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On Mountains and Oceans 

The importance of loving the oceans and mountains.

I've always lived in the mountains, or at least near them. And when times got tough and I needed to get away that's where I go. Up. Up high where there were long views, clear air and perspective, where the eye and the mind could roam unimpeded, where the birds spent their days. I can't say why this is - still is to this day - except that's how I grew up, half feral in the shade of something bigger than myself that took up a good portion of the sky during the day and at night a deep bite out of the stars. Ever since I can remember, I've identified myself with steep inclines, deep shades, the protectiveness of ravines and the odor of pine. I'd go to the mountains to rejuvenate a depleted spirit, or get over a disastrous love affair. It just seemed the natural thing to do.

Then, not long ago, I drove over the mountains and dropped down 5,000 feet and pulled up alongside the ocean. Damn, it was big. And that was just the top of it. This was the Oregon Coast, something I'd heard about, read about, seen pictures of and yet didn't have the first damn clue what it was. So I sat there with the windows down and the roar of the surf in my ears and just stared.

Over the years I've had a passing acquaintance with oceans, at least two of them, but never a love affair. Most of my experience with water has been with small brooks and streams, places to walk along and skip rocks across. Lakes, for as long as I can remember, have been for canoeing. I knew an ocean could be a great healer, as all water is, (the Pacific, now there's a name) but I'd never had the chance to test it out. I guess I was always too busy battling gravity on my way to some summit.

I should mention that I wasn't feeling particularly blue that day, that wasn't the reason I was there. In fact, it was just the opposite. It was my sixth wedding anniversary and that morning my wife and I decided it was high time we went to the coast. But you know these things can sometimes backfire, and despite the occasion, the drive over had been longer than expected and a handful of the usual irritations had crept in. Too quickly, it seemed, we'd become an old married couple.

Then along came a flamboyant looking pair. We dubbed them the "Oregon hippies" and I'm sure you know the type. He was probably sixty, tall and grizzled, lean but with a bit of a belly and a thinning, gray ponytail snaking down his back. She was much smaller, pretty, long dark hair in a braid, maybe Native American. They both wore baggy tie-dyed T-shirts and loose jeans and a collection of shells around their necks. By then my wife and I were on the beach, leaning on a log of driftwood and each looking out in different directions at the seagulls, surf and the beachcombers.

The couple walked right past us, picking their way over the rocks and stood at the edge of the water. They held hands, looking out at the waves just as anyone would, and after a brief pause bent down to roll up their pant legs. Then when the next big wave came in it seethed and poured around them up to their knees and we watched them hug and kiss a big full kiss as the foam and water of the Pacific bathed them. It was hard not to watch, this public display of affection that was the farthest thing from being crude. The whole scene lasted maybe a minute, if that, and then they walked back up the beach. As they passed us, my wife and I gave a small round of applause, not because they were seeking it, but because it seemed the proper thing to do. You don't see love on show that honestly these days, and a thing of beauty, we all know, is not to be ignored.

The couple nodded to our applause and volunteered that they do this every time. "Every time, what?" I asked. "Oh, we're building a house and whenever the frustrations get too much we come down here and let the ocean take them away. It never fails to make us feel better." And that's when I thought of the mountains I'd climbed, and the summits I'd sat on, and what the world would be like if we all solved our problems by walking into the ocean to kiss. It's also when my wife and I looked at each other and without saying a word bent down to take off our shoes.


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