One of my favorite sanctuaries lies on the west coast of the U.S. Located in Oregon, just a few miles north of the California border, this restful and inspiring respite is one of the few locations where nature has found a way to ward off humanity’s best efforts to leave its mark. Long stretches of beach reflect the sunrise off lightly-treaded sand, while rolling waves from a glistening sun-kissed ocean wash against craggy cliffs that separate the forest from the sea. Occasionally breaking the landscape with welcome texture and shape, large piles of sun-bleached driftwood leave undeniable evidence of the sea’s power and underlying disruptive forces.
It was during a recent visit that I remembered them. From my vantage point on the beach, I could see the elderly couple carefully making their way down a steep trail loosely fitted with stepping-stone rocks and gravel—a makeshift staircase to the sand. The woman held onto a walking stick, occasionally digging it into the hillside for added stability. The man kept a grip on her elbow, guiding her with steady support. With every step, I held my breath, watching them slipping on loose dirt and grabbing at low branches to maintain their balance. Persistent in their efforts, they continued making their way down until finally, both were on solid ground. I admired their tenacity—surely others would’ve quickly given up and turned around, settling for a panoramic view rather than the joy of the journey.
Taking their first steps toward the water, the woman paused and laid her walking stick against a large boulder. A flash of light caught my eye—a spark from a polished silver knob at the top of the stick. Squinting against the sun, I noticed the handgrip was a six-inch series of green and yellow bands—apparently custom-made.
Reaching the edge of the surf, the couple slipped off their shoes and let the waves lick at their feet. Scanning the beach, they noticed me and, afraid I’d intruded on their private moment, I offered a friendly wave. They waved back and turned in the opposite direction, sharing a tender kiss before making their way down the shore, hand-in-hand.
Not seeming to be in a hurry, their intimate connection was obvious in their playful gait and spontaneous embraces. Occasionally stopping to take in the landscape, sometimes the man would reach down to pick up a shell and, after letting his partner examine it, toss it back into the sea. I counted myself lucky to be glancing in their direction when the woman laid her head on his shoulder, and in a sudden movement, he dipped her and she laughed in delight.
I continued watching them for a while, wondering about their story—how they met, how long they’d been together, and how often they visited this strip of shoreline to share an afternoon stroll . . . just the two of them.
That was 8 years ago.
Recently, I revisited that same nearly-untouched beach recently to walk the sand and feel the cool breeze on my face—to regain that sense of connection that always came. After settling in, I was anxious to return to my usual routine of walking the mile-and-a-half of shoreline every afternoon. Ignoring the stray thunderheads on the horizon, I made a beeline for the sand. I had just reached the far end of the beach and begun walking back when I noticed a storm building in the distance. Pushed by the rising wind, angry black clouds were racing to the top of the sky as an unsettled ocean drove the waves higher on the sand. It was only a matter of time before the rain arrived. Hoping to beat the worst of it, I quickened my pace and headed toward the well-worn path up the hillside. Reaching the top, I turned around to watch the roiling clouds swallow the afternoon light.
Down on the shore, close to the water, I noticed a single figure—another poor soul about to be caught in the downpour. From the stance and shape, it appeared to be a man. Seemingly oblivious to the storm, he reached down to retrieve something—maybe a shell or a rock—and then tossed it into the frothy waves. Pulling up the collar of his jacket, he moved on.
There was something about him that was familiar. Rather than make a quick retreat, I decided to see how long he would endure the elements. As the heavy moisture turned to rain, the man finally began walking back to an access trail leading to higher ground. Approaching a large boulder at the base of the outcropping, he reached behind it and retrieved a piece of wood. Using it to brace himself against the wind and water, he cautiously began his ascent up the make-shift staircase of rocky stones and loose gravel.
As he reached the top, I saw it. Even in the dim light, I recognized the custom walking stick, its handgrip of green and yellow bands topped with a polished silver knob. He glanced back at the horizon for a few moments, then continued over the ridge, disappearing from sight.
He’d returned to the same spot we’d shared eight years ago. And while I had come to make new memories, he was there to relive old ones.
Until next time,