Uncle Tom’s Cabin

One of the things that saddens me about living so far from where I grew up is the fact that I can’t share experiences with my children that made my own childhood special. They don’t know what it is like to always live near grandma and grandpa, to have access to a wealth of playmate cousins, to be surrounded by the astounding beauties of this part of the country. I am reasonable enough to know that even if I could recreate my own childhood for my children, it wouldn’t be the same. (They are all boys, for one. They are bound to see things differently.) Nor can I deny that there are things about where we live now that I prefer to my homeland. Nonetheless, when offered the chance this vacation for a short getaway to a favorite childhood haunt, I jumped at it. I couldn’t wait for my kids to experience Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Go ahead and snicker. That’s really what we call it.)

Uncle Tom married into our very large family when I was about 8. He brought to the family things that we had never known- a speed boat and jet skis, a beautiful waterfront home where we celebrated 4th of July, and best of all, a quiet cabin on a nearby island. We spent a lot of time there as children, exploring the Puget Sound, discovering the wonders of phosphorescence on midnight boat trips, collecting shells and learning to ignore the slimy rocks and the biting cold of the water in our determination to swim.
And when we were older, it became a tradition to spend a few days there to de-stress after a big wedding. Thankfully the tradition still holds.

I was so excited for my boys to have their first ferry ride.

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I was also excited that the forecast was for a sunny weekend. To my dismay, it was cool and cloudy when we got on the boat. But as we drove off the ferry, shafts of sunlight were making their way through. When we turned down the last hill towards the coast, the last of the clouds had disappeared.
Anyone who has ever lived in the PNW knows how exciting a thing sunshine can be. For the kids, it meant jumping out of the vans and heading straight to the beach for shells and wading and boat rides, no matter that it was January.

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For dad, it meant finding a chair and promptly falling asleep.DSCF0517

And for the rest of us, it meant long hours of sitting and pondering the light on the waves,

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seeking adventure in the ubiquitous tangles of driftwood,

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and hiking nearby hills for the view.

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But best of all, it meant someone decided to show off.

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Despite a late night of sitting around the fire roasting s’mores and stargazing, I set my alarm early the first morning, determined not to miss the sunrise, and to catch some quiet moments before eleven children came tumbling down from the upstairs loft.

As I came through the living room, I was astonished by how beautiful the scene was. I couldn’t believe that a place could be more beautiful than my sometimes exaggerated childhood memories.

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But what really brought the tears to my eyes was the sight of my first born, in his pajamas, standing on the steps leading down to the water, completely entranced.

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I gave him a moment, then quietly went out to join him, and we shared the experience.

My Mountain

(FYI, there will be much nostalgia and waxing lyrical in this post. You have been warned)

I am home again. Even though in a few short years I will have lived more of my life elsewhere, the Pacific Northwest will always be home. And not just because most of my family lives here, although that is always the main draw to return. There is simply something about the land- the tall evergreens, the many fingered inlets of the Puget Sound, even the gray and overcast sky that feels a part of me.
And then there is the mountain. It is something I can never be sure of seeing when I come for a visit. It may be hiding behind the clouds- Or I may not be in the right place at the right time to catch a glimpse of it. When my in-laws came for a three week visit, they never saw it. They even drove up to the national park, and still it hid itself. I have heard visitors say it is a myth, but those same skeptics have been known to pull over to the side of a busy freeway, get out of their cars and stand with mouth agape when they are finally faced with it’s reality.
I once passed an older couple in a parking lot when I visited one summer. They were standing silent, holding each other by the hand, staring in wonder. As I passed, one of them asked me in a whisper if that could possibly be snow on that distant summit- snow in the middle of July! They were from Florida visiting family, and they had never even heard of Mount Rainier (let alone seen a hill taller than a hundred feet).I told them a little bit about it, and then left them there, still unmoved and still holding hands. I felt such a pride in the mountain, like it belonged to me, like I had some right to boast of its beauty.
I know many others who feel the same. One of my friends is quite possessive of ‘her mountain’, and when we visit, she shows us around as if it is her private property. (Granted, her ancestors were some of the earliest settlers there, so she has some right.)

On the flight home, I was keeping an eye out the window for the changes in scenery that would indicate that we were drawing near. There is usually a good chance of seeing the mountain from the seat of an airplane. I watched as we flew over the Columbia River, the dry terrain of Eastern Washington, the smaller foothills. But being distracted by restless children, I forgot to look until the captain suggested we glance out the left window. I was afraid the plane was going to tip sideways, so many passengers got up to see.

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I wished for a better camera, I wished for a better angle, I wished the glass in the airplane window wasn’t so dingy, but I took as many pictures as I could. And as I snapped away, noticing Mount Baker to the left and Mount Saint Helens to the right, I began to hear people around me sharing stories of the mountains- relating the first time they had seen Rainier, various adventures they had had hiking the nearby peaks, where they were when St. Helens erupted. I was tempted to turn around and tell the people behind me that my hubby had actually climbed Rainier and that St. Helens had erupted the day after I was born (a piece of trivia I have always boasted about for some odd reason). There was a sudden camaraderie on the plane, like there often is after a traumatic event or a big storm, when neighbors who never speak to each other come outside to compare stories and damage.
It struck me what an odd thing it was, how a piece of natural beauty can draw people together like that. How the awkwardness of sitting squashed between two complete strangers in a tin can in the sky, and trying not to touch elbows can be suddenly overcome by the beauty of nature. It also struck me what a wonderful gift God has shared with all of his creatures, whether they believe in him or not. These glimpses of grandeur, of glory, of near perfection touch something alike in all of us- a longing to be near our Creator, to see His handiwork, to take pride in Creation, even though we really had nothing to do with it. It is God’s everyday gift to us all, and as my sister said, as she posted a picture this morning,
“It just doesn’t get old.”

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