17 July 2006

The Beach

photo by Foul Pete taken on 15th July 2006

You may remember the not so memorable flick, “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was based on the slightly more memorable book of the same title by Alex Garland. “The Beach” is about the pursuit of Paradise or an Utopist existence and how it can easily go sour. Garland, like many other writers and artists chose ‘the beach’ as the location of where paradise can be realized. The setting was on a remote island off Thailand that takes considerable effort to get to and was kept exclusive by vows of silence as to its location. When I read the book, I was already pretty disgruntled by the 1990s Lonely Planet Generation and their quest to out do each other in terms of experiencing remote destinations. The idea being that the further you go off the beaten path, the closer you get to this enlightened experience. Sure I’d love to visit remote locations in lonely corners of the globe but to many it was just something to get out of their system before settling into college, career, family and general middle class existence without really taking the opportunity to put what they had experienced in the context of their privilege. Anyway, I suppose my point is, that I was so repulsed and/or jealous of the Lonely Planeters that I was convinced the definition of paradise was subjective and to try too hard to find it defeated the point.

But then I found it.

About five years ago, I was taken to a trail head on the Oregon Coast for a hike through an old growth forest down to a remote beach. It is about a two mile walk through giant trees that let in the occasional heavenly beam of sunlight until you reach the sand. Half way down you can get a view of the beach. A huge headland to the north and miles of sand to the south. The water is usually crystal clear. I’ve seen a grey whale feeding off the reef and deer on the beach. Seals in the water and unknown beasts splashing around further out to sea. The first time I went there I could immediately tell this place had huge surfing potential before I even knew it was a ‘legit’ surf spot. My obsession was immediate and remains to this day.

I’ve been there dozens of times by now and every time I pause to take in that view at the half way point I try to remind myself of a particular Taoist quote:

The world is a sacred vessel,
Which must not be tampered with or grabbed after,
To tamper with it is to spoil it,
And to grasp it is to lose it.

- Tao Te Ching.

You see, when I happen upon an overwhelming landscape I want to do more than just look at it. Just witnessing it, is never enough. I get anxious and want to dive into it or blow myself up and spread my remains through out it. It almost gives me a headache. Sometimes it almost feels sexual. Sometimes it feels morbid. Sometimes, it makes me feel very comfortable with my mortality. Sometimes, it makes me want to seek out invincibility. I tie my brain in knots, trying to find a way to grasp the view before me and then that quote comes back to me and I have to let my Western-consumer-capitalist-materialist mindset surrender that desire and try not to think. This works most of the time.

Yet, at this particular location, I have found a way to embrace, dive into, seize and experience the ‘place’ beyond just taking in the view. And it is almost all the more troublesome, as my obsession has become more twisted. You see this place has offered me some of the best waves I have ever surfed. With surfing you are fully immersed in the environment. You are as intimate as you can get with the water, weather, sand, rocks and wildlife. Sometimes, so immersed, so intimate that you briefly disappear. In fact that is the goal.

Therefore, no amount of Taoism can quell my lust to dive into this scenery. I’m haunted by it. I constantly wonder what’s going on down there. I wonder how certain swells are breaking there. I wonder what it looks like at night. I want to be alone down there in the dark. I want to live there at the end of the world. Hunt deer in the woods and build a hut out of driftwood. To die and rot there. Let my eyes be pecked out by the birds of prey, my legs eaten by a Great White, my torso munched on by strange fish.