Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too. ~~Lawrence Bixby

Sunday, September 4, 2016

What I Didn't Do on My Summer Vacation

Learning to row; sisters and cousins

When I was a kid, we spent summer vacations at Hunter Point, an enchanted beach near Olympia on Puget Sound: pristine sandy shores; views of forested islands, Mt. Rainier, and the Olympic mountain range; acres of woods to explore. From the moment we arrived to our tearful departure two weeks later, my sisters and I played on the beach or in the frigid water, swimming, rowing, water skiing. Beach fires in the evenings, fishing in the mornings, we lived by the rhythm of the tides.

Hunter Point cabins
The cabins were funky and old and smelled of mildew, the water tasted of iron, we cooked on a wood stove. The beds, when we slept inside, were thin mattresses on squeaky metal springs. None of that mattered, we were blissed out.  We ate Dungeness crab, caught on a rusty oven grate using bullheads for bait; buckets of butter clams, dug early in the morning on the far side of Squaxin Island; flounder and sole brought up from the kelp beds using sticks and string ; and the occasional trout or sea-run cutthroat, caught casting from shore. We rowed old wooden boats to uninhabited islands and explored their woods, creating stories about who might have lived in the crumbling cabins; we found treasures of broken bottles and old leather boots and collected endless jars of stones and shells.

On Squaxin Island with sisters and cousins.
Back home, after weeks of shaking out blankets and washing clothes, the sand and salt and wood smoke smell would finally disperse; but our memories of the beach remained indelible, never far from the surface.

So I was excited when my sister Nancy discovered a place on Orcas Island that had an ambience similar to Hunter Point: funky old cabins at a sandy beach’s edge, views of islands and expanses of water. Laurie and I planned our trip for months. I pored over old family photos and rummaged through memories of our many beach trips. I remembered collecting tiny shells and stones from the tideline, and digging clams and geoducks at low tide, the smell of beach fires, of early morning salt air. In retrospect, I wanted to relive those carefree times and foolishly dreamed that this trip would be all that.

North Beach, Orcas Island

Reality: when we finally arrive at North Beach after an arduous journey, I am in such pain I can hardly move for the first couple of days; I’ve had to walk a lot more than I’m used to and it takes a toll (new appreciation for the wheelchair!). Reality: the funky old cabin has no comfortable place to sit, and the couch is so low the view out the window is obstructed. Reality: the ground is rough and rocky and my scooter won’t go beyond the bit of grass that stops twenty feet from the beach; there is a tall berm so I can’t even see the beach-proper, let alone be on it. Reality: there is a burn ban and we can’t have a beach fire or even one in the fireplace; no wood smoke fragrance will follow us home.

Reality: I am crippled and getting older and cannot relive my childhood.


I want this trip to be more than a reminder of all I cannot do.This requires being in the moment, an acceptance of what is, and creating new ways of doing trips and vacations. And letting go of expectations. (The definition of expectations: planned disappointments.)

Laurie is content to read through her stack of books; she has no need to be out doing and going, she appreciates this utter silence and these long vacant hours for reading and resting. I am also mostly fine with this; yet I yearn for an evening on the beach, to sit on a blanket on the sand, watch the fire curl and flare, count shooting stars, tell ghost stories, sing silly songs, have sandy hot dogs. 
And s’more. 

Hunter Point: Dad teaches us to lay a beach fire
(Thanks for sending the old photos, Nancy!)