My love for Whidbey Island is well known, and I feel 100% self-conscious rattling on and on about it. But, y'all, it is, to quote Prima Bistro's kid-menu tagline, "So magical that ferries take you there." Each year I take in something new that I'd never known before. You learn when you move slowly, and our vacation time lets me do that (to some extent). So, in no order and preserved with the exact level of insight and digestion I possess right now, here are my take-aways from this year:
1. Since I first began looking for the tiny shells (all credit to Brenna), I cannot stop. My kids, I learned, consider me quite the beachcomber. No fun at all to run down the beach with, I stop every 2 steps or so to bend at the waist and squint down into apparently inscrutable square foot sections of sand. One kid indulged me but didn't look too; another left me in the dust; the Ivo joined me; and one nagged incessantly for crabs. Out on the sand, I taught Ivo how to look much longer than anyone sane will do. As I learned from the Robbins, that's how you see things. You also have to touch the slightly smelly, partially dried clumps of seaweed; they hide treasures. The seaweed must protect the small things. Most people avoid stepping in the piles, and they are like nature's bubble wrap. Ivo brought home the most beautiful limpit shell I've ever seen. I have never seen another pattern like the one that it has, and I will forever consider it his trophy for learning to slow down and really look. I could not resist saying to him as I realized it for myself: "Ya know, people are like this too. When you think there is nothing, you just have to keep looking and maybe start picking though the seaweed." May not have meant much to him, but, boy, that's a life lesson for me FOR SURE.
2. The child who kept leaving me in the dust revealed that he was intimidated by the coolness of my finds (but he leans heavily toward unwarranted self-deprecation). I got him to slow down a bit, and we had an awesome conversation about who is the real artist: wind, water, or time. I just threw out the question to get his gears turning, to get him to pay attention. After a little time, he said: "Time is the artist. Wind and water couldn't do anything without it; they are like the paint brushes." BAM. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! Then he spoke about how God is the one who oversees it all. I mean, gosh; I'm still thinking about it all. There are SO many applications for these lil' nuggets (not the name of my fast-food chain. THAT is, obviously, Fancy Fries). We have to give everything time! Wind and water do some serious damage, but with epochs of time, you get things that are labeled "Grand" and garbage glass that even lazy people stoop to pocket. I'll spell it out: those irritating forces in your life? Give them time. There is an artist in charge.
3. Forest Bath. We took the kids on two hikes in South Whidbey State Park. If you are ever there, please take the 35 minutes (with kids, probably only 20 or so without) to walk Wilbert Trail and hug the ancient cedars. Let yourself see how incredible moss and lichen really are. Learn to identify stinging nettle (life skill, people). Pick your very most favorite fern frond to place inside a large book when you get home (because I picked and then forgot). Read all the signs about forest fires and the water table. I generally don't enjoy the forest. Yes, you read that right. DON'T. I get a little claustrophobic and picture rapists behind every tree (Being female is the BEST.). As much as I try to hate the Dixie Chicks, they have me pegged: "She needs wide-open spaces." In my case, though, I prefer the seashore/lakeshore/pondshore to the High Plains. Anyway, in spite of all that, I LOVE this forest with it's fascinating, beautiful trees and clearings, shades of green and gold, and kid-friendly, kid-empowering trails. I walk out of there with the most delightful combination of energy and calm; it's basically a mother's dream cocktail. My first night home (CRY EYES) I put on my usual bedtime podcast. Have you heard "Live from the Poundstone Institute" yet? Think "Mythbusters" meets "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" without the current events factor. It's a fun one, and the latest episode featured Paula Poundstone learning about "forest baths." Clearly, I had just taken a few, and I can attest that they are all they are cracked up to be. Guess what? Slowing down is an important feature.
4. Children grow. Obvious, I know, but there's nothing like a tradition of five years to rub it in your face. Observe below: my GORGEOUS 5.5 year old daughter who leaps like a frickin' gazelle and is the bravest person I know (unless we are talking about vacuum volume or daddy long-legs).
To encapsulate: I want to take my growing children out on more slow, mind-awakening journeys so that I may suck all their youth, beauty and knowledge in return for passing down the skill of taking a good hard look.
But, there is still...
5. The fingerprint sand dollar flipped in the incoming tide, unable to catch itself and stay on the beach. It would be perfect for my art project, and I tried three times to grasp at it, frantically watching the lapping water and swirling sand to keep my eyes trained on it the whole time. As my index finger finally made contact, I just barely felt it crack against the juicy part of my palm. Shoot. I held the beautiful, now damaged curio in the very center of my hand and felt real, wistful pain over it's injuries. I did what I have trained myself to do: I looked hard at it for a moment and said in a whisper not heard above the tide: "Thank you for letting me see it. I love it, and I love you. Here you go, " and I let it back out into the sea to become sand. I turned to walk further and two steps later, I saw the little sand dollar's perfect, PERFECT twin lying just under a clump of seaweed (of course). I don't think I really did, but I almost believe I heard, "No, here YOU go." I gingerly took it up and let the moment sink in. "Kids, come here. I just have to tell you what just happened..." They all smiled gently, and Ivo said, "That was definitely Jesus." "Of course, it was." I said. "It always is. We just noticed it this time." I slipped it into the growing collection in my pocket.
Later, as I unloaded my treasures into my art supply bag, I winced at the jagged edge of a tiny, broken sand dollar rubbing my finger. I felt the same pain as I did with the first, and I did the same ritual: "Thank you for letting me see it;" then I dropped it in the trash. Moral of THIS story? Don't put sand dollars from Jesus in your pocket (duh!), and don't take yourself too seriously ;)