The beach has been crowded the past few days. When I say "crowded", I don't mean Southern California beaches crowded. I mean "there are more than 2 people walking around" crowded and it is noticeable. It has felt like Cherry Beach (in Long Beach, California) on a slow day. Families were sprinkled along the water's edge digging in the sand, people lazy-threw balls for their dogs (dog-lovers know what ball launcher they were using), and others searched for whole sand dollars to take home as souvenirs from their time on the coast.
As I wandered down the beach soaking in the glorious sunshine, I noticed written in the sand in 6-foot letters: BEST HOLE with four arrows directing the attention of a passerby to the giant hole that one group had spent the afternoon digging. To the credit of those that created it, the hole was indeed large, but it was also fairly shallow. Claiming it as "BEST HOLE" is a bit of stretch, but ya know, "A" for effort.
Although I am still new to living on the Pacific Northwest coast, there are some things that I know enough about that help me feel a bit more local...like sneaker waves. To be clear, these are not waves wearing shoes. And yes "sneaker waves" is an accurate, non-slang term. In fact, it's the term written on most beach signs by the access points: "Beware of sneaker waves" next to a hard-to-decipher picture of a huge wave literally sneaking up on a person turned away from it.
The warning signage feels like a major exaggeration, by the way. Where I live on the coast, sneaker waves aren't huge 50 foot waves that come out of nowhere and crash on shore violently (however, this is true of sneaker waves in other places). Here, I have only seen them as a few inches of water that randomly rush in 20-30 feet further than the other ebbing and flowing of the white wash of the waves on shore.
It does happen fast, and it does happen unexpectedly, but it's difficult for me to take them seriously being called "sneaker waves". It just sounds like a phrase an overly protective adult made up to keep children from having any fun in the ocean. "Don't go in past your ankles! The sneaker waves will come up and carry you out to the open ocean to Colossal Claude, the local sea monster that is waiting to feed on kids like you!" (Okay, so maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration--supposedly Colossal Claude is real...I just can't confirm if he feeds on children.)
Either way, it's a silly name.
Until it's serious...like 3 days ago when a lady got rolled over by a log on the coast nearby due to a sneaker wave. My first reaction, honestly, was to laugh when I read the title of the article. Then I kept reading and realized that the injuries were serious enough that she had to be flown to Portland as a result, and I quickly gulped back my initial guffaw.
I do take pleasure in watching (safe) sneaker waves come up on people unexpectedly. Some of my favorite reactions include, 'Oh, I'll just casually, lightly jog away from this fast moving water until, wait...WAIT...MUST SPRINT TO ESCAPE!', or 'I don't need to run, it's not moving that fast' (2 seconds later water is to their shins and their shoes are soaked and they are awkwardly laughing), to 'Grab the kids, grab the toys...forgot the shoes--there go the shoes! Drop the kids, chase the shoes!'.
It is joy turned terror in a matter of seconds, in the most comedic of ways, and I am always amused by it.
Sneaker waves are not the only thing that I've learned since being here. I also have been reminded of just how tiny and insignificant the worlds are of certain people (more specifically some white, wealthy people I've observed around here). It seems some of them have too much time on their hands and not much else to do but call the local police to tow a car that "parked crooked" or create pages on facebook to gossip about their neighbors. It is sadly a waste of time and energy and so very, very unimportant compared to issues in our world that actually matter. So much talk, so many opinions, from such a small lens.
In my own whiteness, I know that my privilege affords me many things, including the option to live in a world (potentially) filled with ease, comfort, things "working out" for me, and being self-absorbed. If I really wanted to, I could be distracted behind the white picket fences and evening glasses of wine and neighborhood gossip of where I live, rationalizing it as "community involvement" (but just the thought puts a bitter taste in my mouth).
I am so grateful that isn't what I want.
What I want, and have been looking for, is to do things and find people and frequent places that are opposite of that. I want to spend time with those outside of the bubble. I want to find people that have really lived and hear about their experiences, the ups, the downs, the in-betweens, around a bonfire. I want to remember and give honor and respect to the people whose land was taken from them that I now live. I want to be challenged, and listen more than I speak, and recognize that this sliver I live in is a Pleasantville, (mostly) removed from the realities of our nation, our world.
Truthfully, I feel sad for and angry at the bubble-ites. For one thing, they are missing out on a big, beautiful, authentic world. For another thing, they (and in all honesty, "we"--I'll include myself as a white person in this) are the ones perpetuating layers of oppression out of unawareness or the privilege of not having to live in the mess, when they/we are the ones with power and resources to actually effect change.
Pleasantville has more pressing concerns. Yes Susan, it is annoying having wild elk trample through your yard and defecate their chocolate covered almond poop everywhere. Yes Grant, it is disrespectful and killing the grass when people walk across it on a frosty morning. Life sure is hard, isn't it?
Yet, this is the place I find myself living. A mixture of beaches, sand dollars, BEST HOLE(s), sneaker waves, and bubble-ites...with wild elk wandering around at their leisure. While I am here, I do feel a responsibility to it--to live differently than it, to engage in conversation with it, to always, always, always be aware of it and never make excuses for it.
However, rather than white picket fences and perfectly manicured golf courses, I want to find myself on the rugged coastline, wandering the beach, eyes open to discovering and rediscovering the beauty in its unpredictability, willing to risk getting rolled over by log if a sneaker wave rushes in. It is there, in the places of unpredictability and risk, where life that matters really happens.