As is one of my family's summer traditions, we spent a week in July at a camping cabin at Cape Lookout State Park, a place I think of as typical of the Oregon Coast: thickly treed and rugged, unpredictable in temperature and weather. One afternoon fortunes converged: low tide, the sun at last breaking through the morning damp (but too late to bring with it throngs of visitors), and a cooling wind off the ocean. My kids spent a companionable couple of hours on the beach digging a giant hole with their hands, easily settling disagreements about sand-hole goals and tactics.
My daughter took a break and joined my husband and me where we sat up in the more powdery sand, engrossed in novels. She made small talk in that relaxed, unfiltered, family-vacation way. At one point she expressed disagreement about how long she and her brother should spend on the hole when they could be playing in the surf. At another, she marveled at the idea that Hawaii, where we'd recently visited family, was somewhere in that stretch of blue ocean beyond the horizon. She compared the texture of the sand here and there.
Always ready to seize upon a teachable moment, I told her we in Oregon were lucky to have an almost-fifty-year-old bill that keeps public hundreds of miles of beach between the low-water mark and the vegetation line. (Hawaii also guarantees similar access.) My husband, a land-use planner, jumped in to comment on private property, development, and access. My daughter probably longed to be back in that sand hole with her brother, but instead she nodded politely. Like many eleven year olds, she isn't terribly impressed by policies and legislation, by ideas like public good and protectionism—though one day, I hope, it will be impossible for her to contemplate the world without considering all of these things.
I remember sharing her disinterest in these adult matters: what did they have to do with my kid activities of going to school, playing at the park, and hanging out at the library? Only later, after an exasperated comment by my father that he was tired of paying for so many roads, did I begin to see the vague outline of taxes and public infrastructure. As a young first-time homebuyer, I benefited from a Federal Housing Administration loan, but didn't fully understand then how that put me in a coveted position to accumulate wealth for later. Now, as a resident of a city experiencing record growth in development, it's easier to see the accompanying problems of affordable housing, but still hard to make sense of the complicated and blurry lines between private rights and public good, between free enterprise and protectionism.
But that afternoon, sitting with my small family on the western lip of the North American continent, I backed off my responsibility to raise community activists for just a bit and allowed myself to feel grateful again, not just for the beach bill, not just for the wide expanse of sand and sun and sea, not just for the luxury of time away with my family. I was grateful to feel it all: the sharp edge of civic indignation, the fierce territorialism for a beloved place, the bittersweet realization of having come so far but having such a long way more to go.
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