We walk Gleneden Beach every day. It’s never crowded enough to make social-distancing a big issue. We do see, particularly on weekends, groups of people for whom this is not a concern, but they are easily avoided. This day we see the red Coast Guard helicopter flying low and making a couple passes. Then, a low-flying plane making the same loop. One of us says, “There’s only one thing they could be looking for.”
Jock Glidden passed a way this week. With George Lowe he made the first ascent of the fearsome north face of Mt Alberta in the Canadian Rockies in 1972. A route which would take the life of Tobin Sorenson, the gifted alpinist from Southern California, and which has, in the nearly fifty years since, seen fewer than a dozen ascents. The black and white photographs published in Ascent were grim and I remembered that some of them showed that Jock or George had painted some kind of lightning bolt or dragon on his helmet. I would paint an imitative yellow bolt on my own red helmet, an artifact long since lost to history.
I was honored to meet him in 1995 when he was seven years younger than I am today. He was suffering from increasingly debilitating effects of Parkinson’s. He chose to stop eating and drinking and went out on his own terms. 85 years old.
A fatal bear mauling in Alaska. Scant details. All known circumstances—location mostly–leave open the possibility that the casualty could be a friend of mine. Hope, Alaska has around 200 residents. I send out some queries. Finally, after a few hours spent fretting, my friend answers safe. The man was a friend of his and the whole community, small as it is, is on edge and in mourning.
The news that a dear childhood friend has passed away. The guilt for not having seen him in a couple years. The way he hung on for eleven months after the doctors said his body would give out. His sister told me that in his last days she asked if he wanted to see or talk to anyone. “He said he just wanted to sit and smoke as much as possible for as long as possible.” His terms. The way the world keeps spinning but I sense a hitch in it, that tiny missing tooth in the great flywheel, that space formerly filled by my friend, Dennis.
We are accosted (literally) on Road’s End Beach by an angry man with a stick. It’s 7:30 in the morning, we are sitting on a log drinking coffee out of a thermos. According to the police this guy is a local who believes he owns the beach. “You’re in my yard, man. This is my yard.” I describe his behavior as menacing, not quite threatening. We hustled back to the car, nature’s spell broken. Thinking maybe a can of bear spray could be a useful multi-task tool.
Body washes up on the shore somewhere just south of us near Otter Rock. At first the public’s help in identifying her is requested. She is wearing a lacrosse shirt. Then, after she is identified, as 58 year old woman from Portland, the police issue a statement that says no further information regarding her will be released.
By walking 45 minutes we can get to place on the beach pretty much completely uninhabited. We are walking back at the end of the day and because it’s the weekend there are places where we have to detour around the large groups, the squealing kids, the kite-flyers, sand-castle-builders, the leash-less chihuahuas and inexhaustible retrievers, the Nike exec on his beach chair with his sockless loafers and laptop. And finally, the lovers. We avoid them all. And then: the newly married couple beaming with joy as the wedding photographer records the moment. And then, yet another wedding, ceremonial, with music, and kids running around. The couple and their witnesses, the celebrant, and all the guests lit-up in the fading golden light as the sun nears the horizon.
The lousy week comes to an end. But we are reminded, in its last hours, that people continue to love, to look to a better future, to move forward into it. We will, too.