. The four days or so we spent there were grey, but not rainy. Matthew kept the fire going the whole time, a warm beacon to return to after wandering excursions down the beach. We brought way more food than we needed, Matthew's sandal strap broke in the wet mud of the forest, and we had garbage bags to cover our packs if it rained. We were clearly not schooled in packing light nor equipped to be true backcountry hikers, but give us heavy packs and a few miles of flat terrain to get to a wild coastline far from the foot traffic of day hikers, and we are game.
I love that sense of sinking into the elements, that sense of timelessness that comes over me when I can just sit, wander, do yoga, read poetry, write in my journal. And usually, after a couple days, I don't even feel like reading or writing anymore. I am content to just sit there, listening to the waves-- or not listening anymore-- what I love is when you reach that place where you've been there long enough that you no longer notice the sound of the waves as something separate or other-- it's just there, with you, a part of you, a part of this amazing universe churning through your body.
I cannot say that I reached this place of immersion with the elements this last week at Cape Disappointment (at the very Southwestern tip of Washington, near the mouth of the Columbia ) where we stayed in a yurt for two nights. But that's okay, I didn't expect this; I simply wanted to remember what the ocean felt like. It'd been over two years since I'd stood at her shoreline; we'd missed our annual trip the summer before due to our new immersion in life with a newborn. We'd gone to a few state parks on the Puget Sound, but these are not the same as standing at the edge of the rolling, wild Pacific.
Our first day at Cape Disappointment we arrived in the midst of a storm. Fifty-mile an hour winds blew, and there was no way we would have stayed if we weren't sleeping in a yurt. What a treat it was to splurge on a yurt! It was the perfect way to camp with a toddler. We all stayed dry, a heater kept us warm at night, and a round skylight in the middle let in a warm glow of natural light, even despite the clouds. It was more or less childproofed already for Cedar, and we were a five minute walk from the beach. Then the sky cleared the next morning! A beautiful, sunny day at the ocean in late September? Unheard of! I don't remember the last time I saw sunshine at the coast, even in the summer.
Cedar loved it. Loved the wide open expanse to run around on, loved the sand to rub his hands across and sift through his fingertips, loved the slight edge of the dangerous unknown with the rush of the waves coming in, still huge and tumultuous from last night's storm. Giant collections of sea foam floated along the beach, bubbling in their breathing masses. Flocks of pelicans flew in formation across the sky. At high tide, while Matthew and Cedar napped, I stood at the edge of the path to the beach and watched as the waves pushed in huge logs and rushed in so high, covering the entire expanse of the beach and sometimes coming up even further to the raised patch of land where I stood.
Wild. That's what the ocean is for me in a word. Wild. That's why I want and need to go to the ocean regularly-- to remind me of this force in the universe, this wild force which I am a part of. Nowhere else is this essential in and out, ebb and flow force of the universe, force of my breath, so obvious, so apparent. I breathe in and feel it in my body, how I am connected to this rush. I feel it in an instant, even if it would take many more days for it to sink in on the levels that I long for-- and weeks or months for it to sink in on levels that I can barely imagine right now. And yet, on some level, the ocean already speaks to me from this depth. On some level, I already know what it would be like to live by the sea for months, or years on end. On some level, this inseparable knowing is already a part of me, and that's why I crave it so.
Just give me a taste, that's all I wanted this week, just give me a reminder of what she feels like, the ocean, the sea. No, I did not have the same freedom to lie down and close my eyes, drift for hours on end into my own blissful place, separate yet connected to the blissful places that my companions might find, separate yet together in our silent, unfolding communion. Instead, I had only brief moments to stare out and take a few breaths, before checking to make sure that my son was not getting into any trouble, tag teaming care with my husband, engaging in our new ebb and flow, our new layer of partnership developed over the last 18 months. But you know what? This is okay. This is our life right now, a life in which our son-- and sharing this great world with our son-- lies at the orbit. As his mama, as his guide and protector, I see the world and the sea through new eyes, I appreciate the newness of everything in ways that only a child's eye can filter. And then I savor those brief moments where I can stand alone and take a breath that much more. I don't worry about not having hours or days to let it sink in. I take it in now, gulp up what I can, knowing that some day it will not be the same, and trusting that the power of the ocean is still reaching me, still seeping in, no matter what new layers of consciousness I may filter it through.
To journey to the ocean is to seek to have these layers drop away. Even if I only get a chance to stand alone at the shore for ten minutes, this is enough to scrape and rub at a bit of my shell. This is enough to receive a small window of remembering: I am raw, I am tender, I am frothing, I am wild. I am so much more than you or I can see.