See more photos of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Cape Flattery, and Rialto Beach HERE.
The day my sister and brother-in-law leave it’s appropriately gray and cold, despite a weather forecast of upper ‘80s. Losing my family, even if only until Christmas when I’ll visit them in Florida, hurts a lot more than expected.
Ain’t no sunshine. Bill Withers got that one right.
There was a time when the sadness of their departure would have been tempered by relief. Not that we couldn’t stand one another; we all more or less got along, the two sisters and two husbands, then two sisters and a different husband. We did OK, with some tense moments. But it also felt good to kiss them good-bye and get back to my own life and lengthy to-do list.
This trip is different.
The four of us sit cramped in a car for hours the morning after my sister and her husband’s long flight from Florida, but no one complains. Instead we revel in the shifting scenery of dark evergreens and the glinting Sound as we head for our whirlwind tour of the Olympic Peninsula.
It is a trip of surprises. Hurricane Ridge, which I remember from an October trip as a long drive just to see some distant, foggy peaks, is a giant panorama of mountains whose sharp contours slice the sky, and we walk along once-icy paths of alpine meadows blooming with lupine and fireweed.
I am jolted again in the mossy depths of the Hoh rain forest, where I have demanded that everyone bring raingear and hats – surely the world’s wettest spot will require them. But by the time we pull up to the trail we have seen how the sun has blasted its way even through the densest canopy, and it is obvious we don’t need this stuff.
Snap! My husband snags a photo of us looking sweaty and bedraggled as we step across a log breaching a cool stream.
Snap! In a mind-boggling change of climate, we pose among driftwood skeletons along Rialto Beach, bundled in hats and coats. In July! we will exclaim to each other in years to come.
On the last day our only dispute, despite the heat, the cold, and the endless driving, is over the fastest route to the Three Crabs restaurant before catching the last ferry.
By the time the crabs arrive, I’m mellowed out with wine, and plying the metal implements to crack them and pull out the juicy strands of meat seems beyond me. My sister, unasked, cracks and pulls for me before getting to her own plate.
Is this really my sister, the one who always insisted on keeping our possessions separate and wrote “Leave it alone” on all of hers?
Without the wine, perhaps I’d feel like the heel that I am, but as it is, I revel in the moment.
Outside, in a spirit of crazy exuberance, we hunch over and gyrate like three crustaceans under the Three Crabs sign.
Snap! There we are, looking ridiculous.
A large party of fellow diners, perhaps perceiving a sense of camaraderie in our nutty behavior, asks us to join them in a group-hug photo. So we throw our arms around one another with a bunch of friendly strangers.
“Friendly strangers” bounces around and echoes in my mind. It strikes me that that is what we have been for so many years ourselves, but now something has changed, and we are more than that.
Why? We haven’t done anything out of the ordinary, just gone to some beautiful places and taken some goofy pictures to remember them by.
It’s more what is missing. Gone are the old rivalries, the not-so-subtle insults and insinuations, the insecurity disguised as bravado and sarcasm. Without realizing it, we have all become more tolerant, more supportive, nicer. Has it really taken us until middle age to get to this point?
We are two grown women now, my sister and I, close friends, with husbands who are also becoming close – remarkable, considering that one is a leftist, the other a libertarian, and both are passionate and argumentative about their views.
It must be hard for them, I think, to hold back that gush of venom that I know wants to burst forth in response to the day’s news or a passing remark. But they don’t look strained, identifying trees and birds together and discussing the finer points of Photoshop. My sister and I also flow together, laughing at absurdities and offering advice without being intrusive.
And this is the best surprise of the trip: it turns out being with family—in-laws and all—is a joy. I never expected that as I hurtled through the years trying to navigate my own life with my own goals, an early one of which was to get far away from family and home and rush headlong towards – well, someplace else.
At long last the me, me, me has receded a little, just enough so that I am getting to know these wonderful, now middle-aged people around me, and realizing how lucky I am to have them.
And how sad it is we live so far apart.