My mom moved to the Oregon Coast when I was in 6th grade. I'm sure I had been there before, but discovering it as an adolescent during the summer before I entered Junior High school was breathtaking. I didn't yet know anyone in town and that meant I was entirely free to be exactly who I was. No posturing, no primping, no peer pressure. I was simply free to be a kid frolicking on the beach.
Three blocks from our house there was a beach access road that led to some of the best tidepools I had ever explored. I quickly mastered the art of the tide tables printed on the inside front cover of the phone book and became a beach rat. I hopped from rock to rock, venturing farther out each time to peer in to these miniature aquariums and watch hermit crabs scuttle around, feel the sticky Scotch tape tentacles of anemones, and watch matchstick sized fish dart through the seaweed. Supremely secure in my athletic abilities, I was comfortable leaping from one jutting rock to another over wide expanses of water and sand, landing just shy of getting my sneakers wet. I would come home with pockets full of abandoned shells to set on the back porch and my mother just shook her head.
"Don't you want to find some friends before school starts?"
"Nope." The truth was, I was pretty shy, anyway, and I wasn't sure I would know what to say to anyone. And that summer between sixth and seventh grade is a tricky one for girls. I wasn't 'developing' yet, but I knew all about it, thanks to Judy Blume books, and I wasn't comfortable talking to Mom about any of that stuff. I also wasn't sure I wanted to have anything to do with puberty. I was pretty safe in my little kid cocoon and I was sure that making girlfriends would change that. Tidepooling gave me a way to escape and do what I wanted when I wanted to. The kids who had lived in this little town forever were probably sick of the beach, anyway.
For weeks, I continued collecting the bounty of the beach. I found Japanese fishing floats and one morning I arrived at the beach to see a group of retirees clustered around a dead sea lion, shaking their heads and wondering how it got there. Another day I discovered that the beach was blanketed in blue jellyfish the size of my hand. This place was a vast playground for a curious adolescent. I decided I would never tire of it.
At some point, though, school started and I did make friends. I became more interested in clothes and boys and school dances and talked on the phone for hours at night, stretching the eight-foot phone cord around the corner from the kitchen so as not to be overheard by my mother. But at least three afternoons a week, I escaped to the beach to clamber up the rocks and watch life in the tidepools by myself. This place was my sanctuary.
I miss the beach and every time I go back, I find a way to get out there by myself and climb around for a bit. I think that the most important thing I learned from those years was that no matter what was going on in my life, having that one place or activity that was just mine was vital. The beach was a place for me to just be and somewhere along the way of marriage and motherhood I lost the ability to respect the need for such a place. Today, that place is here, on my back porch with the dog lying next to me, listening to the birds flit from feeder to feeder and stop in the fountain for a quick bath and a drink of water. There aren't any tidepools here, but one thing is the same; when I'm here, I am just me. Not Mom or wife or co-worker. This is my place to just be.