Monday, August 31, 2009

To the lighthouse...

An account of my last day at the beach with you, my beauties~

This morning we woke up alone in our charming beach house on the high hill that looks out over the Pacific ocean. The sky was full of gray clouds and when we ventured onto the second story deck the air was cool and damp against my cheeks.

We (Audrey and I) wrapped ourselves in down comforters and collapsed into the deck chairs, our “coffees” in our laps, our hair askew.

After a moment's pause I rose to put a sheet of cinnamon rolls in the oven and lay you (Evie) down, all bundled up and asleep, on the quilt just inside the door. When I returned, you (Audrey) said, “You halfta sit here. You halfta talk-a me.”

“I am sitting here,” was my reply. “And I would love to talk to you. What would you like to talk about?”

You looked at me quizzically, as though the question eluded you, and proceeded, as I do so many times after a lull in conversation, by saying, “…anyway…”

I laughed and we chatted about this and that – the chirping birdies in the trees, the cuteness of baby sister – until the timer sounded. When I returned and handed you a plate on which was perched a piping hot cinnamon roll with two giant smears of icing, you took one long look at it, and then thrust it into my lap. “I share my cinnamon roll with you!” you said.

I threw my hands up. “My, but aren’t you generous!" I said. "Thank you.”

You watched scrupulously as I tore off a gooey morsel and placed it in my mouth. “You like it?” you asked. “You like my cinnamon roll?”

“I do.”

“I like it too! I like my cinnamon roll! Is it your favorite cinnamon roll?”

“Yes,” I said, still chewing, “I do believe it is.”

“O-kay,” you said and nodded like a doctor who has just finished an examination. “Now you halfta share my cinnamon roll back. This my cinnamon roll.” You seized the plate and hugged it to your chest. “You go get your cinnamon roll and then talka me.”

Laughing once more, I sailed back to the kitchen and found, after I returned, that it had begun to rain. You stood looking so small before the large glass paneling that wrapped around the deck. “Ought go down there!” you said, ‘ought’ being a conflation of your two most frequently used words: “I” and “want.” “Ought go see the rain!”

We ambled downstairs and you tiptoed across the driveway, in your white socks, as though witnessing something extraordinary and rare. Of course, to you, rain – and particularly drizzle, so unlike the desert monsoons – is rare. And consequently, it is fair to say, also quite extraordinary.

When I asked whether you’d like to take a ride in the big car, through the rain, with baby sister, to visit a lighthouse, you said, “O-kay, Mom, let’s go. To the lighthouse!”

We drove 35 miles south on the coastal highway, through Nehalem and Wheeler, roundabout Rockaway Beach and Garibaldi Bay... Dense fog blanketed the coast. In the water just south of Garibaldi we saw fishing boats that seemed to float, weightlessly, against a stark white ground. Fields of brown cows grazed in the late morning haze. Horses, too.

"Ought go see them," you (Audrey) said. "Ought go see the cows."

"But we're going to the lighthouse," I returned, "which will be so much more exciting."

We entered Tillamook and began to follow “cholkie”-colored recreational signs featuring white lighthouse silhouettes.

As we drove along the Cape Meares scenic route which hugs the coastal bay I rolled the windows down and we breathed in the smell of saltwater.

At last, the highway looped around, up and away from the water, and we entered forestland. The trees immediately formed a heart-shaped canopy over the road and a pearly mist shrouded everything in stillness, inspiring you (Audrey) to lean forward in your seat and say, unprompted and in response to nothing at all, “Sssshhhh. You halfta be quiet,” as though you spoke the language of the trees and knew, instantly, that here was a place which called for silence.

We wound up and up through the ancient fir trees, all of them covered in lichen and green velvet moss. Their branches were lopped off, or had fallen off, so that you could look straight through and see cascading rows of naked tree trunks one upon another, endlessly. The entire scene stood out as an evocation of Longfellow’s "Evangeline:" “THIS is the forest primeval, / The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, / Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight…”

When we arrived at the cape's entrance, we walked along a little path strewn on either side with wild daisies, to the lighthouse. We stopped at an ocean outlook and listened, with the tall trees swaying at our backs, to the echoed sounds of seagulls cawing as they glided up and down between the barren cliffs – all of them awash with shattering waves. “…Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean / Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest….”

We circled up the iron staircase to the top of the small lighthouse and looked out in all directions toward the ocean. The fog made it impossible to see more than a few dozen feet in front of us. Only a few of the largest rocks were visible peeking up through the clouds. Apart from these, all was mist and haze and I imagined the fright of the ancient mariners who would have been helpless in such weather, if not for the flashing lighthouse.

Built in 1890, the lighthouse – which, after it had fallen into disuse, became frequently vandalized – had been rescued from demolition by a small group of local people who recognized its historical significance and rallied to save it.

I am so glad they did. I have always loved lighthouses – not only for their structural beauty but for what they signify – rescue, guidance, shelter, hope.

I looked down at both of you girls – Evangeline, with your little head bobbing up and down against my chest, your eyes peering out in all directions, an expression of utter tranquility on your face; and Audrey, in your brown-and-pink-striped dress, and your pink converse sneakers, peeling a lighthouse sticker from its paper.

How lovely, I thought, to be created for the purpose of providing guidance, shelter, and hope. And what a lovely prayer for each of you: that – whatever your futures may hold – God might craft you to be like the lighthouse – living, flashing lights, “flaming out like shook foil” in the darkness of this world.

“Shall we walk down,” I asked at last, “and explore the grounds?”

“No,” you (Audrey) said, your little brow suddenly furrowed. “Ought go see the cows.”

And so we did.

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