Things I Learned from the Oregon Coast

Your history is showing. Our facilitator taught us about the geology of the Oregon Coast. We were situated on Spanish Head. It was formed from a series of volcanic explosions that produced lava flows in the Columbia River. As the force of the water sought higher ground each time, the river’s course moved ever northward. And each time the lava flowed, it formed these headlands that cascade into the chilly water of the Pacific. They look like natural jetties all along the Oregon Coast. Its history shows.

We each have histories that form our personalities, shape our anxieties and solidify opinions. Mine showed up – as always – when in a group context with many personalities. I was a bit more comfortable in my own skin this time since my meditation practice has rooted me in the present. But my little girl who is afraid to trust other women threw up her walls and stomped her feet loudly. I found myself worn out at the end of the day and irritable by yesterday due to amount of effort it took to calm my anxiety. My history shows.

Group dynamics are challenging. On the coast there is a daily struggle for survival. Incessant winds, changing tides and crashing waves create a need for sea life to be flexible and root themselves in an unstable environment. I wrote Tuesday about the tide pools that provide some sea life with protection. But some animals and plants can’t root in tide pools. Salmon go inland to spawn. About 80% of sea life spends at least part of their life cycle in the safe harbor of an estuary. The natural coast dynamics are challenging, but the strong adapt and survive.

When a group of women comes together from all over the country, there is a collision of priorities, experiences and expectations. When I rode over on the shuttle from Portland that first day, the van was full of women in my workshop. We didn’t really talk much, and I’m not sure I could tell you today which ones from the group were riding with me. But when we gathered this morning to ride back, I knew them all by name. I knew their histories. I even knew what irritated me about them, and I’m sure they had a mental list of my shortcomings. For four days we butted heads, shared from our hearts, comforted each other and set boundaries when necessary. At times it felt like a hostile environment, but the meals and excursions allowed us to find moments to connect and relax. The dynamics were challenging, but we figured it out.

Writing weaves a beautiful tapestry. That first night I really didn’t know if I had much in common with anyone there. Most had been married for a long period of time. Many were older than me. My walls were up, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to open the gate. But after that first day of writing, it was evident that we all had yarns of similar colors. Different textures and strengths were strikingly evident, but our colors mixed and matched to create a lovely weave. Our differences made us stronger, and our similarities created an edge of softness.

Running is an estuary. I’m glad that I planned a mini-streak for running. We were so booked throughout the day that I know I would have never made time for it otherwise. I started most days with a run around dawn. I craved the quiet. The sounds of the surf and the seabirds gently woke me and provided a backdrop for my meandering thoughts. Wildflowers and sea grasses swayed in the wind near the bay as seals barked and splashed in the water.

I ran near a small estuary one morning with a small stream running through it. In contrast to the sea, it was a pastoral scene. Songbirds chirped. A small dog barked as he ran down his driveway. My feet pounded the pavement in a rhythmic beat. I turned down a country road where cows grazed. Giant spruce trees soared overhead. My thoughts drifted in and out in a gentle flow. A part of me was running away. Another part was running to this beautiful place. I needed the running as much as I needed food.

At the end of every run I stopped at a local coffeehouse. I needed the young woman and the coffeehouse, too. She provided an unhurried moment in my day where I could sip and reflect and steal my nerves for another avalanche of powerful female energy. The estuary of my day, my runs provided solitude and reverence for nature – mine and that of the Oregon Coast.

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50 Something single woman in Michigan who loves the outdoors, people, running and hiking.

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