The road is a roiling, lusty sway through the always-green tangle of our Tillamook State Forest. West, the forest’s magnificent deepness drains suddenly to gash-open swaths, clear-cut raw. The shorn hills seem caught bare, obscenely bright and dry and uprooted, scattered about with the once-wise trunks of once-impenetrable forests, now gray and kindling. This moonscape is only made more conspicuous by the roadline of trees—spared by the loggers—serving as a faux curtain to obscure the landmaster’s handiwork. (It isn’t fooling anyone.) Quickly though, the land pulls back again, under the heaving shroud of fir and blue spruce, the drinkable wetness of sod and turgid cedar and the iron tang of constant and forgiving rain.
First, salt, then ion. A creamy seabreeze indicates large water is near. Here, it seems, salt is a way of life: a fine, ruddy patina has settled on, has worked its way into, all surfaces. We’ve only just unpacked the jeep, hauled the coolers and the many bags into our rental and, already, my daughter’s fine hair sprouted a wicked twang of voluminous curls. The beach is near, so we walk, and as we walk, the ocean’s deafening shawl gathers, a constant punctuated only by a thumping wave tearing at the breakwater. Mom is out of her sandals and, toes-spread, makes for the water’s edge. I leave on my shoes and, still remembering the many ruined vacation-shoes of my childhood, sandpad delicately behind her. From here, from the water’s edge, stretching inland behind us, a tsunami plane, for miles and miles. Everything within its incredible reach—houses, people and even the solid forrest—is doomed.
Dad and I set ourselves to a practical task: building a fire. It is a simple task, but one that requires some amount of teamwork, cooperation—which can be touchy work for a father and a son. Luckily, our prospects for fuel are scant—we must scour a nearby forest for kindling. We return with a bumper crop of branches and logs—all of which are hopelessly water heavy. Miraculously, a saw is located in our host’s garage. It is small and dull, but we have time. Dad holds down a thick, surprisingly solid wooden corpse while I maniacally lop off burnable hunks. From a nursery of tissue and twigs, puny flames are coaxed into a roaring, white-hot fire—the sizzling wood weeping an acrid liquor. For now, brute determination has won the day, which, normally, is not a good thing. But this time, at least, it feels good—this small accomplishment between men notoriously clunky at (but eager for) knowing one another.
In the absence of birthday cake, pumpkin bread—impaled with candles—will have to suffice. My daughter helps to blow out the waxy fire threatening her grandmother’s cake, nearly losing her eyebrows in the melee. Cheap champagne (a new family tradition—landing the cork in our neighbor’s back lawn signifies good luck) is uncorked. The shot ricochets around the rental. We consider a long life lived, and how—glasses raised, clinking—it actually isn’t long at all. But there is no time to mourn—the past may be brief but mourning only makes it briefer. There is only time to fashion a notch in this moment and move on, happily spent, back home and back to work.