Camping on the Beach: Part One

25 Jul

Oy, Vey! For the first time in over a year I haven’t posted something on Tuesday morning! Well, maybe Tuesday evening still counts – ’cause it’s still Tuesday here on the West Coast, even if it isn’t still Tuesday back home in Minnesota! I’m back on Orcas Island, Washington – partly for “work” this time…more about that in the future! For now, I give you some Orcas Island memories…

Some of my favorite summertime memories are of sleeping on the beach with my friend, K. We did this twice that I remember, though I’m not sure why we didn’t do it more often. I suppose because it required a great deal of planning ahead, checking on the weather, packing, hiking, and, of course, parental cooperation.

It also took a huge amount of time because we had to lug everything – sleeping bags, pillows, food, cooking utensils, matches, toilet paper, towels, and whatever else a couple of 13 year olds deemed necessary – ten minutes down the road from my house, and then another ten minutes back up the shore to our beach, directly below my house, but inaccessible from the house due to the 90 foot cliff that was in the way.

I say ten minutes, but really, when lugging armfuls of stuff, it took longer, we walked slower. Plus, walking along the beach was slower going than walking along the road because of the stones and rocks and boulders in the way, so, really, one round-trip journey probably took an hour, start to finish (loading up, unloading, resting) so that by the time we took three round-trips, half the afternoon was already gone.

So, yes, it was a big deal just getting our stuff down there. But it was worth it.

The view from a little further west past our beach. Our view of Mt. Baker was more head-on. This is taken from North Beach, Eastsound, WA.


Once we had set up camp – which included finding the perfect place amongst the stones to sleep (we never used mattresses), building a firepit, stocking our “bathroom” (behind some huge rocks) and making sure that everything was well clear of the high-tide mark – we could then play. Depending on the height of the tide at the time, this would include climbing on rocks, wading in the water, investigating tide pools, popping the Bull Kelp heads, and doing anything else that occurred to us as we enjoyed our freedom. We never lacked for things to do at the beach.

In case you’re wondering at our parents allowing a couple of young girls to sleep on the beach alone, let me explain something. Our beach was basically private, as were all of our neighbor’s beaches. If one owns waterfront land on Orcas Island, Washington, they own it down to the low tide mark. So, the beach was ours and the only other people who might possibly venture down there were just our neighbors, crossing over to their own land, but as they were mostly retired people who never went to the beach, that never happened. My mom or dad would always call down the cliff to us at bedtime, checking in with us, ensuring that we were well and truly fine. They might have peeked at us at other times in the evening or night, I don’t know, but there was nowhere else that we wanted to be, and we were tired after a long day of setting up camp. Sleep came easy.

To further isolate us, there were promontories at either end of the neighborhood’s beaches, impossible to get around except by boat, of course. So, really, we were quite safe. Just the sea otters and crabs came to visit.

It turns out, actually, that we were the interlopers on our beach. Unwittingly, we had built our bathroom in the sea otter’s playground. We woke up during the night to strange sounds. Squeaks and splashes and a weird sandpapery rubbing which was, we discovered, the sound of the otter’s bodies sliding down our bathroom walls. Or, should I say more accurately, their playground equipment: the gigantic boulders that marked the edge of our property.

We watched in the moonlight as they repeatedly slid down the natural curve of the rock into the water, swam up through the murky depths, and climbed back up the rocks to do it again. Time after time, with no breaks, they repeated this wonderful circle of amusement. Almost we could understand their excited chattering as if they spoke; surely we could understand their love for their sport.

When we woke in the morning it was as if we’d dreamed it.

My sister, circa the time of my sleeping on the beach years, throwing a rock into the water so that I’d get splashed. Ah, the joy of big sisters.


One of the mornings we awoke to voices floating across the water. A fishing boat was idling not far off shore, its occupants peering at us over the bows. We scowled at them and, apparently, we looked fierce enough for them to chug away, much to our relief, as we had, inexplicably, changed into nightgowns for our repose.

What were we thinking?

The second time we slept on the beach we slept in our clothes.

Yes, we were naïve.

And that was okay.

On Thursday: Camping on the Beach, Part Two.

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16 Responses to “Camping on the Beach: Part One”

  1. Hotly Spiced July 25, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    What a beautiful part of the world and how wonderful to be able to enjoy those days of freedom. I think that’s a great way to spend a holiday. What great fun and you clearly have wonderful memories from that experience. Love the photo of you getting splashed! xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 26, 2012 at 9:42 am #

      Thanks, Charlie! It is indeed a great place to be – I miss the ocean so much when I’m back in Minnesota. It’s and entirely different smell in the air here, as I’m sure you can relate to where you live! It’s so hard to be away from it.

  2. gardenfreshtomatoes July 25, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Wonderful memories…isn’t it sad that most of our kids won’t have that kind of experience?
    Can’t wait to read Part Two!

  3. Minnesota Prairie Roots July 25, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Oh, to be a child again, sleeping on the beach, huh? Your memories are precious and so detailed. Once again, fantastic storytelling, Gretchen. You took me right there to the beach with you through your detailed and engaging writing.

    I’m curious to hear about what you are currently doing out West.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 26, 2012 at 9:44 am #

      I’m off of e-mail right now, so I can give details later but I”m at a “conference” – for lack of a better word – which includes artists of all types. I read a blog post last night around a campfire before an audience of about 100 – VERY fun. I could do that all day!

  4. Laurie (Morrill) French July 25, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    Awww. Yes, growing up on Orcas Island back then, was absolutely wonderful and care free. I remember getting on my horse first thing in the morning and being gone all day with her. I’d end up on the beach often. It was a fairy tale childhood. We were VERY spoiled. I wish I had taken lots of pictures…. Thanks for the memories.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

      Yes, it was great, wasn’t it?! I wish I had more pictures, too – oh, well. Memories are great. I never was a horse person, but I imagine that was wonderful to ride all day and along the beach and such. Fun times!!

  5. Carol Owens July 25, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Lovely writing, Gretchen..I live on Sunset Ave, wondering if you are a neighbor?
    Carol Owens, -3430 on Orcas

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 26, 2012 at 9:46 am #

      My knowledge of street names on Orcas is lacking…so I’m not sure where you are, exactly, but I will give you a call before I leave! I’d love that. I’m running around constantly because I’m here for Kindlingsfest at the Community Church, but I’ll find time to call for sure!

  6. cravesadventure July 25, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Beautiful post – Great photos – Happy Camping:)

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 26, 2012 at 9:46 am #

      Thank you! My kids have been sleeping in a tent the whole week and LOVING it!

  7. rutheh July 28, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    What delightful memories.

  8. Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen July 30, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    I once saw otters up close.. but it was at the Vancouver Aquarium. How delightfully playful they are. I also saw a video of two otters holding hands while floating, they are just the sweetest little creatures!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell July 31, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

      They are adorable, aren’t they?! A little stinky…but cute as all get out!

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