On March 24th, less than two months after my first brush-with-death, the subject of my first blog, I took a walk on the beach at Rockaway, Oregon. My brother and his wife, George and Gayle, had generously offered me their cozy cabin for a three-week stay for some much needed solitude and time to write.
The stretch of beach in Rockaway, between two inlets, is about a 20-minute walk. It’s midmorning and as I get onto the beach, as is my habit, I turn to walk to the inlet toward the south. A sunny day at the Oregon Coast is always a gift. It’s a little chilly, I’m wearing my red parka and have my cellphone and wallet with me. There’s a fair number of people out for a week day, strolling along the water’s edge as their dogs happily zigzag the sand. I’ve notice that there is a lot more driftwood than unusual and as I approach the inlet I see piles of debris, which I surmise were leftover from a storm. I watch the waves a bit and turn to walk to the northern inlet. A few brave souls are in the water jumping the waves. Brrrr. There are more people and more debris at this end. Coming up to the other inlet, I see an entire tree, with all of its branches smoothed out and polished, lodged horizontally on the black rocks between the sand and the highway. It looks like a sculpture of a tree. There are several people standing on the rocks. I am right in front of them and as I turn toward the ocean, the inlet is just to my right. There is a large driftwood tree trunk between the inlet and me. The water is at least 40 feet away and children are playing at its edge. I watch the waves. I love the roar they make. I see a wave unlike any I’ve seen before. There was nothing wavy about it.
I’ve seen a photograph of a tsunami about to hit land that looked like a huge wall but this is not as dramatic. As I’m standing here, wondering if this peculiar wave will bring the water any closer, out of the corner of my eye, I see a ferocious rush of water surging from where previously was a still inlet. I turn to climb the rocks and I am swept into what is now ocean. I grab onto the dead tree trunk that was next to me. As I feel the terrifying power of the water eddying around me, I’m trying to keep my head out of it. Hugging that weathered trunk for dear life, literally, I feel it begin to give way. I’m struck at my reaction, one of matter-of-fact acceptance, and think: well, this is it. The tree trunk, my lifesaver, settles back to its original position and the water ebbs. Now I hear the people on the rocks, yelling as they run toward me to see if I’m okay. I am, but I’m not. I am told that this was a “sneaker” wave, prevalent since this past December when severe storms upended the ocean floor, unearthing the buried driftwood and scattering debris. I grab my phone. It’s dead. I am told to keep it in rice overnight to dry out.
Drenched, like the monster from the deep, covered with sand, seaweed and black bark, I walk to the little corner market to buy rice. I allow myself a moment to ruminate how close I came to disappearing. This is replaced with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It’s amazing, but I am not the least bit cold; it isn’t a feeling of divine radiance or anything like that, I’m just perfectly comfortable. When the two women at the registers see me enter, they stare openmouthed. I try to give an explanation and ask to use the phone. While relating to my husband, Frank, in Philadelphia, what just happened, one of the cashiers comes running to where I’m standing and places two plastic yellow placards, one on each side of me, that say, CAUTION – FLOOR SLIPPERY WHEN WET. I get home and take off my clothes. My arms and legs are bruised the color of eggplants. I had not been aware of logs hitting me underwater.
The next day, Frank asked me to take a picture of the tree trunk that had saved my life. I went back to the spot where it had happened. It was gone.
Okay. I want to know which of the two brush-with-death experiences you found freakier.