I wouldn’t say that I attended University of Oregon, but I definitely went there for about a year. Eugene has to be one of the better places on earth to spend “about a year”. The city is perfect in climate and culture and Hendricks Park, which looks like a scene out of Fern Gully with verdant vegetation clinging to everything, is walking distance from campus. Eugene’s got rivers and bike trails and Rastafarian recruits that milk trust funds in secret; it’s perfect. I remember learning to play cribbage in a “quad”. I remember two great friends, one with a weird last name and one that’s lawfully classified as a dwarf. I remember living in a ten bedroom rundown mansion on Pine Street and a riot which we supposedly incited that led to our eviction. But one of my most crystalline memories involves a seal that I falsely accused of being a mythological creature.
If you drive west from Eugene towards the coast, it’s like a cross continental trip in fast-forward. In five hours, you’ll pass through mountains and forests and sand dunes before ending up at the ocean. It’s an odd smattering of every geological feature earth has to offer. Four of us took that trip in a beat-to-shit Toyota pickup shortly before I dropped out, but the two events have nothing to do with each other. We hit the coast somewhere around the Devil’s Punchbowl (which has a Spanish name that I can’t remember; something something Diablo). It’s a blowhole washed out of the bedrock by the surf that’s simply spectacular. If you ignore the “you’re about to die” signs, you can sit on the rim and look down on a frothing cauldron of death that was aptly named. I don’t necessarily condone drug use, but I need to be honest, so here it is. I don’t know how many mushrooms the four of us ate while sitting on the rim of that blowhole, but at five bucks a bag, I’m sure it was way too many. Anyway, we left and checked into a shitty motel in a badass little town with a Moe’s and a bridge spanning a small inlet. If you’ve never eaten at a Moe’s, put it on your bucket list. The clam chowder is served in a big black crucible that the waitress puts in the middle of your table. There’s a pool of melted butter on the surface swimming with saffron and lemon juice; the stuff smells like liquid perfection (or at least it does when you’re hallucinating).
We left and found a little trail to the beach that was carved through a hedge of something with thorns and sat smoking on driftwood for three or four hours. At one point, there was a nightscape over the water with stars and comets in front of us and a sunset behind. I remember wanting to hold really still because I wasn’t quite sure where land ended and water started; the two elements melted together in a weird star spangled carnival mirror that looked enticing and dangerous at the same time.
The bridge I mentioned earlier wasn’t one of those simply utilitarian bridges that just spans from point A to point B. The one in this little town is an architectural masterpiece with stylized balustrades and magnanimous gargoyles guarding both ends. I got the sudden urge to go off on my own after the four of us crossed it on our way back to the motel, so I made my way underneath it (looking out for trolls, of course) and then slid down to the water on my ass. I was sitting on the shore letting the surf soak my sweatpants when I heard something barking at me from the water. What I initially thought was a thoroughly confused dog turned out to be an enormous seal that swam right up to me and started talking. And no, I don’t mean that it was speaking English nor do I claim to be fluent in seal, but the thing was sure as shit trying to communicate. So I did the logical thing and started talking back. As I just mentioned, I don’t speak seal, so in English, I asked if it “was a lost Selkie” and then I said that if in fact it was, she was “a really long way from Ireland.” If you haven’t seen “The Secret of Roan Inish” I highly recommend it. I watched it in a little smoke filled theater back in Anchorage Alaska that served espresso and catered to the artsy type but it has to be one of my favorite foreign films. The seal looked at me like I had offended it and swam back out to sea without barking goodbye. I sat there for a few more minutes trying to separate real from fake and then climbed back up the slope to find my friends and my motel. We played cribbage until it was safe to drive back to Eugene but I didn’t tell any of my friends about that seal until months later. I guess it’s just one of those things that I didn’t want to be met with disbelief. Oddly enough, when I did share the experience, the three that came with me on that trip felt that maybe the thing really would’ve turned into a beautiful Irish woman if I had only waited longer before offending it. Birds of a feather I guess.
I saw the guy that drove that beat-to-shit Toyota walk past me in a hotel lobby in Albuquerque a while back. He still had his long hair and a French horn. I smiled as he strolled past because he had obviously fulfilled his dream and become a professional musician. He didn’t recognize me or even make eye contact in passing because, wearing a tucked in polo and slacks, there was no way I could’ve been that guy from ten years ago that falsely accused a seal of being a Selkie.