Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Knock knockin' on heaven's door

We left at 2:30 am. The plan was to put miles on while the kids and the pup slept in the back and to beat the 100 degree daytime temps in central Washington. Destination: the San Juan Island ferries at Anacortes. In a normal car, we might make the whole trip in about 7 hours, but in our 1982 Westfalia every incline and every head wind sends you shifting down to third gear. Just going the speed limit on the freeway (downhill with a tailwind) can seem like an exhilarating experience.


We arrived at the ferry docks at 1:30 pm - eleven hours all told. To quote the Melanie pop song, "I don't go too fast but I go pretty far." We had lunch while waiting for the ferry.







We boarded the ferry at 2:30. Riding on the ferry is always a magical transition from the the "off island" world into a world where people move at a different pace, marking time by the tides and by the ferry schedule.







An hour later we pulled into our campsite at Odlin Park on Lopez Island. It's a campground like any other except for its location. The campsites necklace a small cove. They begin on the beach and continue up into forested bluffs overlooking the sea.






Odlin Park attracts crabbers, cyclists, kayak enthusiasts, in addition to the normal range of summer vacationers. Locals come to the picnic grounds and the beach to watch the sun set as the ferries glide by. We had the first campsite on the beach; it also happened to have the only tree among the beach sites. Our friend Tanya and her two girls, Ariel and Piper, showed up a couple of hours later from Portland. They set up camp right next to us.





Just to give an idea of how in demand this place is, Beth tried to reserve sites thirteen weeks before our target date but was told that reservations could not be made earlier than three months in advance. She had to wait a week before trying again.
Our time in Odlin was idyllic. We had campfires where we sang and told stories and watched bats pick flying beetles out of the air;









we paddled a sea kaya, a three seater that allowed us to take the kids for an up close experience with the water and at night allowed us to slip through the calm waters and see the bioluminescence sparkle that fairy dust in the wake of our paddles;






we combed the beaches for sundry treasures and secret places in which to bury them, and









we met lots friendly people everywhere we went.
Sammy was instrumental in this last category. Lopez is probably one of the most dog friendly places you could find (leashes are required in the park). Having said that, it was absurdly comical how often perfect strangers would approach us and inquire into Sammy's breeding. Since our campsite was near the access to the beach everyone passed by us and soon it seemed the whole campground knew Sammy by name. Mothers brought their children to come pet him. One woman stopped me in the parking lot of the local market. She beamed at me and gestured first at Sammy who I had on a leash and then at her van parked nearby.
"You have to see this," she said.
My arms were full of groceries but I did as she asked. She opened up her van and out jumped a chocolate colored dog, a mixed breed like Sammy. It was like looking into the crystal ball and getting a glimpse of the near future. Her dog was two months older, maybe a hand taller. Their whiskered faces and their sunny dispositions were identical however. The two of us regarded each other with satisfaction. We weren't the only ones after all, and that did nothing to dispel the charm we each attributed to our own "special" dog. Kind of wierd, I'll admit it. Sometimes I felt as if I was the appendage on the end of Sammy's leash. Best of all, Sammy proved himself to be a good camp dog, quiet and well behaved.
As I mentioned above, we rented a three seat ocean kayak. Beth and Tanya paddled it around the island to our campsite - about 90 minutes. The kids and I scoured a local beach known for the presence of sea glass. We collected rounded and polished glass, clear, white, blue, green, and brown. This became a daily routine. Another ritual was to visit the famous bakery Holly Bee's for her sinfully sweet and sticky cinnamon rolls.





One afternoon I was picking out some songs on my guitar when I heard another guitar being strummed. I stood up and noticed a little blond-haired boy playing while an elderly woman, a passerby, stood nearby and was his audience. I sat back down and overheard her praise the boy before leaving. An hour later, the boy walked into our camp. He looked at me and said, "I heard that you have a guitar."
"Yeah. I heard you have one too."
He nodded, a bit flustered, as if I'd thrown him off the script he had prepared.
"How old are you?"
"Seven and a half," he said.
"That was some nice playing."
He nodded again and then gathered himself. "My dad said I could. I was wondering if I... if you could...I was wondering if you and I could play guitars together later."
I looked at the boy not a little amazed by his precociousness. "I'd love to. Why don't you bring your guitar over this evening when we have a fire. You can teach me one of your songs."
"You can play me one too."
"Deal," I said.
He seemed satisfied and turned to leave.
"What's you name?"
"Dylan."
That night Dylan showed up right on time. The fire was crackling; the night ferries glided by like floating mansions on fire. Tess and Colm regarded Dylan like he was some kind of magical being, an elf or something. In truth he looked like a seven year old Jack Johnson, the mop hair, the easy unassuming smile, the clear bright eyes and the way he cradled the guitar as he sand, the surf lapping up on the sand just behind him. He only played three chords, G,C, and D and he only knew one basic right hand rhythm, but he was completely comfortable there and, most impressive, he improvised lyrics as he laid down his guitar accompaniment. He mostly riffed about things like finding someone, or being lost, or losing something, or someone trying to find him, themes and phrases derived no doubt from music he's heard. I suggested that we take turns improvising verses. He was more than game. I tried to counter his seven year old preternatural ennuie with my fifty something John Prine salt of the earth humor. Tess and Colm leaned in and listened and watched completely enthralled. I don't think they had never seen one of their own kind hang with an adult in this fashion. When we finally folded up our session and said goodnight, Tess and Colm were dying to take guitar lessons, at least that's what they said that evening. It was striking how much younger our kids seemed than this Dylan.
A sweet postscript to this episode.
The following day, our last one before going home, Tess and Colm went over and coaxed Dylan into joining them in some kid play. In a matter of a few short minutes they were chasing each other around the field, first just playing tag. They ran till their tongues hung out, and then they broke to come in for some water. A few seconds later they reunited and we overheard Dylan say to Tess, "Is this fun or what?" Colm and Tess then proposed a game of cheetah tag - vintage Colm and Tess stuff. One person pretends to be the cheetah and goes into camp for awhile. The other two pretend to be deer and they melt into the tall grass and trees surrounding the campground. Then the cheetah decides to go hunting for deer. Tess was the first one to come into our campsite. She admonished us not to tell her where the boys were. She was a cheetah, and she would find them herself. Just then all three of us happened to look out and way across the field we saw a blond head floating just above the tall grass suddenly drop out of sight. Tess looked at us and we all laughed out loud at the same time. She was off, running fast, her tanned legs eating up distance at a rapid clip. Out there in the grass somewhere were a couple of towheads. It was a beautiful thing to watch.
The day came to return the kayak which meant a retracing the trip Taanya and Beth had down days earlier. I prevailed on Tess and Colm to accompany me; okay, I bribed them with the promise of cinnamon rolls. What was supposed to be a short 90 minute paddle turned into a two hour plus ordeal. I misunderstood the map, overshot our entry to bay, and ended up having to buck a fairly strong current out in deeper water than I had intended to paddle in. By the time I got us safely ashore both my arms were burned out.
The kids weathered the experience much better than I did thankfully, their main concerns being boredom and hunger. We entertained ourselves for a surprisingly long time by telling knock knock jokes making endless variations of the following:
Knock knock.
Who's there?
Interrupting cow (substitutie animal here).
Interrupting cow....
Moo!
Our kayak glided across the water emanating calls and shrieks from all manner of beast and fowl. Only later did it occur to me that someone on an otherwise peaceful beach might very well have misconstrued our animal calls for cries of distress which on some level was actually close to what I was beginning to feel.







To bring it all to a close. We made it home, all the way.
K

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