As October began winding down, the days became increasingly cold and short. For most of the summer, I’d been longing to do a little camping, but hadn’t had the chance. When my parents visited for my birthday (prior to Dad taking a dive into the Atlantic), they had generously given me a lovely backpacking tent. This, of course, was code for: “by the way, we rented out your room back home…” Nonetheless, I was stoked and all the more eager to try it out.
Thus, on an overcast Saturday afternoon, I piled some gear into the back of my Subaru and headed up Coastal Route 1. I had recruited my housemate, Justin, to join me for a one-night trip and we set off with a vague destination. I’d heard tell from some locals of an area called the Cutler Coast Reserve and deemed it worthy of inspection.
The Cutler Coast (or “Bold Coast”) is a large plot of public land that’s been converted into hiking trails with backcountry campsites right up against the ocean. The camping is free, the only restriction of any sort is that backpackers fill out a registration card and deposit it in a box at the trailhead, in case of “needing rescue”. I scribbled down a fake name (“Bunky Deadwillow”) left my ex’s phone number, and we were on our way.
Due to a late start, dusk was fading as we began our trek through the woods. It was a cool, cloudy evening – not promising of rain but certainly not against it. We hiked for about fifteen minutes and came to an intersection.
“Which way?” Justin asked.
I produced my trail map, which, in reality, was a computer print-off and appeared to be a Crayola production. I turned on my headlamp and scanned the page.
Important life lesson: it’s hard to read crayon in the dark. All I could make out was a blotch of green (which I assumed was the forest), a brown line (the trail), an area of bluish hue (the ocean) and a couple large X’s (treasure!?).
“Um,” I said, “I think the ocean’s that way.”
Justin looked in the direction I was pointing. “That’s what the map says?” he asked.
“’Says’ is too strong a word,” I held the map towards him, “I think ‘implies’ is better suited for our situation.”
Justin glanced down at the map and shrugged carelessly. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
And just like that we were off to the tune of The White Stripe’s “I Can Tell That We Are Gonna Be Friends” whistled for the occasion by yours truly.
Soon complete darkness set in and we both turned on our headlamps. Hiking with a headlamp is not as simple as it seems and can be somewhat terrifying. Even with powerful illumination, a headlamp hardly reveals more than a step or too in front of you and sometimes even this area is still a mystery. Rocks, roots, and gopher holes, easily viewed by daylight, become proverbial land mines come nightfall. There’ve been hikers who knocked what they perceived by their headlamp to be a large rock, only to discover a very angry raccoon suddenly latched onto their toes.
Meanwhile, the area around you, which isn’t illuminated, is filled with objects and creatures that could all easily contribute to my ex-girlfriend one day picking up her phone to learn that poor “Bunky Deadwillow was mauled by a bobcat on the Cutler Coast” and “would you like us to send you the body?” Running into low-lying tree branches is common occurrences, as well as spider webs and the occasionally unaware bat. I’d even heard tell of one hiker who was trudging along, eyes glued to the ground, and wandered smack into a large object. Although he thought it was a tree, the softness of his impact, and low grunt from a few yards ahead, compelled him to reconsider. It was, in fact, a hefty bull moose. As much as I was yearning to see a moose, I certainly didn’t want to find myself with my head up ones butt, so I made sure to regularly peel my eyes off the ground to check the area ahead of me.
And thus I passed the next hour, trudging along, listening to all the noises around us wondering what sort of carnivorous phenomenon, or moose in need of a gynecologist, was licking its chops and watching the soon-to-be Bunky Deadwillow trudging through the forest. Inasmuch, I was fairly grateful to have Justin along. Not only were we close friends, thus deep in conversation the entire time, but if nothing else I figured I had a good shot of out-running him.
Soon our path took a slight turn to the right and we heard a blessedly familiar sound off to our left: waves. We continued along the path and soon arrived at a clearing. Through the trees we could see the ocean and the sun setting off to the west. Like a moth to the flame, we were both drawn towards the view.
“Whoa,” Justin put his arm out in front of me and pointed down. I turned my headlamp back towards the ground and saw nothing.
“We’re on the edge of a cliff,” he said. And sure enough we were. Though I couldn’t see more than five feet beyond the edge, I could hear the waves crashing what sounded like a good fifty feet below.
Since it was already dark and we had to hike out early in the morning for church, we decided this would make as good a camping spot as any. With the tent assembled, we sat on the edge of the cliff, our feet hanging into oblivion, and munched on some dinner while spending nearly two hours engrossed in a conversation over the sound of crashing waves
Eventually, we got cold and moved into our sleeping bags, but the conversation continued. Eventually, after I’d been talking uninterrupted for quite some time, I stopped to hear Justin’s response.
“Justin?” I whispered. “You awake?”
Again, nothing. He was either asleep, or subtly exiting the conversation, neither of which I could blame him for.
And so I was alone with my thoughts and the sound of crashing waves. Throughout dinner and our conversation afterwards, I hadn’t really noticed the waves. But now that I was quiet, with my resting spot on a cliff up against the ocean, each crash reverberated around me. I was fairly content.
You see, waves are one of the forces of nature that have always fascinated me. I find great comfort in their inevitable crashes and thunder. With each cycle that rolls onto the shoreline, whether it be a mountain of water or peaceful ripple, it’s guaranteed that another will follow. Despite what’s happening on shore, or even further out at sea, despite the circumstances of my individual life, the only thing that’s going to stop the next wave from coming in, is the One who created them. If I listened to them, I could hear them saying something; I could hear them teaching me a lesson. With every crash, every thud of the water against the rock, I was reminded that the world was turning, the ocean’s tides were moving, and everything, yes everything, was just the way it should be.
It’d been nearly six months since I graduated from college, a concept that was hard to believe. As I thought back on this time, I couldn’t help but recall the highs (standing on the top of Mount Rainier) and the lows as well (…ya know…capsizing in the middle of the Atlantic) of the past few months. I thought about my college friends and where most of them were at that moment: many had started their careers, gotten married, were in grad school, etc… For all intents and purposes, they had set a course, they were on there way. I, on the other hand, still felt unsure about, well, most anything related to my futre.
But this didn’t bother me in the slightest. My life was what it was and, like the waves, it would continue to progress under the control of myself, yes, but also someone who was much, much greater than me. Bills existed, jobs had been lost, prospects were blurry, but the waves still crashed, the world still turned, and I was still alive. I found it hard to be forlorn in the face of these facts.
So on that brisk, October night, a certain Bunky Deadwillow lay in his tent, in peaceful serenity. It didn’t matter that he was a college graduate, yet to find a secure job, and still seeking clear direction in his life. It didn’t matter that there were bills to be paid, that he was miles from home, and the future was a blurry question mark. Heck, it didn’t matter that, for all he knew, at that moment there were two wolves sitting outside his tent contemplating: “I dunno, Fred. Do you want to cook ‘em in alfredo or marinara tonight?”
None of this mattered, because Bunky was listening to the waves.