We are at the beach, my family and my sister's, hiking to Cape Falcon.
"Nake," the person in the lead, my teenaged nephew calls.
The refrain goes on down the line, through the motley assorted ten of us on this hike (the sum total of everyone on this vacation, because, as we joke, it is a requirement that we all have to do everything together). Nake, for the uninitiated, is our word for snake. Since my sister and I are both deathly afraid of nakes, every hike features many such call-outs, reporting real or imagined nakes along the way. Over the course of the last week, spent in glorious vacationing at the Oregon Coast, the calls of "nake!" have been ringing through the air often, along with spontaneously bursting into the songs "A Hundred Million MIracles," and "Chop Suey," from the movie Flower Drum Song, which we watched not once, but twice. Unfortunately, we only caught the refrain of each song, so we were forced to sing the same lines over and over again. Not a problem for us, only those who had to listen to us.
Whether hiking a forest path, walking from Arch Cape to Cannon Beach along the sand at low tide (seven miles, though we convinced ourselves it was only three before setting off) or lazing about at the cabin, we somehow managed to repeat the same stock phrases over and over again. Other favorites came from Werner Herzog's documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, on Antarctica. This requires saying things like "the abomination of man" and "its a deranged penguin" in a very heavy German accent. We watched that movie two and a half times.
It seemed to me that the beach was a bit more deserted this year, not as many groups staying in the other rentals around us. The one thing I noticed was that there were lots of big groups, like ours, perhaps more people banding together to take a shared vacation and split the cost. I'd see these big groups of people walking down the beach and then I'd realize I was part of a big group walking the other way. And I was pleased to be part of my group, the "exuberant" (another watchword, taken from the way we described ourselves in my mother's obituary) family I'm so thankful for.
We've always been close, but over the past few months we've drawn far closer, so much so that we joke about buying houses next door or getting land together, and put when we have to say goodbye. A huge part of the reason for this is the months we spent dealing with our mother in the last days of her life, and coping with cleaning out and selling her house. During those stressful months, we saw each other several times a week. Before that, even though we live close by, we'd often let weeks or months go by without seeing each other. One thing we always did do, however, was spend a week at the beach in the summer together.
This was the first year without Mom. One of the great things about her was how eager and happy she was to do things, always. She never wanted to be left out, was always game to go, which meant we hauled her to beach every year, even when she was in her nineties. She couldn't get onto the beach but she could sit on a deck or in the window and watch the waves. And she could go into Cannon Beach with us, for lunch at Ecola Seafoods, for the best fish and chips ever, great shopping, and one of the best bookstores on the planet. Or she could accompany us on a drive into Manzanita to check out the the doings there, the new shops, a great grocery store, and a fabulous newsstand and coffeeshop.
We thought of her a lot this year. Our cabin had a table placed by a window with a panoramic view of not only the ocean, but people walking by on the road up to the grocery store, the only business in Arch Cape. She would have loved to have sat there all day, commenting on people and being in the thick of things. We are our mother's daughters, compelled to report on everyone walking and driving by and also yelling "get a job!" Don't ask. It was just another one of those stock phrases that popped up.
Her passing made us closer. Her absence has drawn us together, determined not to forget her and all she gave us, the most important of which was each other.
What does all of this have to do with writing? Nothing. Not one blessed thing. Unless you count the ways that being amid my wonderful, boisterous family replenishes me. Or how strolling along the water, barefoot, flip-flops in hand, seagulls squawking, slight breeze blowing, waves crashing, fills me up and makes me ready to return home and write like crazy. Unless you count all that.