Flotsam

I have lived nearly all my life beside water. Growing up in the Flathead Valley of Montana, I could run back through the pasture, beyond the grove of birch trees and scoot down the clay bank to the Stillwater River. We four kids learned to swim in that river. We waded to the other side at the rapids and we built rafts from scrap wood.

Now I live on a saltwater bay of the Salish Sea. I walk the road along its mud and gravel shore almost daily and sometimes drop down to the beach to see what washed in on the last tide. I pick up bits of twisted driftwood and colored sea glass. I’m on a small, rather enclosed bay, so I’ve never found glass floats, but I did find a new smelting net last year. The pole was five feet long, the net another three feet across. I felt like I had caught a trophy fish, and still am thinking about mounting it on the side of my garage. One summer I found a big, beat-up, wooden Adirondack-style lawn chair that I lugged home, one of my favorite finds.

Bodies occasionally wash ashore on Salish Sea beaches and I’ve always had just a little fear about finding one. One day on the beach when my sons were young, they came running and shouting to come see what they’d found. The tone of their voices brought up that old apprehension as I followed them. Turned out to be a water-logged briefcase, empty, except for a card identifying its owner. We dried it out and telephoned him. When he came to pick it up, he said it had been stolen while he was on a Seattle ferry run, although nothing of value was in it.

When one of my sons was 12, he found a beautiful hand-carved canoe about two and a half feet long, likely washed up on our beach as an emissary from one of the many Suquamish or S’Klallam tribal families in the area.  Now 40, he still treasures it.

Today my grand-daughters find treasures on the beach. Last summer they found a plastic juice bottle with a message tucked inside. The girls bounced with excitement. That excitement waned somewhat when we opened it–the rotten smell all but gagged all three of us. The girls stood some distance away as I read the message, written in a child’s scrawl. It was a sweet poem about a flower, “colorful, full of life, never giving up….when winter comes it goes away, till spring comes once again.” And it was signed by “A 4th grade, 10 year old girl.”

There’s nothing like finding a treasure, whether it’s a dime on the sidewalk, a marble you dig up as you’re weeding, or even a long forgotten chocolate in the cupboard. I hope you will find some treasures among the flotsam that washes in here.

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