Summers were spent in the alternate reality that was Beach Haven. The small strip of beach between the YMCA camp and the harbor on Orcas Island, divided by large rocks that jutted out into the sound. A natural barrier against reality. Sometimes civilization would weedle its way in, in the form of yogurt containers and bread brought back from the grocery store or rare visits to town for some coffee and a trip to the bookstore. But usually, days were spent at the water’s edge.
Large pebbles of the North Washington coast massaging bare feet, what little sand there was slipping its way between toes, and lounge chairs were dragged from the deck to the pebbles at the water. Here, we absorbed 300 pages at a time, turning through stories to the light of the sun descending, burning, extinguishing itself in the cold saltiness of the Puget Sound, making the sky blush in embarrassment.
On the hottest of days, we would launch ourselves from the craggy, rocky peaks of Freeman Island, losing our breath when we crashed into the icy water below. We would shiver mercilessly and then find a warm rock, be it jagged and sharp, to dry off. When we got old enough to row out to the small island by ourselves, we’d spend hours, just us kids (teens then), exploring the small tide pools, climbing rocks, catching up after not seeing each other for a year, trying to out-do each other’s cannonballs into the ocean.
My family is there now, and years have passed since I’ve been able to take a week off work and join then on the second week of July. So I’ve made do by visiting at other times. A couple years ago, I visited Lopez Island in April and I remember showing some friends Orcas one sunny Memorial Day weekend the last year of college. Well, I was also back a couple weeks ago, to visit San Juan island with a couple girlfriends. Like so many times before, the minute I stepped off the ferry, time seemed to expand like taffy, longer and longer and longer. Views of the Olympic Mountains, delicious meals from the farmer’s market, hikes along the edge of bluffs, and always that craggy, raw wildness of the ocean, everpresent.
The quiet here is palpable.
Despite the chorus of songbirds, it is still quiet. The view of the Olympic Mountains from the deck, the expanse of trees leading to the ocean, the Madrona tree reaching up to the third story.
A landscape of non-human invasion, of greens and blues and greys that is quiet, all-encompassing, expanding into our minds and hearts.
We are quiet in movement, quiet in energy, quiet in spirit.
Over the weekend, we drink in this quiet like people starved of water, city-dwellers drinking in the everything of wild spaces. We feel the cogs of our brain slow, as they have so many times on these islands before.
The hours unfold and then melt away as we watch the sun make its never-ending rotation East to West, day after day. From our perch we can see the Sound sparkling below, and the horizon beyond, rising up craggy and white, the Olympic Mountains.
We climb Young’s Peak to see the expanse of land beyond us, on and on, more land more trees, ever expanding. It’s as if the cartographer laid it all out just for us, a living map.
We walk South Beach, teetering on the edge of land, smelling salt and wind and sunset. The lighthouse tells stories of days gone by, when people watched impatiently for loved ones. The rocks we sit on are hard and ancient. They know things.
We walk along the West side, feeling the sand below our feet. We pick up rocks shaped like hearts, hoping they’ll help us love better. Grasping grasses for support, we climb the side of the cliff, hoping those roots are strong. Then we return on the bluff, toeing the line between safety and freefall. Legs scratched by grass brings us to reality. We’re surrounded by California poppies, a fire erupted on the bluff. The wind whips our hair into our faces, welcoming us awake.