Seaglass

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I found a piece of rose seaglass, it's surface a fan of ridges. I knew instantly I was holding depression glass between my fingers. Perhaps it was once a plate or a bowl. I turned it over, the smooth edges a frosted pale pink.

Had it graced a family's table?
She stepped back from the linen topped table, a smile on her face. It was perfect. Smoothing her skirt she risked a quick glance at the clock ticking on the mantel. He'd be home soon. Pale pink glass held his favorite dishes. She pressed a hand to her stomach imagining she could feel life. She smiled. He'd be so happy.
Had it collected dust?
He swept the feather duster across the top of the plate. His mom had had one just like it. Old fashioned fluting decorated the edges while swirls formed the bottom. He wondered if she still collected the junk of if she'd finally traded it in for something more durable.
How had it happened to find its way into the trash? After all, most seaglass was just that. Discarded refuse.
The noise startled her. The cup she was drying shattered as it hit the floor. 
"Why would you do this to me?" she cried in pain. She picked up the plate sitting in the dish rack and threw it against the wall. 
"No one wants that junk, honey. Just toss it." She knew he was right. It was old fashioned and poorly made. With a sigh, she dropped it in the bin.
I set it down and picked up another piece, the letter "R" deeply inset. I'd read the previous evening these brown pieces were typically from mundane Clorox bottles, an everyday household item of such boring origins.

Still, there was a story in each piece.

They'd been used and discarded, tossed into the sea and pounded by the surf. They'd been reformed, reshaped, yet clung to a remnant of their old lives. They had traveled for years only to be washed up on the shore at that precise spot at that precise time to catch the light in that precise way and be picked up by three people a thousand miles from home in a place they'd never before visited.

There was a miracle in each shard.

I held a frosted green bit to the sun and felt affinity strum my heart.
I was once whole and beautiful. The light shone through me like a treasure until I was discarded. I went over the cliff and shattered into dozens of pieces. I was drowned, pummeled, and tossed. I was transformed. My edges were softened and smoothed until I became something whole and beautiful yet again. 
 

Treasure Hunting

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The pebbles rained from my fingers and plopped onto salty stones below. With the exception of the geese, we had the long curve of beach to ourselves.


Every handful, revealed seaglass. Some were tiny, barely bigger than grains of sand. Others were large, clunky bottoms of bottles or shards of jars. Elizabeth had an eye for brown, picking out, with unerring skill, the amber pieces from a beach littered in shades of brown. Joseph searched out whites, somehow spying them among the sun-bleached driftwood and rocks. My eyes spied blue, green, lavender, and pink jewels. We held each piece to the sun and exclaimed over its beauty, it's color, it's unique shape and size. We studied the etched letters remaining and wondered over its origin. We polished it on dirty shorts to better see the color.

We were addicts.

After a morning post-wedding brunch, we'd made our way to the beach. What was to be an hour, perhaps two, became our obsession. My legs pinkened under the beating sun while strands of hair stuck to my neck. Hunger and thirst sent us from the beach to get a sandwich. A late night of dancing sent us back to the cottage for much needed naps.


When the kids woke, it was nearly five. On vacation time in a place where the sun didn't set for another four or five hours, we plotted what to do next. There was a mountain to hike, a lake to wade in, canoes to rent, more places to explore.

Yet, we found ourselves back on that beach, alone again. It was quiet work, each of us lost in our own thoughts. It was meditative, sifting our fingers through smooth stone. It required concentration to look beyond the whole we saw at a glance and instead see the pieces.


I watched Joseph, his puppy large feet clumsy and awkward. I saw the piece of him, there with the whole. I saw his eagerness to please, to do things correctly. He dug next to his legs until his stick hit hard sand, ensuring he sifted through every part of his space and withdrew every bit of glass.

Elizabeth sat next to me, her little legs stretched beside mine. She swept the ground with light fingers, admonishing me for not being gentle enough. While Joseph and I worked in the same manner, she was determined to find her own way.

We got hot and waded in the icy water, moving floating logs to the beach where it dried in the sun while we leaned back against them. We built a wall in this way, marking our progress down the beach and tucking ourselves between the tall grass and the driftwood as heat gave way to evening cool and the sky began to turn pink.

Grabbing a pizza from the market, we made our way home in the dusk.

An Island Wedding

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We drove down the long, paved road until I thought surely we'd reached the far edge of the island. Pulling into a parking area, we walked across a grassy expanse to the water's edge and I had the belated realization that of all the people who had made this trek to witness Morgan and Erin's commitment to love, honor, and cherish, we were, if not the most superfluous, then the most random.


Destination weddings are usually the realm of close family and friends. Destination weddings to locales difficult to reach are even more so. I looked around and realized I knew not a soul besides the bride and even she I'd only met in real life once.

Morgan and I bonded over chickens. Using twitter all those years ago, we sent each other coop plans, breed ideas, articles, and posts. We saw ourselves as at the forefront of urban farming with our cute coops, our fluffy hens, and our adorable children collecting eggs. I was excited to finally meet her at Bloggy Boot Camp in San Diego. We exchanged hugs and smiles and conversation, easily transitioning from twitter to reality.

Shortly after that trip, my life fell apart. She was a strand in the rope keeping me moored to the dock of sanity. We texted. We chatted. And then, a few months later, she too was cast adrift in the sea of divorce. We bonded over paperwork and horribly funny dating stories. Flurries of texts would be followed by months of silence and then another flurry of texts as if only a moment had passed. When she met her farmer, their story gave me goosebumps and a renewed faith in the romantic nature of the Universe.

Through it all, she told me about her island. She insisted I needed to visit because it was a place to heal. I said "one day" with only vague intentions of visiting, though I dreamed of how amazing it would be. Then, four months ago, I mentioned on Facebook that I was thinking of traveling to the Pacific Northwest. A text quickly followed telling me I should plan it the weekend of her wedding.

Which is how I found myself sitting on a wooden bench, surrounded by strangers, and witnessing a tear and laughter filled wedding ceremony. After, as pictures were being taken, the kids and I wandered to the waterfront, our drinks in hand, to soak in the peace and beauty of the spot.


Children being children, we found ourselves at the trampoline in short order. I introduced myself to a British professor and his professor wife who summer on the island and spent a few minutes in general conversation.

"Watch out," he warned me in his lovely accent, "children tend to go feral on the island."

I looked at the kids bouncing, "Don't they always?"

"It's different," his wife said. She tried to articulate it more clearly. "It might be the safety - there's no crime here. Or maybe it's that the days are so long."


I nodded. By the end of the night I'd understand.


We wandered to the tables, carrying our own wooden benches. We refilled our drinks and mingled with still more people. We met two lovely women who not only spoke to me, but to the kids. They knelt to their level and begged dances and conversation, charming the gingers with their laughter and obvious delight. We chatted under the shade of a tree while the kids took off their shoes and ran back to the trampoline. There were toasts, music, pizza fresh from a clay oven. A soccer game started. Rings were tossed. Clothes were stripped off for a late afternoon swim in the Sound.


I walked back to the water's edge at dusk, watching the splashing of the swimmers rounding the buoy bobbing in lazy waves. A sense of peace settled over me. My shoulders relaxed. I took a deep, easy breath of the salt and pine tinged air and turned to look back up the gentle slope. Green and red lights swirled while dancers shouted "timber". My kids were on the dance floor, barefoot and sweaty. Elizabeth's hair had come free of her bun while braids swung around her head. One of Morgan's daughters had lost her dress and was dancing in her slip, holding hands with Joseph. Two teens were wearing wet dresses having run from the water to the dance floor. Adults from every generation were missing shoes or jackets, their bodies dancing to the tribal beats.

It's not just children who go feral on the island.

Discovering the Island

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I woke to a wall of green, sunlight filtering through the leaves and dancing across the blankets covering my legs and the chair was still wedged firmly beneath the door handle. I could hear the kids stirring, their voices thick with sleep as they asked about breakfast. Against all imaginary odds, we'd survived the night.

We showered, dressed and walked out the door to see our host and his dog crossing the field from what I could only guess was his home.


In daylight, the empty expanse was transformed into a wonderland of sculptures and gardens. Tiny huts dotted the hillside while giant chrome flowers bloomed between the trees. He pointed us in the proper direction of town and suggested a place where I could get tea. Cash writhed in canine ecstasy as the kids pet and scratched his belly.



The drive into town took almost a half hour over lazily rolling hills lined with wildflowers. We passed lakes cluttered with lily pads, meadows filled with sheep and cattle, orchards, and the ever present walls of evergreen. Between branches, we caught glimpses of beaches and the Sound.

We parked near the market and walked to a lovely restaurant with the promised strong, loose leaf tea and an omelet of roasted tomatoes, goats cheese, and arugala - and cell service. Feeling silly about my fears the night before, I took pictures and posted the sunshine where flowers bloomed and bees hovered.
After breakfast, we wandered down the street in the direction of the Farmers Market where I discovered children listening to a story and the beginning of my understanding of island life. The reader - a local librarian - paused between books.

"Can I help you?" she asked with a friendly smile, a new book laying across her lap.

"Oh. No. I'm just waiting for my kids," I gestured to the only little girl without feathers in her hair and the only little boy wearing shoes. "They are loving the stories."

Her smile widened. "You don't have to stay."

I looked around the open space noticing I was the only adult with the exception of the librarian. "Are you sure?"

She laughed. "You're new to the island. It's okay. They'll be fine here if you want to go walk around the booths."
I left reluctantly, still not certain of letting them out of my sight. Directly across from the story area, I found a booth filled with seaglass jewelry where I could keep an eye on the kids without being considered de trop.

I ran my fingers over the smooth bits of rainbow frosted glass. Suspended by silver chains and twisted in silver wire, it was expensive, but beautiful.

"If you find your own," the woman running the booth said, "I'll make it into jewelry for you."

I looked up as she handed me a card with the name Erica printed in script.

"There's seaglass here?" I fingered the card and did the mental arithmetic, trying to decide if I could splurge.

"This is all Orcas Island seaglass I collected myself." She gave me directions to the beach and, with a solidified idea of how to pass the remainder of the morning, I collected my gingers and headed to the long expanse of sweeping stone and warped driftwood.

"This doesn't look like a beach," Elizabeth said doubtfully as we picked our way across the muck of low tide and the fist sized rocks covered in barnacles. My Californian children are accustomed to powdery beaches and crashing waves. We kept our shoes on and picked our way across the land as tiny sand crabs scurried from under rocks. We sat on weathered logs, sifting through rocks and finding jewels. It was sweaty work without a breeze to cool us. The air hung heavy and humid as the kids shouted with delight at their hard won discoveries, more often than not, pretty stones and shells rather than glass.

Feeling sunburned and salty, we left the beach and entered the air conditioned storefront where Erica sells her wares. Showing her mother our treasure, she told us about another beach - a little down the way - where larger pieces were common and fewer people sifted the stones. She gave us a time frame to make the jewelry and, with smiles on our faces and a spring in our step, we left to get lunch and get ready for the wedding, knowing we now had a plan for the next day.


The drive home took twenty minutes while the air blasted and music accompanied the dips and bends of the road. We found the cottage after only one wrong turn and piled out of the car for a picnic lunch under the shade of a maple. We were delighted to discover our newly arrived neighbors were attending the same wedding. We exchanged smiles and small talk while Elizabeth carted our picnic supplies to the grass.


We sat cross-legged and spit cherry pits, bright purple juice staining our fingers and chins while we spoke of seaglass and mermaids. We watched as dragonflies darted between flowers and butterflies landed lightly on sculptures. With the exception of a small breeze in the trees and the sound of buzzing, it was silent. Blissfully so.

With reluctance and the knowledge we had time only for a quick wash, we finally made our way inside to dress.

Volcano to Island

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There were tears in my eyes as we drove back down the hillside in our sporty red car, leaving our friends behind with promises of trips to California and repeat trips to Washington. Late night wine fueled conversations had widened the cracks of clarity in my heart and mind, the knowledge that so much of my life was noise, so many of my goals collecting dust with a curled edge post-it note promising later.

The first part of the drive was familiar in the way driving through your childhood is. I saw the sign for Paradise State Park and wondered, as I had when I was little, if it was truly paradise and if I'd ever get a chance to stop and see it. We passed through Woodland and I found myself searching the roadside for the familiar Whimpy's Burgers sign, disappointed to find it replaced by a Starbucks. We drove past the cliffs with their metal nets set up to catch falling rocks and I remembered staring out the windows on the drives home from visiting my aunt and uncle, wondering how many rocks they could hold. We drove past the wide lake with the houses on the edge and over the metal trussed bridges. I passed Longview and Kelso and the Three Rivers Mall where at one time I'd known all the stores and shops. We turned at Exit 49 in Castle Rock and made our way up the road to the visitor's center.


When I was four, I watched Mt. St. Helens spew ash and rock across the sky from our Woodland home, turning morning into night.

When I was nine, we drove up this same road, the ash and desolation turning it into a moonscape. We stopped near the bank of the Toutle and walked through gray dust to collect pumice, the silence of the land nearly absolute.

When family visited, we took them up the mountain, past the A-frame house buried to its second floor to where the road ended. Every time, we recognized the land was healing.

Just before I graduated from high school, we went to the new Visitor's Center. The film, the views, the ashen colored exhibits behind a wall of glass were bright with promise of future expansion.

I stepped out of the car and grabbed the bag containing our lunch with my gingers in tow. It looked the same as it had twenty years ago. A little worn, perhaps, a little smaller certainly. We walked to a bench and ate while a chipmunk played. We took pictures in a tree and walked inside. We spent two hours listening to rangers, learning the history of the mountain, watching the same film I'd watched with my sisters so many years ago.

I wonder if I'd stayed in Washington if I'd have felt that strange feeling of past and present melding, of memories overlapping, the disconcerting sensation of standing in the same space as my younger self.


We got back on the road and pointed ourselves north. There was traffic, an accident, more traffic. The hours ticked by, more hours than I'd anticipated. The kids fell asleep in the back while I chatted on the phone with my mom. They woke up hungry and thirsty and cranky reminding me a road trip in Washington is the same as a road trip in California. We passed through Seattle while I pointed out Mt. Rainier.

"It looks like San Francisco with more water and volcanoes," Elizabeth observed. I laughed a little and nodded my head, making a mental note to come back to Seattle for a few days another summer and show them the charm of Pioneer Square, the excitement of Pike's Market, and the views of the Space Needle.

We stopped for dinner at a drive through, my eyes on the clock and forefront in my mind, the knowledge that a missed ferry meant no place to stay overnight. We pushed our way north until we arrived in Anacortes and, with a grateful sigh, pulled into our spot in the line for the 9:00 ferry. We stretched our legs until it was time to board and then walked to the top deck where the cold wind whipped our hair and sent whitecaps across the Sound.


Whitecaps. The term came to my lips easily after decades on an ocean and dry riverbed.


We left the landing, taking picture until it was too dark to continue. We ate a snack on the metal benches, settling our stomachs. We waited patiently until, a little over an hour after leaving, we were sent to our car to disembark.


The ferry landing was a dim spot of light in inky blackness. There were no streetlights. Any houses there might have been were hidden among the trees. I followed the directions sent to me by our host - a man we'd never met but came with high recommendations on airbnb. I followed the road for three miles through deep forests and past vast empty spots I would discover to be lakes in the light of day. We turned onto a gravel road and crept our way towards the driveway of two dirt ruts, a thick tuft of grass and flowers growing between. We followed it until it ended at a seven foot high gate of wood and iron.

"I don't think this is safe," Joseph whispered from the back seat.

"It'll be great!" I said with false bravado, my mind already leaping to serial killers creeping through the dark of the woods. I got out of the car and walked in front of the headlights to the gate. It was a rustic concoction with large slabs of rough wood and what appeared to be hand welded metal. Lifting a hook, it swung open on soundless hinges rather than the grind of metal on metal I'd expected. In front of me, the only light came from a small pane of glass in the center of a large dark building.

"Hello?" I called into the emptiness. A door opened and into the light cast by my car, a man and dog walked out.

"Mandy?"

I smiled gamely and introduced myself to our host.

The studio cottage was cozy with colorful blankets on the beds, warm wood panelling, a bookcase filled with an eclectic selection of books, and windows reflecting pale, tired faces. As Todd left, I ran to the porch and called after him, "You forgot to leave a key!"

"There are no locks," he said with a cheery wave, disappearing into the darkness of the trees. I rubbed my arms and stared at the spot where the light of his flashlight had been devoured by the night. Going back inside, I looked at Joseph and Elizabeth sitting on the bed. Wedging a dining chair under the door handle I set about looking for curtains so we could change into pajamas and get some sleep. Large expanses of bare glass met my gaze. I hustled them into the bathroom, changed and tucked them in after killing three spiders. I lay on the daybed surrounded on three sides by glass and the oppressive darkness beyond, tapping on my phone.

We made it to the island. Finally. Our host seems nice, his dog isn't Cujo, but there are no curtains on the windows, no locks on the doors, and I have no idea where we are. Have to admit I'm a little freaked out.

I pressed post, waiting for the comfort of hundreds on the other end of the satilite signal.

There was no service.

A Walk in the Garden

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Cameras secure around our necks, we made the long walk up the hillside to the Japanese gardens. In hindsight, it might not have been the most ideal location to bring five young children. Little fingers want to touch and move carefully placed stone and little feet often don't understand the precision of carefully raked sand. Still, it was beautiful.


We wandered the trails, got lost and found ourselves again. I took dozens of pictures in the unrelenting sunlight, comparing notes with Makensy, each of us trying to acheive a perfect shot.


Afterwards, the kids hungry and eager to play, we found our way to a playground where they slid and swung and climbed with jelly smeared hands until it was time to eat cupcakes and, finally, head towards home. Don gamely offered to take all five kids to the house while Makensy and I picked up my rental car and hit up the store without a lull in the conversation.


A second night of camping for the kids, a second night of wine for the adults. We spoke of my writing, of the goals I have for myself, the dreams I hope to fulfill. They listened, encouraged, promised they would read - with some semblance of unbiased opinion. They spoke of their families, their upcoming vacation, their careers. We made promises of future visits and wine shipments. Makensy headed to bed early while Don and I polished of another bottle, stories and memories flowing with the rose and cabernet. Conversation turned to those we knew who had passed away - illness, suicide, accidents. We spoke of those we knew who had married, had children graduating high school or in college, the paths we all took, from this tiny town on the Columbia.


For twenty years, I've sat silent while friends shared high school memories. I've sipped my drinks, listened with a smile, and nodded while they spoke of mutual friends, of aquaintances, of families they knew. For twenty years, I've lived in this place and still, I don't know the stories, the people, the events that made up their teen years.

For two nights, I felt that connection, that sense of nostalgia. The holes in my memory were filled with a sudden vividness. It was a gift.


I went to bed that night, sad that I'd have to leave this lovely family the next morning. Their hospitality and friendship made them feel less like an old classmate and his clever wife and more like dear friends. I imagined living closer, drinking wine under those fairy lights, laughing with two people who, without artifice, taught me a little something about life and love and the magic of deeply planted roots.


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