"Closed for the season," the sign reads as I stand facing my favorite walk to the beach on Lopez Island, frowning. The sandy trail through beds of sea asparagus is completely underwater now. And it has been for months during the daytime. Tides here are almost always high during the day in the winter. And low during the day in the summer. Still, I want to make my way out to the beach. Especially since no one else will be there. So, I untie my shoes, pull my socks off, and push my pant legs up just below my knees. Then, Remi and I head out, wading through frigid waters, careful to stay on the trail so we don't crush the delicate surrounding plants. Deeper and deeper, the further we go, my toes, heels, ankles then calves ache. A sharp, gripping numb takes hold, icy cold cutting through any remaining warmth from moments before. I smile, half elated, half pained then pick up my pace. Part of me wonders whether the gripping ache of cold will deter me, but I don't want to be deterred. And soon the water shallows, easing the pain in my feet, which I'm not entirely sure I want eased. Something about freezing enlivens me, the pain a reminder: I'm alive, doing exactly what lights me up more than anything, venturing into beautiful places alone, silent, taking in the wisdom of whatever may have unfolded since I last visited.
Nearing the end of the watery path, I stop, the way forward muddled. Heaps of driftwood and logs rearranged, pushed, and dumped every which way, cover the delineated path I've trodden many times. Tumbled everywhere at the behest of massive winter tides, winds, and storms, criss crossed wood piles float in shallow waters, creating an obstacle course I need shoes to navigate. Brushing off the sticky, sandy, salty bottoms of my feet, I wrestle with my ankle high socks, tugging them past damp skin and into place. The warmth of my shoes cuts the pain throbbing in my feet and ankles only slightly as I walk on, carefully balancing and hopping from log to log across the heaping driftwood towards the beach. The more I walk, the more the numbness softens and the aching ebbs. I don't question whether I should continue forward. Well, maybe for half a second I do. Still, very little in me is about to let these obstacles stand in the way of what I love: a quiet, solitary beach, the gentle lapping water against sandy shores on a glassy winter day, and whatever beach treasures have washed up thanks to the dramatic winter weather.
Finishing my book feels much like this these days. Only the obstacles in the way feel more foreboding, to reaching "the end." Waves of emotion, realization, vulnerability, and intense self-doubt surface as I write, moving through me and my life, just as upheaving to my insides as high tides and winds are to the driftwood heap now covering over the neat, sandy, summertime path making its way obviously and easily to the shore. And these winter storms roll through over and over again, unwilling to be done until they're done. Any effort to clean up winter's disruption too early just makes for more work later.
Still, there's an aliveness and allure in what these winter storms push and jumble about. The heaps of rubble covering over what once was an easier way forward insist I do something new, unexpected. They make it impossible to do more than pick my way forward, taking just the next step, intentionally. I don't want to careen off slippery wet logs. After doing this over and over again, I reach the shore. Walking along the damp sandy spit, I stay open to what has unexpectedly washed up on the isolated beach with no one around to scavenge treasures away. A fish skeleton, the jaw huge and wide. A rainbow colored sea slug, bursting with reds and blues. And making my way back again, I listen. To the gentle lapping. And the silence surrounding it. There's a stillness here, despite the ever moving nature of the water, despite the ever moving nature of my emotions and internal experiences.
Then, I find myself back where I began. Looking out over the water one last time, beams of light peak through mostly grey clouds, a pinprick of brilliance like a spotlight beaming down on waters in the distance. Turning, I stare at the log jam once again. Maybe I can help with the clean up efforts in the spring. Once the winter storms are over. But not time yet. For now, I pick my way back through the mess, taking my brand new tennies off once again to wade through icy waters barefoot. This is what it means to be alive. Arresting beauty. Intense pain. Never knowing when the next winter storm will arrive or how it will rearrange what was. Picking our way forward anyhow. For the joy of it. And staying open to what new pathways and possibilities will open up once spring arrives and the logjam can be moved out of the way once again.