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.


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.

A Cupcake Promise and Poet Passion

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I woke to a misty morning and the sound of children laughing. Elizabeth lay snuggled next to me, having crawled into my bed from the tent in the predawn hours. I looked out the window at the fog caressing the trees and snaking around the plants while weak sunlight tried to break free.

Upstairs, the campers were enjoying a snack of fruit and cocoa. I sipped a cup of tea, trying to clear my own foggy brain enough for the brightness of coherent conversation to peek through. The day stretched before us, beginning with breakfast at a local place called Our Bar.

The small downtown of Washougal offered perhaps the best breakfast I've had. Sitting at a long wooden table set with mason jars of water and a hodgepodge of thrift store plates and silverware, we were served by a bearded man wearing a trucker hat and plaid flannel. I grinned behind my tea and wondered if I should take a picture of the quintessential PNW hipster. Then our food arrived.

Eggs mixed with summer squash and bean sprouts were topped with a spattering of vivid violet flowers. The kids devoured thick slices of French toast slathered with butter and drowned in thick syrup. And next to me, Don tucked into cheddar and bacon biscuits topped with spicy boar gravy and a creamy potato and egg stack he topped with a spicy green chili sauce while Makensy ate a parfait of cool yogurt and what looked to be homemade granola. We ordered seconds, savoring each bite of the complex flavors until we could eat no more.

We piled back into the van and headed for the city.

There is in Portland, a shop called Saint Cupcake where sweet combinations like salted caramel and toasted coconut are worshiped and buttercream frosting is the patron saint. It was there we headed first because Don felt he owed me a cupcake.

When we were in the fourth grade, birthday cupcakes arrived in the classroom on a regular basis. While everyone else rushed forward to eat the treat, I held back, staring with single minded determination at the book in my hands, pretending not to care. I felt my cheeks stain scarlet when my classmates asked me why I wasn't eating a cupcake, the looks on their faces a combination of curiosity and confusion.

With false confidence, knowing even then it was far better to act like I didn't care, I replied, "I don't celebrate birthdays."

The memory, like so many from childhood, faded around the edges and mixed with others until, one day, three years ago, I reconnected with Don on Facebook and he brought it up. "If you ever come visit, I'm buying you a cupcake," he wrote, remembering the strange girl with the southern accent who didn't celebrate holidays.

So, he did.

We piled back into the van, our cupcakes safely tucked into a cooler, and went to a place spoken of in excited tumbles of words and wide-eyed enthusiasm. Powell's Bookstore was larger than I'd anticipated, rambling over almost a city block on four different levels. The musty smell of old books met us at the door and sent my heart racing.

An hour later, I sat crossed legged on the floor, my arms full and two little girls standing behind me looking on with the sort of pitying fascination usually reserved for the insane ramblings of a mad woman as I, in near tears, pulled book after book from the shelf with small thought of where my son was or how I'd transport the heavy tomes home. I felt my heart thump a bass beat against my ribcage.

In my hands, I held copies of Little Women (1937), Little Men (1942), Pride and Prejudice (1976), and Leaves of Grass (1926). The book plates had scrawling inscriptions in faded ink to the people who had worn the corners of the pages soft. I read the words I searched for while the girls looked on, explaining to them the depths to which the poem touched my heart.
"Answer. That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse."
"Do you know who wrote this?" I asked the curly haired pixies holding bright pink fairy books in their hands. "Walt Whitman." I said the name with reverence, running a finger across the type. "Think about it, for just a moment. We're contributing a verse to the ever changing world. We are here, in this moment. No matter how difficult life is, our verse is important and essential to the play as a whole."

Elizabeth nodded her head, accustomed to my ramblings and passion while Frankie slanted her eyes at her new friend, perhaps wondering if her mother really was mad.

In the back of my mind, I knew we couldn't spend the whole day at the bookstore. There was a garden to visit, a car to pick up, a son to find. I stood and regretfully looked at the books beckoning my trembling hands and began to make my way to the front. When Don and Makensy found me, I had composed myself to a certain extent.

"I don't know whether to cry or hyperventilate," I said. They laughed. I speared them with a look. "The funny thing is, you think I'm joking."

Going Home: Don Should Read This

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There's something about the green of Washington. It's every verdant shade of a crayola box jumbled together with brilliant yellows, screaming pinks, and soft blues. It's a place watched over by towering white-capped peaks and sleeping volcanoes. Rivers cut through the land and lakes puddle like a giant's footsteps.

There's something about the smell of Washington. It lays heavy on the air, an earthy flavor underlying the crispness of evergreen. It sends me rushing into childhood until I'm twelve and laying on the porch roof, dreaming of far away places and epic romances.

There's something about the light of Washington. It's soft, diffused by high clouds on even a cloudless day. It doesn't glare and cut into the eyes, but is absorbed by the cool darkness of the forest always a few steps away.

I stepped off the plane with my gingers in tow and felt a rushing sense of home.

It's been twenty-one years since I've lived there.

It's been almost ten since I've visited.

Still, it cut through me with an unexpected ache. This, was home.

Don met us at the airport, his face familiar not because of my always spotty memories, but because of renewed friendship courtesy Facebook. He was taller than I'd thought. Or I was shorter than I remembered. He enveloped me in a hug and tossed the kids and luggage into the car. We drove to his house, the conversation easy as we talked of the weather, of classmates, of his children and wife, of my children, and of the adventures he hoped we'd have.

He took the long way home, past a rushing river. I bit my tongue against the urge to ask him to pull over so I could scramble to that icy water and feel it numb my feet. I wanted to drink it through my pores and pull it into my body. I wanted to baptize my children in the land of my birth.

They live at the end of a long dirt road cutting up a hillside and into a tamed forest. He assured me it was safely fenced in and reminded me there are no deadly snakes, spiders or animals in this part of Washington. We unloaded the car and took a tour of his house and yard, winding our way through packed dirt paths, sneaking a berry off a bush, picking a daisy for Elizabeth's hair, and relishing the shade.

I watched with a smile while he put Joseph on a motor bike, trusting this father of three children even though my son almost ran him over. Joseph fell and cried out. I rushed to him and he looked at me in surprise. "The ground is soft."

And it is. It's the soft of a place where rain falls nearly every day. It's not cracked earth thirsty for any drop of liquid.

The kids asked to jump on the trampoline and then, after the begged, I jumped too. I bounced the pine needles and children like popcorn in a hot pan. Which was exactly the way I didn't want to introduce myself to Don's wife Makensy.

She smiled and I felt an instant kinship for this woman who had opened up her home to a stranger and her two children. We chatted about chickens and children while the former chased bugs and the later picked up bows and arrows. The boys formed an instant rapport over Minecraft, Legos, and dragons. Elizabeth practically danced in anticipation of meeting their daughter who finally came home. The two girls disappeared into the house, curly heads tilted together only to return in their swimsuits.

Conversation and wine flowed. Makensy's grandmother and boyfriend arrived for dinner and more wine and conversation. The kids slid on the slip and slide, their faces stained with watermelon. I sipped my wine, breathing deeply and letting go of all the stress and worry, the noise of home.

After dinner, there was s'mores and a tent for the kids. They cuddled in sleeping bags, lanterns snapping on and off in time to their giggles while we sat around the embers of the fire and talked. I discovered Don only reads my blog if the title appealed and that Makensy and I share similar tastes in books and music. We shared stories and opinions, laughing and sometimes serious. 

I went to bed late that first night, my head light from the wine. The noise that has been screaming at me for months now was muted. The anxiety that has been lurking in the shadows for months, always threatening to attack, retreated. I fell asleep feeling utterly and completely safe and knowing, somehow, that perhaps this trip was going to heal a part of me I didn't fully realize was wounded.
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