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.

July 08, 2014

Amidst the cattails


I’ve been living in a tent for the last ten days — the annual July vacation at my parents’ camp, a peninsula of oak trees that juts out into a marsh on the river. My parents have a little cabin that they built before the 1972 wetlands legislation went into effect, and the rest of us (that is, my siblings and our families) bring tents. We’re a family that keeps getting bigger all the time, and I counted 11 tents this year. The age range spanned 83 years – from my father, who is the oldest, to my niece’s baby, who just turned six weeks.

People often ask, “So what do you do all week?”

We do spend a lot of time sitting around in the shade of the oak trees, talking and joking and playing games. But we also swim, and paddle canoes or kayaks, and build campfires, and cook meals on the grill, and drive to town for ice cream, and go sailing, and play bocce or cards or that game where you toss cornbags through a hole in a board. When the whole family is up, there’s always something going on. And anyone who wants a break from the noisy crowd at the firepit can take an inner tube and float quietly in the marsh.

That’s Dandelion Niece in the photo.