It was 10 years ago this month that I first came to this house, visiting the Pacific Northwest of the USA, 6,000 miles from my home to spend time with people who became my mentors and then my friends. 10 Years ago… how much I thought I knew and how little I did know. A decade on, I think a little less, and I know how little I know.
In front of me is a body of water that I’ve gazed upon countless times on each visit since. It is mirror-still this morning. It’s reflecting the morning light from the trees on the islands and headlands in the middle and far distance. It is beautiful here. The view from the 3 large window panes looks directly west. It offers a rare opening to the sight of Deception Pass before the horizon. A hundred yards on either side of here and the pass and its bridge above are blocked by these labyrinthian islands and headlands.
My social media feed holds a record of me staring at this outlook, in all kinds of weather, all kinds of light, and at all kinds of times of day. The clock on the mantle behind me has said one-fifty-five, always, long before I first took my shoes off in the hallway.
The couple who live here and who recently celebrated their 43rd anniversary have done more for me, my understanding of me, my understanding of my work and my understanding of life than anyone outside my direct lineage. My first handful of visits weren’t easy. I was so tight mentally and tried so hard to let go. I didn’t know that my trying was making me tighter.
My friend is asleep, and my other friend, his wife, is fishing in Montana. So it’s boys' week. NFL football shows and movies on TV. Next to me is a fluffy grey sweetheart of a cat whose eyesight is fading. He needs more comforting now, something I have found easy to give. That has changed. I didn’t get cats. Ok, one thing I did get was an allergic reaction – especially to the fluffy ones. The same anti-histamine that I take in the spring back home to alleviate tree pollen allergy works a treat with Mr Fluffy here. So he can spend hours on my lap he can even rub his face onto mine without me coming out in hives.
Looking out again at and over the water in the bay, I remember a friend asked me some years ago what the lake was that he’d seen on my Facebook photo. I told him “It’s the biggest lake in the world: the Pacific Ocean!” Granted, it doesn’t look like part of any sea; yet it is a bay in the Pacific, formed by more than one ice age. Evidence is visible to the naked eye. A ‘glacial erratic’ which is a large boulder out of place with its surroundings, is perched on the tidal line of the island a little to the right of the beach below me. The latest ice age receded from here 7,800 years ago, leaving this memory and thousands of others in the northern hemisphere. Some of our ancestors created stories of them being thrown there by giants, so out of place these boulders seem. In a way, they were right. It was the greatest giant of them all, Mother Nature, who put them where they are.
A part of the surface of the water is now ripple-topped. The ripple section moves north, gets bigger, and then disappears. One wonder of this view is what changes, minute by minute. The clouds, the light, the water surface, the tide in its ebb and flood. On the small strip of sand being covered by the rising tide are the burrows and marks left by the creatures that make the inter-tidal part of the coast home or a place for other creatures to come to eat those who live and die here. Their marks last for no more than 6 hours between high tides. The breeze in the pines leaves its mark in the swaying branches within seconds, replaced by stillness or a swaying by the next breeze. Or gust. There have been a lot of gusts seen through these windows. And sunsets. And pairs of eyes that have looked through the glass.
Skagit Bay is the name of this place where the Pacific and the landmass of North America meet, in what today is called Washington State. Skagit Bay was carved in the ice age before the most recent one, according to experts in such things. This Bay is part of Puget Sound. Puget Sound is a part of the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific is part of all the Oceans. There is one Ocean, that we humans have given names for separate parts of it. With plate tectonics, the earth’s axis wobble, atmospheric make-up and other factors; the location and size of the sea change over time. Once, this planet had none. Once this planet didn’t exist.
The peace at 8.15am was disturbed by the noise of hedge trimmers from next door’s garden. Puncturing my serenity. The noise came and went for a while then went for good. My annoyance came and went. Sometimes in phase with the noise, sometimes not. My annoyance came back a few times after the noise went for good. The circles on the surface of the sea made by jumping fish expanded and dissipated back into stillness.
For my soon-to-be 53 years of existence, it’s not easy to grasp what’s temporary and what looks permanent. In this world of form, of physical matter, nothing is permanent. Not. One. Thing. The form comes from what’s before form: formless. And will return to being formless again.
I can, and do, make permanence where there is none. Other than permanent change. What remains in me, by me and of me is this temporary form with temporary emotions, temporary thoughts, temporary beliefs, a temporary ‘self’.
A nagging question about consciousness comes into my mind. And I know it’s something I’ve yet to understand. So the question goes again. It’ll come back if it wants. And there might be more for me to see. Or not.
The clouds that shroud the highest of the land masses in the distance diffuse sunlight from white into shades of grey. The shadows are made soft. The sky made invisible. My mind made meanings. And always will. Changing, temporary meanings that leave no mark beyond a future memory.
I want to remember this. Lock it away in my memory bank. The place. The people. The stories. The awakenings. This feeling.
So I’m writing this for me. In gratitude for being lucky that life-paths cross, and keep crossing. And in gratitude of remembering life is to be lived, not analysed to death.