Summer scrapbook revisited
Park Record columnist
Every day we woke up with a To-Do list. One anchor activity and then a handful of other possibilities if time allowed. Vacationing with a nearly 15 year old — just the two of us — was magic. We had never ventured away from her family before and honestly, I wasn’t certain how it would all work out with my granddaughter. But six days in the Pacific Northwest kept us both fully engaged and laughing — lots and lots of laughing.
Like the last night at Roche Harbor when we were sitting outside on the deck when it was time for Colors. The staff there, each night in the summer, has a ceremony at sunset over a loudspeaker that reaches out to all the boats in the harbor and our tiny historic cabin on the hillside. Each flag — the United States flag, the Canadian flag, the Washington state flag, the official Roche flag — comes down with a pre-recorded spirited song, from “Taps” to “Stars and Stripes Forever.” And a cannon blast, a real cannon with a blast of smoke you can see from miles around. So all three nights we managed to be on our deck for Colors. On the last night, since we knew the order of the procession — she, the musician (she plays drums and the guitar) and me, who loves all kinds of music — we decided to produce the show. From our porch. So we pretended to conduct the fake orchestra and we made announcements and we lit the fuse for the cannon. And then we dissolved into giggles. Really, more like snorting hard laughter.
Her grin lit up her face with the thin braces with blue wires shining through — it was a beautiful sight all week. Like the day we had the kayak tour with a guide and we paddled miles along numerous islands where we saw real totem poles on beaches and harbor seals popping up and down. But mostly when she held the tiny crab in her hand when we stopped at some tide pools for a rest. She was simply in awe of the sea life.
We spent three hours on a tiny boat with about 15 other people as we searched for whales one day. She had stayed up late the night before and it was the only morning she was a bit grumpy about getting going. Still, we both chose to sit on the front of the boat, bundled in blankets with sea spray hitting our faces. We saw islands and sea lions and oyster catcher birds. When finally we heard whales had been spotted, the boat changed course, and we hung on to our places. The boat started pitching in huge swells. We clung to the metal railing. It was like some cross between a roller coaster and bronco ride. Finally, when the boat turned off its engine and we waited, we were rewarded with first a black dorsal fin and then another and then a breach and a spouting and another. For nearly an hour. It turns out two pods, K and J, were swimming together. The naturalist identified eight different family members. Iz’s grin, in the turquoise windbreaker, holding onto the railing and shooting picture after picture of the whales, was just joy.
The next afternoon we were over in the tiny town of Friday Harbor and we heard what sounded like live music. She thought it was coming from a bar, which meant she couldn’t go in. But upon exploration we discovered it was a small park and there were wooden xylophones or whatever they are called and some drums, played by “the cutest old hippy people.” Yes, they had on tie-dyed shirts in bright colors — the men and the women — but they didn’t seem that old. Maybe just a few years older than me. I listened to a song and loved their enthusiasm but I suspected Iz was ready to move on. She asked to stay. So we did. The musicians were professional and joyful. At one point she turned to me and said “this just makes me so happy… to see them so happy.” It was at that moment I realized the kid is gonna be alright.
In the three years between 13 and 16 in my own life, I lost my only uncle, then my mother’s father and then his wife, my grandmother. Then my father and then his father. My memory of those years is filled with confusion, loss and deep sadness. Iz is lucky enough to have escaped any of that and when I looked at her on this trip, I saw a glimpse at the teenager I might have been. And that made me happy.
The curling red bark of the rare Madrone trees, the church bells from the tiny white chapel overlooking the harbor, seeing the moon in the early morning reflected on the water in Roche and again in Victoria, totem poles at the British museum and on the island beaches, high tea in the Empress Hotel, street buskers around Victoria Harbor, wide ocean views from the top of the ferry… I have all these vacation snapshots safely in my mind.
What I learned was every day should end with a ceremony — a song, a recognition of guests, music and a bang. All teenage girls should know days of unfettered adventures and joyful discoveries in nature. And so should their grandmothers. And I know it can’t be every day but maybe it can be more. More days where the world is open for discovery and so are we. I can’t make that happen for anyone, even myself, on any predictable basis. But what I can try to do is consider it more. Not every day but at least more Sundays in (and out of) the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
Teri Orr: A double helix family from Edinburgh to San Francisco