Swimming through sea-sons of change

Human Nature

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I love stability, but in recent weeks, I’ve only felt its absence.

I feel overwhelmed all the time. I rarely make time to walk, sitting glued to my computer all day long, and I feel like I’m juggling more things than I can reasonably handle. I fall asleep and eat at random times, clean manically and struggle to communicate with family and friends.

But while I am wrestling with the present and deeply afraid of the future, I have a lot of beautiful memories associated with the past. I decided to write this piece because I wanted to think of a time that made me feel peaceful, revisiting joyful places and memories as a way to soothe my currently frazzled mind.

For example, I absolutely love the Oregon Coast. Every year, my parents would whisk me out of school for an extended weekend. We’d drive for a few hours before reaching Lincoln City, where my mom’s math teachers’ conference was held each year.

While my mom attended meetings and presentations, my dad, my grandparents and I walked along the beach, searching for agates, flying kites and occasionally fishing. I relished the salty wind, the cloudy sunsets and the rugged terrain, entire trees getting washed ashore, serving as play structures for the young and benches for the old.

There was something extremely comforting about the sameness of that trip. Every 365 days, I could return to the same dining room, stand in the same line, drink the same pulpy orange juice from the same fancy, fluted glass and load my plate with the same chewy yet satisfying scrambled eggs, maple bacon and hashbrowns. I could descend the same crooked stairs, often covered in mounds of accumulated sand, and, after returning from the beach, I could wash my sand-encrusted toes with water from the same ancient faucet.

When high school started, it suddenly just didn’t make sense anymore to take time away from school. There were always too many obligations — Advanced Placement exams, orchestra concerts, homework assignments — tethering me in place.

I did, however, eventually return to the Oregon Coast. I went with some friends during the summer before the start of college, a trip to celebrate the end of high school and enjoy the company of people that are, to this day, very dear to me.

The trip was incredibly fun, but I couldn’t help noticing the ways that trip differed from those of my childhood. Stability was gone, only to be replaced by sporadic moments of intense joy interspersed in a cloud of confusion, anxiety and — especially that summer — fear. Starting college terrified me, and I remember feeling utterly unprepared for the future.

When I was younger, it was easier to drop everything and go to Lincoln City. But as life got more complicated, I felt the ease of my connection to the Oregon Coast gradually slip away.

As a kid, I just went with the flow, blissfully unaware of the sacrifices that were or weren’t being made in order for our trip to go without a hitch. My schedule was always open — heck, I didn’t have one. It was only when I began high school that I started using a planner, a notebook I’d anxiously stuff into my uncomfortably large backpack after every class and feverishly consult before daring to make any plans.

These days, even when I just want to walk around the neighborhood, I feel myself compulsively running through a list of obligations in my head, glancing down at my planner and double-checking to make sure I can spare the time. I often plan my outings days in advance, and even then, I fret about whether or not I’ll have time to complete the tasks asked of me.

So, as much as I pine after the Lincoln City beach that I visited as a child, going back now wouldn’t necessarily result in the experience I long for. I’ve grown up. It’s a bittersweet thing to confront, but I can’t deny that my relation to the Oregon Coast has shifted.

Maybe the reason I want to go back to Lincoln City isn’t that I want to go back to that particular beach. Maybe it has more to do with a deeper wish to go back to the time in my life when I didn’t have the obligations and pressures that I have today.

Every time I think back to those trips, I add another coat of varnish, another layer of paint to an idea that I have memorialized in my brain. These places become less real and more fantastic to me with each passing year, and I feel my distance from them grow.

Unlike the seemingly blank, ominous future, the past is resolved, and I relish the satisfaction and the certainty of the happy endings that exist in my memories. I cling to the past like a koala joey clings to its mother. I know I am not alone in my tendency to get lost and stay lost in the past, but my memories are mine alone — mine to cherish, but also mine to long for.

People change, nature changes and the places and people you love won’t always be there for you, at least in the way they might have been in the past. But the world is enormous, and we are tiny. We’re all barnacles clinging to the whale that is this planet, along for the ride — in constant motion yet fixed in place at the same time.

Lia Keener writes the Thursday column on the relationship between humans and the natural world. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.