30 years ago, my mom drove me to the parking lot of a church on a Tuesday morning in late June. In that parking lot were several buses, lots of moms, and even more kids. It was my first day of camp, 1981, and my first time going away for more than a slumber party night. I was 10, almost 11, and I was terrified. I only knew one girl and she was a year older than me and therefore in a different unit, a different world in camp terms. We had never visited the camp and I had no real idea of what to expect other than that I would be able to ride horses. (Like many girls that age, I was obsessed with horses – until I got bucked off of Nellie Gray and my obsession turned to fear.) I didn’t know that I would be sleeping in a wood-framed but canvas-topped tent, that it would rain everyday for the first week, that I would feel hungrier and colder than I ever had in my short life, and that I would watch the road for signs of my mom coming to pick me up to save me from almost unbearable homesickness.
I also didn’t know that at Camp Nor’wester I would learn how to build a campfire on my very first day, sit in a wagon pulled by Clydesdale horses in a 4th of July parade; learn to sail; swim in water so cold it made my teeth ache; spend every Sunday at non-denominational chapel, eating from a giant bowl of banana split at Sunday “supper”, and taking a hike for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the evening. I didn’t know that I would learn to sleep with my jeans under my sleeping bag so they didn’t freeze in the night; fall in love with an 11 year-old boy; dance the Virginia Reel; sing songs of breathtaking beauty; and feel like my heart was being ripped out of my body when it came time to say goodbye to my beloved counselors and friends. That was only the first year. In later years, I learned to play the guitar and sing in front of the whole camp, fell in love with plenty more boys, got bucked off more horses, and found out that the best bakery in the world was just down the road. I have long said that I want to have my ashes scattered over Sperry Peninsula and I know many former campers feel the same way.
(The ferry landing on Lopez.)
20 years ago, my parents took off on a wonderful-sounding trip to Calgary and Banff, Alberta. They decided to drive and I was between my junior and senior years on college at the time so I was excited to have the house to myself for two whole weeks. Just before the Canadian border, they were stopped at the bottom of an exit ramp and a car plowed into them from behind at high speed. The trunk of the car got pushed up all the way to the passenger seats but thankfully, neither of them was hurt. In spite of the fact that the car was now completely undriveable, they were determined to have their vacation. They came back to Seattle, re-grouped, rented a car, and threw together a trip to the San Juan Islands and Victoria, B.C. By this point, they had been going up to Lopez for ten years visiting me and later my brothers in camp and they too had fallen in love with the island.
(Deer are everywhere on Lopez. If you sit still on our deck for long enough, they will come out of the trees and walk right by you, looking into your eyes as they pass.)
On that trip, in 1991, it rained. They were staying in a bed and breakfast and they were bored so they walked to town and into a real estate office. A woman in the office said she had a place they had to see and away they went. My parents had looked at property before but nothing seemed right. This one was just right. It needed some work, it was too dark, had very dated finishes, a deck that was about to collapse, and other problems. But it was on a bluff overlooking Mud Bay, had easy waterfront access, was just about the right size (small) and, in an amazing twist of fate, faced our beloved Camp Nor’wester. On a quiet summer evening, we could hear the campers singing after meals and hear the morning bell. Minor construction began and by the following summer, the house was ready for use. Since that time, and because of two men’s greed, the camp is no longer there, in spite of the fact that it changed people’s lives for almost 60 years. We no longer hear singing or wake-up bells and we no longer see teepees across the water or smoke coming from the fire pit in the long house built in the Kwakkiutl style. We see four monstrous houses with slate roofs built by Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft, one of the world’s billionaires, and a man who almost never sets foot on that beautiful property.
Even though camp is no longer there, I treasure that view and offer heartfelt thanks that my parents had the vision for it. (Camp Nor’wester continues to thrive on another island in the San Juans. Our children will go there when they are old enough.) For half my life we have had that house. I’ve been up with friends, co-workers, family, my ex-husband, current husband, in-laws, and my children. There is that cliche “if these walls could talk”. But oh, if those walls could talk.
(This the super high tech kayak rack that my dad rigged up on the beach.)
10 years ago, in the winter of 2001, I brought Randy to the Lopez house for the first time. We had only been dating a few months and I was almost more worried about that introduction than I was bringing him to meet my parents for the first time. I knew my parents would love him, former Navy pilot, Harvard MBA, brilliant and kind. But would he love Lopez? Would he understand what a special place it is, how important it had been and would always be in my life? No need to worry of course. It is a magical island, something he surely would have picked up on even if I hadn’t been along to share the most special parts of it. I love that we went in the winter together, something I had never really done before.
(Beaches are rocky on Lopez, not a lot of sand. And that water is bone chillingly cold. We don’t do much swimming.)
9 years ago, on Valentine’s Day, after a little over a year together, Randy asked me to marry him. He did it on a most special beach, one I had discovered as a camper. He likes to tell the story that he asked me, showed me the ring, and that I ran away. That is not true. I was overcome and I turned away – there was no running involved. I had made an unfortunate choice in my first marriage. I had wasted two years on a re-bound guy that was everything but right for me. To find myself on my favorite beach, contemplating a life that I had always wanted with someone who was right for me… It was too much in the moment. Thankfully, I quickly recovered and said yes.
Later that year, August 24, 2002 to be exact, we got married in the little church on Lopez. How could we marry anywhere else? We had a tiny ceremony on a sunny day and our families and very closest friends were present. It was a perfect day in every way including dinner at our favorite Lopez restaurant and dancing to a bad cover band in the island’s dive bar. There are several ways to drive back to our house from town and from one of the roads, you can see the church in the distance. These days, it always makes me catch my breath. When we went in May, Graham said, “That’s where Mommy and Daddy got married,” to which Spencer replied, “Where were we?”
(4 kids in jammies in the hammock. What more do you need? OK, maybe a cinnamon roll.)
We headed to Lopez last weekend with some dear friends. Because Randy was on his way back from New Orleans, I drove the familiar route along I-5 and then Route 20 taking us to the town of Anacortes where we catch the ferry. Randy is usually the family driver, so me being in the driver’s seat allowed me to really think about where I was going and why. How many times have I driven that path, in how many different cars, with how many different people, in how many different phases of my life. Camper, daughter, sister, employee, girlfriend, friend, daughter-in-law, wife, mother. Lopez will continue to be an important part of our family’s life and I am grateful.
(Randy kayaking with Spencer on his lap. The piece of land to the left is the previous Camp Nor’wester and the white blob above it is 10,777 foot Mt. Baker.)