New year’s eve there was no moon. We left the campground, our little cabins with the K’s on everything and the logs painted brown and walked through the forest, the ghostly pines (so different than a little further inland) and the leafless trees all covered over in what would turn out in the morning to be Usnea. The sea was a formless mass, churning and shadowed, reflecting light from the clouded sky. We stood before it in the soft dark and it seemed to suck at us, to pull us out, to crash back at us furiously. I put my fingers in the moving edges of the water but it only felt cold. It didn’t seem right that we couldn’t decipher what it was trying to say.
What was a rock a ways down the beach, a mound of black against a lighter dark, turned out to be a shipwreck- a skeleton of melted-away steel, shaped like a wedge of cheese. Some of us climbed it like little monkeys and sat on top, singing songs. Most of the ship was under the smooth sand but if you walked south you would find a rusted chimney, a metal post. I walked all the way to the edge of the ocean and then turned around and ran back when the ocean changed, my little dog trailing me. When I stopped running she kept on, bolting away across the sand like a fox, zig-zagging and biting at the air. She doesn’t need the light, doesn’t need to see. She has her nose, she has access to much more of the physical universe than I do.
The moon came out and shone on the ocean. It was a crescent moon, laying down parallel with the sea. It was a magic lantern, a cold comfort, the sun through a kaleidoscope. Days before, at the rock shop in Grant’s Pass, we’d looked through homemade kaleidoscopes that were carved out of soft yellow wood and filled with crystals and tiny, painted seashells. Someone does this, I’d said, as we’d pointed the kaleidoscopes at the ceiling lights, watching the light-filled solids undergo mitosis in their ends- Someone makes these for a living.
Clouds blew over the moon, and our silver light was gone. I tried to touch the water again but it ran away from me, teased me, then rushed in to cover my shoes. The sand was wet and littered with shards of clamshells that illuminated themselves, mysteriously, in the dark- I picked one up, thinking it was something else, and held it in my fingers- what was this, this white shell reflecting the clouds reflecting the moon reflecting the sun? The great kaleidoscoping world, the optical illusion of darkness. Even in the blackness of midnight there are holes, fantastical ones the glow like silver dollars or the fireflies of lighthouses. And the white of the whitecaps, that make their own light- the fluidity of the ocean, I thought, could be a metaphor for everything.
I put my fingers in the sand again as the water slipped away from me. Although I knew there was a continental shelf, I could not find the place, before that, where the water most definitely began. The ocean was an animal, an energy that could be nowhere or anywhere. A wind was blowing and my fingers, trailing in the sand, grew cold. I wasn’t sure what my lesson was, from the ocean, for the new year. I told myself that my lesson was that there was no lesson, that the lesson of the ocean was about letting go, that the lesson about everything is about letting go, like prying limpets off of a rock. Which is, if you have ever tried it, impossible. But the point, of course, is not to succeed. The point is to trust the universe, and try anyway, even though you will not succeed. The point is to let the universe hurt you, again and again, like waves bashing against a cliff face, until you are worn down into a softer, less pointed version of yourself, and still you continue to try- to try and let go- and you continue to get hurt- and then, when you can let go of even wanting not to get hurt, when you can open yourself to being hurt like the continental shelf opens itself to the sea, then that’s when you are finally free.