Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Life's a Beach


We Leishmans are not beach people. At least we’re not beach people as the word “beach” is generally understood:  white sand, palm trees, acres of baking skin, drinks with umbrellas, Zach Braff shooting episodes of “Girls With Low Self Esteem,” college students on Spring Break spreading coronavirus up and down the Eastern seaboard….

Instead, we are Pacific Northwest beach people. This turns out to be a good fit for our pasty Scottish genes. Sometimes we sail or sea kayak, or vigorously hike. Mostly we scramble over rocks, get a little sunburnt, then retreat to the soothing rain forest. Very few of our local beaches include actual sand – we save Cannon Beach or Double Bluff for family reunions and other special occasions. Even then, the sand is never white.  

It’s true I’ve enjoyed vacation trips to Bora Bora, Maui, and Belize. They’re exotic. Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale would merely be alien.


The Canada-USA border has been closed since March 21. Obviously I miss Vancouver Men’s Chorus and Showtunes Night terribly. But by mid-May I should also be visiting Wreck Beach on a regular basis. Everyone is surprised that I haven’t been going through withdrawal.

Vancouver has other great beaches, including English Bay, Sunset, Jericho, Kitsilano, and the entire coastline of Stanley Park. But Wreck Beach is unique. It’s located near the University of British Columbia, at the western tip of Point Grey. The sheltering bluffs conceal the city, so the spectacular view is limited to forests, mountains, sea, and sky. The beach is only accessible through steep but well-maintained trails. This isolation deters the riff-raff, and preserves the community’s hippie vibe.


For the last thirty years, Wreck Beach has maintained its position as one of my top three Favourite Spots in the World. In fact, Wreck reigned as #1 for more than half that time. However, this year the coronavirus pandemic and border closure removed all Vancouver locations from eligibility.

We have a new champion.


Boulevard Park has always been my favorite spot in Bellingham. It’s on the waterfront between downtown and historic Fairhaven, with its narrow strip of lawns and woods squeezed between the water and the Burlington Northern railroad tracks. A curving boardwalk over the bay connects with the city’s amazing network of trails. There’s not much of a beach, but at low tide kids and dogs enjoy climbing over the rocks. 

With the arrival of May, Bear and I have settled into a routine of walking eight or nine miles every day. Buster joins us in the mornings for a loop through campus and the arboretum, but he hopelessly overheats after a couple of miles. Eleanor wakes up a dawn for her grueling solo exercise regimen. The other two kids? Even with the threat of losing phone privileges, they can barely manage a listless skateboard or bike ride around the block. (Usually I just push them out the door with Buster and set a timer.)  

My parents live on the other side of Bellingham, so until recently I wasn’t very familiar with the southwest part of town. As Bear sniffs things and I muse about writing projects, we explore new trails and neighborhoods. Every path inevitably leads us to Boulevard Park, and Bellingham’s equivalent of the invigorating yet soothing view from Wreck Beach.


As a single parent who interacts with outspoken judgmental people, I often get questions like “How would you feel if your children told you they were [gay][Mormon][Republican][liked Cats][etc.]?”  

Last summer my ex took the kids on a roadtrip to Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Eleanor already was a Dodgers fan. Now she wants to go to USC. Her iPhone has an app that vibrates when the UV index goes over 5. (Ironically, she’s my only child without naturally tanning skin.) When we were visiting my parents’ house this week for Mother’s Day, Eleanor proudly showed off her pink burn lines to my melanoma-survivor father.

The other day Bear and I returned from another long beachcombing walk, and found Eleanor on a blanket in the backyard working on her tan. I told her she’s turning into a Californian – about the most offensive thing a Pacific Northwesterner can say to anyone.

Eleanor beamed. Even when intended as an insult, she takes it as a compliment. Deep down she’s already a total Californian. It’s a State of Mind.


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