It is a surprise that I can hear traffic from the table as I write. I had been imagining the heave and roll of the ocean despite being two blocks away from the Pacific. The mountainous trip from city center the day before to this ocean-side village was fraught with winding icy roads, some people fearful of every inch their cars traversed. But I am originally from northern country and the journey was familiar and enchanting even as I used caution. The trees were transformed with snow, the sky gilded with silvery light, and as I drove up to the cottage, the anticipation for a fire blazing in the fireplace and a fragrant cup of tea in my hands was making me giddy. I had arrived at a room far from my work of counseling the walking wounded; the hustle and bustle of having a large extended family; the endless tasks of keeping house.
These salt-streaked sliding glass doors that open to the weathered balcony afford me plenty to observe. The coffee shop is buzzing, door swinging open as soon as it closes. It’s a haven for people, both townies and tourists who seek a brisk wake-up with caffeine amid congenial company. There is a young family holding hands as they walk in twos down the sidewalk, their laughter careening across the street. A woman is jogging down to the beach despite the freezing temperature, blond hair and scarlet scarf flying behind her. The emerald-hued treetops are bent from decades of vibrant and unpredictable weather. Soon I will take a walk to the beach and admire the violent beauty of the waves, then seek refuge in the tiny bookstore down the street, or one of the shops selling local or exotic wares.
This room has a reassuring, simple view that matches the mid-winter special price. I am happy with it in late February, when the drear of the Pacific Northwest can trick me into living a somnambulant life. This is the country that drew me like a magnet ever since age eighteen, when I left the Midwest for an adventure in Seattle. It took me over twenty years to return. I was asked why I came back and I explained this is a geography that speaks to me, where water and flora, volcanoes and wind engage in intricate patterns of life. As a child I knew I needed mountains around me like friends and guardians. On the long flat roads across Michigan I would see grey clouds on the horizon and imagine them peaks rising from the fields. Every lake I enjoyed gave rise to the hope of one day sitting among firs and cedars, watching the mist rise above the treetops and linger over blue-black mountain tops. Although one who is drawn to the culture and diversity of city life, I nonetheless felt from an early age that the power of nature was needed in my daily life.
I wonder what my father would think of my room with a view this morning. Each summer we took long vacations across the country. I sat with nose pressed against the back seat window, waiting for a chance to get out and explore each town or city we passed through, each historical marker an opportunity for my father to expound. My mother instructed us on geological and agrarian facts. We played “I Spy”games and sang songs in easy harmony. Museums were major stops, but so were village churches and roadside parks where we enjoyed picnic lunches. Our cheese or peanut butter sandwiches and a fuzzy, sweet peach for dessert were more mouth-watering under the shade of a tree. Then it was off to a new road, my eyes riveted by the scenes that unfolded before me. The sounds, sights and smells of each new place held me in thrall: how could so many people live such complicated lives everywhere we went? Tired at the end of the day, my father’s choice of rooms with views were the cheapest, the ones that took five back roads and too much gas to find after the sun was long gone, my mother teasing him about his infamous side trips. We might awaken to cows lowing next door but that first look out the window propelled me out of bed, in search of more curious things.
In this village by the Pacific, a seagull wheels and cries on an updraft of wind. A white bearded man in a worn navy pea coat rests on a wooden bench, his wooly black dog at his feet. I can see in the distance a trace of blueness between the heavy winter clouds. The ocean’s voice can be heard as I crack the door. Faint golden light spills to the earth as sun breaks through, with a fine rain glistening in the air. The dog pulls on his leash and his master rises, walking into the sheltering stand of trees. I pull on my warm jacket and frayed cashmere hat and step out as the rain blows east. I can see mountains behind me and know they keep watch.
Wherever I roam, just give me a room with views of people busy living, their labyrinthine stories revealed with each step taken. Place it in a landscape where nature richly nurtures but never lets us forget: we are travelers here, visiting for a very short while.