Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy

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Yesterday Once More


One of my joys in life is listening to “Oldies” on the radio – preferably the car radio. I’m a siIMG_1258mple guy. Much to my delight, a new “Oldies” station showed up in Portland about a year ago, with an amazing playlist: songs that carry the banner of Oldies; songs tKaren 4hat would be considered “B” sides; and songs that are clearly album cuts, many unfamiliar to my highly trained Oldie ears.

I say this as back story. The other day, late last week, the song “Goodbye to Love” by The Carpenters flowed out through my wife’s car speakers while driving home from Trader Joe’s. It got me thinking about The Carpenters, Karen and Richard, and the basket-full of hit, Top 40, mainstream, gushy, pop songs they gave radio and turntable listeners back in the late 60s and right through the late 70s, a few years before Karen’s death.

I never would have described myself as a Carpenter’s fan, back then, waaaay too straight. But, there was something about some of their songs, and Karen’s voice. Something special about her voice. And something, all along, about her as well. A yearning after something else. Maybe that’s not the best way to say it, but that’s the way it felt.

I wasn’t enKaren 3ough of a fan, even secretly, to follow them, so I did not learn about Karen’s eating disorder until after her death in 1983 — the year I got sober at age 34 — when she was just 32. Reports and subsequent features make clear that most people had never heard of anorexia at that time, which, it turns out is what caused her death, by heart failure. I learned about anorexia first hand in 1985, when I went to work at a residential treatment center in Watertown, Massachusetts, and was assigned as a counsel-ee a 13 year-old girl with a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. I bought a book back then, still have it, titled “The Golden Cage”, a book considered one of the seminal studies on the subject. Anorexia is described in the book as “the relenKaren 6tless pursuit of excessive thinness.”

This isn’t a post about anorexia.You can Google it if you want to know more. It’s about the Carpenters and some of their songs, and Karen’s voice. I discovered a wonderful BBC documentary about The Carpenters on Youtube a while back. It’s a five-part series, with Dionne Warwick and Herb Alpert, Richard Carpenter, Petula Clark and Tony Peluso, many more. You can see it here, and it’s worth the investment of some 60 minutes:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOCk-D2fOpg

And the songs. Hard to not include this one from 1970 : www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFx-5PGLgb4    Or this one from the same year: www.youtube.com/watch?v=__VQX2Xn7tI      Or this one, released 1973:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTaWayUE5XA  Then there was this release from ’72, with a ripping, soaring fuzz guitar solo courtesy the aforementioned Tony Peluso:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdG-ITxL8ok

Turns out The Carpenters sold more records than Elvis. Turns out The Carpenters had more conseKaren 5cutive number one hits than The Beatles. Who knew. Doesn’t make them better or as good as, it’s just interesting.

My favorite Christmas song has always been “Let There Be Peace On Earth and Let It Begin With Me”. This song, released in 1970, holds the number 2 spot. Always will:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR1ujXx2p-I

In “Goodbye To Love”, the one up there above with the bitchin’ guitar, there’s a line, “All I know of love is how to live without it.” Here’s a Wikipedia blurb on the creation of the song.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodbye_to_Love    Even though Karen was not involved in the writing, words and music, the line fits. That yearning thing right there. For me, at least.

Last week my Blog Post discussed Patti Smith. Next week I’m thinking about a little ditty on the musical merits of Black Flag, The Butthole Surfers, The Dead Kennedys, and X. This week, hearing a song on the car radio, I felt like writing about The Carpenters, and Karen. Too sweet?

Sue me.











Finish it, will ya!

20140817_090403I have this problem. With my writing. I can’t seem to finish things. Actually, “can’t” is probably the wrong word. A better word is “don’t”. So as not to let myself off the hook. I could, in fact, finish things — books, stories, novellas — but I tend not to. I don’t.

Which is a problem, a problem that is entirely, one hundred percent, ain’t no sharing here, on me. I suppose I could deflect some of this obvious personal character defect — my parents weren’t tough enough, too much sparing the rod and spoiling the child; teachers all along the way didn’t push me, didn’t motivate me, didn’t raise the bar for me; I fell in with a crowd at an early age that was more interested in quality testing of various liquid refreshments like Haffenreffer Private Stock and Chianti (with those cool, round, basket-weave coverings that we used for hip candle holders) and Tango; that I grew up in an age that idolized endless wandering and meandering.

But that would be punking out. I worked for a youth program in San Francisco for a while, with lots of cool, righteous, ‘you are responsible for you’ sayings. One of them was “Own Your Own”. It’s a good one, and I get it and accept it, which means that as far as my starting and not finishing writing projects goes, it is my problem. It’s all about me.

I don’t know why that is, this failure to finish. I suppose a good therapist might help me puzzle it out in three or four years. But, I’m a struggling artist and wannabe writer with very little in the way of money, so that’s not an option.

Which is why I am writing this post. To ask for help. Yours. I need your help.

Let me give a few examples, and I’ll be brief because there’s some other stuff I want to do.

A little over a year ago, after a drive-through with my son Cameron and his family, I wrote a story about a trout farm, and some strange, lethal going ons there. I set the story just outside Astoria, on the Oregon coast and Columbia River. The story was just under 9000, not all that long but not short either. A couple of weeks later I had an idea for another story, about what happens when you drink too much coffee at night, and set that one in Astoria too. Soon after a “Duh” moment occurred, and I realized I could write a book of short stories — I settled on eleven — all set in Astoria, which would be my first ever book, “Astoria Strange”. I plugged along, took a fiction writing class at Portland State, kept writing, and sometime in June finished the 10th story, “Texas Two-Step”.

By that time, in mid-June, I had written just under 130,000 words, had completed ten stories, awaiting re-write and revision. This morning, October 7th, while meditating in the pre-dawn dark (where I usually sit in a chair for 20 minutes or so and think about the Red Sox and other stuff), the thought came to me, in bright neon signage, that I was a story short from writing my first ever book, here in my seventh decade on the planet, and three months had passed since the last one. Double duh.

Here’s another example. I began a short story for a specific submission request that required some kind of apocalyptic event and a leading character with a disability long ago, early summer (just when I was not finishing my book). Very quickly I passed the limit of words that particular submission allowed, and kept going. I went past 10,000, I went past 20,000, I went past 30,000. I knew I had my first ever novella in the making, under then name “Ring Around the Rosy”, and realized, hopefully without arrogance, that it was pretty damned good. But somewhere in August the writing slowed down. I did manage, in late September, to pass 40,000 words, but the steam was running out of my engine. Rosy and her friends were staring at me, pleading for resolution. Total duh.

Instead, I began another story, for another submission, and it’s 4000 words down on the basement computer. It’s been there a while. I wrote, last Saturday, a flash fiction piece of 1200 words and sent it off the same day. See — I can finish stuff.

I should also mention that I have, sitting somewhere in the electrical innards of this computer, the beginnings of two other novels, both begun last winter — one about a young man with polio in Berkeley who is becoming a Jim Rockford character, and another about a kid from Wareham, Massachusetts who drinks too much, suffers a head injury, and begins having premonitions and visions, which will lead him on a long journey to a bar in Santa Monica, CA, where he spends his time, not drinking, but doing something else.

I don’t know what. Yet. I don’t know how the “Rosy” story ends. Yet. I don’t know what story to tell for my 11th and final “Astoria” story. Yet. I don’t know how Bennie in Berkeley rescues the runaways in the Tenderloin. Yet.

I say “Yet”, with great hope, that the endings will come, happy or not, and I will finish these projects. Instead of starting another one. And then another one.

I don’t know what’s wrong, with me. So I am asking for your help. All suggestions, opinions, diagnoses, go jump in the lakes, any of it will be greatly appreciated.

Right now I need to get back to this painting I’m working on.


This Writing Life

My goal when I first began college, back in the fall of 1967 on Cape Cod, was to receive a liberal arts educatio20141024_133349n. I forgot, over time, what that really meant – liberal arts – so I went to the internet for help. Here are three thoughts, the first from the Webster Dictionary:

 college or university studies (as language, philosophy, literature, abstract science) intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills.

“A liberal arts education gives students an opportunity to explore a variety of academic disciplines rather than following a specific rubric of courses that train them for a career,” says Cindy Peterson, director of admissions at Piedmont College in Georgia. “Employers today are seeking qualified graduates who have a broad base of knowledge, whose undergraduate experience has granted them the critical thinking skills, and an understanding and appreciation of diversity, ethical issues and service to others.”

In its broadest of terms, it’s an education that provides an overview of the arts, humanities (the study of the human condition), social sciences, mathematics and natural sciences. “Artes liberals are rooted in classical antiquity and refer to the general skills (=artes) a free person (=liberals) needed to contribute meaningfully to society,” shared Concordia University associate professor, Dr. Michael Thomas. “Today, we intend for this to translate into life-long, self-motivated learners who can flourish in——even transform ——the world.”

Hmmm. “intellectual capacities”? “critical thinking skills”? “self-motivated learners”? Who knows. Those don’t feel like descriptions of my brain. But, that is not the point. In the spring of 2011 I sat with my wife Susan one night in a Portland coffee shop – armed only with blank paper, coffee, and a calculator – to see if I could reasonably quit my job, give up my career, try some other stuff, and survive as a contributing member of our family. The math (barely) and my wife’s kind heart (hugely) eventually said yes, and so it was I gave notice and left a nearly 40 year career in human services that May. What happened then – and this certainly falls within the category of what a long, strange trip it’s been – is that I put an ad on Craigslist which turned into a CD of original doo wop songs, I picked up some paint brushes and became an artist – with art shows and art sales and art cards – of at least minimal talent, and began, about nine months ago, writing a weekly blog, primarily stories of my misguided and subsequently reclaimed youth. More recently I have begun writing stories, pieces of fiction, ranging from hot sex in a coffee shop on a distant planet to fish creatures using people for bait in Astoria to a special young woman changing lives – and the planet – for the better with her magic greeting cards.

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One For The Road — Part One

Back inBlack label my hometown there was this guy – an old black man – who seemingly materialized up from behind the railroad tracks. He wasn’t there, and then he was. I came to know him as a guy who would buy beer and sometimes Tango or Southern Comfort for me. He wasn’t there every time I was looking to drink, but more often he was. And for a price, usually fifty cents, he would go into the package store just over from the A & P and come out a minute later with a six pack of Black Label bottles in a bag for me, and something for himself. I never knew that man’s name.

Let me say here I have a hard time with stories that jump around. It’s the present, next it’s the past, here one character speaks, now someone else is speaking. I have a hard time following. Maybe it’s the injury and my brain being scrambled, maybe it’s all the Black Label and now there is less of a brain, scrambled or not. Maybe my mind, from day one, was only designed to function on the keep it simple level. Whatever the case, this story is being told pretty much in a straight line, from where it began in Wellingham, Massachusetts, hard by the body of water known as Buzzards Bay, to where I sit now, back at my usual corner table in the Last Chance Saloon, two blocks off the beach in Santa Monica, California. My name is Kelly Silva. I am the star of the show, so to speak. There is another major player, a girl named Shalene Dunn. I guess it’s about her nearly as much as me. I’m just the one telling it.

I drank my way through my junior year in high school. I had been elected the class vice-president, the tainted result of an unwanted nomination and rigged election. The only vice-presidential action I ever took was to one time lead the Pledge of Allegiance at a class assembly, on a day Jennie Rivers, the president, was home with the flu. The truth is that throughout that school year I alienated a lot of people with my drinking and my antics, and by June I could not have been elected class clown. Nobody thought I was funny. Nobody, that is, except Roland Demeter III, Rolo, my best and likely only friend. He still thought I was funny.

That summer, between my junior and senior years, I worked for AT&T, thanks to a connection my Dad had. My job was to collect LIDS – left in disconnected telephones – from summer homes in Falmouth and Bourne on Cape Cod. I would get a company van early in the morning at the Wellingham garage and drive over the Bourne Bridge and out to East Falmouth, stopping at cottages and small homes that served as summer rentals for people from up around Boston and the western parts of Massachusetts. I was provided with a long list of addresses every morning and would start at the ones furthest away and work my way back toward the canal, and home. Most summer rentals back then were for two weeks and people would often have a phone installed so they could stay in touch with family and friends back home, or with a dad still working in the city and only coming down, along with about 300,000 other people, to the Cape on a Friday night. When the two weeks were over, and they went fast in the summer, the renters would head home to Roslindale and Marlborough and West Springfield, and the phone – generally on a wall – would be left behind. The phone would have been turned off when the renters left, hence “left in disconnected”. AT&T wanted their phones back and that was my job, take away travel and lunch, about six hours a day, five days a week. I managed to actually find a new renter or a landlord or rarely an open door on a somewhat whimsical basis, so if I had been given a list with 25 addresses on it that morning a successful day’s work would find me turning in 16 or 17 phones to the garage just before 5 p.m. I did that job for two summers and went to some addresses probably five or six times during that time. I go to know Falmouth and Bourne on the Cape side of the canal a little better, made a little money and saved less, and generally managed to stay out of trouble summer days.

Summer nights were different. Wellingham was made up of small beach communities as well as a number of cranberry bogs and a cover of woods over a fair part of the town. So it wasn’t hard to find a party going on somewhere, pretty much every night. I’d pick up Rolo or he’d pick me up, we’d find a buyer, often the mystery man from beyond the railroad tracks, and drink a six pack or two and in the course of the try to convince some girl, maybe some girl from somewhere else now on a two-week respite in Wellingham, about what good company we would make. I would say our success rate successfully arguing our case with young women was a little less than my rate of success coming back with LIDS at work. All in all, not bad.

It was on one of these find a buyer, head to the beach, convince a girl nights that “the injury” came into my life, and changed everything. I had just come back to the main party from a steamy make-out session with a girl named Roberta when Rolo said he’d run out of beer. He was going to go get some and I needed to keep him company. Bad timing Rolo. But friends are friends, and I had exactly one, so I promised Roberta we would be right back and hopped in his VW bug. About 15 minutes later we were getting out of the car in the A & P parking lot when some guys driving by in a dark green ’57 Chevy yelled out for us to go fuck ourselves. Rolo had the good sense to let that slide and began scouring the lot for a potential buyer. I, on the other hand, felt the need to reply to the Chevy crew, and threw them the finger.


To Be Continued



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Check Your Shoes (Before Entering the House)

There are eight million canine stories in the city. This is “Check Your Shoes (Before Entering the House).

I went for a walk the other afternoon, and just before walking I asked The Universe to supply me with an idea – some image, a word, a phThe Dogsrase, a sacred vision – for a subject for my Thursday blog post. I was walking down by Johnson Creek, and the idea came to write about walking in the woods. I also thought about the creek water, and rivers, and writing about rivers by which I have closely lived, and how they are unique, each there own. I was leaning toward that. And then I happened to look down and saw I was about to step in a pile of dog excrement. In Portland. Here. And I knew The Universe had answered. I had my tale.

Let me tell you something about Portland. There is a militancy here about cleaning up after your dog. No, I take that back. It is more like a flat-out, crazily obsessed, dogmatic militancy. You must clean up after your dog. We have ways of knowing if you do. Or – perish the thought – if you do not. Punishment will be severe.

Actually I have never seen a “punishment will be severe” sign posted. But there are signs to “pick up” posted throughout the city, certainly at walking parks. And parks that have sections reserved for dogs-off-the-leash-freeness. And there are receptacles. Everywhere. With blue doggie bags. To use for, you know, cleanliness is next to dogliness. Some are just bags. Many are blue, made of the kind of plastic outlawed in California and no doubt soon in Oregon. Others are clear. Boxes of dog bags everywhere. Some are in the shape of plastic gloves, making the grabbing and scooping and retrieving process lickedly-split quick and easy. But those boxes are only for convenience. Not really necessary. Because dog walkers everywhere in Portland carry their own bags, like boys use to carry Trojans – just to be ready, just in case. Everywhere people are leaving their homes with plastic bags, gloves, receivers and retrievers of all shapes in their back pockets. Or their purses. Because that’s the way we roll here.

So, imagine my surprise – lost in reverie about my next wildly engaging blog post of nature, rivers, spirituality – to look down as my foot was about to fall squarely in a big pile of dog shit. (Author’s note: as it is my intention always to write blog posts that are available for readers of all ages, the aforementioned dog shit will be hereafter noted as “DS”.) Anyway, the shock, the fear, the loss of breath, the……………….

Um, excuse me. That is not how I felt. Don’t tell Portland people I am saying this, but I looked down, I was about to step in DS, and I – oh my God! – moved my foot. The canniness, the stealth, the jaguar-like speed of decision making. I moved my foot, I thought I had a blog topic, and I kept walking. Here’s why. It’s a where and a when. I’m from Massachusetts and I am from back in the day. Ah, the day. That day. Back when we would go out to play, really play, run through back yards, back and forth across streets and the little grassy areas between streets and sidewalks, run through baseball fields and empty lots and parks by schools and parks by rivers and parks by the woods, and inevitably, invariably, run through DS. Like, you know, not a big deal. Like, you know, normal. If you went out to play and you didn’t come back with at least a smidgeon of DS still on the bottom of your sneaker, even after all the rubbing on grass or twisting your ankle to get it off the sides, even using a twig or stick to scrape it off the bottom, if you didn’t come back with at least a trace of the brown stuff and just a twinkle of a smell – were you really playing? Had you even gone out? Were you like, maybe, the biggest wuss in your hometown? Come on!! Live free with DS or die.

DS on your shoes was a way of life – a damn badge of honor – and I’m glad I lived in that place and that time. Because it’s not like that here, it’s not like that anymore. Now, you don’t clean up after your dog, it may be a criminal intervention, it may be a fine, possibly public ridicule in The Oregonian. But for sure it will be a seething, glowering mob mentality, a righteous umbrage at the insensitivity and, well, dogged disrespect, for the way things are. They way we do it here. The way we roll.

Sometimes, when I’m in a really “bad” mood – and by “bad” I mean to say really “good” – I make a plan to go to the local shelter, rescue some unwanted mutt, bring him or her home and feed ’em a couple of large cans of B & M beans, and then run through the streets and parks of Portland, my dog pooping and farting and fouling all of the greenness here, there, and everywhere, again, and again, and again.

Because that is how me and my dog, who by the way I will name “TheGoodOldDays”, roll.


Rambling Rose

I take this quote from the book “The Law Of Attraction” by Esther and Jerry Hicks:

Amy9The greatest gift that you could ever give another is the gift of your

expectation of their success.”

Dig it.

After I had quit Salem State College for the second time – on my way to earning my four-year Bachelor’s degree in a tidy seven years – I rolled back up to Salem from a period of alcohol and drug devotion on Cape Cod and ran into my friend Bob Hanson. He told me that the college had just initiated a new major in Social Welfare, that he had changed his study to that major, and that I – repeated quitter – should too. For me that meant moving first from General Studies. Then to English. Then to Education. And now to Social Welfare. I thought about it for five or six seconds and said, “Sure. Sounds like a great idea.” Such was the careful and extended degree of thought I gave to my career and life vocation choice.

When I finally got through that seven year period, in the late spring of 1974, I embarked – fumbling and hiccuping and bouncing all the way – on a 35-year career in human services. Serving humans.

I fell into my first human services position right out of college, a summer day camp gig for the House Of Seven Gables Settlement House in Salem, supplemented by evening work at their teen drop-in center. When the fall came I was offered a position working with teenagers in East Boston. Some of those kids had really bad attitudes and I didn’t last there long. Quit one night and didn’t come back. A few months later I was offered a position as an awake overnight counselor at a runaway house on the grounds of Danvers State Hospital. This is where I met Bob Zimmerman, who offered me the job, and I began a life-long friendship and main vein connection with him that only ended when he left us three years ago. Through him I met Dr. Doug Martin, and I have gushed about them both often here on this blog, in tales named “67Blondies” and “Hunter” and “Please Give the Keys To Florence” and “A Flagstaff Meeting” and “Old Pine Trail” and more. Doug’s gone too. They were two men who truly gave the gift of expecting success for and to others. Always. Their contributions to the planet grow, and glow, to this day.

Anyway, the runaway house closed when the funding ran out and I worked for the Tri-Town Council on Youth and Family Services north of Boston as a school outreach worker. Then after a pizza selling gig in Venice Beach, California – where I had followed Bob – back to Massachusetts and on the adolescent team at a psych hospital north of Boston. After six months there I took, in fact, a three-year leave of absence from the non-profit world to cover girls’ high school sports for a daily newspaper in Newburyport, MA – wrote under the name ‘Winston Cushman Jr’ – and became – gosh – wildly successful elevating the perception of personal success based as much on effort and devotion as natural talent to a large group of young women and their families. I did some of that same kind of writing for a paper in San Clemente, CA too. Then an alcohol and drug counselor back north of Boston. Then a counselor at The New England Home For Little Wanderers. Then down south to serving humans as a juvenile delinquency officer in Deland, Florida, and a street worker in Daytona Beach, then back north as an Assistant Director at a residence for slightly crazy kids in Quincy, MA, then a Director for my longest-running job ever – a little under four years – at a residence for barely crazy young adults just outside Boston. Then off to run a residential program for court-referred kids in San Francisco, then running a permanent housing program for HIV positive, AIDS infected men and women in Provincetown, MA, then a respite foster care program in Portland, Oregon, followed by an administrator position for persistently and chronically mentally ill women in East Portland. And from there, doo wop, art, writing, and Social Security.

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I Think I’ll Take A Walk

There are eight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is “I Think I’ll Take A Walk.”

Another post for my so-called “Art” blog is due tomorrow, Thursday, as I sit here in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon – unemployed, under-inspired, uninvolved, and under no illusion that I have much, if anything, to say. But, here is someIMG_6634 good news. I heard on a newscast the other day, as I was scrolling by with the clicker, that there are 64,000,000 blogs in the world today. So the chances of anyone suffering because my blog isn’t up to snuff this week seem pretty minimal.

My wife Susan, step-daughter Marie, and I returned from four days and three nights at the Oregon coast yesterday, the temperature ratcheting up by 20 degrees or so as we moved inland, over the coastal mountain range, and back to the big city. They were both happier to get back than me. Too much time away from normalcy – email, Facebook, visiting friends, work, social plans, the things people rightly miss after a while. For me, other than the fleeting hope that I would see a new painting or greeting card sale notice on gmail, and of course the chance to catch up on four days of fun Red Sox tid bits, that list of things to be missed didn’t apply. I wanted to stay at the beach. I always want to stay at the beach. I will say it again. I always want to stay at the beach.

Originally I was going to write a blog post called “Different Light”, because I mentioned to Susan yesterday morning before the depressing packing and cleaning time that the light is different by the ocean. There is a different quality to the light. It sparkles in some kind of reflective, brilliant way, a light that cannot be found inland. Even in places with large rivers, like Portland. Maybe this is a looking through artist eyes. It is well known in the artist community of the country, probably the world, that Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the very tip of Cape Cod, has long been a draw to artists because of it’s light. That is wonderful for artists living in Ptown, as it is called, though when I was running a permanent housing program for the AIDS Support Group in Ptown I wasn’t an artist, not a painter anyway, so I didn’t have all-the-way artist eyes to look through.

But this isn’t the point, because I decided against a “Different Light” post. Over the last couple of weeks, actually, I have been thinking a lot about the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. A lot. And I thought I would write this week’s post about that – about the state of our states in these United States, about race relations, about how we live with, or don’t live with, one another. About what our goals should be, instead of what they always are. I was going to start that post like this: “At the risk of alienating family and friends…..” because that is just what would have happened. I have family members who I love dearly with a far different view from mine. I have friends, especially lots of folks on Facebook, including a bunch who have helped me to live and stay sober all these many years, who just don’t see things the way I do. Some of that I have found out on and through Facebook. I guess, ultimately, I decided not to write my piece because I don’t feel ready, the right words and phrases and images haven’t shown up yet. I’ll have to get to that when they do.

So, instead, I have decided, only a few moments ago as I sit here in the Portland heat, a long summer hanging on, to write about a walk I took Sunday afternoon, just above the high tide line north of Pacific City on the Oregon coast, at a little community called Tierra Del Mar. Most of my long walks while at the coast were during low tide, when six hours of ocean pulling back left a football field wide expanse of packed sand, easy to walk on. But Sunday afternoon, when I was so moved, the tide was high and almost all the sand was soft, and I found myself walking right next to the ends of waves, one leg slightly lower than the other on the tide going out incline. So I walked to the edge of the Pacific and headed

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