An accidental pilgrimage

A curve in the shoreline at Rialto Beach, with a wall of dark evergreen forest only a small distance back from the shoreline, and jagged outcroppings of rock jutting out of the steel-blue water.

As has probably been clear from the crickets around this blog, it’s been a long, busy summer. Work has been busy from the drop, with [largely welcome] changes in my job and in the way we do things at the university. June was given over almost entirely to a challenging show with the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus that took a huge amount of mental and emotional energy. And then only four days after closing that show, Jarod and I went to Denver with about 60 other members of CGMC to participate in the 10th GALA Festival, a quadrennial gathering of gay and lesbian choruses from throughout North America and beyond. We had the privilege of opening Festival, even before the opening ceremony, to thunderous applause and a strong sense of accomplishment (and relief!).

After that, July was smooth sailing as we spent the rest of the week attending GALA concerts, then flew off to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to spend a week with Jarod’s family in celebration of his parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. I had started the “mental discipline” journal for the Dedicant Path just before we left for Denver, and I looked forward to fitting in some time for contemplation and meditation in and among various family activities.

I had no idea.

A green votive candle burns on a porch rail, the valley stretching from Blue Mountain to the Strait of Juan de Fuca behind its flame.

The Olympic Peninsula is stunning. I think that’s true for anyone, but for a druid heavily invested in the realms of land, sea, and sky, it’s a paradise. The Olympic Mountains reach to the heavens in the interior, sometimes stark against the blue sky, sometimes wreathed in mist and cloud. The land is thickly wooded, a temperate rain forest, lush with moss and ferns and fungi and abundant with berries ready to be eaten out of hand. And on three sides, never more than about fifty miles away as the crow flies, the ever-encircling sea.

Two massive, jagged rock outcroppings rise from the breakers, dark against the overcast sky. Small trees cling precariously near their tops.

A bright green sea anemone glows through an onlooker shadow in a tide pool.

When we were planning our trip, we debated a good deal over where we should go to the beach. Not just incidentally, that is — outside of Olympic National Park, most of the places we visited overlooked Puget Sound or the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But to actually go to the sea for itself, we settled on Rialto Beach, somewhat to the west of Forks (which is apparently a thing for all you Twilight people). We weren’t entirely sure of the choice; many of the guidebooks spoke of Rialto’s lack of tidepools and other usual beach attractions, since the surf was often violent. And as we drove down the two-lane road through the forest, low-hanging clouds dimming the sky, there was certainly a sense of foreboding.

A large piece of driftwood -- a whole tree trunk, really -- lies bleached and twisted on top of the smooth gray rocks of Rialto Beach.

Upon stepping onto the cobbles of the beach, though, my uncertainties vanished. While my family aren’t really oceangoers, I’ve certainly seen the sea before, Atlantic and Pacific and the Gulf Coast. It’s nice, I suppose, the sandy beaches with blue waters and a shining sun. It’s fun, but I can take it or leave it. This beach, though: this was different. This beach was power, was otherworldly, was a space where you could stand on a rock at the edge of land and dread the might of the ocean.

Waves surge through a channel in one of the rock outcroppings at Rialto Beach, splashing and foaming.

The very first thing I did was to walk into the lapping breakers and go in up to my ankles. The surf foamed around my feet, splashing up my thighs as I bent to wash my hands in the water. It’s hard for me to overstate how important it was to me to wet my hands and feet, to rub the saltwater over my face. I worship a seagod, a powerful figure who crosses the tossing waves as easily as walking across a flowery plain. When there is death, I pray he ferry souls over the ninth wave, across the sea to the Isle of Apples. In my devotions to Manannán, I ask “may my prayers transport me to your shores, and may I be washed in the sea.” And while in my mind’s body I do go to the sea, hear it and see it and smell it and taste it and feel it, in this realm I live hours from the shore, a day’s drive to the ocean. To stand in the presence of land and sky and especially sea, to bend down and touch it with my fingers and feel its chill sink into my bones, was almost indescribable. It was calming and yet exhilarating. It struck viscerally while also reverberating emotionally. It was quiet communion, yet it roared in my blood. To stand with the waters cascading over my feet while I stretched out my hands and sang a hymn to the lord of the sea… I’ll not soon forget it.

Closeup on a piece of driftwood, where small, brightly colored pebbles have sorted themselves into a mosaic filling a crack running across its surface.

Viewed from behind, the author, sitting crosslegged on a large piece of driftwood, hands lifted in prayer.

All images in this post by the author, except the final shot by Jarod Wilson.


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