On my bookshelf is a well-worn book entitled “Exploring the Seashore, in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon”, published in 1978. The penciled in reduced price on the face page indicates it was purchased as a used book. Next to the price is my mother’s name in large, bold, printed letters: R. Hubbard. Most the books in my parent’s library were my dad’s, whose interests and hobbies gave direction to their retirement years. Multiple books about Lewis and Clark testified to his role as founding President of the National Council for the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial, a role that took them on trips and to meetings throughout the states along the trail. There were other books about places they traveled to in the states and abroad, various history and natural history books, cook books, a collection of paperback “classics” and pop literature from the 70s Dad ‘borrowed’ from a box of books from my college years. Mom was not a book person, though she did read more after dad’s death, before Alzheimer’s made remembering and comprehending challenging. This one book, which she bothered to print her name in, represents her very personal love of the ocean.
A trip to the ocean two weekends ago brought memories of a similar trip in 2010. Realizing mom would soon be unable to travel, and knowing how much she loved to go just about anywhere, I asked her one day where she would like to go. She replied, “Oh, I guess the ocean”. So we went, more than once, before she could no longer go.
And she loved it. The first trip, to Rialto Beach, we stayed over night at Three Rivers Resort. Sitting on the beach, ever the rock collector, she pointed with her cane to rocks of all sizes and colors, asking Mike to pick them up for her, putting them in the cup holder of her chair. That evening we watched a breathtaking sunset.
Our second trip, a few weeks after her 90th birthday in 2011, was to LaPush, where she again sat on the beach, bundled in a blanket, so content, so at peace, and so animated when we ate dinner and played cards that evening…it is a cherished memory.
Now mom cannot tell you she loves the ocean. She cannot speak, the result of a stroke a month ago, and if she could, there are few words left in her mind’s storehouse of words, and few memories of her self and her life, the result of Alzheimer’s. Mom now lives in her own private inland sea.
Most of this year she was able to talk, even as the words became fewer. Her talking was often repetitive and mostly dealt with what was going on in the moment, yet we had conversations where she was able to express her feelings, her frustrations at missing her granddaughters’ weddings, her embarrassment at having bruises on her arms, her confusion about why others wanted her to shower and do things she no longer wanted to do. She made comments that suggested the fear, confusion, and anger at what was becoming of her life, and herself, emotions I could read in her expressions even as the words became fewer.
Now she is expressionless, she mostly gazes at some place I can not see. Yet finally there are times she seems calm, there is a placid feeling to her presence.
After our few days at the ocean, Mike and I camped two days at Salt Creek Recreation Area on the Strait of Juan de Fuca before going home to spend time with mom. Though storms can churn the inland waters, most days there is a gentle rhythm to the tides on the strait, protected from oceanic forces. Wanting to camp once more before Mike went back to work, we spent this past weekend at Scenic Beach State Park, on the Hood Canal, close enough to where mom lives so I could spend time with her. The Canal was serene, the incoming tides gentle, the clear water lapping the rocky beach. Water and mountain views were in muted shades of gray/blue/green. These are the inland waters of the Northwest.*
Like mom, I too love the ocean (doesn’t everyone?) and the sense of exhilaration and freedom one feels when walking on ocean beaches. Ocean lovers go to the beaches to let the power of the sea wash away what ever needs washing away in our lives and minds. We partake of inner soul cleansing while watching the tides wash clean the beaches of debris. The ocean can help expand our perspective on many things as we gaze at the horizon that seems to go on to infinity and walk beaches that seem endless. Rocks, sand, shore birds….the exploration of flora and fauna unique to the seashore, it is a world of wonder. Mom’s book she so boldly marked as her own reveals she found the seashore a fascinating place and wanted to know more of its inhabitants. Growing up, no matter where we lived, driftwood decorated our home. In her bathroom, mom kept a jar of favorite stones, covered with water to enhance their colors. She brought the ocean home.
On this recent trip, to my surprise, I found the ocean’s energies almost too much. I appreciated the calmer inland waters. Juxtaposing these inland beach visits with visits to mom, I realized, as I witness her journey, I am watching her move to the more phlegmatic inland waters of her deteriorating mind.
She would have loved the gentle waters of Scenic Beach, only 30 minutes from where she now lives. But her body is too weak and mind to frail to make even that short trip.
There were other trips with Mom…over nights to Mt. Rainier, Anacortes, lots of day trips. Any trip Mike and I took without her she followed on a map and vicariously enjoyed the places we went, I sent her pictures and notes when I could so she knew where we were. Last fall a day trip here to the Olympic Peninsula to have lunch at our house was a delight for her. Though tired from the trip, the Ruth-that-loves-to-go-and-see-the-world was alive and happy at the end of the day.
That Ruth is gone. The Ruth of now is on a journey I, nor anyone, can share with her. I pray that on her silent inward journey she is experiencing calm seas.
(Below, I too was recruited into retrieving mom’s beach combing finds. Mike took this series of pictures as we shared a new find and a precious moment at Rialto, 2010)
* note: Though the term inland sea usually refers to land locked seas, and the strait, canal, sound, and bays of Washington are not landlocked, they are “inland” from the ocean, thus I call them the inland waters.