As we came out of the Hoh rainforest early in the morning, one of the first things that we saw was two huge elk on the side of the road. They showed only minor irritation as we and another car in front of us stopped in the middle of the road to gawk. One lazily turned his head toward us, his mouth full of the grass that also stuck to his nose.
We drove along the through cozy seaside towns that wound around the coast opposite the early morning shadowy outline of Vancouver island. We stopped at Lake Ozette which has not just a lake, but a nine mile loop trail out to and across several miles of protected beach.
The path to the beach was covered with all manner of greenery—ferns, enormous leafy skunk cabbage, grasses, salmonberry bushes, each one trying as hard as it could to overreach the trail that barely held it back. Every so often the dense green would give way to open meadows blanketed in gold-tinged grasses and dotted with cedar and hemlock.
The path opened to the beach, and the noontime sun dimmed slightly by half-hearted clouds reflected off the water trapped in the rocky shore at low tide. In the distance huge rocks stood out of the water looking like small stone fortresses. Bright pink kelp glinted in the tide pools. Dotting the sand were rocks sanded and polished by time, looking like ostrich eggs, some showing off light greens and yellows making them look as if they were made of tarnished brass.
And then as we came to the end of this stretch of beach, I saw it. It was, what I assumed to be the continuing path to the next stretch of beach. It was on a slight rise—just some fallen trees, driftwood, a stump sticking up in the grassy sand. But the sunlight was so strong just over that point and the sky bluer there than all the rest. And the thing was that you couldn’t see what was just over the rise.
I don’t believe in Heaven, and I surely wouldn’t have any idea how to describe it even if I did. Is it people with white robes and cherubs playing harps? God sitting in a big chair like Santa granting wishes with Jesus giving pedicures? All you can eat ribs and endlessly flowing chocolate fountains? I don’t know, but if I was going to portray at least the entrance to an afterlife, I think that this is the way I would do it. Simple beauty; inviting yet mysterious.
I finally walked up over the rise to see what was on the other side. Not surprisingly, it was more beach. So we walked up the grassy rock next to it and looked out at the entire coastline as far as we could see. On a far away rock sat two magnificent bald eagles who watched us warily as we approached with the camera. After having quite enough of us, they finally flew off together, showing off their enormous wingspan as they glided overhead into the tall trees lining the beach.
Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have those days that start off with some auspicious omen and continue to become more and more magical as new wonders pop up in unexpected places. These kinds of days are ones that can never be planned, only enjoyed as they are doled out to us, reminders of how we should answer that age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?”