I make my way home, to the beach. It knows me as kin, island born, salt air in my lungs. It waits for me. With my first step down from the end of the wooded path, the clink and crunch of rocks beneath my feet, the scent of seaweed and brine, seagull cries, and the dominant sound of moving water, I am welcomed back. The secret heart seeks it’s own place of repose. This is mine.
Above the clay banks, trunks of old Madronna trees lean at precarious angles, roots exposed, making a bit of shade. Their color of rust against blue sky pleases me. I find shelter in this curve of shore, sitting for awhile on a splintered driftwood log, like I’ve done all my life. One of many gathered here, it once lived, stood tall, in the shadowed forest where brown salamanders darted on damp moss, and ferns grew, and the only sounds came from birds and wind in its upper boughs. Now they all lie in the sun like dinosaur bones exposed, bleached white. I could hide here behind them, on trapped sand, among the bits of shells and dried seaweed, if I wanted to. Instead, I get up and walk. Like the trees, I now lean out to meet life in my own daring way.
We call this place Titlow Beach, named for Aaron Titlow who bought land here in 1903. By 1911 he had opened the grand Hotel Herperides in the Swiss Chalet type building, now shortened in height, owned by Metro Parks Tacoma, and called the Titlow Beach Lodge. Out in the water stand old pilings left from demolished piers. They can only hint at the businesses and commerce, the ferry service, and the steamboats that brought tourists from Seattle and beyond, to this spot of unbelievable beauty. These days the commotion is gone. Though dwellings spread from the railroad track at the beach and right on up the hill, there's only a tavern, a lunch spot, the park, and Steamers Seafood cafe'. Trains come through, too loud and fast, but the moment they pass the peace returns. In the quiet, I think of the Indians who once camped here, and wonder what they called this place.
Shore birds rest on the pilings, cormorants and gulls. In the distance to the north I see the two Tacoma Narrows bridges. To the south are islands, different than my own, that I’ve never been on. The cormorants rise to their feet now and then, to flap their dark wings, or hold them out to the sun. Seagulls take off. Announced by their cries they come gliding down to the picnic tables to walk about on stiff legs, looking for handouts. I walk about too, down by the sea’s edge. At my feet saltwater flings itself over the rocks with a slosh and gurgle, then pulls back again. Surge and recede, surge and recede, it repeats in rhythm, forever. I can see through it like glass, to where patterns on the surface, in the sun, make shadows on the rocks below. Their details seem clear, almost magnified. In this place I can also see clearly what lies beneath the surface of my own life.
A late September day can be so gorgeous on Puget Sound. The poignancy of time passing makes it more so. Fall comes next week. I look at Steamers, squeezed between train tracks and water. People sit outside at their little tables in the shade, but just weeks from now the rain will set in. Then you will find me inside, with my husband and a bowl of chowder. Some cheerful server will bring it to the table where I mumble a thanks while staring out at the beach. Maybe rain will streak down the window glass, or the stillness of fog will blanket the scene. Maybe it will be clear and cold, or dark, with the lights on the bridge glowing in the distance. No matter, I will love to be there, cozy, quiet, and deep in thought, even during conversation.
We all need special places. Why are they so? Is it because of something essential to their nature, a certain vibe, that makes us feel they way we do when there? Or is it our own nature,the combination of memory, experience, and connection, that we bring to it? I can’t answer that question. I just know that to have your own special place, where you can be your true self, is to come back home again. Isn't it time for a visit?