But Don’t You Miss The Ocean?

Santa Rosa Beach

As a birthday gift to myself this year, I got in my car and drove to the beach.

I used to live less than an hour from the beach: Oregon’s pristine stretch of Pacific accessible via a casual car ride so short you didn’t even have to pack snacks. If I decided I needed some beach time at 2 in the afternoon, I went.

Now I live about 8 hours from the closest beach. I never thought I would live so far away from the ocean. But hey, sometimes you take a weekend trip to Tennessee and fall in love with it and end up moving there without giving much thought to the whole “landlocked state” thing. And three years later, you still love it but my god, you miss the ocean. You miss it so much sometimes it feels like your soul is drying up, that salt water is the only cure.

One of my coworkers at my retail job is from San Diego. The first thing we said to each other after finding out our shared west coast origins was, “Don’t you miss the ocean?” I don’t even remember who asked who, but the answer from both of us was an instant, desperate “YES.” During one of our first shifts together, it was a slow night so we both huddled around the store computer scrolling through pictures of beaches. We kept pointing to the blue water on the screen and saying, “Look! Look at it!”

There we were, two women from the west coast whose winding, unexpected life paths had brought us here, to a little store in a big mall in the middle of a city in the middle of a state in the middle of the country, staring longingly at photos of waves and sand. Dehydrated kindred spirits.

Sometimes I wonder about where we’re from, where we end up, where we’re meant to be.

I believe I’m meant to be here, now, but I also believe that where you’re from is a powerful force. No matter where you go or how many times you reinvent yourself, you can’t change your origin story. There’s a kind of spiritual gravity that pulls you toward home. It’s a constant. A barycenter. I’m from a rainy evergreen forest in the Oregon coast range. That will never not be true.

———

After 8 hours in the car, I finally pulled into the driveway of the tiny cottage I’d rented in Santa Rosa Beach. I got out, stretched for a half-second, and then willed my stiff legs to jog the block and a half to the beach.

I gained speed as I approached, shaking off the long drive and sprinting down a wooden walkway that clattered with each step. Then, finally, I was there. Sand. Waves. An endless horizon. The water was a brilliant shade of blue-green. Look! Look at it!

I didn’t cry when I saw it because there was no overflow of emotion. Instead, I felt instantly, perfectly balanced. Filled up. Satiated. I sank down in the sand, staring out at the waves, and didn’t move for hours.

I got a terrible sunburn. And I did the exact same thing the next day, and the next, and the next.

I had packed a stack of books and journals, thinking this alone time would be perfect for catching up on reading and writing. I don’t think I touched a single book. Didn’t write a word.

I just spent time with the ocean.

My last night in Florida, I wrapped myself in a chunky cardigan and walked along the beach as the sun went down. What began as a very pretty sunset soon became a truly spectacular one. The sky burned bright orange. The sand sparkled. As the light dimmed, the choppy waves transformed into two-dimensional planes of blue, green, and silver; a Hokusai print come to life.

A breeze rolled in and I pulled my sweater a little tighter around my shoulders, smiling, contented.

It was all there: where I’m from, where I am now, where I’m meant to be.

A Road Trip To Florida, In Numbers & Pictures

Navarre Beach, Florida

Miles from Nashville, Tennessee to Navarre Beach, Florida: 451

Amount of time we thought it would take to get there: 6.5 hours

Time it actually took: 9.5 hours

Number of dead armadillos we saw on the side of the highway: A truly alarming amount.

Number of times I called my brother to ask if seeing 1,000 dead armadillos in one day was a bad omen: 2 (he said “no” and “well, probably not”)

Frequency with which Nick and I said some version of, “Wait, why didn’t anyone tell me Alabama is fucking gorgeous?” while driving through Alabama: Once every 10 minutes.

Alabama
Length of time I sulked after seeing the roadside rocket in Huntsville, Alabama and realizing I’m 30 now and I still don’t work for NASA: 2 hours

Number of coffee shops in Birmingham that were closed when we stopped there for a coffee break: All of them but one.

Birmingham, Alabama

How much we loved the one coffee shop that was open, on a scale of 1-10: 10

Birmingham Coffee ShopTime we finally rolled into Navarre Beach: 10:30 PM

Navarre Beach, Florida

Number of restaurants that were open within a 20-mile radius of our hotel: 1 (what up, Mellow Mushroom!)

Florida

Amount of time we had on the beach the following morning before the first thunderstorm rolled in: 20 minutes

Florida

Number of dolphins we saw frolicking in the waves that more than made up for said storm: 15

Number of times an angry fisherman stomping around on the pier muttered, “Fucking dolphins!” under his breath: 10

Number of tourists wearing Margaritaville t-shirts pointing at the fucking dolphins yelling, “Are those great white sharks?!”: 3

Navarre Beach, Florida

Navarre Beach Florida

Navarre Beach, Florida

Florida

Amount of time it took me to convince Nick to give our hotel’s continental breakfast a chance: 1 hour

Number of waffles from said continental breakfast Nick ultimately ate over a 3-day period: 7 (with maple syrup, crumbled Reese’s peanut butter cups, and whipped cream, natch)

Navarre Beach, Florida

Number of days it rained while we were there: 2 out of 3

Number of possible rainy day activities, according to the barista at a nearby coffee shop: 2 (mini golf at the mall or betting on billiards at a bar down the road)

Nick in Navarre Beach

Episodes of “Cutthroat Kitchen” we watched during a particularly ferocious rainstorm: 5 (god that show is amazing)

Navarre Beach, Florida

Amount of boiled peanuts we bought at a road side stand: 1 large styrofoam cup

Navarre Beach Florida

Number of angry ducks who attacked us for said boiled peanuts: 2 (“They’re friendly, said the boiled peanut vendor, “as long as you give them all your peanuts.”)

Navarre Beach, Florida

Number of months that have passed since Nick bought a pair of rollerblades at Goodwill: 6

Number of times since then I’ve tried to make him give them back to Goodwill: 50

Number of times he’d used his rollerblades before this trip: zero.

Navarre Beach FLorida

Number of seconds after he put on his rollerblades and struck this pose that I admitted I was wrong, his rollerblades are amazing, and he should absolutely keep them forever: 5

Navarre Beach, Florida

Hours it took to get home, thanks to massive construction delays: 11

Number of those hours I spent asking Nick “clever” conversation-starters, like, “How would your life be different if you were named Steve?”: 10.5

Number of vegetable side dishes offered at the roadside cafe where we ate lunch on the way home: 3

Florida

Number of those vegetables that were poundcake: 1 (“We count it as a vegetable here, honey,” said the waitress.)

Weeks it took to fully recover from our sunburns: 2