After building a fort at the beach, I ate my breakfast while sitting on chainsawed round of driftwood. I also counted the rings in the round—79. A tree, (Douglas fir, I think) had made it to 79 and then fell victim to a chainsaw somewhere in the upper reaches of the watershed. Someone had cut a round for firewood or a lacquered tabletop and then something went askance and somehow it found its way to this beach and to serve as my chair.
I sat facing the ocean. It was one of the lowest tides of the year, a clam tide, but clamming was closed because of lethal levels of toxins.
There wasn’t a single person in sight of me. I whipped out a pen and notebook and started writing the last lines of the book I was currently writing about the tumultuous last year of my life where I lost everything I held dear and found myself searching for a new purpose in the faceless face of a massive marginalization.
The writing was going well from the round. I hadn’t intended to write the ending, but the fort building activated something in my mind (as it always does), and it just came to me. I had no idea what the ending will be to my ordeal, but I was writing it nonetheless. That probably makes no narrative sense. Welcome to my state of mind.
I finished two paragraphs. The book’s ending was complete. I stood up from the round, packed up my things, and shook out the sand. I picked up a piece of interesting driftwood the shape of a baseball bat and headed toward the South Jetty. I would never visit this beach again. There was nothing for me here.
The baseball bat served as my stretching apparatus and dumbbells and I exercised as I meandered. I scaled a dune and approached the driftwood fort that miraculously still stood from the last day of my teaching career, a fort-building field trip from a year ago with my creative writing students. I say miraculously because driftwood forts don’t last a year—they can’t. Evanescence is their essential nature.
I stopped at the fort and inserted the baseball bat into the structure’s roof. I’d done something similar with other pieces of driftwood and often spent a few minutes shoring up the fort. I suppose I was battling its evanescence.
This fort was different; it had exceptional history and perhaps that explained my sustained effort at casual maintenance. It would most likely stand for years, possibly the rest of my life, because during our field trip ten high school boys had dragged a stockade’s worth of driftwood off the beach, and built the fort high up in the dunes, in the perfect spot, sheltered from super storms, high tides and bonfire vandals.
No, this fort would not vanish. In the coming years, I would enlist it as a private reminder of my good Oregon work as a teacher, a memory that had vanished from most people’s minds. I suppose evanescence works both ways.
I gave the fort a final glance, took the trail into the dunes and along the jetty. I’d taken it 300 times or so since moving to Astoria, many times with Sonny, but this was the last time. This manipulated magical place near the entrance of one of the mightiest and wrecked watersheds on the continent had offered up so much inspiration and so many stories, but it was dead to me forever.
But on this last visit, I got the ending for my book.
Then I looked toward the ocean and down to the beach. I saw something, a kind of blob, moving west toward the water. Moving was the wrong word; flailing was a better description. What the hell?
I climbed atop a flat rock of the jetty for a better view. It was a harbor seal pup, gray and splayed in the sand, struggling to reach the ocean, well over 500 yards away, and the sun was coming out.
It wasn’t going to make it.
My book’s ending changed right there.