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Westward Ho!

There is one final follow-up to my singing the blues last week. One more chance to rub your thumb and index finger together and play the world's smallest violin for me before I get going on a bit of Washington State optimism.

Remember how I had the good company of my two cats traveling across the country and softening my loneliness to a degree? Well one of those felines - the one I had since I was 10-years-old - died one month after I arrived in Washington. Now understand, this was my first pet. I had this little critter from pre-pubescence, through the pit of hell that was high school, all the way through a year past college graduation. Thirteen years of life, he lied by my side, loyal and regal as a cat can be.

In a story by David Sedaris, he makes a comment that rang quite true for me upon the death of my first pet. He says when cats die, their owners tend to veil an entire period of life - the cat's death is emblematic of their own chapter coming to a close. One of the main thoughts that crossed my mind as I sat awake with my old friend, certain that this night would be his last, was how symbolic it was that this cat of mine who saw me through my whole life in Chicago, this symbol of my life there, was leaving me. I actually envisioned a chapter titled "Chicago" and saw the pages closing.

So now that that's out of the way, there are a couple of neat things about life out here. My personal favorite is the landscape. Being relatively land-locked my whole life and desiring some coastal inspiration, the Pacific Ocean is the main reason I moved here. The sound and smell of an ocean can soothe the soul; and there is nothing comparable to its healing power. Nothing at least, that can be found in a loud city.

The natural beauty of the Olympic Peninsula is magical to the senses. Shades of green paint the entire countryside. Hundreds of vibrant, dazzling hues in one glance. The rain forest trees look shaped for a Tim Burton film, or a Dr. Seuss book. They each have a character in the way the moss drips and droops and mopes from the branches.


As aforementioned, I took up surfing when I moved here. You know, that gnarly sport where a bunch of hot people in bikinis and board shorts show off their tans and ride some killer point breaks all day long? Yeah, that sport has nothing to do with Washington surfing, aside from the basic mechanics regarding the wave and board relationship.

The waters on the Pacific Northwest Coast are frigid. Now having surfed here a full year, I can attest that the water temperature varies by no more than seven degrees year-round. It's cold in the summer, and icy cold in the winter. In summer, you can take your wetsuit hood off of your head on a nice sunny day, and, during an especially warm swell, maybe even leave your gloves on the beach. In winter, you drink a lot of coffee before getting into the water, and hope that your pee supply is ample.

And of course, those hot and tan surfer bodies to which you are accustomed are nowhere to be found out here. Wearing a five-millimeter full-body wetsuit year-round keeps away the sun exposure, that's for sure. And since the sun is hard to come by in the rainforest anyway, our faces remain pale too.

But I am honest to say that I appreciate the difficulty in being a Washington surfer. There is nothing comfortable about it, and half the battle of surfing here is getting up the nerve to face its discomfort. From struggling in and out of a cold and wet wetsuit (especially when the cold wind is a-blowing), to getting into the colder water for hours at a time, to inconsistent swells and the scary tides and the rogue waves and camping for days in the constant (and often sideways) rain . . . there is nothing desirable about surfing in Washington.

Aside from, of course, the thrill of screaming down the face of a pretty wave. And the gratitude when a nice swell finally does come through. And the fascination of sitting alone on your board, staring up at the sky or looking back to the mountains, contemplating how small you are amongst the grandeur of the species' surrounding you.

And the accomplishment of paddling yourself around the ocean for a few hours, expending every last bit of energy that you didn't know you had. And the sleep and dreams that occur after a long and fatiguing session. And knowing what it is like to react directly and constantly with nature's most powerful source - a realm that most men will not explore in their lifetimes.

Basically the thrill and wonder of interacting so intimately with an ocean, fully outweighs the many pangs of doing it in the Pacific Northwest. I have a whole new world of merriment and fascination out here - completely differently from what thrilled and wowed me in Chicago. So even if I am not Seattle's biggest fan, I am Washington's. It contains nature at its best, and I cannot entirely blame all the slow-walkers and bad drivers for always taking it easy when there is so much out here that inspires peace.


* Part One: Departure
* Part Two: Rebuff
* Part Three: MySpace


Posted on April 7, 2008

MUSIC - Muddy Waters Museum Has Mojo.
TV - WGN Now Trump TV.
POLITICS - Trustbust Entertainment.
SPORTS - Tweeting Foles.

BOOKS - The Endurance Of The Rubik's Cube.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Charles E. Cheese Boo-tacular.

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