Ruth Mary Thompson (born 1/21/21) has a special place in our family as the iconic matriarch. Think of the Queen of England (born 4/21/26). Whenever I see images of Queen Elizabeth II, young or current, I am reminded of my grandmother and these women’s similarities of style and character—elegant, stoic, generous and not predisposed to fuss.
My husband met Ruth briefly in the month before she passed away and was impressed by her jolly outlook. He admires my family genes with an endearing sense of awe: “Of the few phenomenal people I’ve known in my life, your mother (Ruth’s daughter) is certainly one of them. Of the many different types of genius a person might possess, your mother has one or more.” Ruth, like her daughter, had a steadfastness and zeal for life that was unflagging. Undeterred by challenges, she met life head on and with grace.
In me, and in Lady Kitty, these sparks stay alive. I’m comforted knowing that my daughter carries the Thomson strength inside her as well. For all the future trials we may face face, having a role model like Ruth is an indisputable asset. She passed away 10 years ago at the age 90. We miss her but live on inspired and carrying her heritage.
The world at night here is very dark. Pitch black. Only stars delineate the horizon. The roar of the ocean envelops all sound.
We walk past glossy dark-green sword ferns that would dwarf those in our garden at home, thriving in their natural habitat at twice the size of their urban brethren. Pools of standing water shimmer inky black broken only by Skunk cabbage sprouts and by silver rings pulsating outward from tree drip raindrops. The forest is black and green, stark and gothic in the deep of winter.
The world is reduced to a simple palate.
There are no neon lights, signs, advertisements, wires, traffic, roads, buildings, signs, people (also no covid, wifi, cell reception, restaurants, cafes, mobs, riots, or news, fake or otherwise).
There are smooth rocks of all sizes.
The beach is empty, save us. The sky is empty, save a family of bald eagles, two with white heads and tails, two juveniles sporting mottled brown overall. The beach is seemingly devoid of life. What are the eagles looking for as they fly over and over along the coastline? The views are vast and repetative.
The sea roils with white grey swells crashing incessantly into the shore and each other. The sound created is like hundreds of waterfalls layed end to end. Tumbling and tumbling.
There is a thin line of craggy trees, a few crashing in yearly mudslides down the clay embankment.
The wild Washington coast is one of my favorite places to be in winter. It’s a yearly pilgrimage of mine, a birthday tradition to revisit the Pacific Ocean. Time here is suspended, and the passing of time is only relevant in relation to the tides or geological time-frames. It could as easily be any century, any millennium. I’ve often thought of time as spiral, and here is an affirmation of that hypothesis. As I walk along the beach here, as I have walked along the beach here for many winters prior, I am the same body, here is the same beach, trees, sky and waves. The coast here is my touchstone. Many changes over the past year, yet nothing has changed. There’s something humbling and comforting, rejuvenating and inspiring about celebrating my birthday annually in the presence of ancient trees, timeless winds and ceaseless waves.
It’s so wild out here on the Olympic coast that the beaches don’t even have names. Ocean Beaches, the signs all point westward, or northward, or northwestward. “Ocean Beaches: collectively, that-a-way. We followed the signs north and west and arrived at Kalaloch where we explored all the nearby beach access points to create a small listicle guide: Beach 1 (spruce burls), Beach 2 (bonsai beach), Beach 3 (cozy cove), Beach 4 (superlative).
BONUS, dear Reader, are a few recent of Lake’s quirky quotes:
“North of December” Is where we are now? Is that January?
“You’re boring my whiskers out” Ahhh, the ennui of the four year old.
Ironically, with all the open space, there’s no room room for boredom at the beach!
It may sound grandiose, however, Storm King is a name befitting it’s station. This is the Pacific Northwest, a land that does majestic mountains. The people here do majestic mountains. So although the 4 mile round trip trail– which butresses Lake Crescent to the south– clocks a 2000′ elevation gain, we stormed that king. Our hosts (Lake’s good friend George’s family) took five little kids up that mountain like a walk to Rite-aid and back. Our German au pair had no choice but to huff up as well. How can you not, despite the despair of the switchbacks, when five children are racing ahead of you and the mossy adults are grimly striding it out PNW-style, forcing a smile whenever they catch a glance being sneaked at them?
Storm King thus invoked a romantic mood as the eleven of us leaned into the rocky trail, breathing heavily of the cold winter air. The woods were dripping with dampness, the cascading waterfall out of sight but sending whorls of mist up the mountainside. Our little hiking party was ebullient, having just ascended Storm King and viewed the great expanses of the Straight of Juan de Fuca and beyond. Lake was holding hands with George’s next oldest sister, Beatrice. They were gamboling down the trail together like puppies.
“My mama loves time out”, Lake said by way of a pick-up line. “Yes, she loves it when I put her in time out,” he tried again.
I was called into position as his wingman. “It’s true. Adults love time out”, I say. “We call it ‘me time.’”
Lake said to Beatrice, “maybe when we’re in college we could get married.”
“I’m too old for you,” said Beatrice, age seven.
Lake, not dissuaded, continued, “Maybe you can wait and decide when we’re in high school.”
She let go of his hand and continued skipping sweetly down the trail. Old man’s beard waved at her bouncing curls as she passed. The crinkly strands of algae-imbued fungus danced on the misty updraft, quite at home on the craggy ravine, ageless and impervious to the passing of time.
In her decicive refusal, Beatrice was intuiting the The Ayres Age-Appropriate Dating ToolTM (aka “The Gap App”TM). The fictitious Gap AppTM is a formula developed by Michael Ayres VanLaanen to test the maximum age difference a potential dating pair can withstand. The Older may exceed The Younger’s age by 125%, without it being “weird”. (So,at age 11, you might have the best chance Lake, when Beatrice is 14.)
In his persistance, Lake was also channelling the Gap AppTM, in graciously offering she could wait and re-evaluate his marriage proposal in ten years time. He had a wise notion that their relative age difference would diminish over time, and that by the time they were “in high school” she might feel differently.
Nonplussed, Lake moved along, continuing his inspired romantic musings. “I could also marry a boy. But I think I’ll probably marry a gwirl,” Lake said.
Piper’s name came up. At just 3 months younger than Lake, his babyhood friend Piper does handily pass the Gap App test. “Yeah, I’ll probably marry Piper,” he concluded, satisfied. Sure-footed as a mountain goat he scampered on down the trail after George and Beatrice, ahead of the rest of us.
In spite of the travel restrictions of the past year, I worked to show Madeline as many of the local PNW attractions as possible. If nothing else, it’s part of our duty as an au pair host family to provide a culture exchange experience. One crucial part of this cultural education is sharing the zeitgeist of our major American towns and cities. I described our slightly quirky twin city to the south Portland, sharing about the phenomenon and show Portlandia (and insisted she watch the chicken episode).
Back in January the kids and I seized the opportunity to travel to Portland for a long weekend with our best friends. Madeline joined us for giggles and after doing her homework submitted to me her itinerary of Portland sightseeing musts: Voodoo Donuts and the Cullen House.
One morning while the kids were all playing harmoniously, Madeline and I set out for downtown Portland amidst reports of infamous New Years rioting. (Because, obviously). We felt like dystopian voyagers, resolutely braving the unknown, willing to risk our lives (or join the cause) for donuts. On this dark gray rainy late morning in the dead of winter, the Downtown Core was essentially deserted save our (and others’) destination: Voodoo Donuts.
We joined the snaking crowd of peaceful donut hopefuls, kept in physically distanced line by the Voodoo Donut bouncer. Once admitted, we shook the rain off and allowed ourselves to be enveloped in the warmth, noise and hot sugar perfume. We were overwhelmed and momentarily paralyzed by our good fortune. The choices were so outlandish and decadent, how were we ever to decide? Feeling pressure to move expeditiously through the shop, we capitulated and threw 20 bucks at the Voodoo Dozen.
The riches of Voodoo goodness did not disappoint.
Next stop was 3333 Quimby—The Cullen House. The Cullen House is home to fictional vampire family in “Forks, Washington” from the famous film trilogy Twilight. We found the culdesac address at the top of a tiny sliver of Queen Anne style neighborhood, parked, and got out to take in the experience. We lurked shyly at the bottom of the long gravel driveway while the apparent homeowner snapped dirt off his running shoes with a proprietary air. We halfheartedly waved and quickly turned to go after not receiving a warm welcome. Our brief glimpse of the Cullen House remains a highlight. It is truly breathtaking the way the Frank Lloyd Wright style home is situated on a ravine and invites your fantasy into the world of the vampire family created by author Stephenie Meyer.
The best part of the Portland getaway is, of course the Lakacisms:
Lake: Lady Kitty is staring at me like she’s hungry for milkies. Lady Kitty, your milkies is driving!!
Mama: you have a hot chocolate mustache. It’s making you look old. [Sad face]
Lake retorts helpfully: Look at my legs. Not long.
Lake regarding Madeline: It’s always nice to have an au pair to help you. They do so much work that you don’t even notice. And sometimes they can even read your mind.
The least we can do in return is to brave riots to get her a Voodoo Donut… or a dozen.