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Sunday in the Park

They are abandoned homes, I am aware of that. Precious and beautiful still, but no longer able to serve their original purpose. Some are broken, hollow, with jagged edges. And primordial veiny lines. Seashells, from scallops and mussels and creatures whose names I don’t know. Whoever lived in the Chinese hat shell, or the sand dollar? The driftwood and the frosted aqua sea glass have been smoothed to a patina that only comes from time spent pounding upon the shore and bleached by the salt water. They are still so recently separated from the beach where I found them, they have that strange smell of seaweed and ocean foam and seagull wing. They are both precious souvenirs and powerful talismans.

For more than 15 years, a few of my female friends have gathered once a year to spend a weekend together and check in — in an extended fashion — on just where we are in our lives. We lunch together often, though our once-a-week schedule of a decade ago has long since slipped away. But there is a combined history of loves — lost, found and rebounded. Of children struggling with becoming adults, then parents. Of parenting our parents, surviving their deaths, celebrating the birth of our grandchildren. Changing jobs and men and hairstyles and body shape. Supporting one another through health crises, and financial crises and social and political crises. Sharing books and meals and clothes and jewelry and the last bite of chocolate dessert. It is a strange and strong bond that is difficult to explain in this age of disposable everything.

This year was the hardest yet to find a few days when we all could escape our lives and fully retreat. And our captain in charge of location had picked a remote place, ideal for reflection and free of unnecessary distraction, though it took most of a day to arrive there and return. It was a place of magic that wins so many best-ever categories, it was worth the jaunt. The spot was about halfway up the western coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, on the tip of a multi-fingered peninsula. Torfino was the name of the tiny town of around 1,200 people and Wickainnish Inn was the resort. It sits right on the beach, miles and miles of beach bordered by old-growth trees, mostly cedar, where moss hangs and eagles fly and the sunlight comes dappled through boughs and sparkles on ocean foam.

When we switched planes in Vancouver and headed west in a tiny eight-passenger plane, we were given a special tour over the Gulf Islands and the lush green mountains before we dropped down into a clearing in a primal-looking forest. The arrival and departure area was a singlewide trailer. And when one of my companions and I set out to find a campground-style restroom there was a computer-generated sign on colored paper stuck to the wall, declaring bears had recently been sighted. When we inquired back at the airline desk, which was an old school desk, the guy laughed and said yeah, there was a cub that had been chasing the departing planes for a few weeks now. And though they hadn’t seen the mama, they suspected she was close by.

Our hotel was the perfect picture of understated elegance. Everything was designed to keep you connected to the beauty of the nature you were submerged in and the ancient peoples who had come before. The giant red cedar doors had Inuit-carved eagle heads on them and throughout the two buildings on the property were indigenous people’s carvings in stone and wood of the animals that lived there. There were glass walls with leafy tree curtains that framed the pounding surf.

We discovered the food and the service was otherworldly as well. In fact, we declared our first dinner there simply the best meal any of us had ever eaten. Ever. Anywhere. And yes, there was a spa with skilled experts who worked on our knotted muscles in exquisite fashion and in an open air cabin where the sound of the real surf and call of the gulls was more soothing than any CD meant to mimic it. Feather beds and deep tubs and fireplaces and yellow slickers in the closet, made the rooms perfect for curling up with a book or sitting and being hypnotized by the waves.

But in our short stay we mostly took long, long walks on the beach where the sand was both firm and soft and the days were both sunny and bright and embraced in a fog so thick we would lose one another for minutes at a time. We walked at low tide when we could count starfish and watch sea creatures curl up when we touched our toes to their outsides. And at high tide, we walked by the homes built along the shore. And we talked. And talked. And listened and talked. Offered advice and support and comfort and challenge and hope. We know each well. Very, very well and yet we all keep secrets. Sometimes when we gather, it is time to release those secrets and look for answers. Sometimes we just bask in the good fortune of being with old friends.

I took some photos, which I hope will show the shoreline and the starfish and the snag of trees where the eagles live, but I’m never certain how the pictures will turn out. And how, anyway, can you catch in a frozen frame the essence of a time and place so surreal and dreamlike? So I will try to figure out a way to build a little altar with my shells and driftwood and sea glass. A place where I can remember how for a few days suspended, we created a tiny home and lived in it. Stayed strong against the elements and drifted into safe conversations. Took ragged, jagged pieces of our lives and turned them over and over and over to make them smooth together. You may just see a pile of shells on a coffee table but I will see evidence of valuable friendships. It is something that will serve as a reminder on hard days and lost days and days I may feel adrift, even on a Sunday in the Park


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