Pebbles and sand


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Pebbles and sand
By Bobby Neal Winters
Those of you who’ve been following this space for the last couple of weeks know my family took a vacation in Oregon. Most of our trips are on the order of hitting Piccadilly’s down in Tulsa, so this one was extravagant by comparison.
This was a trip my dad never would have made. He would have listed all sorts of reasons. There was too much work to do around the house. He got enough traveling as a truck driver. There was plenty to see close to home. The bottom line was that on a truck driver’s salary with two kids to raise it was just too expensive.
Whenever I get paid for preaching or sell one of my books, I put the money into an account that I use for family vacations. It is my way of salving the guilt for spending time away from my family when I preach or while I write. Last year we didn’t get to take a family vacation, so this year we doubled up and went across country to see the great water on the west coast.
The first couple of days were sunny with clear skies, so we got to walk along the beach in the sun. The ocean and the sky met each other along a line perfect in its straightness. The white caps in the ocean were as a living reflection of the seemingly motionless cirrus clouds above. It was as if the cirrus clouds came down from heaven, pressed themselves upon the sea, and then hurried to dash themselves against the shore.
As I walked along the sand, which was dotted here and there with smooth, black rocks, I marveled simply at the state of being on the Pacific Ocean. Looking over the vast emptiness, I thought that somewhere on the other side was Japan, China, and Russia, and somewhere in the middle was the paradise of Hawaii.
The kids had never seen the ocean. Here in Kansas that is part of the price we pay for being in the middle of the country. We have to be proactive if we are to see either of these things. You don’t just accidentally go to the mountains or drive by the sea.
Standing on the beach with my family and looking out over the vastness of the ocean, I found it ironic that the feeling I had was much like the first time I drove through the relatively treeless plains of Kansas. It may be you’ve felt this way yourself. You’re out there all alone and can see forever. You have a heightened awareness that you are on a relatively small ball flying through space and the only thing that’s keeping you from floating off is the mysterious force of gravity. It scared the pudding out of me that first time.
While we were in Oregon, we saw the beach and the forest with just a little bit of the Willamette Valley on the last day.
You might remember having heard of the Willamette Valley from history class because it is where the settlers on the Oregon Trail were headed. We hear a lot about the Oregon Trail. There were the folks who tried to take books, pianos, or whatever and had to dump them here in Kansas. That’s why we have so much culture. There are the stories of cannibalism among those who didn’t manage to make it over the mountains before winter. That’s why steak houses are so popular. However, I’d never heard much about the destination per se.
The folks who’d made the trip and wrote to their kinfolks back east told them that you could stick a broomstick in the ground and it would grow. Having been there now, I could forgive them the hyperbole.
I kept thinking of the folks who made the trek. Some of them didn’t make it. There were those who died, and there were tears, yet at the end it was as good as advertised. Would I have made it? Would I have even started? They had to have been tough. I doubt if they were easy.
While I was out there, I got an image in my mind I’ve been struggling with.
There are huge rocks just off shore that are the remnants of volcanic activity. They are hard and sharp and would cut your feet if you were to walk on them barefooted.
There are black, smooth rocks that lay on the sandy beaches. They are hard, slippery, and they look almost burned black in contrast to the light-colored beaches.
Then there is the sand, bright, level, and much more comfortable to lie on.
At one of the museums we visited, it was explained to us that the round rocks and the sand were broken from the crags sticking from the sea. In spite of the differences, they are all made out of the same stuff. It is something to think about.
(Bobby Winters is a Professor of Mathematics, writer, and speaker. You may contact him at