Why Oregon's King Tides are such a great reminder of how brief we all are
The first of this year's King Tides landed with terrific force on a promontory just north of the condo where I'm staying.
The tides coincide with the earth's proximity to the moon. Three times a year for two to three days a month during November, December and January, much of the West Coast is treated to the spectacle of extreme force meeting extreme resistance on the Coast.
The Coast will always lose. There is nothing for it. With rising sea levels, the towns and homes perched so prettily on the cliffs' edges to enjoy the view will eventually succumb to that view. The ground will simply crumble and take all those million-dollar vistas with them.
Every year some damned fool(s) wander out too to close to the waves to get that awesome photo. Nature reminds them that they're foolish, just as they're being pulled rapidly out to sea. We humans love being close to lava, destruction and immolation, just enough so that we can back away and laugh.
Sometimes it's our last laugh.
The first big tides are about ten feet above normal. The highest will be in January. What is now a brief phenomenon will, in relatively swift geological time, be normal. The houses I pass when I hike the dunes will be shipwrecked, and many of the towns will be flooded out of existence.
And we may all be gone with that.
To that, some context: Over the last few weeks I've been watching some Netflix documentaries. One, called Earthstorm, walks us through, around and inside tornadoes, volcanoes and then, earthquakes, the most destructive force in Nature.
Well, barring another massive asteroid strike which wiped out the dinosaur dynasty before us.
That series alone was sobering. More importantly, it was a reminder that I had chosen to move to a part of America which sits on what's called Cascadia.
We are overdue for a 9.5 earthquake, any time.
Earthquakes are the single most devastating of all the disasters, bringing with them fires, storms, tornadoes, flooding and untold destruction. In other words, what we're seeing all over the world, on steroids, all in one place.
Here I perch with millions of others, right on top of all that mighty potential.
If ever I wanted a reminder of how utterly insignificant I am, that would be a good start.
But wait, there's more.
This week I also finished a Netflix documentary narrated by the great Morgan Freeman (who was awarded, justifiably so, with an Emmy for this work) called Life On Our Planet.
It's comprised of eight segments and a great deal of updated science as climate change has continued to reveal so much more about what and who came before us.
We also learn what befell them, as our tiny marble has already undergone some five mass extinctions and is rapidly moving through its sixth, largely at our hands.
One fact leapt out at me: the vast variety that we have on earth today - even as we wipe species out at record speed- is barely one percent, one percent, of all life that lived before us.
It isn't just that this is a staggering notion. It speaks to how little we truly matter in the face of such enormous forces, the odds against our survival. How little we appreciate how brief our existence is, like a dragonfly in a hurricane.
If anything we humans, in our breathtaking arrogance, assured of our primacy, are racing to obscure ourselves in our chase for more sneakers with running lights on them, more cell phones and a great deal more which doesn't now and never did matter. But which does destroy the planet we share.
We don't share nicely. Some 70% of all wildlife has been wiped out on our watch.
Over the four billion years that Earth has been around, life has regularly been almost completely extinguished to the point of starting all over again.
So here's the other fact: each time, the next species to become master of the earth is not the one before it. Each time life arose anew, a different species took over.
In other words, at the end of the sixth great extinction which we are swiftly shepherding ourselves towards right now, chances are whatever comes next won't be us.
So that led me to some serious introspection.
In this gnat fart of time that is a life, what are we going to do with it?
Two things come out of this for me:
First, how we ask ourselves, at least in many cultures, what we are going to do with our lives.
WHAT are you going to do? Which is pointed at kids as they reach a certain age where they are expected to have chosen a line of work or a career, or a life primarily as a parent.
What are you going to DO? Which we and others point at ourselves over the arc of our lives, trying constantly to redirect ourselves in the face of life's fastballs, hardballs and curveballs, and balls straight to the head for a knockout punch.
Then second, where I am now. Where many of us may finally come when we pass the point where we let others, society, tradition, culture and all the rest dictate our time for us:
What do YOU want to do? How do YOU wish to live in the time left to you?
These delicious, heart-rending questions sit in my lap like a couple of sleeping cats. So important that I'm squirming in my skin.
Faced not only with a world in terrible trouble, a planet that appears ready to shed us like a passel of unwanted fleas and the grim reality that Earth is quite happy to do a complete molt of all life every so often, what do you and I want to do with the time we have left to us?
This is much more poignant after sixty and for each successive decade. A combination of shortening life span as well as possibly a poor health span can make such questions truly painful.
Several of my readers have found themselves in full-time care-taking situations for a partner, which changes everything, and all available options narrow overnight.
I have no partner. So if I end up similarly affected, that puts me at the mercy of systems which are famously unkind and uncaring, especially if you're not financially gifted. That would make most of us these days.
That's just one reason why I work so hard at staying in shape and recovering from injuries and procedures. It isn't just that time is diminishing.
Anyone facing down their last twenty or thirty years, assuming they are given us, knows deep in their bones that it's nothing like looking at the next twenty or thirty years from perch of twenty or thirty. We can't assume anything, especially vibrant good health, especially if we're not willing to do the hard work to prepare for extreme old age.
Even if I do, the vagaries of disease, accident, the impacts of pollution, another pandemic and a slew of other factors may come into play. I assumed, in my sixties, that my excellent health and activity level would continue unabated.
I was dead wrong.
If Life is any kind of teacher I will be dead wrong over and over again.
The vast, forbidding yet marvelous question of what do YOU want to do with the time you have left hangs like that perfect full moon over the Pacific this morning,
No answer. Not yet, anyway.
The question is a very demanding dance partner.
Today's huge rollers, breaking off shore into spectacular swells and hurling their force onto the rocks below us reminded me of the programs about tsunamis, the floods and the devastation which are already happening all over the world. Nobody is protected from it.
All life ends at some point, and life begins again in another form. We so badly want to enter heaven "with our boots on," if you will, unwilling to forfeit our egos and the particulars which make us who we are in this life.
Yet to become something else, we have to give up something. That is, I believe, the fundamental message of being born again. The idea got turned into religious dogma when truly, I believe that it's simply about passage. Transition. Change. Most especially, learning to see differently.
I could be completely wrong about that, too. But my gut tells me that such evolution is both natural and available, but not always chosen. It really is challenging work.
As a result of seeing differently, we may have a very different kind of life, even if all that changes is how we see our lives. This is why I write about these things; I'm not sure that there is a greater journey, a bigger challenge: to discard the distractions and attend to what is shifting inside each of us as we age.
I don't know what's going to carry me to my next adventure. Water, fire, earthquake, a drunk driver, or the gift of old age. What I do know, perhaps now more than ever, is how impermanent I am. How embarrassingly brief.
No wonder I moved to the edge of the continent, to live on top of shifting plates, in perpetual, imminent danger yet surrounded by such astounding beauty.
I get to face the fact of my demise. And perhaps, most exquisitely, finally learn how to live in the looming shadow of that very fact and finally, finally, appreciate the beauty that life truly is.
The only way we can really live is when we accept that we will die.
Now: what will we do with the time left to us before the waters carry us home?
Dear Walkabout Saga Reader:
Thank you so much for taking a few minutes out of your life to read my work. WalkaboutSaga is an act of love and devotion, and I hope that you found value in it.
If my work appeals to you, may I kindly invite you to consider joining those Patreon supporters whose generosity keeps the gas in my tank as it were.
Such articles take time, resources, research and effort. Even a small amount of support truly helps me keep this going. In challenging times, I recognize that even a small amount is hard. Those who can give, I appreciate it. Those who cannot, I hope my words are helpful.
My purpose is to Move People's Lives. I can do more of that with your help.
However you decide to partake of my writing, again, thank you.