On my way back upcoast from my Brookings reconnaissance, I decided to stop early in the ride in order to ease the subsequent legs of the 5 & 1/2 hour trip back to Portland. With the return of a sore neck and back courtesy of a fold-out bed, noisy campsite neighbors, and then yet another failed sleeping mat this summer; I needed to stretch out on the sand in the cool sunshine of the coast before heading inland to an even more distinct heat and drought. With less than a year’s light usage, a LightSpeed double walled mattress had blown a couple of coils the week before, and now the Fox mat gifted me 5 years earlier had refused to maintain consistent inflation for the last few evenings. Another ill-timed replacement expense, I dismissed my aggravation for the time being as I stopped along Meyer’s Point at the mouth of O’Brien Creek to get lost in the sweeping view. Taking it into my eyes, lungs, head, and heart; I casually repacked some ironically damp gear as I snacked, and then even more casually tossed my beloved fleur-de-lis pinkie ring into the dunes along with an acorn I was discarding from my floorboard. Immediately I felt my heart sink.
But I had seen the shimmer as the ring passed into the brush and so thought I would be able to locate it quite easily. I causally finished my yogurt and granola, spread out my hammock to dry over the passenger seat, and then approached the edge of the dune grass while tracing the trajectory of the ring flight from the back door of my car. No sweat, I thought, I’ve done this before a few times….like when the yellow jackets attacked as I was prepping food at camp, or when I had been swimming in the river, or folding laundry even. The years had proven that the ring would not stay on my pinkie unless I had been drinking more heavily or eating too much salt. Initially, I simply brushed some of the grass aside where I had seen ring enter it. No luck there. I expanded my search radius a few feet outward, getting down on hands and knees to ensure that I did not toss the ring away as I unclumped some of the tangled mess of roots and dead grass. Still nothing.
My frustration building, I was incredulous that I could not find the ring when I had actually seen exactly where it had flown. I began to curse under my breath. “What the fuck?!” I began to curse loudly. I then began to yell my curses into the ambivalent wind whipping at my face. F bombs then exploded indiscriminately as cars passed by on the highway unaware of my torment, but also likely wondering what I was doing on all fours on the ground at the roadside stop occasionally yelling at the sky. I must admit, it felt pretty good to exorcise my rage. After another 30 minutes of searching, I was beginning to get very hot, both headed and bodied; and the objectivity of my search capacity suffered for it. So I decided to take the walk on the beach that I had originally intended in order to calm myself and thus return with greater composure to the search I was certain would end in my favor. I had lost this ring in this manner a few times before, and I still had the thing.
As I walked out on the beach, I could hardly enjoy the scenery, my mind still back at the car, in the bunch grass. I recalled how the Gold Door, even after keeping the ring for 6 months during COVID, had failed to downsize the ring as I had requested. I had not returned to renegotiate the work because the initial repair had taken so damn long. Still, it was not their fault. I had known the ring was loose almost instantly, had taken it off a few times for fear of losing it, had begun clinching the latter fingers of my right hand a bit to ensure that the ring stayed on; maybe not the best routine for the residual nerve damage in that hand. I sat on the warm sand behind an enormous rock outcropping directly on the shoreline to block the wind and gave myself a little talk about the significance of the ring.
I had purchased it the final day of a family trip to New Orleans in which we had just witnessed the football team from the University of Alabama crush the team from LSU for its second national championship under Nick Saban. The victory had been decisive, the Tigers never crossed the 50 yard line, such was the defensive prowess of the line-up that year, likely the best in college football history still. We had all witnessed thrilling moments of athleticism and teamwork together in the Superdome in addition to an exciting Saints/Lion playoff game that week. When I purchased the ring on French Market Place, I thought of it as the perfect complement, just the thing to commemorate one of the finer times my family had been able to enjoy together. For a moment freed by collective purpose from our ongoing grievances with one another, we had come together for one of the finest times we’d enjoy. Moreover, the fluer-de-lis was a quintessential symbol of the French and of New Orleans, a place very dear to my heart for its people, food, music and culture. Even if I had not imagined myself ever wearing a pinkie ring, this was the ring I should have, and it was the only remaining size of a discontinued pattern that would fit one of my fingers. The design far surpassed any other in the glass cabinet, called to me, and it would be mine.
In addition, the ring complemented perfectly the other silver rings on my hands, the only jewelry I wear, in recognition of my French heritage as well as my Germanic and Welsh/English (I always claim Welsh over British in honor of William Blake and the forehead that we share). The rings have become a part of me: talisman superpowers, reminders of roots, I’m naked without them. With the added tensions brought by the race riots after George Floyd’s murder and the poor COVID response of the southern states generally, I valued the ring not only as tribute to the impeccable taste of the French and my small heritage within, but also as emblematic of a time perhaps now passed when I might join old friends and family from Alabama at least in appreciation of sport, albeit tacitly brushing aside the dangers and inequities facing the young men and women who entertained us. Unable to find much consolation in this interior monologue, I rose after a few more minutes and re-approached my business with the ring and the dune.
As I retraced its flight trajectory and picked through the tall grass again using a small axe to spread the brush so that I might more clearly see the root structures and if the ring had somehow attached to one. Although I enjoyed brief assistance from one man whom I had earlier jokingly asked for a metal detector, we found nothing. And after a dozen passes through the area, I finished my beer, conceded victory to the dunes, and cursed a few more times as I wheeled back North with a head full of rage and disappointment. I drove for a couple of hours silently as I rehashed the scenario, searching for an opening in my consciousness that would allow me to find solace in the loss, and especially on the tail end of what had generally been a spontaneously successful adventure. After scattering a dozen or so more F bombs throughout the countryside, my throat sore and parched from my outbursts of the last hour plus, I calmed down enough to enjoy a burrito at a very cool Wilson Market in Bandon.
The unexpectedly warm welcome I received and the flavor of the carne asada special brought me out of my slump, and the warm sunshine along with the omnipresent chilly wind of the Pacific Ocean (thank the Lord more and more) bucked me up for the remainder of my travel. I still had to consider and reconsider the err of my ways in having lost one of the few material possessions for which I cared. But after a substantial repast and maybe a little more scream therapy, I was already searching my brain for a different narrative. I began to consider how many times over the last decade I had nearly lost the ring and how much worry it had caused whenever I performed an activity where it might slip off or snag on something. I could have cursed the silversmith at the Gold Door for incomplete work, but I also could have taken it back any number of times, though I figured it would have done little good since the initial order had been treated as complete, when it had not been. I continued to muse on these matters until the traffic around Salem forced me to pay more attention to the road and to a semi truck that nearly clipped me as I attempted to maneuver around it while it sat idle in the middle of the exit lane of the truck stop.
As I made my way back into Portland, thankfully at a break in the heat wave, traffic forced a reroute southward through town. As I transitioned to a less direct, but ultimately quicker, route home; I began to think of the ring as a necessary sacrifice for the sustenance I had received so long from so many adventures in the Oregon mountains, forests and rivers that I had just now clearly seen throughout the state in extreme states of distress as a result of years of human mismanagement, lack of honest stewardship. This bit of silver I had, no matter how much I cherished it, was the least I could give, I thought, to a nature that had revived me when I had little human support and less hope for recovery, and that has continued to ground me through a social existence I see largely as pointless and absurd. I can easily give up a pinkie ring and more for that, can trade a less meaningful signification of success for the real support and different success I’ve found simply in the life I’ve created out west from the ashes of the old.
Requiem for a Ring Dream.