Eighteen years sounds like a long while, until you’ve raised a child or two, and you see how fast that time slides by. In 18 years they learn to read, to swim, to like broccoli, to like the opposite sex. They go from reading about cute talking animals to Jack London to Kafka. They grow from needing you to tolerating you to appreciating you. You can live a lot of family life in 18 years.
Eighteen years ago we bought a pretty funky beach cabin overlooking Birch Bay—just two hours from home—with brown shag carpet that smelled of cigarettes, a high, fake-half-timbered ceiling, a bank thick with blackberry bushes and rickety steps down to the beach. And a view across the sparkling bay and Puget Sound to the Gulf Islands, Point Roberts, and further in the Northern distance, the lights of Vancouver, Grouse Mountain above it, and the snowy peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
While our son lay on the floor reading Lemony Snickett and J.K. Rowling, with his dog Lucy for a pillow, we took out a couple of walls, painted everything white, and refinished the pine floors. We furnished the kitchen with thrift shop wares and the rest of the place with “well loved” furniture. And after that first couple of years making it livable, we spent every springtime pulling weeds, whacking back the overgrown hillside, planting lavender and bank-retention shrubs; and building a new deck, new stairs, a sleeping porch. All so we could spend every summer—weekends usually, and a week or two in August—with good friends, neighbors, but mostly with family.
Days unwound down on the beach, wading at low tide in warm, ankle-deep water looking for critters, squirting clams, and searching out the purple starfish that clustered around the base of big rocks. Eagles cried overhead and herons crept up on unsuspecting fish, while we slowly walked the rocky high tide line, eyes down, searching out perfect one-striped rocks. A minus tide reveals hundreds of feet of beach and tidelands; you can cut across the bay and around Point Whitehorn to get to our “secret beach”—a broad expanse of sand, almost always deserted, scattered with red and purple starfish and surrounded with miles of pristine blue Sound.
At some point Bruce built an authentic long board from plans in an old Popular Science magazine. It’s designed for paddling laying down in the Hawaiian tradition, though our younger son was able to stand and balance on it. And, when the tide was in and you could drag it off the beach, we’d row our little flat-bottomed dinghy out until the people on shore were just specks, and you’d be all alone in the cool blue expanse with an occasional jumping fish.
We went through gobs of sunscreen every weekend. After spending eight or ten hours on the beach, children complained when it was time to come in; even adolescents turned back into goofy kids again in the water. In the morning we’d drop the crab pots out past where the shallow beach shelf falls off, then drop our catch into a gas cooker on the beach in the afternoon. Sitting around a fire, we’d savor that deliciousness and toss the shells back into the water, watching sun-kissed kids splashing around as the pink-orange-red sky went slowly dark.
After 18 years the sun is setting on this chapter of our life too. Now it’s time to let another family have a turn growing up on our beach. (And pulling our weeds!) Now we’re going to spend more time exploring other places—different beaches, mountains, and deserts. But we’ll always have Birch Bay and our wonder-full family time here. It almost seems like a dream already, except for the packing boxes here and there. But when we really we miss you Birch Bay, we’ll be just two hours away.
All photos: © 2016 Sue Cummings. All rights reserved.