Saturday morning was glorious—a cloudless sky, all of the new green in the world glistening after recent rains. There was a big low tide in the morning, and as my daughters and I drove to a favorite trailhead, we could see sandbars draped in kelp that are normally well under water emerging far off the beach.
I had made plans to meet a friend, Kara, and her kids for a short hike to one of my most beloved spots: a stretch of undeveloped beach not far from town from which you can see the sharp, snow-covered peaks of four volcanoes on clear days.
When we got there at about 9:30, the dirt parking lot at the top of the trail was full—which means about eight cars. Despite the sign that says, “Day Use Only,” some people had been camping there. Or it looked like they had. I didn’t see a tent, but a few bleary-eyed young people were milling around and then began loading up into a pickup and a small sedan. A trash-laden campfire smoldered at the edge of the parking lot, and a pile of wooden pallets—fuel for the fire—was taking up a needed parking space.
I was annoyed immediately by having to navigate around the pallet pile, by the trash in the campfire that I knew the campers weren’t going to remove, by people claiming as theirs this spot I love. But then our friends showed up, and we started the hike down and away from all of that.
The kids would have run the whole way down had we not made them stick with us. A few sections of the trail have sloughed off into the creek canyon below, leaving the track narrow and steep. As the trail approached the beach, we could see a raft of sport fishing boats anchored off the beach in search of halibut. A line of clouds hid the bases of the volcanoes, but the peaks rose above. The low tide meant that a huge expanse of sandy beach was exposed below the cobbles. Steam rose off the sun-warmed sand.
Normally the marks of other hikers greet us at the beach—elaborate driftwood forts right where the trail lets out, an abandoned sock or two, a few pieces of trash. But except for three metal folding chairs lying on the rocks, winter had cleaned everything up. This was a relief.
After we crossed the creek that spills out of the canyon, the kids ran far ahead, climbing up the bluff at the top of the beach and throwing chunks of hardened mud onto the cobbles below to watch them shatter.
So many memories stitch me to this place. I recall hiking here on a surprisingly warm June day when my mother was visiting a couple of weeks after my second daughter was born; I ended up putting my sleeping newborn down on the beach and joining my mother for a jump in the sea. Or an evening bonfire and cookout with friends when we watched countless fishing boats pass by on their way back to the harbor. Or a visit the summer my brother and his soon-to-be wife stayed with us before we had kids. We swam then too, another frigid dip, but it was warm enough to lie on the beach and sun ourselves dry. Or a late winter hike with a bunch of friends, when we walked the six or so miles back to town, stopping midway on that sunny, cold day to sip champagne and eat lemon bars to celebrate Kara’s birthday.
And now this Saturday, once again with Kara—the friend who has helped me through the birth of both of my children, whom I’ve called when I’ve hit some tough stuff—as our kids spent the hours running on the sand in bare feet, climbing onto boulders, and playing with big sticks. We had walked barely half a mile down the beach and, even though hikers continued to appear at the bottom of the trail, we had the beach around us to ourselves. This is a place I come back to. There’s something constant about it even though no visit is the same. Kara and I agreed that being here was the highest use of this bluebird day.
When we finally managed to drag ourselves and our children back up the trail, the campfire in the parking lot was out, and someone—most likely not the campers themselves—had dragged the pallet pile out of the parking lot and onto a grassy margin that was out of everyone’s way. Perhaps the person who cleaned things up has many memories here too.
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