The Rendezvous

Kim Stafford is my favorite Oregon writer. The first time I heard Lloyd's story (the story of Lloyd Reynolds, "the international citizen of Portland") written by Stafford, it brought a tear to my eye. His writing, in just the few sentences I had heard read aloud, was simple and profound and personal and important. I had to find out who wrote it and how I could read more of his stuff. When I got home, I googled him and then quickly hopped in the car to stock up at Powell's.

The son of Oregon Poet Laureate William Stafford, Kim Stafford is an Oregon gem -- and his writing about this place, Oregon, is a beautiful reminder that what we have is, indeed, special. I have a favorite story, a favorite essay, and a favorite book by Kim Stafford. Below is an excerpt from my favorite Kim Stafford book, called Wind on the Waves: Stories from the Oregon Coast. This particular story, called "Weekend at the Coast," speaks to me so much that each time I read it, I'm overwhelmed by a rush of memories and images from growing up. It's a story that many Oregonians will get, and one I thought of as I drove through Clatsop and Tillamook and Washington Counties late Sunday night.

They decided to go to the coast: two women, three kids, one small sedan. There was the box of games, and noodles, and cheese, extra clothes. There was the box of delicious books, for after the children were asleep, the bottle of wine. There were the sleeping bags, the road snacks, favorite cereals, sand toys, dry shoes, the kite and its great tangle of string.

"Mom, can I take my pillow?"

"I want my pillow, too! And my bow and arrow. Is Zink bringing his?"

"I don't know. Do you have your bowl and spoon? Jammies? Toothbrushes? Corkscrew!"

There were the jigsaw puzzles in their tattered boxes held with rubber bands, the deck of cards, the loaf and the peanut butter, the dog-gnawed Frisbee, and the dog.

"Mom, when are we giving Possum a bath?"

"No time today, sweetheart. Are you all packed?"

There was the dog food to scatter into the Frisbee at night, the camp stove for economical motel life, the spatula and pan, the bag of carrots, the little boxes of raisins, the salt and pepper shakers with tape over the holes. They loaded their possessions into trunk and seat and floor of the car, and somehow managed to shoehorn the children into their car seats, with a little squeeze and a scream. There wouldn't have been room for a man, even if either woman had one.

"I smell it! I know I smell the ocean! How much further, mom?"

"At the other end of your nap, my dear, we'll be there."

"I don't need a nap."

"You do need a nap, my dear. Now let mama drive. Dell and I have to talk a little while you all sleep."

"Can I have another raisin box?"

"Good night, sweetheart."

It rained. Storms lashed the beach. The kids didn't care. Wet clothing hung from the motel furniture. They gave Possum a bath. They all fell asleep at 8:30. They never opened the wine. They never read their books. They got the puzzle half done. They never untangled the string. They talked about that weekend for the rest of their lives.

-- Kim Stafford

I just got back from one of those weekends. The kind where your shoes end up wet and you never get around to the books or e-mails you promised yourself you'd find time for, but you couldn't care less (and you can't believe you thought you'd have time for any of that) because you're with people you love.

I had two full days and one night in Seaside. The first day was occupied with working lunches and planning meetings and registration tables. The second day was booked with general sessions and workshops and a couple dozen mini-reunions with friends. If I was going to see the ocean, the night was my only shot. And how do you go all the way to the coast without listening to the waves crash into the shore? How could you be a few blocks away but never take a moment to stand in front of the Pacific and feel small?

At about 1:30am, my courage and optimism was waning. After a gust of wind so loud that we heard it above our conversations and cell phone videos, Marcus lifted the curtain to reveal horizontal rain pouring so hard and so fast that it wasn't clear whether it was falling from the sky or shooting out from the ground. Maybe both, even. This was a night for a fireplace and hot cocoa, not a walk on the beach -- but tonight was my only shot.

Thirty minutes later, Oregon came through for me. This time, when the curtain was lifted, silence. No rain. Not a sound. Not even a mist under the streetlight. I could not have received a clearer message if it was hand delivered in a letter: it was time to go. I gave myself a pep talk, laced up my shoes, put on all the layers I could find, and I went. 

Sometimes it's hard to put into words exactly how you know that a decision you made was the right one. But when my shoe touched the sand, hands stuffed inside pockets, and the roar of the ocean became louder, the smile on my face wasn't going anywhere. I was where I was supposed to be.

I know this because I've been there before. When I was a little boy and I was bundled up under a windbreaker suit and the family walked from Grandma's condo in Lincoln City down to the beach -- we must have made that walk a couple hundred times over my childhood. Or, during a trip to Uncle Bri's beach cabin in Pacific City, climbing to the top of the cape (or feeling satisfied after making it halfway there) so we could sprint down as fast as we could and tumble into the sand. Or earlier this year,  just a couple of weeks before my first move out of state, when I took my own trip to the coast to say "see ya later." When I stood where Bob Straub once stood and, thanks to him, saw exactly the same seascape he saw. 

The Oregon coast is a place where unremarkable, magical things happen. Tossing torn-off pieces of stale bread to the seagulls from Grandma's porch. Watching the sunset from the top of Cape Kiwanda. Lunching at Mo's during Senior Skip Day. Spending hours meticulously examining the tide pools for the perfect shells and agates to bring home and lose in my dresser drawer. Sharing a first kiss under the moonlight. 

All that and more. Weekends and stories and memories that I'll talk about for the rest of my life.