The Gradual Day Begins

Golden Garden Park is a ten minute drive from my home.  I have always thought it wrongly named. It suggests to me images of Victorian ladies in long gowns and large hats, carrying parasols, strolling though finicky, manicured hedges and neat rows of roses.

Golden Garden is not a park of that sort.

I have lived close to it most of my life.  I have been coming here as long as I can remember.  I am here today to walk the beach.

Today, there is a small Mercedes camper with German number plates, a young family apparently spending their summer holiday touring the US.  There are many small powerboats beyond the beach, as there almost always are, guys fishing for salmon, I suppose.  There is a young woman wearing a University of San Francisco sweatshirt; she has left the sand and is now up to her knees in the water, which is a bit further than I am prepared to go.

From the bulkhead near the marina, the salt water of Puget Sound is several luminescent shades of green and surprisingly clear.  It is an entirely typical summer morning, with flotillas of white cumulus clouds drifting slowly up-Sound from the south.  The morning sun has already warmed the sand.  Last nights beach fires have all burned out and there are children playing with shovels, buckets and toy trucks in the fresh water stream that flows the last thirty feet across the sand, on its way to the small waves lapping at the waters edge.  Five miles across is the opposite shore and, beyond, the tops of the Olympic mountain range.

This is a vast inland sea.

My first visits to this beach as a boy were in the company of my mother and sisters, summer afternoons during school vacation, our place on the sand marked by an olive-drab Army-surplus blanket covered with beach towels, comic books, zorries and our picnic lunch.  We played in the first two feet of water and felt the sand stick to everything that was wet, as we scampered from the water back up to the blanket.

But the water is cold.  Always was.  Wading is not on my mind today.  I’m content to leave that to the U of SF student.

The road that winds downhill from the neighborhood where I grew up is forested, a mix of hardwoods and conifers.  Acres of sword ferns, Oregon grape and salal cover the understory.  Sun filters through the dense branches of the tall trees.  The air coming through the open windows of the car on the way to the park is moist and clean.  I’ve driven this road in almost every car I have ever owned.

Walking barefoot through the sand this morning, in old faded jeans, a slightly too-large white t-shirt and curved-bill ball cap, carrying my flip-flops, I feel younger than I am.  The pace of my walk probably gives me away, probably says something about the time in life that I truly occupy, perhaps reflective of a guy with no particular urgency in his step, not here for any purpose, nor on the way to anyplace else, a man without a schedule.

I am here because I can be.  I no longer feel the need to travel great distances to visit the ocean or the mountains, or much of anyplace else, for that matter.  Coming here takes me away from those ordinary things that make up the bulk of my everyday life.  Coming here is a vacation, only ten minutes away from home.

I pretend for a moment that I can see life through the eyes of the wading college student.  I imagine, as I did once myself, life stretching out so far that the definitions along the way are not yet clear, not yet in focus, so far out into a future that it seemed endless, containing myriad possibilities, countless options.  I wonder what she sees as she stands looking out across the tops of the gentle waves.

As I walk by, feeling warm sand envelop my feet, I am aware of a slightly smaller future, of time for things that have come and are now gone, of fewer wants, fewer choices, of plans having more to do with maintaining what is important to me now, more so than objectives and ambitions.  A life more defined by experiences than things, of contentment more than longing, of peace more than restlessness.

It occurred to me a ways back there that I crossed some invisible line and am now closer to the end than the beginning.  I was born here five years and an odd number of days after VJ Day, which makes me one among millions.  This generation I am part of is an endless source of fascination to me.  Never, for example, has there been a generation more inclined to bring its youth along with it, as this group of aging Boomers.  As proof, here I am, still walking this beach in jeans and t-shirt, as though I were still sixteen.  But aging we are, as am I.

I don’t hear people talk about middle age much any more.  It seems a term that has been left with the generation of my parents.  I’m not even sure I know what it is, or was.  I am fairly sure, however, that the more-or-less constant motion I have been in for several decades is throttling back.  Do not misunderstand, I have not achieved great things or been to very many places.  I have made no particular mark along my way.  But I have always been, to one degree or another, in my own way, a human-doing.

I am aware that I have begun a re-categorization of worldly things.  The ones that I put into the bin labeled “things I don’t do anymore” grows more numerous all the time.  I have started a new bin labeled “not worth the effort”.  The bin labeled “things to do before I die” is nearly empty.  Many were removed from that bin without having ever been realized.

There are many things I had wanted, many others I wanted to do.  I remember my Dad, who always said that when he retired he was going to buy a motorhome and spend a year touring the entire United States with my Mom.  When that time came, it was all Mom could do to get him to spend the money for the motorhome.  A few weeks at a time away from home was all he could bring himself to.  Anything longer was out of the question.  I never understood.

Now, I am beginning to understand.

That which I prize most highly now is peace.  Not world peace, which is far too great a concept for me to grasp; I will leave that to the college student and her generation.  Peace of mind is what I crave, peace in my heart, the peace of coming home at the end of a days work to my love, to our home, our little garden, our fireplace, my books, the cats, the small world where everything makes sense.  This is where I feel complete.  For the most part, this is all I want, all I ask of life anymore.

My needs are few, my wants fewer.  I will still occasionally sit at my desk at work and daydream about going off somewhere.  As long as I have had a license, driving has equaled freedom.  The urge runs deep in me.  When asked once by a psychologist when did I feel best, my answer was behind the wheel, window down, on the way to someplace.  But it doesn’t last long anymore.  At the end of the workday, as I leave the building, the road trip urge leaves as well.  Only the memory of the thought remains.

I am aware that I am no longer on the way to someplace.  I am here.  I don’t know what I expected this time of life to be like, but I had not imagined this.  I could not have.  The endless future, the striving for the next thing, the next house, the next job, the next vacation, precluded any ability of mine to conceptualize what “enough” looked like.

I am entering a new part of my journey.  This is enough.  This is good.

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