From a little village by the sea

Per the suggestion of my wise ol’ uncle and aunt (emphasis on the wise, not the ol’) I have decided to link to more of the writing I do at The Paper here on my personal website. I often find myself lamenting that I have less time for my personal writing projects now that I am running a newspaper, but that’s kind of silly, isn’t it? To start, here is my editor’s note for this week’s paper.

La Playa; Sayulita, MEX

As I write this, I am relaxing on a blanket in the sand 20 feet from the Pacific Ocean. I’ve kicked aside a few strays shells and rocks and dug out a comfortable seat, from which I can enjoy the view and ponder my surroundings. The water is still today, much to the chagrin of a zig-zag row of forlorn-looking surfers bobbing out past the shoreline. It’s unseasonably cold, or at least the locals claim so, but the rising sunburn on my shoulders tells me otherwise. How’s that, you ask? A sunburn? My little spot is not in Cannon Beach, you see, but rather in Sayulita, Mexico, roughly 2,600 miles to the south.

I’ve been here a week, sleeping late, gorging on tacos and soaking up some vitamin D in preparation for a long, cloudy winter back home on the North Coast. Seven days isn’t long, but it’s certainly been long enough to take note of all sorts of parallels between my home beach and this little north-facing fishing village.

No matter where they are, it seems, beach towns share a few commonalities.

One, a slooooow pace of life. In both Cannon Beach and Sayulita, cars crawl along at a glacial pace. Some do so because they are lost, but most do so because to step on the gas would mean mowing down the hordes of pedestrians wandering down the roads, no mind paid to the traffic as they window shop and pause to consider restaurant menus. In both towns, I’m am eternally amazed to discover, nobody honks or screams “Get out of the way!” Ever. This is not the case in the vast majority of cities on planet earth, and although we all know it can be slightly maddening to find yourself stuck behind an SUV whose turn signal keeps going on and off and on again, or stopped dead in the middle of the road while a group of tourists 20 thick ambles across the street like a displaced herd of sheep, there is something sort of wonderful about it. It gives you permission to slow down, too. And when off season arrives – the scorching summer months for Sayulita, the wet winter ones for Cannon Beach – and all those cars and people disappear, things get even slower.

Business owners in both towns always seem to find ways to profit from the downtime, whether it’s by booking a much-needed vacation or completing necessary improvements and repairs. (For more on local second-season strategies, see this week’s front page story, “Shouldering the slow season.”)

Two, a far less rigid approach to rules for the sake of rules. Cannon Beach Library Manager Peter Farrell (P. 6) calls this laid-back attitude “beach rules,” and it is a tradition as alive and well on the North Coast as it is in any blissed out surf town south of the border. At the library, Farrell explains, librarians have opted to ditch the old standby of the crabby librarian scream-whispering “SHHHHH” in favor of accommodating the boisterousness of the littlest visitors and the booming timbre of older patrons whose hearing isn’t quite what it used to be, perhaps, Farrell muses, on account of listening to the ocean’s roar for all these years.

In Mexico, beach rules means not sweating the small stuff, even when it starts to feel like big stuff. This can be a difficult philosophy to get behind when it’s 2 a.m. and fireworks loud enough to jolt you out of bed keeping on popping, or when it’s 3 a.m. and the banda music from the cantina down road is only getting louder, and louder. But in the end, all that little stuff becomes merely a pleasant backdrop, if you’re willing to let it.

Three, an unflagging collective appreciation for beauty in all forms. Community Presbyterian Church Pastor David Robinson calls it “the beauty of creation,” (P. 3) and as Christmas arrives, it’s just one of many things he’s giving thanks for. In Sayulita, this appreciation is painted all over the faces of locals – both native and non-native – as they amble down the streets and beaches, whether on their way to work or play: the surfers who never tire of spending their mornings and evenings out on the water, waiting for the perfect wave; the business owners who throw open their doors each morning to let the sun in and patiently sweep away the sand that is tracked endlessly in throughout the day.

In both places, this beauty is also honored by a vibrant and eclectic art community. Like Cannon Beach, Sayulita is bursting with with independent art galleries. In addition, its cobbled roads are dotted with makeshift stands peddling intricate beaded jewelry, elaborate embroidered wall hangings, and all manner of other art.

Four, a focus on community that serves as a critical anchor in difficult times. In Sayulita, flash flooding wiped out a good number of businesses and homes – as well as the town’s major bridge –  last summer. Sayulita is home to a good number of Americans and Canadians as well as Mexicans, and many residents say that the catastrophe really brought to light the sense of communalism that makes living there so wonderful. Those who’d been spared from the deluge immediately offered assistance to their neighbors. Often, the requests were simple: a pair of shoes, a few hours spent shoveling mud. As the process of rebuilding bridges and businesses continues on through the winter, many locals are going out of their way to shop and dine at establishments still struggling to bounce back from the losses.

In Cannon Beach, as well, locals have in the last two years banded together in the face of a stagnating economy, working together to drive business and encouraging each other through the difficult months.

No matter where you live, opportunities to slow down, to relax, to appreciate and to reach out to neighbors abound. But there’s just something about a beach town that magnifies them in a way that is entirely unique. We are lucky, indeed.

Merry Christmas.

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