Days Continuing Hot

In the ordinary weather of summer
with storms rumbling from west to east
like so many freight trains hauling
their cargo of heat and rain,
the dogs sprawl on the back steps, panting,
insects assemble at every window,
and we quarrel again, bombarding
each other with small grievances,
our tempers flashing on and off
in bursts of heat lightning.
In the cooler air of morning,
we drink our coffee amicably enough
and walk down to the sea
which seems to tremble with meaning
and into which we plunge again and again.
The days continue hot.
At dusk the shadows are as blue
as the lips of the children stained
with berries or with the chill
of too much swimming.
So we move another summer closer
to our last summer together—
a time as real and implacable as the sea
out of which we come walking
on wobbly legs as if for the first time,
drying ourselves with rough towels,
shaking the water out of our blinded eyes.

~Linda Pastan, “The Ordinary Weather of Summer” from Carnival Evening: New and Select Poems 1968-1998

I grew up near Puget Sound and only a couple hours from the Washington Pacific Ocean coastline. Our annual trips to the ocean were early morning clamming harvests, usually returning home by noon to process the bounty we had dug up at the shore. Vacations at the beach were a few days spent in a rented cabin at Birch Bay on Puget Sound (now Salish Sea) or on Camano Island. These were short stays, usually no more than two or three nights but it gave our family a chance to live together in a different way.

It wasn’t easy for a family of five to sleep in a tiny two bedroom cabin with very little privacy – we siblings easily got on each other’s nerves as we teased each other or played hyper-competitive card or board games or futilely tried to distance ourselves from one another. We didn’t understand that these few summers in the 60’s were the last opportunities we would spend time together simply to “play”. Storms were on the horizon, our tempers flared when the weather was hot and humid. We had no awareness time was slipping through our fingers.

How this family time at the beach affected my parents is something I can only guess. Their marriage was on shaky ground ten years prior to their separation and divorce, even though we children were oblivious to it at the time. Whether being forced out of their routine was helpful or made their tensions worse, I don’t know. I do know quarreling children, small living quarters and sweaty temperatures can be a challenging combination.

Something about our current heat wave this week places me back to those hot nights in the beach cabins, unable to fall asleep due to a combination of itchy sweat and the world pressing down on me. The crankiness of those family vacations tends to infect my words and attitudes all these decades later.

Although the literal and figurative storms of those years have long since blown over, I still remember the musty smell of those beach cabins that had seen so many different families come and go over the decades, some thriving while others were wobbly and struggling to stay glued together. To the cabins that housed them, they looked all alike. But they weren’t. Only time would tell how well they weathered the storm.

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Not the Same Darkness

We walked at the edge of the sea, the dog,
still young then, running ahead of us.
 
Few people.  Gulls.  A flock of pelicans
circled beyond the swells, then closed
their wings and dropped head-long
into the dazzle of light and sea.  You clapped
your hands; the day grew brilliant.
 
Later we sat at a small table
with wine and food that tasted of the sea.
 
A perfect day, we said to one another,
so that even when the day ended
and the lights of houses among the hills
came on like a scattering of embers,
we watched it leave without regret.
 
That night, easing myself toward sleep,
I thought how blindly we stumble ahead
with such hope, a light flares briefly—Ah, Happiness!
then we turn and go on our way again.
 
But happiness, too, goes on its way,
and years from where we were, I lie awake
in the dark and suddenly it returns—
that day by the sea, that happiness,

 
though it is not the same happiness,
not the same darkness.

~Peter Everwine, “The Day,” from New Letters

The beach at Tohoku, Japan where the tsunami hit in March 2011

The traumas of the past may revisit me in the night as they linger in the fringes of my mind, ready to creep back into my consciousness in times of stress. When I feel vulnerable and weak, I remind myself that past darkness must not overpower my nights. I try to call up different memories to push the sadness or fear back to the periphery.

So I return to my visits to the sea.

During those halcyon days, I was surrounded by beauty, of peacefulness, of family come together in warmth and closeness. Those times we’ve spent on the coast are treasures to open when I need them — breathing deeply of the sea, hearing the rhythm of the waves and feeling the cool breezes once again on my skin.

The memories themselves become precious reservoirs of happiness – readily renewed and refreshed. The darkness is overwhelmed, no longer overwhelming. Instead, it retreats from the shore of my mind like a wave pulls back into the depths of an endless sea.


Slow Down the Passage of Time

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June 2000

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June 2010

The ten years between these pictures could not possibly have flown by more quickly.  Our three children could no longer “fit” in a little cave on our favorite west Vancouver Island beach, but we still could spend a few days together appreciating each others’ company as five adults.   The games around the table in the beach cabin were a bit more competitive, the conversation quite a bit deeper, the meals prepared by expert 21 year old hands, and much of the time everyone had their nose in a book.  When we all climbed into the hot tub together, we displaced a lot more water.  However, we still worked to build a sand castle with a moat in order to watch the incoming tide, much like the tide of time,  collapse it with a few swiping crashing waves.

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Now leaping forward six years, there are more wonderful changes, increasing the complexity of being all in one place as a family.  With the addition of two daughters-in-law with our sons on either side of the globe, we can now gather “virtually” to break bread together.  Building a sand castle to watch it wash away has become the stuff of memories.

There is much about our family that remains the same even as we have expanded and now dwell thousands of miles apart.  I rest in that knowledge.  I’m simply asking for the passage of time to take its time washing us back to sea.

 

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Everything Passes By

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 sanjuanferry
Slightly seasick, I keep on writing
of the wind-rose and lobster traps,
seagulls, if any—and there always are.
Check the air and you’ll see them
above straw hats and caps.

The sun at noon glides like a monstrous star-
fish through clouds. Others drink iced tea,
training binoculars on a tugboat.

When I finish this letter, I’ll take a gulp
from the flask you gave me for the road
in days when I was too young to care about
those on the pier who waved goodbye.
I miss them now: cousins in linen dresses,
my mother, you, boys in light summer shirts.
Life is too long. The compass needle dances.
Everything passes by. The ferry passes
by ragged yellow shores.
~Katia Kapovich from “The Ferry”
From the perspective of the shore
there are constant comings and goings
of boats and large ferries
seagulls and terns
waves lapping the beach
and then sliding away.
Am I coming or going
or only passed by
other comings and goings?
Life is too short,
never too long.
I reach to catch a wave
passing by
and hold on tight.
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Summer Song

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“In summer, the song sings itself.”
―William Carlos Williams
A couple days spent at the Pacific Ocean in mid-summer is a rare concert experience: the song sung by the constancy of the tides, the hymn of waves rolling and tumbling over the sand, the cries of thousands of gulls and other marine birds as they flock and swoop en masse.

Today a different flock appeared on the beach–a small group of nuns in traditional habits on holiday, walking through the cold salt water in their lace-up black shoes, waves lapping up their skirts, soaking them to their mid-calves. Their smiles were huge; I could hear their hearts singing praises.

And so: summer sings with wet feet, happy faces, and flowing soaring wings of freedom.

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Hidden Heartbeats

…speaking of stones, what about
The little ones you can
Hold in your hands, their heartbeats
So secret, so hidden it may take years

Before, finally, you hear them?
Mary Oliver

In the laundry room, I often find pebbles in my pockets.  I’d like to think they just jumped in on their own, eager to journey with me, but that isn’t the case.  Instead, they were hijacked.  I tend to watch the ground as I walk, partly out of concern that I don’t misstep but also because I’m a bit of a hunter-gatherer.   As stones on the ground are unlikely to be missed by anyone, there are always a few that make their way home with me.  This isn’t exactly stealing;  it feels more like I am offering them a foster home for a little while, just a blip on the timeline of their long lives.

Beaches are my greatest gathering challenge as there are so many imperfect stones waiting for a pocket ride into my life.  They need to be a little odd to catch my eye in the midst of millions.  They need to be easily palmed and hugged by my hand and they need to have an interesting feel to my fingertips.  I’ve discovered they have a hidden, secret heartbeat that I can feel right up my fingers into my own heart.

These are not pet rocks, worry stones or precious metal to me, only plain ordinary mundane pebbles with the pulse of the ages.  I’m reminded how old they are in comparison with relatively young me.  Each is a solid unique individual, hanging out with me for the time being but eventually will make their way back to a garden display, an outside gravel path, a seashore or pond edge.

In the meantime, they have stories to tell and I’m listening.  So secret, so hidden, so ancient and now I can hear.