Thursday, May 24, 2007


I hopped nimbly out of the car, swinging my pack onto my back, and thanked my ride briefly. I'd gotten here from Eugene in three rides. Not too bad. Five hours, maybe. The second ride had dropped me smack in the middle of nowhere among the enormous hills of the Coast Range. Mountains, most of you would call them, but we always reserved that word for the snow-covered peaks of the Cascades. These were just hills, even if they were a couple thousand feet high.

I'd walked an hour or two along the freshly asphalted road, twenty minutes to descend one sweeping curve, twenty to climb the next; huge featureless swoops of second-growth doug fir. As I'd walked I'd calculated how long I would have to walk if I didn't get another ride. Twelve hours, I reckoned.

But then a salesman stopped for me, all agitation, hugging the steering wheel almost to his chest, fat neck crammed into a tight collar. All kinds of people would stop for you, if you looked clean and harmless, even people from the other side, people who thought Nixon was a great president, and Vietnam was a great war. Young hippies were interesting even to them. I made sure to open my face and smile cheerfully, and stand tall, with my arm fully extended -- crooking your elbow, and jerking your arm, I thought, was sinister. That was how people hitched a ride in the movies, but it wasn't how we did it. I never had to wait all that long.

The salesman let me off at the unmarked pull-off. I trotted down the hobbit trails, tunnels half sand, half salal, and then the roof opened, and I came to the ocean.

The ocean, we always called it, "the sea" being thought highfalutin and literary. It would be twenty years before I would discover that we had that backwards from the rest of the English-speaking world. I still say "the sea" with a little embarassment, knowing but not believing that for most people it's just the ordinary workaday word. To me it sounds like "the vasty deep."

I walked down the empty beach. In those days no one came there. Now there is a regular turnoff, and a highway sign on 101 announcing the Hobbit Trails. It's still a bit far from the bigger towns, though, so it's not crowded. Just not empty anymore. But back then only a handful of people knew about that beach, and used that name

A pearly mist was rolling in over the water. Somewhere my friends would be camping. Lori, who a year later would die of a brain tumor in Belize. Pam and Rhonda, identical twins, daughters of the Methodist minister who, ten years later, would officiate at my wedding. A boy whose name I've forgotten, with dark hair as long as my blond. They would be perched in a hollow low on the cliffs, like seagulls, feeding a little fire whipped by the wind. Naked teenagers at the edge of the world.

The rising of the land, the arches of the sky. I turned sideways and vanished.

I wish you had been with me, then. I would like to vanish with you.

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