Thursday, March 15, 2012


I have a favorite body part.  It's not a cosmetic feature: legs, butt, eyes or hair, but rather something of function.  My favorite body part is my skin, mostly because it allows me to touch.  For me, no other sense elicits as strong of a response as touch.  This occurred to me while I was on the Oregon coast in early March.

After spending the day breaking rocks in Professor John Logan's lab we hurried to the beach for the last rays of rare winter sunshine.  As soon as I reached the end of the pavement I tore my shoes off and buried my feet in the sand.  It was damp just under the surface and cool to the touch.  Each grain tumbled into place around and between my toes, I couldn't help but smile.  Lauren and I raced down to the frigid Pacific and plunged in only ankle deep.  Suddenly I was a five year old at the beach with my family, running into the surf and then away just as fast amidst squeals of laughter.  The icy water caused the soles of my feet to tighten sharply, sending electricity through my body.  As we walked down the beach the sun warmed my skin, wind whipped around my face and sent hundreds of grains of sand bouncing over the tops of my feet.  I realized that when I think about the beach I don't remember how it looks, smells or sounds, but how it feels.

Every day our skin touches things; some feel good, some feel bad.  In the shower, I turn the water on so hot it's almost scalding and feel the heat of every drop.  I wear clean wool socks (always clean, always wool), so my feet feel good all day.  I almost always wear yoga pants because frankly, my skin doesn't like denim.  Making breakfast, my skin tells me not to flip the bacon with my fingers, scolds me for removing cheese toast from the oven with my bare hands.  It tells me how many jackets I have to wear when I leave the house.

It was unseasonably warm for the northwest that weekend.  The sun gave the coast a brief respite from the thrashing it takes all winter.  We decided to linger on Sunday and took our time getting back to Eugene. After winding north on Highway 101 for a few miles, we stopped at the John Dellenback Trail near Lakeside.  The trail runs through a span of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area that is closed to ATV's.  I stepped out of the car and left my shoes behind.  The asphalt was warm and I tiptoed around as to avoid sharp rocks.  We walked on a pleasantly shaded dirt trail for a quarter of a mile and then climbed up a steep wall of sand to the soft golden dunes.  The first thing I did was tumble head over feet down one of them, leaving behind tracks that could have belonged to some mythical creature.  Sitting in the sand feeling the sun singe my face, I buried my arms and legs as far as I could.  As each sand grain rolled over my skin it left a little bit of warmth behind.  I love the feel of hot sand; it tickles, but is almost sensual.  It lights up all my nerves, making me aware of every inch of skin it touches.  We sat against a dune drinking a beer while the breeze rolled around us.  Laying back, we let ourselves drift off as our bodies left impressions in the welcoming sand.

My skin allows me to fully experience the things that I do.  It sweats so I stay cool and it calluses so I can climb.  In the snow it tingles with cold and in the sun it burns red first, then brown.  Every freckle I have is the mark of a moment outside.  It is a canvas for scrapes, bruises, scars and ink.  My skin is a vault of memories, each one composed of hundreds of physical sensations.  It's my favorite body part because it reminds me I'm alive.

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