Photo by Karin Hedetniemi
The front door to my heart is a windswept coastline park, wild around the edges. A rocky shore strewn with slippery kelp, boulders, piles of driftwood. Framed by backward leaning trees. Gusts so fierce at times, you can barely stand upright. Salty lips, tearing eyes, snapping kites, and gulls rushing past or suspended in a headwind.
The blustery Vancouver Island peninsula sits inside a sweet spot: the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. On clear days, when morning light illuminates the snowy peaks in white agate bands, the mountain range seems larger than life. The sun will sparkle on the water, underneath billowing clouds painted on the sky, a watercolour masterpiece of nature.
This is a place of lost and found. You’ll see me there walking the tideline, in a meditative peace, searching for tiny treasures. Sea glass, old buttons, broken bits of pottery. Pebbles found nowhere else in the world: Dallasite, a volcanic rock with embedded confetti strands, and Flowerstone with snowflake crystal blooms. Somewhat ordinary when dry — exuding an etheric aura when wet.
I go through a pair of rubber boots each year, until they crack from saltwater. Maybe, duct tape will see them through another. I always pick up garbage. Flotsam and jetsam. Sometimes I will come across a sea star, washed in by the tide, the tips of its slender red arms curled in dreamless sleep. I will wade out and gently repatriate it to the ocean. Fair winds and following seas, my friend.
Then, looking out across the swells, my thoughts will float along with flotillas of ducks. A heron bobbing on a driftwood log. On rare occasion, orcas spraying. It’s easier to see them with binoculars. Once, I could just make out a pair of rare transient snowy owls on nearby Trial Island, two white dots.
It’s idyllic, yet imperfect. Cliffs collapsing from storms, erosion, and human disregard. Needles and refuse discarded where children play. And each year now brings “smoke season” when ash from western wildfires blots out the sun.
But oh — then it will be fog season. When the sea becomes a grayscale monochrome postcard. I’ll wake to the distant moan of ship horns, take my coffee down to the shore. Hear a seal lion bark somewhere in the cotton mist. Feel the cry of oystercatchers in my chest, or the swift rushing of black turnstones in flight.
In winter, the cold slate sea drenches the shore inside endless days of rain.
In springtime, the cliffs explode in golden broom, the sky is just blue enough, the temperature just warm enough.
It becomes a place of vessel launchings. Metal rowboats with salmon fishermen pushing out from the weathered boathouse. Wooden sailboats on their way to the annual festival. Last summer, the maiden voyage of a hand-carved cedar canoe.
Small shipwrecks, too: a motorboat, a barge, my sometimes-broken heart.
I’ve found prayer spots, offering small graces. The soothing face of a spirit guardian chiseled into a rock. The carved driftwood heart with wings. A micro poem on the seawall that reminds simply: the tide goes.
When you visit the same place over a long period of time, you can witness some extraordinary natural weather events. Luminous fog bows. The otherworldly eye of a haloed sundog. A solar eclipse casting little dappled half-moons on the footpath. Awe-inspiring sights imprinted in my mind, a retrievable source of wonder.
I don’t come here to write or accomplish anything. I’ve tried those things, but I always find myself looking away from the page. My daily pilgrimage has more of a spiritual purpose. A need to find perspective and, as John Burroughs wrote, ‘put my senses in order.’
I come here to think, to be.
Here on the shore, I forget for a time I am helpless to stop my parents from aging. Or my sweet pup, a sea dog for almost a decade now, her redwood fur faded to the tint of bleached cedar logs. The one who has also adopted this beach, licks my wounds, brings me joy. She will hobby horse in a joyful bounce, splash in the slack tide, or sometimes lay on a patch of sun-warmed sand, scanning the horizon for emerging otters.
Sometimes I will sit on the sand beside her, beneath the ever-changing sky, and feel witnessed.
I will remember who I am. Breathe in the briny air and feel alive again.
Karin Hedetniemi is a writer and street photographer from Vancouver Island, Canada. Her travel stories and images appear in Prairie Fire, Pithead Chapel, The Curator, Fresh Ink, The London Reader, and many other literary journals. In 2020, Karin won the nonfiction contest from the Royal City Literary Arts Society. Her photo cover art has been nominated for Best of the Net. Find her at AGoldenHour.com or on Twitter/Instagram @karinhedet.