August 03, 2014

Turn left at the castle

Castle at first light

With my body still on east coast time, I woke up at dawn. The sun hadn’t yet appeared over the mountains, so the long beach outside my window was in deep shade. I pulled on some clothes, grabbed my camera, and went out for a walk. It was colder than I had expected. The soft sand I stepped into felt more like snow. It looked like snow, too, the way it was sculpted into shapes by the wind. Waves rolled in, the white foamy crests striking in the early morning light.

I turned north to walk up towards the big rocks that make an arch. I had the whole beach to myself. I didn’t see another person although I did find a sand castle built yesterday and evidence of an evening bonfire. I wandered up the beach, happily taking photos, sometimes wandering in the water to get just the right shot. I didn’t really have enough light yet for good photos, but I didn’t really care. Having a camera in hand just makes me notice how beautiful everything is.

I was glad, as I walked, that I was wearing a warm fleece, and I began to regret the decision to go barefoot. The sensations in my feet were painful at first, and then they began to go numb, so that it was as if I was dragging along these heavy blocks of ice. “As soon as the sun comes across the bluffs, the sand will get warm,” I told myself. I kept looking hopefully over to the string of beach houses to the east. I turned back towards my motel, wondering how far I’d gone. I’d been out for at least an hour.

I knew it was getting later because I saw another person on the sand, a woman walking a dog. I looked enviously at the sneakers and thick socks she was wearing. By then, I was feeling eager to get back to my warm room. Just one problem. None of the buildings along the shore looked familiar. I remembered that the motel was built of weathered grey wood, but that described almost every building I saw. In my wanderings, I’d been so focused on the ocean that I hadn’t looked towards the shore, and nothing I was passing looked familiar. Maybe I’d already passed the motel. My feet were so cold that I probably looked drunk as I stumbled along the cold sand.

Just then, the sun finally crept past over the tallest bluff, sending rays of light across the sand. I saw a sand castle in front of me — the same one I had noticed earlier! That meant I was right near my motel. With relief I stepped onto the sunlit sand. Already, it felt warmer. I sat down in the sand to take a photo of the castle and absorb the sun as it spread across the beach.

August 01, 2014

Rocky beach in afternoon light

Second Beach

My husband and I are traveling slowly down the west coast, taking the time to explore beaches, stop at lighthouses, hike rocky trails, and stay a couple nights in each beautiful place we find. Last summer, we cancelled our vacation when his mother went into the hospital, so this year we decided we deserved two weeks instead of one. Besides, our 30 year wedding anniversary is this month, and we figured a relaxing vacation would be the best way to celebrate.

July 29, 2014

Here comes the bride


Whenever I send my parents beach photos, my mother asks, “Did you go swimming?” She spent childhood summers on the Jersey shore, where she and her sister spent hours in the water every day. Here in the Pacific Northwest, where the surf is rough, the water icy cold, and rocks jut out from the sand, no one seems to swim. The beaches we’ve been going to are mostly empty of humans, except for a few who are walking, or making forts from driftwood, or sitting in a sheltered place to enjoy the sun.

To get to our favourite beach this morning, my husband and I hiked through a lush forest of tall hemlocks and spruce, with ferns that were waist high. We saw only a few other people. They were young people who reminded me of my college students: dressed in hiking boots and warm fleeces, they carried packs and we could see their tents set up near the piles of bleached trees that edged the beach. 

We explored four different beaches, each with a different personality. One beach was rocky and windy, with huge piles of driftwood. Another was sandy and sheltered, a calm place where we could sit and talk for hours. We saw no lifeguards and no one in bathing suits. Mostly, we saw seagulls and the occasional hiker. Late in the afternoon, though, we came to a secluded beach at the bottom of a steep trail and found, to our surprise, a young woman in a wedding dress, posing with her groom.

Here comes the bride

Atcha Ta Aye


I woke up this morning in a little fishing village in the Pacific Northwest, on land where the Quileute people have lived since the beginning of time. Ocean waves swept across the beach outside my window, leaving smooth wet sand. It was only 5:30 am, but my body was still on east coast time, so I slipped out of bed, pulled on some clothes, and went outside to explore.

Mine were the only footprints on the beach. Seagulls screeched over the rhythm of the waves. Huge bleached logs — whole trees some of them — lined the edge of the beach, creating lovely seats and shelters and forts for kids to play in. Across the water, out beyond the breaking waves, tall rock islands stood like guardians to this cove. They are sacred islands, where ancestors are buried and spirits roam.

I wandered along the beach and over to the marina, where some of the fishing boats were just leaving for the day. A thick fog clung to the shore. On the far side of the harbor, I saw some harbor seals, ducking in and out of the grey water. When a slight breeze came out, the rigging of the boats clinked and chimed. I passed a man about my father’s age, wearing a heavy coat and carrying a bucket. He nodded and smiled at me as I went past with my camera. Near the Coast Guard dock, two young men in uniform were walking out, just about to start their shift. By the time I walked back, cutting through the little village, the single yellow school bus was weaving its way down the street.


July 24, 2014

Always visit the lighthouse

Montauk Point Lighthouse

That’s my travel tip. I don’t know how many lighthouses I’ve visited in my lifetime, but I haven’t regretted a single one.

Lighthouses are built in interesting places — usually at the top of a cliff that juts out into the ocean, with gorgeous views. The little museums attached to them are filled with history: black-and-white photos of the original site, sketches of shipwrecks, and often some narrative about the lighthouse keepers and their families. In an old journal, you can get a glimpse of the man who spent years living on the edge of a cliff, gardening or reading, polishing the lenses and carrying fuel, responsible for the beacon that just might save someone’s life.

  Journal of a lighthouse keeper

July 20, 2014

Salt water

My parents and my youngest sister

Thursday morning, I traveled with my parents to visit Urban Sophisticate Sister and her husband, Tall Architect. We were eager to see their new home, far out on the long island that lies beyond City Like No Other. Their home is lovely, with tall windows that bring in sunlight, a backyard filled with purple azaleas, and a friendly cat who apparently came with the house. But the best part? They are just a short drive from the ocean. The first thing we did Friday morning was drive to the beach and take a walk with our feet in the waves.

July 12, 2014

Under canvas again

Under canvas again

A couple of summers ago my eighty-something father gave up the wooden sailboat he had designed and built himself. A wooden sailboat takes a lot of upkeep — work that very few people can do even when they aren’t in their eighties — and it had gotten to be too much for him. The wooden hull was pretty damaged, so my father cut it up, putting pieces into the marsh for animals to use. He gave me the forward hatch cover and the wooden strip from the bow that held the registration numbers: I have both pieces in my home office.

My father spent last year exploring the river in just a little aluminum motorboat, even designing a seat that would give him back support, but he missed sailing – the peaceful feeling you get when your boat is powered by nothing more than wind hitting canvas.

So over the winter, my father turned that little aluminum motorboat into a sailboat. He made a mast from PVC pipe and used wire for the rigging. Since the metal boat has no keel or centerboard, he built wooden leeboards that can be raised and lowered from either side of the boat. He worked the calculations out on paper, then built every piece he needed, painting the new wooden parts blue to indicate the transformation the boat was undergoing. The last thing he did was to take an old cotton that he used on his first sailboat, spread it out on the floor, and cut and sew until he had new sail for his boat.

So last week when I was up at camp, we waited for an afternoon with a light wind and I went sailing with my father.