It was well after 11 p.m. when we made the left turn on to Grapeview Loop Road from Washington State’s Highway Three. The drive in had been quiet; the late hour meant that the rural highways we traveled were sparsely populated, and our rental car pressed quickly forward into the inky black night, following winding roads over waterways too dark to see.
“Wow,” came the response when we arrived at the beach. Even in darkness, my friends could tell that the place was special. I gave them a brief tour and then began to unpack, tired from the long day and hoping to head straight to bed. But as they climbed the spiral staircase to the loft and stood out on the upstairs balcony, transfixed by the smell of saltwater and the sound of the sea, I realized I had underestimated the ability this place still had to stagger first-time visitors.
It continued all weekend: my re-initiation to the beach. After spending so much of my life there, I had grown accustomed to the densely-forested walk along the loop road, the silver, flat-as-a-mirror inlet with its fluctuating tides, the fresh air, the ever-present Mt. Rainier, standing snowcapped over a great bank of evergreen trees. I had forgotten that not everyone spends their summers digging clams at low tide, or building bonfires on the beach, or watching playful seals hunt for food just outside of their front door. I suppose it isn’t normal to pick wild blackberries in the woods on the walk to Treasure Island, or to admire the sailboats docked in Fair Harbor Marina, while tracing a map of the inland waterways of Puget Sound.
The truth is, the beach still has the power to amaze me. Every summer, when I make the left turn from Grapeview Loop Road on to the property that my Grandfather bought in 1959, the sight of Case Inlet stretching out across the landscape still levels me. But along with that feeling of awe comes something else: grief. Every advancing summer takes me further away from the carefree days of childhood, serving as a reminder of how much has changed, how much has gone. Of all the places I’ve traveled, the beach is the place I love the most, but it is also a repository for some of my darkest and most painful memories. I wish it wasn’t so, but I can’t help it: every time I return there, so do the flood of images of happier times, and of loved ones lost.
We planned a Saturday morning boat ride, and though the day dawned cold and cloudy, we pressed forward anyway, undeterred. As we bundled up into flannels and fleeces, my friend Vim spotted an unusual sight from just outside the living room window: a dorsal fin. We gathered on the deck, the four of us passing around two sets of binoculars, and I saw something I had never witnessed in all my summers on Case Inlet: Orca whales. They were hundreds of miles from the ocean, swimming very close to shore, and seemingly in no hurry to reach their destination. As the trio – two babies and their mother – traveled slowly south, spouting water and occasionally breaking the surface, I felt a lump rise in my throat. This moment, amidst all that was familiar, was entirely new.
In the end, I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend my last few days before moving to New York than by sharing the place I grew up with some of my closest friends. I have come to accept the fact that there will always be sad memories contained along the rocky shores of Case Inlet. I can no more extract them from that place than I can the salt from the sea. But there are happy memories, too. Plenty of them, and even more so after this past weekend. After our boat ride, a group of friends and family gathered for a potluck lunch at my Grandfather’s house, and I thought about how he would have loved to hear the sound of laughter reverberating off the deck and out into the late summer afternoon. I thought about how the sight of those Orca whales proved one thing: despite all that’s happened, I haven’t lost my capacity for wonder. I think I just needed to see this old place again, but this time, through new eyes.
Until next time, friends.
I went to Washington years ago, and I still tell everyone it’s the best-smelling state I ever visited! 😁 It’s amazing how the familiar still has the power to induce wonder.
The best smelling state. . . I love that! The fresh air, the evergreens, the smell of the sea. . . I think you’re right! 😉
Awesome post. Your writing definitely transported me to Washington and all the sights and scents. Looks like it was a terrific and soul-inspiring trip.
Thank you so much! It was!
Thanks for sharing the day with me. I have a lifetime of fond memories of spending time with special people at that very special place. I love and treasure those gone now, but also those that remain. Beautifully said, Sarah.
I’m so glad I got to see you, Eadie! It was a wonderful day. I’ll be back at the beach at Christmas, and again for probably a couple weeks next summer. And you’re always welcome to visit me in New York! Once I have a time frame for the production for War Stories I’ll let you know. I’d like to do a couple readings this fall and then put something up in the spring. . . xo
That was awesome Sarah’ …and so heartfelt raw and honest’ heartfelt…
My eyes well wet, until blurred, a sweet taste of the sea breeze’ saline’ saline’, as I was spying the calm waters, I beheld such a magnificent sight, but my heart’ felt it first in leap’ as the first fin bladed the sea by Orca rising arch’ followed by two wee fins in tandem’ and our hearts beat’ she’ a Orca mother and we felt radiant maternal love…
Remedy of the day – A class of Remy Martin XO – (fine Cognac’ I couldn’t afford it’ so I stole you a bottle, to glasses and ear and a beachside fire to sent sparking embers dancing into the night below vast heavens of stars.
‘Also leaves candy beaded necklace of yesteryear, and a few songs that heal our hearts’ – Jackson Browne’ – The Load – Out’ ‘Stay’ Running on Empty’ [live]… ‘You Love the Thunder’ – of Jacksons Browne – Double Disc – 2004 (32 awesome songs) – The Very Best of Jacks – and something else to put into your Martini here Sarah’ –
oh ad one more’ ‘Nilsson Schmilsson – Harry Nilsson – Coconut’…
Until next time’ hope to read you soon…
Thank you, kind sir! As always, your comments are among my favorites on this blog. I’m officially a New Yorker as of two days ago. I’ll write my first dispatch from here sometime before month’s end. . .
Lovely pictures! what a great trip!
Thank you! I don’t have to do much. It’s a beautiful place.
This hit me in all the right places. You are a beautiful writer. – Marty
Aww, thanks Marty. You’re very kind. Thank you for reading!
I used to go back to my grandfather’s place every other year, long after we’d sold the house; long after he was gone. And everytime i visited, something had changed. The tenants were kind enough to give me a tour and let me meander. But it torutured me that things weren’t the same anymore. I wasn’t happy that the tenants were changing things. But it took me a while to realise, that no matter how many times i go back, things would never be the same. There’s nothing in the past, because the past isn’t here anymore. Your piece brought back all my childhood memories. Thank you!
Thank you for reading and for sharing your experience! ❤