Tag Archives: Orcas Island

My Orcas Island

3 Dec

Ok, so this is where I grew up. Can you understand my obsession?

The video is only 2 and a half minutes long. What better way to spend two minutes?!

School Bus Stories: Part 2

28 May


I was in Kindergarten along about 1975, and the bus, as usual, was 3 or 4 kids deep per seat. We were almost the last bus stop, which meant my seating options were limited. The bus had already covered the entire east side of the island and the kids on board were eager to be off.

It was an old bus. The kind with no “cush” in the cushions. The kind where you felt every single bump on the road. The kind with a metal bar on the top back of each green seat as opposed to full vinyl covering, front and back.

So there I was, teetering on about 3 inches of seat, bouncing along at 30 miles per hour (the top speed limit on Orcas Island) when suddenly Mr. Faff had to slam on the brakes, right at the four-corner stop between North Beach Road and Mt. Baker Road.

I slammed forward and my mouth smashed on the metal bar of the seat in front of me. Teeth on steel. I tasted blood. I felt a broken tooth. I cried.

My two sisters – bless them – mopped me up the best they could with the napkins from their lunch sacks. I remember feeling so badly that they wouldn’t have any napkins that day. What if they spilled their milk? I was really quite worried about that.
I also remember feeling quite excited that I got to miss school that day. I had to go to the dentist and he pulled the tooth which, thankfully, was a baby tooth anyway. I also remember that Mr. Faff (whose name has been changed though he’s been dead for years so it probably doesn’t matter) felt very badly about what had happened. He tried to comfort me in his quiet, awkward way. Did he remove his dentures to make me smile? I don’t remember. But it was kind of him, just the same.

I remember one other thing about Mr. Faff. Never, in all the years he drove the bus and cleaned the school, had we seen him out of his baseball cap and coveralls. Never…until, one day, my sister and I attended a funeral and, low and behold, down the aisle of the church came Mr. Faff. He was wearing a suit and his head was bare. My sister and I turned to each other, our eyes wide, amazed grins on our faces.

Who knew? He had hair!


Mount Saint Helens Exploded 33 Years Ago this Week – My Dad Was There the Next Day – And Here are Some of his Photos

14 May


I remember the boom that Sunday morning, May 18th, 1980 – 33 years ago this week – as we were getting ready for church on Orcas Island, Washington. It was 8:32am – or however long it takes for sound to travel 300 miles. My oldest sister was off at college, my Dad was down in Oregon at work with the Air Force, and my other sister, our Mom, and I were slipping on our Sunday shoes and just about to head out the door when we heard it.

“Oh, they’re dynamiting on Buck Mountain,” Mom said dismissively.

But Jenny and I said, “No! It was Mount Saint Helens!”

“No,” Mom disagreed. “We couldn’t hear it this far away.”

“It was the mountain, Mom,” we said again. “Turn on the radio.”

Sure enough, Mount Saint Helens – which had been steaming and belching and threatening to explode for weeks – had finally blown her top. The mountain – the entire skyline of southern Washington State – was no longer the same. The north face of the mountain was gone.

And so were 57 people with her.

My father, LTC David K. Wendt, was a rescue helicopter pilot for the United States Air Force Reserve, based out of Portland, Oregon. Here’s what Dad had to say about May 18th:

“I was the duty officer that Sunday – in the RCC (Rescue Control Center) which was a madhouse!! We were getting calls from everybody – including the President of the United States (or the White House office, anyway, to set up a visit for President Carter.) I didn’t get to fly until Monday morning – when I found the Moore family. Lienau’s rescue was a week later.” (The following photographs will fill-out the stories of these people a little more.)

These are some of his photographs, taken over the next several days following the event on May 18th.

The cauldron!

The cauldron!

It's like a photo from you-know-where.

It’s like a photo from you-know-where.

These were trees.

These were trees. The explosion – firing at several hundred miles per hour – killed every living thing within a 230 square mile radius. All within a time period of 5-9 minutes. The orange smudge in this photo is a flare. (See links below to verify this information.)

Blasted trees on the surface of Spirit Lake.  Spirit Lake was made famous even before the explosion because of a long-time resident, Harry Truman, who refused to evacuate prior to the explosion they KNEW was coming.  His body was never found.

Blasted trees on the surface of Spirit Lake. Spirit Lake was made famous even before the explosion because of a long-time resident, Harry Truman, who refused to evacuate prior to the explosion they KNEW was coming. His body was never found.

Steam vents - filled with logs from the blast.

Steam vents – filled with logs from the blast.

Steaming waterfall.

Steaming waterfall.

38-StH steam portrait-Dig


Devis Valley

Devis Valley

A 200 foot hover, while a parajumper is hanging on the end of a 200 foot cable as he works to make a rescue.

A 200 foot hover, while a parajumper is hanging on the end of a 200 foot cable as he works to make a rescue.

Flying toward a lake on the mountain.

Flying toward a lake on the mountain.

Micheal Lienau, rescued by Dad and his crew.  They have kept in touch over the years.  He was a photographer for National Geographic.

Micheal Lienau, rescued by Dad and his crew. Several years ago they saw each other again as they were both asked to be a part of an NBC production on “Disaster Survival”. Here’s what Dad had to say about Lienau: “He made a video of the whole ordeal – saying how they looked back up the pass they’d come through and saw a volcano-blasted tree in the shape of a cross – just showing in the narrow slit of overcast volcanic cloud and the pass. He told the others with him – after seeing that cross – that he truly felt they were going to be saved – and a few minutes later we flew over the pass! I was hover-tracking them by their trail left in the ash and mud.” Otto Seiber, another guy rescued by Dad and his crew, was a filmmaker from Seattle, who went with his film crew to document the destruction on May 23rd. Their compasses freaked out in the volcanic atmosphere and they got themselves lost in a hurry. The mountain then erupted again on May 25th, and Dad and his team rescued them. 

Taken from another helicopter.

A helicopter-view of another Huey.

18a-Steam vents-3-Dig

Steam vents

Steam vents

They searched for the Moores - and they found them on the 19th.  Alive.

They searched for the Moores – and they found them. Alive. Mother, father, and two small children.

The Moores.

The Moores.

Heart Lake

Heart Lake

Reid Blackburn's car.  He was a photojournalist for a Washington newspaper as well as for National Geographic magazine.  His body was eventually recovered from his car.

Reid Blackburn’s car. He was a photojournalist for a Washington newspaper as well as for National Geographic magazine. His body was eventually recovered from the car.

Chemically-altered pools.  All sorts of weird stuff in that ash and lava!

Chemically-altered pools. All sorts of weird stuff in that ash and lava!


30-Cold Lake & reflection-Dig


Dad didn't send me this photo - but I wanted to include it!  Details of the rescue of the Moores.  This is the nomination form that was turned in, nominating them for the Helicopter Heroism Award that year.

Dad didn’t send me this photo because he’s not one to brag – but I wanted to include it! Details of the rescue of the Moores. This is the nomination form that was turned in, nominating them for the Helicopter Heroism Award that year.

Amazing what the ash in the air will do to a sunset!

Amazing what the ash in the air will do to a sunset!

Forever changed.

Forever changed.

Here are several interesting links:

A very informative video put out by the USGS – the United States Geological Survey.

The USDA/FS site (United States Department of Agriculture / Forest Service)

Mount Saint Helens.com

A USGS summary of the event, including right before it and several years after it.

There are many, many more sites – I just choose a few which seemed especially good.

My Dad has had his photos used by the USGS, the Mt. St. Helens Interpretive Center, and this book, Fire Mountain. I have many reasons to be proud of my dad. The things he did during his Mount Saint Helens rescues are definitely some of them.

Copyright Notice: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any material in this blog without written permission from the blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Copyright May 14, 2013 by Gretchen Anne O’Donnell and Col. David K. Wendt, USAFR


7 May

As spring cleaning is in full swing, it seemed like a good time to tell you about the most fun volunteer cleaning job I ever had.

Not to be confused with the worst volunteer cleaning job I ever had. Which involved about 4 dozen empty-and-needing-to-be-refilled condiment bottles after a church-wide picnic at the huge church I attended in college. I was assigned to refill
the mustard bottles.

And I hate mustard.

But this particular job, done approximately 8 years earlier in my life, and which may seem like a job more fitting for the “worst volunteer job ever” title, was, actually, far more fun. Especially since I was about 14 and was doing it with a good friend.

My friend, Anne (who happened to be the pastor’s daughter), and I, were assigned to clean out the church steeple at Orcas Island Community Church, the church I grew up attending on Orcas Island, Washington.

Orcas Island Community Church: and its fun-filled steeple.

Orcas Island Community Church: and its fun-filled steeple.

It was a church clean-up day. Anne and I came mostly, I’m sure, because we wanted to hang out together, not necessarily because we felt called to serve. I mean, service was fine and all, but it was way more fun when done with a friend. I suppose, really, it still is.

I don’t know who was inspired to assign two young teens to this job, but whoever he or she was, must have been a genius. I remember hauling the huge wet/dry vacuum up two flights of stairs to the steeple door. I’d been in the tiny storage room at the bottom of the steeple before – let’s face it, I’d been in every nook and cranny of the church, including the baptismal pool – but I had never been UP the ladder that was found at the back of the wee room.

But now the way was open and I was thrilled. I don’t know how we got that vacuum up the ladder – I suppose that someone must have helped us – all I remember as we got to the top and stood INSIDE the steeple’s apex – were the flies.

All dead. And about two inches deep.

Crunch. Crunch, crunch. CRUNCH. With every step. Everytime we moved. Everywhere we looked. Dead flies.

Remember: I was 14…and not particularly squeamish.


It was not a long job, but we took as long with it as we could. We vacuumed. We pretended to be grossed out. We vacuumed some more. We peered out the slats of the steeple and yelled down to our friend in the parking lot below. He never did figure out where those voices calling his name were coming from. (Hopefully we didn’t drive him insane thinking that he was hearing voices inside his head.)

I love when church gives kids opportunities to serve. Especially when those jobs are age-appropriate. Somehow vacuuming up dead flies has never been as much fun since. Not sure why…

For Hire: One (Experienced) Hay Truck Driver

2 Oct

The summer of my 14th year I was offered a job. As this job did not involve babysitting or vacuuming or pulling weeds in the garden, I was eager to take it on. I do not know why, exactly, I was offered this job. I suppose the people must have been desperate. Either that or extremely optimistic. Either that or they had never met me and just thought that, since they knew and liked my sister, they would know and like me as well.

Boy, were they disappointed.

I was uniquely UNqualified for the job. 1) I could not drive, and the job involved driving large vehicles. 2) I grew up with two sisters and zero brothers and the job involved lots of muscled, sweaty men spitting and hefting things and this intimidated me greatly because I did not understand men, did not know how to talk to them or behave around them, did not have any clue as to how to flirt with them and was far too shy to do so even if I did know how. 3) The job involved patience and focus…and I was easily bored.

But, given the choice of a job – and a paycheck – I said “Yes!” despite the little voice in the back of my head shouting, “RUN AWAY!”

And so my sister picked me up one hot August day – or perhaps it was July – and drove me over to the parking place of Occupational Hazard Number One (hereafter referred to simply as OH NO).

As we parked and got out of her car, I spotted a large, intimidating Hay Truck.

“Um…is that the vehicle I’m going to be driving?” I asked my sister.

“Probably,” she replied. “But it could be that one over there.” She pointed and I saw a mammoth truck looming over the farm yard. It was like The Incredible Hulk…or the Jolly Green Giant, minus the jolly parts.

At OH NO I met Nancy, my optimistic/desperate employer. I don’t think she was overly impressed with me. My sister hung around awhile, and then she drove away, leaving me behind, horribly nervous, and desperately shy of these unknown, sweaty men and the efficient woman who had hired them.

There was one person there whom I knew: my brother-in-law. He was always kind to me, teasing me and telling me to stand up straight. I have never asked him, but I have a feeling that, as he saw me hanging around that day, he had to have known better than to expect big things of his little, wimpy sister-in-law.

We piled into the cab of OH NO. I was smushed between my brother-in-law and a French Canadian guy whom I couldn’t understand and who smoked these appalling-smelling skinny cigarettes. I thought longingly of the babies I could be sitting on to earn my money and wondered how on God’s green earth bodies could smell so badly. And they hadn’t even begun bucking bales yet.

There were more guys riding on the back of the truck. Younger guys. A couple only a year or two older than me. I knew that there were girls who would give their eye teeth to be in my position. I was prepared to give my eye teeth to get out of it.

And then it was my turn at the wheel. My brother-in-law gave me a few pointers and set me free to wreck the havoc that he probably knew I’d be wrecking. They began tossing bales and I began driving V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y. This was in part because I was supposed to drive slowly…but also in part because I had to shift, steer, and otherwise operate a gigantic vehicle when I had never, in my life, operated any kind of vehicle, ever.

It is a funny fact that a field which appears to be flat and level may be, upon closer inspection, very much NOT flat or smooth. If there was a tiny hump in the land, an itsy bitsy depression in the ground, I found it with OH NO. I stalled the truck. I heaved and lurched and abused the truck. And, in my attempts to NOT run over bales along the way, I managed to run over at least three which were lurking in the shadows and then jumped out at me in particularly vulnerable moments.

My view from the truck windshield. Think you could do it? Yes. You probably could.

I couldn’t hear over the sound of the engine, nor could I see in my rear view mirror as it was soon obscured by bales of hay…but I know…I KNOW…that I was being laughed at. Or perhaps cursed.

I was asked to drive two other times that summer. And, being a glutton for punishment, I did so. I think that somehow I thought this was good for me. A learning experience. A chance to broaden my protected and innocent horizons.

What it turned out to be was a chance to realize that I was in no hurry to get my driver’s license if this was what the future held. To accept that babysitting, while NOT my favorite way to spend time, was a way better way to earn a few bucks than this embarrassing gig.

It was also a chance to cultivate my keen sense of smell – to realize that men can be identified by their particular sweat – and to know that, should I ever come across that dreadful-smelling brand of French Canadian cigarettes again, I’ll be immediately transported to a certain hot hay field on Orcas Island where, to my chagrin, I proved my ineptitude as a professional driver.

Several weeks after haying was over, my sister came up to me and handed me an envelope. I eagerly tore it open and found myself staring at a woefully tiny paycheck. Turns out the owner of OH NO took the cost of the run-over hay bales out of my check.

I stared at my pathetic wages and looked up at my sister. “FOURTEEN DOLLARS?” I asked her.

But she didn’t answer. She was too busy trying not to laugh.

I was mad. I thought of the sweaty men, and the nasty cigarettes and the hot, yellow fields under the summer sun. I thought of OH NO, and the grinding gear shifts and the non-power-steering. And then, surprisingly, a little part of me smiled.

I had survived.

And I came out with a great story to tell.

You Can Take a Girl to the Midwest…But You Can’t Make Her Talk Right.

6 Sep

When I moved to the mid-west there were several things I had to get used to. 1) The weather 2) The absence of the ocean 3) The language. There were probably more, but I can’t think of them right now. Either that or I’ve repressed them because they were too traumatic. Either that or I have gotten so used to them that they don’t feel weird any more.

The view from my house, growing up. A lot differrent from the prairie…

So…1) The weather.

Growing up in Washington and Oregon for the first 16 years of my life, and then spending my four years of college in Eugene, OR, rain was just a given. Rain came often, drizzling its way through the day and into our ears, insinuating itself into our daily lives so that umbrellas were third appendages that sprouted periodically from our hands and wet socks were par for the course.

Every car in the PNW contains at least one umbrella.

Here, on the other hand, I’m not sure I’ve used an umbrella, ever. I have one or two – that haven’t been destroyed by my children, that is – but I just never use them. If it’s raining, I run for it. Here it rains in BATCHES. Two inches here, half an inch there, maybe even five inches other there. Very different from the day-long drizzles I’m used to.

In the Pacific Northwest, by the way, no one has rain gauges. Well, not nearly as many people as do out here, anyway. Rain is just part of life out there…why would I want to gauge my life in a tube? It’s far too depressing.

Me…in the empty lot next to our house.

2) The absence of the ocean.

I miss oceany things in the grocery store. I miss briny scents as I drive into town. I miss views of headlands and sprawling acres of gray, undulating seas. I miss the tides giving rhythm to my day.

When I first moved to the Duluth area, well-meaning people said to me, “Lake Superior must make you feel right at home.” Now, I know I’ve whined about this before so I’ll spare you my soap-box. Let me just say this: Lake Superior is awesome. BUT IT IS NOT THE OCEAN. For many reasons.

‘Nuf said.

Me again. It seemed appropriate for the time of year…

3) The language.

There is much which could be said about this topic. I’ll restrain myself for today and say only this: to me, “lunch” means a noon-time meal of sandwiches or macaroni and cheese, for example, combined with a glass of milk, a banana, and possibly a cookie if I’m feeling reckless. “Lunch” does not come at any other hour of the day, nor is it accompanied by the words, “a little”, nor does it consist of sweet treats such as tea ring, coffee cake, or ginger snap cookies.

In addition, “dinner” comes at approximately 6:00 p.m. and NOT at noon. (Except on Sundays, of course. Then it comes at noon and is the big meal of the day with an evening meal of popcorn or something else easy on Mom.) So if you want me to get to your house for a noontime meal, do not be calling it dinner. Or, conversely, don’t be surprised if I miss lunch at your house if you insist on calling it dinner. Unless, of course, you want me to miss it, then call it dinner to your hearts content.

“Supper” is a weird word that is rarely used in the Pacific Northwest. It’s known…but it’s suspect.

I’ll leave my tirade at this for now, but know this: I have much to say about “borrowing” me your pencil. My eyebrows are furrowed as we speak…

Orcas Island Pottery

21 Aug

One of my favorite places to visit on Orcas Island is Orcas Island Pottery. This place is unique, creative, and truly fabulous. I remember coming here as a child with my mother. I would stand and watch Julia Crandall as she worked on her potter’s wheel. I loved the way she threw the clay onto the moving stone; the way her hands formed the lump into something recognizable and beautiful; the way she’d move her fingers to subtly change the pot; the way her fingers, wetted, orange, and dripping, lent validation to every mud pie I’d ever made.

A sign hanging inside one of the buildings.

Truly, she was a queen to children everywhere who had ever tried to form something – anything – worth keeping in the world of pliable playdough, clay, or sand. In my memory, at least, she was a small woman, her graying hair perpetually in a bun (I may be wrong about the bun, but that’s how I see her!) her hands always working. In a small town, everyone knows everyone else’s car…but hers was especially recognizable with her “Pots 4 U” license plate long before the days of abbreviated text messages.

It is her granddaughter now, who owns and runs Orcas Island Pottery. As her website describes it, she threw her first pot at age five, learning everything about the art of pottery from her mother and grandmother. She employs several permanent potters and guest potters from all over the country and world. The quality and beauty of their work is outstanding.

The woods are “Lovely, dark and deep”.

It is, however, their location – right on the ocean front – and their method of displaying their work that takes your breath away. Even the drive to the studio and store is magnificent – a meandering, shadowy journey through mossy old-growth evergreens and ferns. I used to walk part of this road every week on my way to piano lessons. I remember making the walk last as long as possible – whether trying to delay my lesson or enjoying the woods, I cannot say for certain.

There are many pottery places on Orcas Island, and I have not visited them all, but I freely admit that I am biased towards Orcas Island Pottery not just for my memories of the place, but also for the creativity which is evident all around you the moment you draw near. This originality is seen in their road signs, in their displays – both indoors and out – and in their encouragement of children – as seen in the whimsical and magical treehouse which everyone, old and young alike, are allowed to visit. Make no mistake, this treehouse is built to keep parents sane – and pottery safe, perhaps? – giving people of all ages something to do at the pottery store.

Orcas Island Pottery is, most definitely, one of the wonderfully unique things about Orcas Island. Now if I could just choose what pieces to buy…and not keep buying them to give as wedding presents…I would be a happy girl. Because truly, having a piece of this pottery is like having a wee bit of the island on your breakfast table.

And so I give you a journey through the woods and onto the glorious property that is Orcas Island Pottery!

A sign along the road…

We’re here!

Sighted along the path…

I remember this Native American whale from when I was a kid!

It seems as if fairies ought to live here…

Did I mention that there’s a treehouse on the premises to keep children (young ones and grown-up ones) occupied?! LOVE THIS.

How great is this place?!

The most lovely wee doggie you’ll ever meet. Patient, persistant (but not obnoxious) and quiet.

The island in the background is Waldron.

I simply adore the outdoor displays. And yes, in case you’re wondering, they’re outdoors year-round, regardless of the weather.

The “Sale Boat” was pretty well picked-over.

A huge variety of styles, colors, shapes.


Yes, the kitty is real.

I’d like to eat rice out of these bowls!

Everywhere you look, amazing things await.

If ever you find yourself on Orcas Island…or in need of a wedding gift to buy on-line…or just in need of something marvelous for your very own, check out Orcas Island Pottery’s website. It has a nice write-up of the interesting history of the opperation as well – definitely worth reading!

Kindlingsfest 2012!

17 Aug

I recently spent a week back on Orcas Island, Washington, where I grew up. My main purpose in being there this time, however, wasn’t to see family or to wax nostalgic or even to take photographs – though I fortunately got to do all of that as well. No, my reason for going to Orcas was to attend a marvelous “conference” called Kindlingsfest. which takes place at the church I grew up in, though is independent of any church or denomination.

Kindlingsfest, the biggest event each year sponsored by The Kindlings, styles itself as a place to cultivate the “creative, intellectual and spiritual” side of a person. Here’s their web address for more information: http://www.thekindlings.com/about/. Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, among others, whose group, “Inklings” met frequently in a pub to discuss their writings as well as be encouraged intellectually and creatively, the Kindlings group strives after the same things. Through pod casts, two “fests” a year, and other smaller events, its impossible to leave the group without a vision for how believers in God fit into the world today.

This year, the fifth annual Kindlingsfest, was the second time that I have been able to attend. As was the case two years ago when I first went, I was not disappointed. We got to hear intelligent and provocative speakers, be challenged in our faith, hear fabulous music of all styles, and schmooze with like-minded people (“schmooze” is a much more fun word that “network”, don’t you think?).

The church I grew up in, which hosts the event. My grandfather was actually a pastor in this church, many moons ago!

The Episcopal church on the island also hosts a bit of Kindlingsfest. It’s a gorgeous site and a lovely building!

Every evening there is a bonfire around which people have the opportunity to sing, read poetry, dance, etc. I read aloud a blog post from a couple of months ago, which was very fun. It’s not often that I get to read my work out loud and I love to do so!

Many different artists/singers/writers/dancers took part in sharing their craft “around” the campfire. It’s a really great part of the event, both to get to know the artists a little, but also just to enjoy yourself! Graham crackers, marshmalows and chocolate bars were provided as well…of course!

Nigel Goodwin – a unique and fabulous character – is a vital part of the Kindglings group. He heads up the “Bag End” time around the campfire each evening…and yes, he sometimes breaks into dance just because.

On the other side of the campfire – a tent to eat beneath, chat, or just hang out.

A closer shot of the campfire by day – it’s a wonderful spot.

I came away encouraged as a writer, excited for my creative future, and inspired to work in my local church to achieve some of the things we spoke about. And, of course, as always, it’s wonderful to visit Orcas Island – an inspiration in itself.
As with all such conferences, it’s always a bit of a down-fall to return to reality. However, I have at least had The Music Man performances to help soften the creative blow. Here are a few photographs to help understand the extent of Kindlingsfest 2012.

These belong in Narnia, yes?!

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis present a kind of an overarching theme of the Kindlings. This, in case you were wondering, is Farmer Maggot’s corn field.

Malcolm Guite was the main speaker – and yes, he also played guitar a wee bit! He spoke on the topic, “Crabbed Age and Youth Cannot Live Together?” He was not only inspiring but also just plain fun.

Jason Carter was one of the featured musicians. He plays the Harp Guitar…fascinating and fabulous.

My daughter – who plays french horn – was thrilled to see a french horn in a rock band!

Camping on the Beach: Part Two

27 Jul

My last post was about camping on the beach, and it ended with a promise of more stories to come. Well, here you go…

When we camped down on the beach a huge part of the fun was being in control of our food. Not so much WHAT we ate – our mom’s still were the ones buying the food, so the menu wasn’t totally up to us – but WHEN we ate was up to us, and that was great fun. This was, of course, an activity not dependent upon the clock, but rather upon our appetites…which would be roaring, no matter what the actual time was.

I’m pretty sure we cooked hamburgers, kept cool in an ice chest, over a long-handled grill kind of thing – the kind that you hold over the flame and it has two sides to it so you can flip it over part way through, eliminating the need for yet another utensil. We might have done hot dogs, though I’m not sure, because mostly what I do remember about eating on the beach was breakfast. I am certain we had s’mores – after all, what campfire is complete without them – but even that pales in comparison to my memory of breakfast.

My mama, down on our beach, circa 1985, using the exact kind of hamberger grill I’m talking about!

So…breakfast. My friend had several pet geese and so she had offered to bring eggs along with a handy dandy cast iron skillet. We woke up early, the summer sunrise being our alarm clock, and began the serious duty of making scrambled eggs. I greatly dislike fried eggs and always have, so I remember insisting on scrambled. I’m not sure which one of us broke the eggs into the pan, but I do know that both of us looked down at the orange duck egg yolks with a great deal of trepidation.

Despite the fact that K was the one with the geese, she must not normally have been the one to cook them. Neither of us realized that the yolks of goose eggs are always much more orange than the yolks of chicken eggs.

“They’re really…weird looking,” one of us said tentatively.

“Yeah,” the other replied. “Like, too orange.”

“Do you think they went bad overnight?”

“Do you think they might…make us sick if we eat them?”

She looked at me, and I looked at her, and we both decided that eggs – scrambled or otherwise – weren’t on the menu, after all.

The eggs ended up in the outgoing tide and we had something else for breakfast. I know, I know. Silly, but there you have it.

My grandma loved picnics on the beach.

One of my other favorite memories of sleeping on the beach was waking up in the middle of the night one time and finding that, while we had been careful to place our sleeping bags above the high tide line, the tide hadn’t been as careful in sticking to its assigned position.

“Ummm…K?” I poked her awake, noticing in the moonlight that my sleeping bad had a couple spark holes from the night’s campfire.

K did not want to be wakened. I poke her again, talked a little louder. “Ummm…K, you have to wake up, the tide has risen.”

She sat up and, sure enough, saw as I had seen that the driftwood log at our feet – upon which our feet actually rested – was the only thing keeping the ocean from our sleeping bags. There, smack on the other side of the log, not six inches away, was the sea.

We dragged our spark-marked bags further up the beach and settled back down to sleep, trusting to the tide and God that we’d be dry.

We were.

Eastsound, WA

K and I weren’t overly adventurous, we weren’t particularly brave, nor were we very good at outdoor living…but none of that mattered…we had a fantastic time, we felt independent and mature, we were growing up.

My sister and her friend, when they slept on the beach, would build an outhouse out of driftwood logs, stuck upright in the rocks. They’d make rafts of roped-together driftwood, and actually succeed in making them float. One time, they were out rowing – in a boat this time – so far in the water that an Orca – aka, Killer Whale – breached not 15 feet away from them. Talk about wanting your camera. They would cook fantastic meals and never throw away their eggs.

Our friend Becky, on the raft she and my sister made. I was so impressed.

But we younger girls, in our nightgowns and melted sleeping bags, had just as much fun as our older siblings…just closer to shore, and less fancy.

To this day, I never see a goose egg without thinking of the beach, without feeling slightly sticky from dried salt water, without remembering how my feet would squelch in my wet shoes as we hiked up and down, back and forth, with load after load of all the paraphernalia we deemed necessary to a good night’s camping on the beach.

Important stuff like toilet paper.

And nightgowns.

Yes, There is a Fourth of July in Bangkok

3 Jul

You know that elementary school joke: “Is there a Fourth of July in England?” Of course there is! It’s just that it’s not Independence Day for them there the way it is for us in the US of A.

I’ve spent holidays in some unique places. Thanksgiving in Tunisia (let’s just say there was no turkey for dinner), several Christmases in West Berlin, Easter in Paris, and The Fourth of July in Thailand.

Spending your country’s independence day in a different country is bizarre. You feel patriotic and guilty, both at the same time. Kind of like when I traveled to the USSR in high school and all I wanted to do was chew gum…and I hate gum. It was this tenuous connection to the USA – something that made me feel American…as if I needed reminding when all around me was the Cyrillic alphabet, furry hats, and borscht.

When the Fourth of July rolled around in Bangkok the summer of 1989, all of the American ex-patriots were invited to the American Embassy’s front lawn for a down-home American picnic, complete with hamburgers, hotdogs, corn on the cob, and ice cream. There were games, too: three-legged races and tug-of-war. And, at the end of the day, fireworks.

Let’s just say that the American embassy in Thailand doesn’t have a very big fireworks budget.

But, that being said, that afternoon and evening stand out in my mind as one of the most memorable Independence Day celebrations I’ve ever had. Being away from home made home all that much more special.

But I think the best Fourth of Julys were spent on Orcas Island, growing up. Their budget – supplemented by tin donation cans at every island store all summer long – was a million times larger than the Thai embassy’s. Orcas Island had – and still has – the best fireworks I’ve ever seen.

When the sun goes down, round about 10:00 at that latitude, the people of the island – along with a gazillion tourists – line Eastsound Bay and wait patiently for the show to start. Out on tiny Indian Island (only slightly less unpolitically correct than its former name, “Jap Island”) – with fireboats floating at the ready – the pyrotechnics are about to begin.

Now, Orcas Island is an upside-down horse-shoe shape, and Eastsound Bay is at the top of the inner part of the “U”. All around the bay, then, is island and hills – big hills – hills which would be called mountains around here in Minnesota.

Indian Island is an itsy-bitsy island just at the head of the bay, which can be reached at low-tide if you’re booted up and keep a wary eye on the rising tide so that you don’t get stranded. It’s the perfect spot for fireworks, as any accidental fire is contained on the island, and you have this amphitheater surrounding it with space for hundreds of viewers, both on land and by sea.

So, picture this: you’ve shimmied across a narrow rock path to get to your favorite place on the beach. In the dark, no less. And now you’re sitting on a promontory, hearing the local YMCA campers singing campfire songs at the top of their lungs (the sound traveling across the water), hearing waves lapping a few feet away, and watching the star-strewn sky for the explosion of fireworks.

There are probably 25 boats out on the bay, sitting quietly at anchor. Occasionally the sound of laughter or popping of champagne corks comes faintly toward you, but nothing too obnoxious.

Then comes the first burst of color, the BOOM of powder, and the echo of it all ricocheting off the mountains.

Explosion after explosion, reflected on the water, in our eyes, in our hearts.

Now THAT, my friends, is how to spend the Fourth of July.

Happy Birthday, America.

Oh, the irony! 23 years after I spent the summer in Thailand, my husband went there for a few days and took the next several shots. Needless to say, the hotel across the river had a much larger fireworks budget than the US embassy…

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