Kin are one’s blood relatives. Kin also can be similar in one or more ways. Alike.
My family are my kin, by blood and by temperament. We share lineage, stories, places. Most of us are introverts, meaning we process our experiences internally and require some measure of solitude to remain on an even keel. That said, we enjoy each other’s company. We currently have few of the tensions and melt-downs that other families report. We’ve shared highs and lows, births and deaths, illnesses, upheavals, and celebrations. We have our rituals and traditions that continue to evolve as the years pass. I believe it’s a good thing to have kin for company on the path of life.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, that path pointed to the ocean. My idea. It’s been too long since I felt the sea air on my face. And as my niece Sydney pointed out, landlocked people need to make the pilgrimage. I am separated from the Pacific by one mountain range. My niece Tessa, who lives in Wyoming, is separated by two mountain ranges. When we piled out of the truck, we discovered the weather to be benevolent–surprisingly warm and not very windy.
When I was growing up, I could never understand images of the beach as a place to lie in the sun and go swimming. Those must be California beaches. Or Hawaii or the Atlantic coast. The north Pacific hits the long gray beaches of Washington with booming surf and cold water. I remember my sister and I being led by the hand into knee-deep waves and screaming at the top of our childish lungs at the numbing cold water trying to suck our feet out to the deep water. Of course when that wave receded, we were ready to scream for the next one.
In Washington, you go to the beach in rubber boots and a warm coat with a hood. That’s on a nice day. If it’s really pleasant, you might take off your boots and roll up your pant legs. In a storm, you want full rain gear, and dry clothes waiting for your return.
I’m struck by the horizontality of the place. In a visual composition, vertical elements draw the eye upward and may indicate strength and stability. Diagonal elements suggest movement and energy. Those are the shapes of forest and mountains. At the beach, all shapes stretch to the horizon. It’s flat and spacious. The water is out there, tossing and heaving, but it stays on that horizontal plane. The air and sky are just as restless, with the breeze coming onshore during the day. Clouds change in a constant sweeping dance.
Katie is ten, the youngest niece. She runs on the beach in a bright red coat, investigating every interesting-looking thing. What’s on the beach catches my attention too. So often I walk with my eyes down, scanning for details and clues in the story of what happens in a place. Katie’s hands are full of shells and a gull feather. We see razor clam shells stuck in the sand, the occasional broken sand dollar. There is surprisingly little human flotsam and jetsam. I look all the clumps of seagrass and find this one with a bit of fishing net caught in it.
We find molted Dungeness crab shells. We find claws and other scattered arthropod bits. I observe an eyeball on a stalk attached to the front of a shell. Jellyfish have been deposited in round blobs of goo in the sand.
My brother and I walk south toward the sun until he complains that his nose is numb. His terrier mix dog Gus is running in big exuberant circles around us. The wind is poking its cold fingers under my hat. I’m content to turn back. The world feels a lot different with the wind at our backs. I would be content to stay for hours. Something about the long expanse of beach calls me to walk and walk. After all, it’s flat. No hills to climb, so it feels like I could walk forever. I wonder what’s ahead. But it’s Christmas Eve…
We approach a flock of sandpipers feeding where the tide has recently gone out. They know we are near. The dog can’t stand it and lopes toward them. They rise, and the five of us watch silently as the birds lift and wheel in a perfect oblong mass. Many birds are one bird. I wish we had passed by without disturbing them. It’s winter and they need all the energy they gather from their food to survive. But a bit of my heart flies with them, and I savor the moment of beauty with my kin.
Another Christmas has come and gone, and I am back where a mountain range separates me from the Pacific Ocean. Going back to my native ground reminds me of the last trip my brother and I took with our dad. He took us to Ruby Beach. I had just turned twenty, and Michael was seventeen (the same age as Tessa is now). Dad was 46. My brother and I ran on the beach, chasing waves and being chased by them. Dad walked steadily, watching his offspring and thinking his own thoughts. We were reuniting after several years of separation. That day shines in my memory like the sun on the ground garnets in the sand at Ruby Beach. I rode home happy, my tangled hair sticky with salt. Two months later, Dad’s heart stopped and my stunned siblings and I stood in a cemetery covered in gray volcanic ash accepting the condolences of family and friends. Our story had taken an abrupt turn. But now I feel it coming full circle as my brother and I walk steady side by side on the beach, watching these amazing young kin play with the waves.