a town with wings and no feet

My trip to Port Townsend, taken almost a year after we moved to HQX, has come and gone. I enjoyed myself doing what I like to do; taking a leisurely schedule and breaking bread with a handful of dear friends. I was oddly relieved to see that very little felt different; the town was just as it was, warts and loveliness both. Business owners will still doing their thing and restaurant menus and offerings remained the same. The weather competed for Grays Harbor in terms of winter blah (although my logical mind knows this was only a kindness bestowed on me by the weathergods to soften the soaked mossy reality of my new home). My friends’ lives hadn’t suddenly taken wing without me. The children I’d so missed hadn’t changed so much as inserted about 6″ in their middle somewhere. Port Townsend itself did not evoke wistfulness or sadness so much as seemed a comfortable, parallel dimension of home.

There were cosmetic differences. Ladies seem to have traded in their Danskos for Merrells. An acquaintance’s art shop had moved downtown and Swain’s checkout counter had moved up in the store. On Saturday I went to a yoga class and re-connected with that aspect of the community, which I discovered I’d missed very much. In both Friday and Saturday night’s gatherings I was inspired by the community I’d known with their impulsive creativity, a bubble that expects, experiences, and serves itself a high quality of life indeed.

I spent almost no time alone this weekend which was highlighted by a little incident on Sunday afternoon. Two o’clock found me outside the Model T Pub and Eatery in Hoodsport with my vinyl green suitcase and my sock knitting (Nels’ Christmas socks, still unfinished). It’s cold – very cold, but brilliant and sunny. I don’t want to go inside the pub (a pleasant place) because I want to see my family when they arrive. As I knit away, yarn ball tucked in my pocket, a man emerges from the restaurant and into the sunshine to smoke. He looks like Grays Harbor stock – handsome but weathered, black jeans, cowboy hat, and biker jacket. “Knitting!” he drawls, surprised. “You making gloves or socks? Whyn’tcha make me a pair?” I show him my son’s socks and he replies, “Well, I can’t wear wool. And I can’t wear colored clothes, you know, dye. If I wear dye, it soaks into my skin and makes me sick. Of course, I’m sixty-five now, so maybe something’s changed…” He goes on to talk about his truck – a Mazda like mine that’s just had repairs – and his son who happens to be a mechanic in Port Townsend. He talks about himself and his life as if I’d been standing there waiting to hear, which in a way I had.

Our discussion is interrupted by the arrival of my family. By the time I’ve put my suitcase in the car he’s stepped back inside for another beer or coffee. I wish I would have said, “Nice talking to you!” because I like those interactions. I like having a break from thinking about my own life’s plans and experiencing the realities of others, of strangers.

On the drive home my husband queries me about my trip; he asks after our friends, what the surprises were. My kids insist I reach back and hold their hands. They’ve missed me. When we get home Nels, still feverish and strange from his Saturday illness, directs me under the covers of my bed to “cuttle” as he calls it – folds his hot little arms around my neck and kisses, kisses, kisses me. I can wrap my hand almost all the way around his upper arm. The house is messy and tomorrow we have to travel again but for the moment I feel great being home.

adios la mer

Today we say goodbye to the yurt, to the park, to our little vacation town(s), the surf, the wildlife (I saw two snakes on my morning mile walk), the unexpected and dazzling sunshine. I sit in a cafe / roasteria in lower Long Beach – a coffee shop that, besides plenty of seating and free wi-fi seems oddly discourteous and annoying. My husband bought an americano here but I snuck next door to the Organic Market for their superior brew. And yes, to answer your unspoken question, much of this trip has been coffee-centered.

We have a few pictures I’ll be uploading tonight – camera phone, unfortunately. Ralph is chomping at the bit – so sayonara, vacation!

waffles, check.

My husband has of late been snippy with the kids. Borrowing a choice phrase from an online acquaintance, I’ve been asking him to stop taking the “authoritarian douche” tone with them. Perhaps one reason this has been important to me is that I myself have not been on my best, most gentle or intelligent parental behavior. I mean I have really appalled myself with some things I’ve said and done around the kids. It reminds me precisely of the very pinched, stressed, and manic time after Nels was born when I was go go go but unable to cope with even minor setbacks in the course of my day.

It isn’t as if a vacation is the “much needed” break from the children. I believe, vacation or no, the children need me to figure out how to center myself whether with time out, a time in, a counselor, a brisk bike ride, a drink, an abstention from drink, a long hot bath, or a good cry. But this trip has been a visit to one hundred percent relaxation and with relaxation, a re-emergence of my husband and my most human, genuine selves. Left on our own for a few days our manners appear. We sleep more, we agree on plans and there’s no sharpness of tone flying back and forth (OK, maybe a little from me, but that’s because as everyone tells me I’m a Squawky Bird). My husband holds open the door for me; he takes off my shoes for a mid-day nap. This morning he said, “You look beautiful today” with such feeling it was a real show-stopper. I realize how much I like him because he says “Hi” to other campers and introduces himself. He tips nicely in restaurants – despite the fact we have a literal $30 per day allowance (we’ve gone out to eat twice so far). He helps me look for tiny pink beads to finish a hat I’m knitting for Sophie and he genuinely applies himself to the search.

I also realize that if I wanted to keep him happy and married to him for life I would have to do exactly two things: one, provide him with – well, you know – relatively frequently (decency prohibits me to elaborate but you know where I’m going); two, make him breakfast.

See, normally my husband is up in the morning and heading out the door just as I get up. Even then if I myself ate breakfast I might daily favor him with some just as he can expect a hot homecooked dinner each night. As it is I usually feed the kids something easy to clean up and easy to make – say, yogurt with fruit and a spoon of peanut butter. The idea of doing a big egg fry-up or making mountains of pancakes is just so unappealing to me. I don’t like breakfast food myself and have an appalling habit of skipping food altogether until a voracious lunch post-noon.

But my husband – and our daughter – could literally sit up in bed and stick his snout into a huge plate of bacon and eggs. And his deepest, not-so-secret desire is that I would provide him with that each morning. In fact on vacation my husband will roam around the cabin or yurt or tent site and pick up and put things down, hoping I will get inspired and make him a huge breakfast. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him act like an entitled male, when I think about it. It amuses me and touches me.

So this trip I’ve been prioritizing breakfast and making it for him. Yesterday’s fare was bird’s nests: that is, toasted bread with a hole in the center, crack an egg and cook and flip it. He is nuts for those (traditionally they involve two strips of bacon which I omitted). Today, a simple toasted bagel, cream cheese, and egg sandwich. Serving to him with salt and pepper, fresh camping coffee and the offer of orange juice and you’d think I’d given him a purple robe and crown and shuffled backwards down our deck ramp in homage. He is instantly pleased and sure that this is the Best. Vacation. Ever. And it’s such a simple thing to do for me. And with the fresh air and time on the sea I find I am actually hungry in the morning, as well.

"they’re really reelin’ in, down here" – wtf ?

Our camping township Ilwaco is somewhat incomprehensible. Part working class coast ghost town yet sprouting tourist boutiques and cafes with “OPEN” signs that suddenly wink enticingly between shoddy canneries and trailer parks that look as if the swampy earth heaved them up. The sparkling morning air reveals the irrepressible and distinct busyness of a successful fishing town; that is to say, honest activity, vital weathered men bounding up dock ramps and stomping through town looking to satisfy huge appetites, rumbling diesel vehicles with saltwater damage and crab pots and winches and other massive-looking work-seasoned equipment. The daytime Ilwaco feels open to possibilty and full of vigor. Yet in the dusk, with the town’s one four-way stoplight inexplicably disabled and darkness swallowing the place up, there is a distinctly sinister air. It feels like the town has vacated or hid, all home with family and warm beds and leaving the outdoors to the wind and pounding surf that threatens here at the mouth of the Columbia.

This town and indeed many on the peninsula have the carnie atmosphere I associate with northern Oregon’s toursit destination of Seaside, but smaller and with fewer out-and-out lusty tourist enterprises. As you head north on the Long Beach peninsula the burgs of Seaview, Long Beach, Breakers, Oceanside, Klipsan Beach, and Ocean Park give way to one another along Pacific Highway in an indistinguishable ebb and flow of businesses, groceries, kite shops, sandwich eateries, antique malls, and that odd video / tanning / internet enterprise we’re seeing in so many small towns.

Only locals can tell Ralph and I when we are in “Long Beach proper”; it seems one large strip of township. Retirement money pops up in the form of expansive manors erected and lording over a view of the long-rolling coastline and foggy hills; a stone throw from one such home and in plain, bald sight crouches the absolutely most run-down yet functioning laundromat I have ever seen. There are very few chain stores or eateries in these towns. Instead there are dubious or friendly-yet-modest looking businesses rising and falling with past promises of cozy eateries or current hawking of kitchy treasuers; perhaps a promising homestyle pizzeria truncated by an abrupt “CLOSED” sign stapled to the front marquee, left to rot how ever many years ago. The businesses are all along the strip: funeral homes, realtors camped in ex-sports bars, lawyer offices sandwiched in strip malls between coin-ops and a TBA opening eBay store.

While drying a load of laundry in one of the ten percent of operational washers in aformentioned laundromat Ralph and I took the bikes out and instinctively headed to the coastline. We immediately fell upon a well-paved and wide path that wound up and down the coast. It was a unique biking experience for me as the trail incessantly headed up and back down small hills and wound around countless dunes whispering with pampas grass. It was pedal pedal cost. Soon you wanted to keep rolling on the trail, working then floating, rising and falling in the mist-kissed sun, talking about nothing in particular and hoping you ended up back in town near a taco cart. The trail winded us to who-knows how far down the coastline before we turned back.

On the trail, in town, at the yurt at night. Here the waves pound the shore with a ferocity that creates a dull roar remarked upon over two hundred years ago by the Lewis and Clark expedition. Perhaps due to the local efforts to keep connection with the exploring pair and display the history in a number of exhibitions and museums, to experience this place invokes the spirit of exploration, newness, and savagery. Despite the resort motels and moped rentals and fly-by-night nature of some of the aspiring businesses there is still a deep and profound connection to the natural, beautiful, and ferocious state of the place.

love at Y89

When word got around to our friends that Ralph and I were yurt camping at Cape Disappointment there were two reactions. The first was open-faced envy – who doesn’t want a vacation, especially one with your mate / spouse / lover? – and the second was a laugh at just how unappetizing to some the phrase “yurt camping at Cape Disappointment” sounds.

Ralph made the plans for the vacation, including reserving the camping site, arranging childcare (our capable friend Paige), taking time off work, and researching the local area and activities thereof. He also secretly squirreled away money from our household operating expenses the last few months; because although a modest camping trip might seem easily doable to many of our friends it is far less so to us. The combined expenses of babysitting fees, food for all parties, gas, site rental, laundry quarters et cetera have thus far been enough for us to put off, and continue putting off, a getaway of any kind.

We were on the road yesterday by about 2 PM. I was feeling horrible. I knew that being away from the children for four days and three nights would be like diving in for a swim in ice cold water – unpleasant at first but with a little acclimation absolutely exhilarating. On leaving the children I was deliberately casual, saying goodbye as if I were only leaving a few hours. I was trying not to think of three endless nights without being able to hear their breathing or stroke them in their sleep. As we drove out of Aberdeen I sat in the car and somewhat woodenly responded to my husband’s (very cheerful) conversation. I felt worse than not crying; I felt the impending doom of something going wrong, of making a bad choice in timing to leave my children. Please understand it doesn’t matter who I leave them with – no one can love them like I can. It was a tiny, weird little nightmare that I knew my husband did not share. I breathed through it and took my time with it and told myself it was a temporary adjustment period.

And this unreasonable and morose mood passed, just as I thought it would. After a beautiful drive through windswept sea scenery and sharing an audiobook with Ralph I had almost accepted my fate at having my family split up. We checked into our site, unpacked, then headed back to Long Beach for a delicious dinner with ice cold beer. We headed back to the site in the wet and unfamiliar night and on the way we were beset by frogs; tiny reddish-brown creatures that would suddenly form out of the first of the fall leaves on the road and alarmingly bound across the street. At my request Ralph caught me one; it took twice for him to brake, secure the van, jump out, and dive to catch the little creature in the headlights and it reminded me of years and years ago when he’d gone out kicking mushrooms to lift me out of a sad mood, up in Mason Lake during a Thanksgiving with my family. At the campsite we took quarter-operated showers to warm up, shared some wine in the yurt (after Ralph had dispatched a few arachnoid specimens), and watched a date movie. I think it was about 1 AM when I fell asleep, a little uncomfortable in a bed other than mine (packing up a king-size was just not in the cards for a camping trip) but so glad to be with my husband.

And here’s something crazy; when I woke up with Ralph, at 9:30 in the morning, both my children had been awoken, fed, dressed, and taken to school – and I didn’t have to do it.

Getting time with Ralph alone is amazing. I can cook for just two and it takes about five minutes. We can eat together without him having to cut someone’s food and I don’t have to bolt my meal down. I can talk to him without interruptions. I can decide to take a shower or go for a walk and I don’t need to secure a list of to-do items before I go nor worry a child will run into the street or try to drink drain cleaner if I turn away for one minute. I can think and be quiet in my own mind and no one is asking for attention or needs help getting dressed or washing hands. This is perhaps the most amazing aspect of a vacation sans children; being able to choose and complete a task in the quietude of my own thoughts.

I joked yesterday that in these parts a thirty percent chance of rain is like a hundred percent chance of rain (perhaps you’d have to live in the PNw to understand). But today we wake to clear skies and a day with nothing we particularly have to do and nothing we can’t do – as long as we temper our expenses to keep the total trip under a very modest $100. It would have been more but our van busted a CV joint and a good chunk of our “fun” money was spent in necessary vehicular repair.

And so continues our modest but ever-so precious vacation together.

a brief and open letter to my loved friends

Kalaloch, Afternoon

My life kind of swallowed me up just now. I’d like to write a bit about the camping trip – a trip where you get your rain-and-pine-needle soaked stuff cleaned up by the end of the weekend, yay! A chance to see friends you hadn’t seen in months. A chance to learn what it’s like to wash your hair and underarms at the public spigot (cold!). Running full-clothed into the ocean to join Sara only to hear my children crying out at my un-Mama-like behavior, my oldest wading in after me with her mouth open in an alarmed square and wailing, sure I’m to drown.

I am penning a new zine. I’ll bet you are excited! No really, you are, perhaps you don’t know it. Donations are accepted for a subscription – but if you want one and can’t pay (or don’t want to), I’ll send it to you for free because I ruv roo!

And I’ve rediscovered an old album I had and I’m loving it dearly. One day I’ll have some sort of stereo system and it won’t sound so tinny as it does on my Mac.

And I am a writer, writer of fictions
I am the heart that you call home
And I’ve written pages upon pages
Trying to rid you from my bones
My bones