Friday, May 21, 2010

Discovery Park

The winter had been mild, but brutal for reasons other than the weather. Seemingly for months on end, stuck indoors with first one illness and then another, circling our family like greedy, mucus-laden vultures. It shook me to the center. Made me question my beliefs about myself, my health, my children's health, my parenting prowess. I declared "Enough!" and bundled little bodies, sore with remnants of our latest bout. I stuffed my pockets with tissues, healthy snacks, a camera and a map and heaved us out the door in search of a cure.

The city is hemmed by natural vastness on both sides. The Cascades to the East, the Sound and Olympics to the West. Abundant forests, lakes, foothills, volcanoes surround us. Hulking, shimmering there, patiently allowing our farce of human progress until they decide to reclaim the land. It is this constant visage of the absolute enormity of nature while still having access to good schools, flushing toilets, cultural events and decent shopping that I love about my most recent home.

The kids were antsy as we wound a new direction through a residential area. They'd never been this way before, had I? How did I know where we were going? Was I sure we weren't lost? 
"Trust me, please, to be the Mama."
Their questions were literal, but the low boil of irritation they ignited spoke to my own set of questions on an entirely different level. How did they grasp that so naturally? Or is it just my inner critic speaking?
"No, honey, I've never been this way before."

The shadow of doubt infected our space, in spite of my reassurances. The oddly flat, well-manicured mid-century subdivision through which we were driving didn't seem like the wildness I was seeking. Slowing for speed bumps and watching for my cue, I think I held my breath a bit. Slowly, slowly, then - aha. There it was, my talisman: the small, slightly dated-looking, rainbow striped sign of a city park. With a triumphant flip of  the blinker and a tap on the brakes, I felt more vindicated than I should have. I was right. I did know the way. With that slight course adjustment, we left the landscape of tidy yards and ramblers for our personal frontier.

Over lunch we spotted a white rabbit, startling against the green underbrush. It stopped and watched us watching it before cocking its head and leaping off into the deeper forest. It seemed as good a sign as any that it was time to begin our descent to the beach.

The path was worn and well-marked and the kids enjoyed the freedom to dance or run or meander at their own paces. Stopping to inspect: witch's butter here, moss formations there, rocks, bugs, the first brave flower buds of late winter.

Across the meadow to the bluffs - the first lookout point to the Sound. I think it was then that they finally started to believe me that we were going the right way. Impatience, urgency - "There it is! I can see the beach! Let's go straight!" The futility of explaining that what felt like walking away was really the best way to go.

I watched their little legs and feet making their way down the steep and knobbly forest trail. Each step so much effort, distances so much further for them than for me. These two little forest creatures, gamely heading the direction I pointed them. Setting aside their doubts and plunging deeper into the evergreen glow of sunlight filtered through clouds filtered through cedars.

We rounded a bend as the cedars gave way to deciduous trees not yet in leaf. We three stopped to catch our breath and mine caught me. Unfolding before us, the wind and salt bleached trees, with bare limbs held high. Clothed in white, a crowd of supplicants, arms lifted in praise, frozen there in their dance down the hill to be baptized by sun and sand and sea. We took up their dance for them; eagerly, trippingly, breathlessly down the rest of the trail. At once blinded and inspired by the occasional flashing glimpse through the limbs as the ripples on the Sound grasped a little sunlight and tossed its sparkle up to us. In good faith we clamored through the last tangle of vines that completely obscured our goal until bursting, tumbling, gasping like birth onto the sand. 

Off they ran to dig, to hunt, to discover, to revel. The brilliance of the sudden afternoon sun was matched only by the shining, dancing, aching pleasure in my children's chilly, wind-kissed faces.
"Thank you, Mama! We made it!"