Thankful for days like these

Richmond Beach Saltwater Park at about two in the afternoon on a November day.
At the lower part of the stairs at Richmond Beach Saltwater Park, at about two in the afternoon on a November day.

Today I took my kids to Richmond Beach Saltwater Park. This park is a big open bowl that ends down at a beach on Puget Sound. It’s north of Seattle and the gem of the suburb called Shoreline. I like to walk the 188 stairs at the park for exercise. So on days when my kids have a half-day or day off, I bring them here where they can play on the playground several yards away and I can squeeze in some exercise in the low fall sun.

The plants at the park are fairly straightforward: madrona, Scotch Broom, cistus, grasses. It’s very beachy. The open slope with few trees reminds me of beaches in Northern California — as well as the saltwater smell. I like coming here because it’s one of those places where the space overwhelms any anxiety you might have. The blue (or gray) water of the Sound is immense, the mountains ever present, the sky seemingly boundless, the sun and clouds close to your shoulders. I like climbing up the stairs to the top of the park where I turn and take in the huge panorama before me. In summer, there are sailboats and other pleasure craft about. In fall and winter, it’s all barges and cargo ships. Either way, the natural setting of it reminds me of how small I am and how wonderful it is to be that small in such gigantic beauty.

I walk the stairs about five times. About halfway down the descent, I can hear the kids yelling and laughing. I go up again and again, leaving their small voices behind, turning to visually check now and again. On the last descent, I walk over to the playground, sweaty and invigorated. My youngest asks me, “Mama, did you have fun?” and I say, “Yes, I walked up all of the times I meant to.” “I had fun too,” she says.

Cortaderia selloana (Pampas grass)
Cortaderia selloana (Pampas grass)

When she takes my hand, I feel how small and vulnerable hers is, like I haven’t felt it before. And when she and I and my other two kids walk back to the car, we’re silent. The breeze is cold, the day is clear. There’s nothing we yearn for — until I see two clusters of pampas grass in the parking lot. They’re average, not special, yet glorious at the same time. The long, wheaty plumes shimmer in the slanted light. They represent something for me, something I can’t quite name. Maybe it’s a moment of contentment, maybe it’s solitude. Whatever it is, it reminds me of what I’m thankful for: to be alive, to be with my kids and husband and pets, to walk, the quietude, the clarity, all that is and continues to be as is.

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