Friday, August 15, 2014

Sixty-fifth Birthday Lopez Island Style

An island birthday breakfast
Last week I celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday on Lopez Island with my husband and our daughter.  It was as wonderful a birthday as I can imagine.  When I woke up I saw that the weather was perfect – a brilliant blue sky; clear sparkling water; and green cedar trees swaying in a gentle breeze.  After a delicious home-cooked breakfast of island sausages and eggs, cinnamon buns and scones from the local bakery, we packed a picnic lunch and filled our water bottles.  We went down to the nearby bay and rented three kayaks.  After a brief waterfront orientation, we stowed our picnic and gear in the waterproof hatches, launched the boats and set out across Fisherman’s Bay.  We paddled out of the bay and along the northeast coast of the island, admiring the steep bluffs and tall fir trees that clung precariously above the water.  Our paddles made soft splashing sounds as we dipped them rhythmically into the water.  We saw two fat seals, sunning themselves on a rocky promontory several hundred feet offshore.  They greeted us sleepily – raising their tails and heads simultaneously to see who was paddling by.  When they saw it was just us, the two friends settled happily back onto their small rock.  We chose to cross the straits to Shaw Island at the narrowest point between the two islands.  We waited for a few minutes, bobbing gently in the shallows until the big green and white ferries passed before venturing across the open passage. 

Picnic Point
Paddling a kayak is a great workout.  You 
have to use your whole upper body, not just your arms to avoid tiring too quickly.  I found it easy to get into the rhythm, dipping my paddle first left then right then left again.  Our three tiny boats crossed the passage together – although smaller boats have the right of way we wanted to make sure the large fast powerboats could see us.  Once across the channel we floated quietly along the shore of a small barrier island, watching tiny silver fish jump above the water’s surface.  The sun shone like gold on the water, catching the light of the jumping fish.  We paddled together, each at our own pace, simultaneously enjoying the camaraderie and the solitude of our own small boat.  Our destination was appropriately named Picnic Point – a small gravel beach rimmed with Madronas and driftwood logs.  We beached the boats and set our life jackets on the logs to dry.  The beach was covered with tiny pea gravel mixed with small shells of every kind, limpets, mussels, broken crab claws, tiny remnants of abalone and clamshells.  Here and there a bit of beach glass glinted in the mix.  We pulled out our sandwiches, Lopez Island sausages and dill pickles on homemade sourdough bread.  Dessert was a mixture of apples slices, apricots and cherries.  We lolled like the seals in the sunshine, drying our shorts in the August sunshine.

As we crossed back to the barrier island we realized a wind had come up, blowing from the southwest – exactly the direction we were headed.  Once the channel was clear of boats we paddled hard across it, dipping our paddles purposefully into the waves.  We followed the shoreline going south back towards Fisherman’s Bay, clinging as close to the beach as possible, hoping that the strong breeze might be reduced in the lee of the land.  I was happy that all the weight-training exercises I’ve done in the gym these last few years give me the strength to paddle against a strong wind.  I don’t know that I could have managed as well when I was younger – a funny thought since I am stronger at 65 than I was at 55.  One advantage of being retired is having the time to get and stay in shape!

At first the entrance to the bay seemed so far away I wondered if I could paddle that far but of course I did.  High above us on the bluffs, I spied a bald eagle sitting on top of one of the tallest firs.  I called to my family.  We watched as her mate flew out of the woods, hovered above the tree, and landed gracefully beside her.  We could hear the two eagles chattering to each other…wild lovebirds?  Perhaps.  Their brilliant white hoods shone in the sunshine.  We passed our friendly seals who seemed to remember us and barely lifted their heads as we passed by.  Our tired muscles were forgotten as we entered the bay, beached our kayaks and left our jackets and paddles to dry.

A feast of crabs
Our next adventure involved food procurement – we drove across the island to our boat, fired it up and went to check the crab traps we had baited and dropped the night before.  Catching Dungeness crab is one of the privileges of living in the Pacific Northwest.  While I drove, my daughter and husband pulled first one and then two traps – finding several legal sized males for dinner.  My husband emptied the bait boxes – tossing left over bait to the waiting gulls.  We laughed as the gulls swooped in, missing the bits of meat in the air and diving into the water hungrily.  There was enough for everyone. 

Next stop was for a Mac and Jack on the deck of the Islander.  We had earned this cold treat!  We sat together sipping the cold amber ale and watching the boats bob in the bay.  The sun was still high in the sky but we needed to get home to boil the crabs.  While the crabs boiled, we made a salad with local arugula and a black bean salad with feta cheese, fresh corn, lime juice and red peppers.  That is the kind of meal that summer is made of.

Later that evening, as we ate chocolate cake and ice cream (a birthday treat from my friend Alice), my daughter asked me what my three best memories of the past year were and what three things I am looking forward to in the next year.  It was a hard set of questions.  I had to stop and think.  If you have followed my blog you know this year has been full of some amazing adventures – trips to exotic places; visits with family, old and new friends.  But even as a retiree, life is not just one big vacation - I feel I am still establishing a new rhythm in my life – separate from the rhythm of working five days a week and living in one place.  My new rhythm includes a regular schedule for writing, for exercising and, when we are in Brazil, time for studying Portuguese.  This year also included time to take care of many house maintenance jobs that I had postponed while I was working full time.  I have found the transition to retirement challenging at times and at other times wonderful.  While I greatly enjoyed my working life, I don’t miss its pressures, the daily problems to solve and busy schedule that my work as a water engineer was filled with.  

I sat at the table and thought about the three things I enjoyed the most during the past 12 months.  One was easy – skiing in Park City (see Blog March 2014).  This choice reflected my life long love of skiing – an activity I began when I was six years old but for a variety of circumstances had not done for more than seven years.  But it was hard for me to choose favorites among the many other experiences I have had this year.  I am privileged to be healthy and able to travel and share my life with good friends and family.  I finally decided on two highlights: watching my husband Jeff catch his first king salmon in more than fifteen years late last summer and celebrating my daughter’s PhD graduation ceremony with my son, daughter-in-law, my sister-in-law and my husband this past June.

As to the three things I am looking forward to in the next year?  Well that will just have to wait for another day or blog as the case maybe.

P.S. Thank you to all the people who wrote to me regarding the experience of depression I wrote about in July’s blog.  I feel I am one of the lucky ones with friends, family and resources that have helped me recover from intermittent periods of depression during my life time.  Hopefully I won’t experience this difficult condition again, but if I do, I am confident that I know how to manage and recover.  Unfortunately that is not true for everyone.  How sad I was to read about Robin Williams’ death this week, a talented person who, for many complex reasons, did not feel able to continue his life.  His death is a reminder to all of us to reach out to family and friends for help when we need it and to avoid substance abuse.

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