You know winter: those days when you feel like you have been within the same four walls forever and your kids are ricocheting around the house making so much noise it’s hard to think?
Often the easiest remedy for that is a walk on the beach, somewhere like Lincoln Park, in West Seattle.
You leave your designated box in the metropolis and go to the edge of town, to a world of sea and sky and a beach full of rocks that rattle together in the waves. On a clear day, you can see the Olympic Range, gleaming white with fresh snow. On low overcast days, the scene is an abstract of three gray stripes: sea, land and sky.
Either way, it’s a place that frees movement and calms the spirit.
Some kids will busy themselves throwing rocks in the water, watching them fly and splash, trying to throw them farther. If they’re feeling like making things complicated, they can launch a piece of driftwood into the sea and then pelt it from the shore as target practice.
Or if they’re up for a new challenge, they can find flat rocks and skip them.
The rocks themselves are worth a close look. There are so many kinds: white, black, red, green, striped, spotted. Some made of ancient seabed, some pressure forged by the heavings of volcanoes and tectonic plates. How did they all wind up piled up on one beach, waiting for your kid to toss them somewhere?
Everything on this planet moves, pebbles included. Glaciers, rivers and the sea have all broken up these rocks, carried them from where they formed, and tossed them here.
If you’d like to explore more about these rocks, I suggest packing A Field Guide to the Indentification of Pebbles by Eileen Van der Flier-Keller, a small, laminated guide with excellent information about whatever you might fight.
There’s more to discover than rocks, especially just after a storm.
Just as the woods nearby are littered with twigs and branches ripped from trees, the upper beach is strewn with things ripped out of place by the waves. There are rolls of seaweed in green, brown and deep burgundy, and ribbons of sea grasses. If you are so inclined, see how many kinds of seaweeds you can find – you can’t take any away from the beach without a permit, but you can take pictures, and maybe look things up on the Sound Water Stewards website.
For determined nature investigators, there are other things in the seaweed line: bright red sprays of smelt eggs, lacy crusts that are colonies of tiny animals called Bryozoans, kelp holdfasts attached to jingle shells.
If your kids do take an interest in the things that the waves left on the upper beach, you need to supervise them very closely.
I met Molly Kongslie and her mother, Wende Duffy, as they were working their way up Lincoln Beach, picking up plastic garbage, in the company of their dog, Callie. They had a large haul, including several needles. They collect garbage on this stretch regularly. Kongslie said that needles had been showing up regularly on this stretch of beach for the past two years. She worries about Callie stepping on one.
Playing on city beaches and building beach forts was one of the pleasures of my childhood, growing up in Victoria, B.C. It saddens me to think that kids in Seattle, those pleasures have to be curtailed.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind: The waters around Seattle are polluted, especially after winter storms, when heavy rain overwhelms the sewers, causing raw sewage to pour out into the lakes and the sound. If you can, avoid snacks on beach outings. If you can’t, make sure your kids sanitize their hands before eating.
Then, under your watchful eye, they can play by the waves.