Sunday, November 4, 2012

San Juan Summer Afternoon

Recalling an August afternoon in Washington’s San Juan Islands

She is shopping in Friday Harbor, and I have escaped the tedium of feigning interest in trinkets, returning on my own to the pebbly beach on the island’s south end. The little three-wheeled “Scoot Coupe” gives a bracing ride at the speed limit, a bit more than twice the top speed that was so sternly warned about in the rental instructions. Slow down a bit into the turns, and then let the pavement fly on by, inches away, at fifty tree-lined miles per glorious hour of summertime afternoon.

The green canopy gives way to an open vault of flawless blue, the evergreen scent fading into the fresh air. Up and over the ridge we go, this ridiculous machine and I, and then descend to the parking lot by the beach. I check the time; just a few minutes before it’s time to head back, turn this thing in, and meet her at the ferry. Better make them count.

I walk over the driftwood logs and rocks again, sniffing at the breeze and taking it all in. As everywhere, there is life poking through, a variety of humble plants elbowing their way between pebbles, leaves waxy and small grabbing their share of the sunshine. We are all just doing the same thing in our own way, sprouting briefly in the sun.

Now the water’s edge stretches out before me, a vaguely defined interface between the rocky shore and glassy swells. They break on the pebbles in miniature, vigorous from the breeze but stunted from the short fetch between all these islands. Tiny oceans spawning baby surf, leaving the pebbles clean, round, and visible beneath water without much foam. It all looks and smells so clean, even the green hills of shoreline faded into the miles on both sides, its houses and No Trespassing signs rendered invisible by the benign kindness of distance.

It is, for this moment, a world primeval and pure. I kneel, putting my hand into the coldness and movement of the water, picking up a few of the rounded stones. Ebb and flow, wind and wave. Summer sun falling, falling on warm skin. And all of it suffused with the contented glow of fatigue, the sense of a day well spent.

The moment is nearly over. I drink in the beauty through every pore, my eyes roaming over every detail, my ears recording the splash and scratch of water over rock. A deep breath: This is now, and in seconds will be then. But it is enough.