I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I pulled into this Washington State Park. I wanted to spend a couple of relaxing days on the Ocean. Rejuvenate my body. It’s not that my Mind or Spirit needed rest. My senses had been flooded this trip with such a continual string of breathtaking sights that I was on a natural high. But I had been punishing my Body. Pushing myself to my physical limits and beyond. On the road an average of every six to seven days, without pause, and hiking continuously. I even needed to do some sewing before hiking again, repair my daypack, as I had managed to tear a few holes in it.
Yeah, a few days on a Pacific beach sounded wonderful. And besides, I’d have a new experience of staying in a Yurt.
I checked in with the Ranger, headed over to my deluxe camping spot and unloaded. Just a few minutes later I’d be called to the sea. There is something extremely powerful in being near the Ocean. Your body is just drawn to it. No time to waste. You must get your bare feet on that sandy beach and listen to the waters whispering their stories. Of starlit skies and ancient mariners. Of sea life more abundant than imaginable. Distant relatives.
And this was a historic spot since it was right where the Columbia River greeted the sea. The terminus of Lewis and Clark’s expedition. (Something I just wrote about.)
Absolutely beautiful, breath taking, inspiring.
I breathe in the salty air as I feel my feet sink slightly in the ever-shifting sands. And I feel my pulse palpating in this air. I’ve become part of the landscape. As I breathe in the periphery collapses, breathe out and it expands. We are in synch now. The Earth and I.
But suddenly a foreign sound breaks the cadence. A pickup truck pulls out on the beach and heads North. Driving slowly to avoid the many beachcombers but zeroing in where a small group has gathered. It’s the Park Ranger.
As I wonder why, a woman has approached me from behind. “A body washed up, and they’re checking to make sure it wasn’t a boating accident. To be sure there aren’t more than one.” She says. At that moment I catch sight of an approaching Coast Guard vessel. It bounces wildly in the surf. The waves here are rough, too rough for swimming.
I wonder, did this person die trying to swim into this rough water or was a small boat ground to pieces on the rocky shoreline? Before I can answer myself, she continues, “It was a suicide. People come here to die.”
Totally shocked, I rock back on my heals and spun towards her. “What?” I ask in disbelief.
“Yeah, it happens all the time here. The ridge where the Lighthouse is – they leap from there.”
“How do you know?” I ask.
“Well, my family comes here every year. It’s our reunion spot. But yeah, it’s tragic, all too common.”
“But it’s such a beautiful spot. Why here?” I protest. Then my thoughts take over, perhaps that’s what they wish to see before it all ends.
“Convenient,” she says. “Just too easy to do it here, and who knows what demons they’re struggling with.”
My mind just can’t quite reconcile these two different scenes. The one of pure beauty, the warmth of being back in the womb. The Ocean, the cradle of our existence. Mother Earth enveloping us in her soft embrace.
It seems so cold in contrast to the environment. But the name and the history of this spot sort of link the two.
In 1775, Spanish Explorer Bruno Heceta first charted the site and named it “Bahia de La Asuncion” – Bay of the Assumption. I tried piecing together why and could only come up with a parallel to the Catholic Doctrine of the Assumption, where Mary, the mother of Jesus, was “assumed,” body and soul, into heaven upon her death. Did this bay somehow represent the heavenly assumption to this Spaniard? Perhaps because so many had died here? Assumed into heaven?
Later, in 1778, the British, not to be outdone by the Spanish, renamed it to Cape Disappointment. Apparently, the British trader, John Meares, tagged it with this name as he mistakenly believed the mouth of the Columbia River was only a bay. A disappointment in more ways than one as he was looking for the Columbia’s handshake with the Sea. He found it but didn’t believe it.
A disappointment indeed.
As it turns out, the Columbia Bar, the system of bars and shoals at the mouth of Columbia River, is also called the Graveyard of the Pacific. It’s one of the most dangerous bar crossings in the world. It’s three miles wide, and it extends up the coast of Oregon some six miles. It seems the Columbia River has no delta to buffer its current, which pours into the ocean like a fire hose. The waves and winds here can change from calm to life-threatening within only a few minutes. In addition to those currents, while I was there, fog would roll in at any time of day, and then be gone within the hour. The same with rain.
Since 1772, over 2000 large ships have sunk in these waters. I’ve also read that over 700 people have drowned here, but I have no idea if that is in association with the ships sinking or in addition to them being lost, or if that includes the suicides.
I guess there are many more parallels to death in this spot of beauty than one would first realize. Assumption, Disappointment, Graveyard, Suicide. Take your pick.
I just knew it was time to chill out for a few days and hoped no one else would add to the growing death toll. It seems I’ve been running from death for a lifetime, especially during my hospital days. I had traveled some 2000 miles as the Crow flies, over 8500 miles in total so far this trip, and it still surrounded me. There is no escape from it.
Just hopefully some final peace. Maybe at a beautiful spot such as this.
The Photos: All from the Cape. Apparently, specially trained ship captains will pilot boats across the Columbia Bar, and even be landed aboard those ships to take over their command by helicopter.