Several years ago I read an article – or two, or three – that told me I should combat stress by envisioning a place of my own, a safe space, one that I could enter whenever I desired. Some described it as an escape pod; some as simply a room of my own, albeit imaginary.
It would not be surprising to most who know me that I created one on the beach. It was a sunroom of sorts, and as this was imaginary, it did not matter to me if there was a house attached to the back of it or not; in fact, I completely ignored that aspect, focusing instead on a room of windows overlooking the ocean. It had low-running, white bookshelves on three sides filled with all my favorite books, and it had a teapot, a chair big and soft enough to lounge crosswise in, and a rug so I could pad barefoot across the room for my tea.
I was reminded of it earlier this month when I played hookey for a day and ran off to Ft Stevens beach with my partner. After several days of cold, wet winter in Portland, we read that morning that it was going to be sunny at the beach.
Sun? The door slammed behind us as we jumped in the car and headed for that promised bright spot, shedding jackets and shoes as soon as we climbed over the dunes and hit the sands. I’ve been to Ft Stevens a few times and each time it’s been off-season, so the parking lots are empty. We cruised into a spot, grabbed our thermos, our lunch, our mittens and camera, and we headed along the path, which is a sandy strip up and over a mound of dunes. The part I love is that moment when I reach the top, look over and see the Pacific. I also hear it, so loud and mighty — crashing, crashing, crashing against the beach.
And you know the first thing you must do when you hit the beach is run into the surf, then back out, daring it to get you wet. So, we did that and walked up the beach a few miles and back, not passing anyone else along the way, not seeing anyone else except a truck that passed by. (Pickup trucks on the beach?! Still intrigues me, a thing I’ve never done – driven on the beach but that’s a thought for another day.)
Because it was low tide, we saw sand dollars all along the beach, and we had that same discussion again: should you pick them up? (I don’t think so.) Should you leave them? (I think so.) Are they alive? (Rarely.) And if they are alive, how do you tell? Well, I read a bit about that, so I peered at them upclose, looking for hairy purplish spines. That’s the sort of thing you do on the beach, isn’t it? Focus on the seagulls floating overhead, the rushing surf, bits of clam shells, sand dollars and the occasional jelly. Call it walking meditation, or ocean meditation. Mindfulness.
It settles my soul to be at the ocean amongst the rough and tumble of the sea, the crashing surf, the cries of the gulls, the wet salt air blowing across my face.
Ft Stevens in the winter is perfect for soul-settling. Though it apparently accommodates hundreds a day in the summer – judging by the size of the parking lots and the campground nearby, – it gives itself over to being a serene getaway during the off-season. Much like my imaginary room at the beach, but without walls, it calls me on rainy days. It is my reality spot when the imaginary one is not enough.
And with a thermos of hot tea and a jacket, who needs glass walls, anyway?
Ft Stevens State Park offers campgrounds, yurts, cabins, a historical military site, plus several miles of bike and hike paths.