“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
They’re making changes to the beach house. Glenn told me about them on the drive in from Sea-Tac airport, as we coasted in and out of the carpool lane, trying and failing to beat the crush of holiday traffic and all the people fleeing the city, bound for barbecues and bonfires somewhere pretty with a water view, somewhere – I’m certain – not as pretty as our place with a water view.
We made the left turn off Grapeview Loop Road sometime after two-thirty and there she was: Mt. Rainier, standing tall above a sparkling blue Case Inlet and that familiar bank of evergreen trees. We have a saying in Western Washington when the weather is good: “The mountain is out.” The mountain was out, and I felt better about my somewhat optimistic decision not to pack an umbrella.
The beach house was the same but not. The built-in wooden cabinet that used to house Grandpa’s liquor bottles, assorted pens, knick knacks and puzzle books had been pulled from the wall, leaving behind a blank white space that only made the already bright and airy living room feel even more open and inviting.
Gone was the railing around the deck, with its slack and dirty rope threaded through splintered wooden posts, replaced by something solid, secure and decidedly modern: squares of sinewy metal framed by handsome polished maple.
Above the bar, a cheerful sign proclaimed: “The beach fixes everything.” As I settled my tired, up-before-dawn body into a seat on the weathered old porch swing, the breeze off Case Inlet gently tickling my skin, I had to agree.
Every time I return here, I think about a letter my grandfather wrote to me just before my college graduation in 2003. He predicted great things for my future, told me I could do and be whatever I wanted, and asked that I not let too much time pass between visits. “Don’t forget where you came from,” he wrote. “The beach never changes. ‘Tis only we who change.”
I used to take issue with the second part of that statement. Of course, the beach changes, I had wanted to scream during the dark periods of loss and upheaval that left their dirty thumb prints all over the last decade. Change was everywhere here. The strange new neighbors. The gaudy, imposing mansions springing up on what used to be vacant land. The laughter of loved ones echoing off the rocks and out into warm summer nights now confined only to my memories.
And yet. Every day without fail, the tide goes in and out. The mountain still appears, with the sun, above the tops of unchanging evergreens. Every year when the weather turns to autumn, a flock of Canada geese arrive and take up residence on the neighbor’s lawn. And the granite formation better known as Grandpa’s “magic rock” still stands on the beach like a strong, silent beacon, though Grandpa himself can no longer swim circles around it at high tide.
I think my grandfather was right: the beach hasn’t changed so much as it has reflected the change in all of us. This beach is certainly different than the place I remember from my happiest childhood memories. But that’s because I am different. And as the persistent drumbeat of time marches on, perhaps the biggest change I have experienced is the recognition that nothing is meant to remain as it is. That in this enormous, beautiful, rapidly unfolding thing we call life, the best lesson we can learn is to appreciate everything and cling to nothing.
The beach never changes. ‘Tis only we who change.
Until next time, friends.