Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Closing Time: The Pool in the Rock

Once during a summer between years in high school three friends of mine and I spent a week camping on the Oregon coast. We were in a primitive campground: no electricity; the only amenities were cleared and defined campsites and concrete enclosures with iron grates for cooking.

There was also firewood.

To get to the campground required a mile or so walk.

We kept hearing rumors from other campers that there was a cable upon which it was possible to descend to the base of Cape Falcon. The rumor further said that the cable was at the end of a two-mile hike through the woods leading to the outer part of the Cape. The Cape was a huge outflow of basalt sticking into the Pacific Ocean and the cable descended a couple of hundred feet to a protuberant basaltic foot which was exposed above the waves at all times except high tide. They said that it was a scenic place from which to watch the ocean as it crashed against the shore, and a place from which one could fish for various types of rockfish.

We decided that it was a rumor well worth testing for validity.

So we had made the hike through the woods.

After some casting about on the Cape high above the ocean we discovered the cable just as it had been described. It actually was two cables. The first cable extended down a hundred feet or so and then stopped on an outcropping; then a second one went the rest of the way down to the foot. It was a spot as spectacular as it had been described. The ocean didn’t break against the Cape; it churned around below the foot upon which we were perched. That foot was a rather large area covered with mussels that were exposed when the tide went out. I broke open a mussel, put it on a hook and dropped it over the side into the ocean. I didn’t catch anything, although it was the best looking fishing spot I had ever seen.

But the view of the waves, the huge bed of mussels and the fishing opportunity turned out to be, once we looked around a little, the least of the attractions of the place.

What hadn’t been described to us, what was left out of the rumors, was a thing so beautiful it didn’t seem real. That was probably why nobody mentioned it. After leaving the place they must have felt that they had imagined it.

That thing was a pool of seawater filling a depression scooped out of the lava. The pool was quite large – maybe thirty feet long, eight or ten feet wide and four feet deep. The water was absolutely clear and everything in the pool could be seen with total clarity. But the unreal thing was that it was full of upward streams of bubbles like what might be seen in an aquarium. But this pool was at the bottom of a cliff sticking into the ocean miles from the nearest air pump. We decided that the basalt out of which the depression was scooped must be porous, and that there must be a cave underneath us where air was trapped and driven upward by the waves of water as they washed in and out of the cave, and that that trapped air then must have been forced up through the porous rock and into the streams of bubbles in the pool.

The whole miraculously beautiful scene was topped off by myriad tiny fish darting around, various kinds of snail like things, sea anemones and large numbers of sea urchins. The urchins were variously colored: green, purple, blue and red. And as we lay on our stomachs and watched them closely for awhile we could see that the urchins moved about, propelled by their spines.

We didn’t really need to lie on our stomachs to see the urchins move, but the whole thing was so beautiful that we wanted to get as close to it as possible.

As the tide came in, filling the cave with more water and less air, the bubbles gradually abated. But we had seen them at their peak and had watched them gradually cease as the sea urchins slowly moved about and the little fish darted to and fro.

That gradual metamorphosis of the bubbles from something to nothing, intertwined with the darting and creeping about of the life that inhabited the bubble chamber seemed to us to have carried some higher message; but it was a message that we were unable to divine.

Much later in my life I was able to see it for the metaphor that was.

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