May 3, 2005
The first of May marks fourth of Us.
We packed snacks, a beach blanket, and a few good books into the car and drove off in the misty evening rain, Ben Folds Five, Bobby McFerrin, and Duane Allman singing out of our tinny Jetta speakers as we munched on polenta chips and pop tarts, the dark coastal landscape racing by. Deep green fields, hazelnut trees, shadowed farms lit by a lone sodium fixture hanging over the front door. We talked little, sang much.
The trees on the east coast peter out the closer you get to the water; on Cape Cod you can stand in town and look out over marshy grasses to the sea, rolling into the dunes. Here in the Pacific Northwest, however, the water pounds into rocky cliffs, and the firs standing above the water, bravely facing the wind and rain. Clamber down the cliffs and there are beaches, flat and wide, packed down by the raging surf, rugged and new. There are few lines of stranded kelp, even fewer loose rocks and new shells. It is little more than sand and sea, rocky cliff and towering evergreens.
Between the post office and the fire station of the township of Otter Rock, just north of Newport, there is an overgrown driveway heading into tall Douglas Firs. The Gleason’s beach house feels like it is right out of Myst, pine walkways curving around to decks and benches, stepping down to walls of raspberries and tall ferns. The exterior walls are cedar, weathered to a soft brown, still alive through their scent. Inside we romped around, the house to ourselves, looking into every little corner, rolling over every bed, pushing back a bookcase to discover a secret room, dancing barefoot over the tile and wood, and ending up in the loft, pleased as punch.
In the morning we drove down to the Newport Aquarium and fell deeply in love with the sea otters. In Life of Pi, Yann Mantel warns the reader against anthropomorphism, writing that it can lead to grave misunderstandings and result in being bitten, mangled, or entirely eaten up by, say, a Bengal tiger. I remember Katy once observing how Kobe (a baby polar bear and the subject of Katy’s senior thesis) stood on her hind legs and sniffed the air when Katy came to visit. The patrons of the zoo would laugh and clap and cry that Kobe was happy to see Katy arrive. “Kobe recognizes me,” Katy said. “But if I tried to give her a hug, I'd be lunch.”
And still, it's impossible to avoid anthropomorphism. I am aware that Kodiak the Otter would have given me a dreadful bite were I to ruffle the wet fur sticking up from behind his ears, but no one can tell me that the frisky little otter wasn’t absolutely delighted as he floated on his back and munched on a Dungeness crab, taking the expired invertebrate for joy rides beneath the surface of the water before popping up, rolling once more on his back, and chewing happily.
We giggled at the groupers, played with squishy anemones, marveled at the flounders, and were utterly mesmerized by the jellyfish (they have no brains!). We sat on the rocks absently chewing on gummy bears, watching the seals swim languidly by, round little water torpedoes. We searched for the giant octopus and chattered with the puffins, who looked like rockers with their bleach-blonde tresses and swaggering walk.
At the beach later in the day, I played with some kids in the tidepools as Sam (Lawrence of Arabia with his shirt tied around his head) read his book. The little girl grabbed my hand and said, “You wanna see something wicked?!” and dragged me to a large anemone, its tentacles withdrawn. “It’s bigger than our mom’s boob!” she yelled and her little brother, with great enthusiasm, shouted, “And it’s gonna get even bigger!!!” I squealed right along with them as the sand crabs burrowed around our feet and the baby fish darted over our toes. And then their parents came along and I didn’t feel like being a grown-up so I splashed along by myself, poking the sand crabs in the butt and watching them dig frantically away.
I eventually joined Sam on the blanket and flipped open my new book, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I peered over at Sam and said, “I am impossibly happy,” to which he responded by lightly tugging on my ear, smiling conspiratorially, and saying “me too. Me too.”
My book is amazing. I marvel in every word and fall whole-heartedly into the story. I read twenty pages, fifty, a hundred. Eventually I turned to Sam and diplomatically informed him that the tide was coming in but that I didn't want the day to end. I thought there might be more discussion on the matter but he just said, “neither do I. Let’s move the blanket back.” And lo! we defied the tide (if not the time) by skipping away a hundred yards and settling back into our books, side by side, rocking on our Crazy Creeks.
We dined that night at the Whale’s Tale, but not before visiting the ornery sea lions on their own little dock beneath the pier. It seems as if these sea lions are perpetually perturbed and infinitely lazy, arguing dramatically with their neighbors but refusing to move or even to fully wake up. We cheered on the female sea lion who dove through the water and fought for a place on the dock, the males barking and barring her way to a dry sleeping spot. (She made it up, eventually).
I wanted to walk up the street after dinner and look into the windows of the beach shops, but Sam was reluctant (he’s not so much into kitsch). When I gave him puppy dog eyes he folded, and we strolled along hand in hand, gazing through glass at porcelain statuettes of seagulls on rocks, and picture frames made out of seashells. And then I saw the taffy, the salt water taffy, crying joyously to us from deep white barrels. “Come, wayward travelers!" the taffy cried. "Take one of each of us! Two! Three! Four! We are peppermint-flavored, peaches and cream, strawberry cheesecake, chocolate mint and cotton candy! Butter rum and tutti frutti! Raspberry swirl and kiwi guava!” I found their calls irresistible and, nabbing a crisp white bag, liberated some taffy from the bins, Sam shaking his head saying “you’re going to make yourself sick.” So what, I thought. This poor taffy needs a home. We are its adoptive parents. It needs us.
I stuck the giant bag of taffy under my shirt and waddled into the movie theatre later that night. The ticket taker smiled at us, saying with her eyes either, “What a nice, young-looking couple to be having a baby!” or “I know that’s candy under your shirt, you dummies.”
We snuggled down into our seats and watched The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, Sam giggling his way through the movie (Sam is an ardent fan of the book) as I unwrapped piece after piece of salt water taffy, unable to make myself stop. (“Please,” I eventually said to Sam. “Put these far, far away from me.”) I liked the dolphins best, finding their stirring rendition of “So Long and Thanks For All the Fish” quite exhilarating. And Slartibartfast was great too. Understated and hysterical. I fell in love with the leading lady. Or maybe I just fell in love with her clothes. I’m not sure.
This morning we sit on the sun dappled porch, Sam playing his guitar and me typing away. We are waiting for the sheets to dry, so we can remake the bed before heading back to Portland. It is Emily’s birthday, and her family is taking us all out to dinner at Lauro.
Sitting out here, beetles clambering over the dead leaves resting on the pine, bees buzzing, sparrows calling out to one another, Sam softly singing and playing a sweet song on the guitar, I find that I am still quite impossibly happy.