Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Angel Beach

Rain or shine, I would pull on my sweats and windbreaker and drive to North Beach. From my house on the bluff, you took Cherry Street across town to the Chinese Gardens Lagoon and parked at the end of Kuhn Street, where the trails sloped down to the sand or wended up into the forested lanes of the state park. I'd pull a woolen cap down over my ears and set off into the prevailing wind, picking my way between rocks and foam and seaweed.

If you turned west, the beach would narrow and the path would bend around glistening rocks and sun-washed stumps of dead-fall, ducking into the freezing shadows of the bluff, and suddenly out again into the bright sun. You could watch the broad neck of the Admiralty Inlet where specs of cargo ships on the horizon made their way through the morning fog, moving at a crawl with precision through the passage, tendrils of smoke in the morning light, their superstructures taking shape as they neared, their bows pushing a mighty wake before them. You could feel the vibration of their heavy diesels through the dark gray sand as you walked.

On lucky days, I would walk five or six miles west to Glass Beach on the ebb tide, counting herons along the way or laughing at the splashing play of otters as they coasted on their backs in the carpet of the seaweed. When you rounded the bend at McCurdy Point you could see Hurricane Ridge and the jagged spine of the Olympic range where it thrust into the blue sky. If it was a clear day, that is. And yet, on days unfit for sunning, an eagle would round out the sky above you.

When white settlers chose the Port Townsend area for a home in 1851 they found a bustling trade route used by Chief Chetzemoka's Klallam tribe. By the turn of the century, Port Townsend was a booming seaport, and residents used the beach beneath the towering cliffs at McCurdy Point as the town dump. You can still find shards of pottery, bottles, and china at the bottom of the bluff. I'd find marbles, in perfect condition, buried under a few inches of sand. I'd try to imagine the life of a settler's child.

I liked to gather feathers, dried wood, blue and purple glass, and the occasional sea-star shell. Some days I'd carry them home, other times I'd build a small shrine of Earthly delights and pray in gratitude for my new-found sobriety. If I went out early, I'd have the entire stretch of beach to myself. We tried to keep Glass Beach a local secret, but you'd find hikers galore out there on weekends.

If you turned east at the parking lot, the beach trailed off toward the inner curve of the inlet, with the Mount Baker volcano rising into the clouds. To the farthest end, where the peninsula curved south, stood the Point Wilson lighthouse and its booming foghorn. I liked to go this way in the evening, when the beach was still and quiet save for the susurring of the waves and the rhythmic wail of the horn in the dark, misty air. The light would spin its bright eye at you as it swept across the channel.

I'd often stop near the point and sit in the dark and talk to my grandfather. I had lived in Port Townsend about a year when my brother and I visited Uncle Mort in Eugene and he told us the terrible secret of my grandfather's suicide--hidden from us for all our lives. Scarcely fifteen years later, Mort would take his own life.

But here, on the beach below the Point Wilson light, I'd sit and ponder the good luck of my finding a way out, a town where kids shouted to me in the street, and friends called my home if they hadn't seen me in several days just to see how I was. And I'd sit beneath the whirling eye of the Point Wilson light and talk to grandpa Max, telling him how I had come this far, that I had lived through the madness that at times seemed only a paper-thin moment away, how I had found this house on the bluff where Klallam friends helped me build a native sweat lodge, where my dearest friends would come and sweat and pour water, and pray for the earth and our ancestors and our loved ones and, afterward, eat sumptuous food and laugh about how easily it could have all ended in disaster.

One night I sat beneath the lighthouse until dawn and in the the drizzling fog of morning thought I saw an angel perched in a lone cedar where it rose on the bluff. The tree had been struck by lightening and in the shadowy shape of dawn, I saw the slow unfurling of wings where the stump had been cleaved through the heart.

Though I often tried, I never saw the angel in that tree again, though she was there, as certain as the wind-swept bluff and the hissing tide. I don't know where I'm going, but I have ruled out certain options, ending one legacy with my piece in the line. And now, hundreds of miles away, I am forever on Angel Beach, grandpa Max, dear Uncle Mort, a noose and a bullet, and I'm so damn sad that you never found the path that led me home.


Char said...

I hope we all find our Angel Beach, I know I need mine at times.

Lyn said...

Angels seem to like to hang around. We see them, they disappear. Sometimes they grab us when we have one foot stepping off the curb.
I do like your work. Thanks.

tangobaby said...

This is so beautiful, Gabby. You amaze me.

And I wonder, could you go back and live there again? It sounds like such a magical place for you.

Blue Sky Dreaming said...

Hi, I came over from Tangobaby's blog and have so enjoyed your writing. I will visit often.
Mary Ann

Gabby said...

Thank you all so much for the kind remarks that keep me going every morning. 50 or more days strong now, and when I think I have run out of memories, your support helps me find freshness in my past. You have no idea how much you help.

cameracrazy said...

Thank You, Gabby, for your "Angel Beach" blog! I, too, live with the demon of suicide in my family and look for solace each day. Today was not a particularly good day but I was reading about sea glass beaches, found your blog and it helps. Was that coincidence? Who knows? Point being it helped. I still hope to find my "Angel Beach" and am constantly on watch. THANK YOU!!