As I walked on the sandy trail alongside the South Jetty of the Columbia River, massive waves pounded the 20-foot-high wall of huge basalt boulders above me. The water broke against the rock with such force that I could feel each wave in the ground beneath my feet. Pulse…gather…pulse…gather…pulse.
I was drawn, by the thunder of the waves and a longing to witness them at play, to clamber up the rubble of the damp slippery jetty wall to get a better look. Making my way up the pile of 30-ton boulders, adorned with an occasional wave-torn chunk of driftwood that had been hurled right over the rock pile from the ocean on the other side, I poked my head over the top.
Before me was a field of magnificent waves, breaking against the curve of the jetty out into the mist as far as I could see. These horses of Poseidon, their white hair streaming in the wind as they raced toward the rocky wall, broke against it, their tops shattering in a splendid crash of foam and spray, and bounced back again into the oncoming successor waves, breaking their rhythms and generating a churning matrix of intricate energy patterns, ribbons of lacy foam swirling among ever-changing ovals of grey-green. But beneath that surface chaos the rhythm of the waves persisted, crash – crash – crash – up the line of the jetty until it faded into mist. Those distant mist-cloaked waves were breaking with still greater fury, creating greater explosions of spume, carrying as they did the unmitigated energy of the ocean swell.
I have loved ocean waves since family trips to Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula when I was a kid. Upon and down the Pacific coast, throughout my life, I have been dazzled by the sounds, smells, and endlessly fascinating patterns of wave action. At all such times I felt my spirit expanding in response to the mystery I was witnessing. But I have always struggled to find words for what moved me.
At South Jetty yesterday it came to me: what I have been hearing all along is the beating of the planet’s drum. This pulse of the ocean is lower, and slower, and deeper than the one I create in my own drumming, to lift my spirit into the places of dreaming it needs to go. But the crash of the waves feeds the dreams of the whole planet. I still feel its rumble beneath my feet.
These past few days I made a journey following river courses from the heights of Mt. St. Helens, down the Toutle and Cowlitz and Columbia to the glorious ocean. Along those rivers, and by the ocean at Long Beach and Cape Disappointment on the Washington side, and Clatsop Spit on the Oregon side (where the magnificent South Jetty is accessible), I drummed and chanted my prayers. Cleared my head. Let go of some things and remembered what I needed to remember. And the main thing I remembered is this: the drum is for me. Spiritual paths abound, and possibilities multiply, but in the end it is the drum that stirs the tide of my soul. Its waves of sound crash against my heart, breaking it open and freeing up the stuck energy that is seeking an outlet. And the drum connects me to the pulse of the waves, breathing with the life of the planet and sharing its wisdom.
Though I live a few hours from the ocean, here in Seattle I am surrounded by beautiful bodies of water: rivers, lakes, the gorgeous Sound, each reverberating in their own ways, ever so gently, with the vibration of that planet drum. You’ll find me beside a creek or on a beach soon, drumming right along.