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Sinclair Island

Growing up, I had the good fortune to spend a significant amount of time on Sinclair Island.  Sinclair is a smaller island in the San Juan Archipelago.  One of about 170 named islands and reefs.  My cousins and I had some epic adventures out there and many lessons were learned.

The family cabin was posted up on a hillside.  To get to the beach you would need to maneuver down at least twenty-ish wooden, wobbly, treacherous steps.  As kids we had them memorized and would take them in twos and threes.  Blissfully ignorant of any danger of falling.

 At the bottom of the stairs was a field.  I imagine now, it just looks like a little field, but back then it was a huge and perfect place to play kick the can and baseball.  There was a tiny, hidden spring at the edge that fostered many years of pollywogs.  One of us, I think it was Todd, fell asleep there one year and burnt the bottoms of his feet to a blistered crisp.  Poor buddy. 

From the stairs through the field was a well-worn path.  Mostly the field was mowed, but you could see the path clear as day as we all traveled it.  This led to the gazebo and the fire.

The Gazebo

The gazebo was sort of like a golem.  A golem being a creature of clay brought to life by magic.  Our gazebo was a creature of wood.  Definitely alive.  Definitely magical.   Every time I entered it, there was something new.  Fishing rods and lines, buoys, crab traps, plastic toys, cooking grills.  It was a little bit like the kitchen junk drawer, but the Island-y version.  And it was definitely alive.  It was part of everything.  A walk through the little space could tell you all sorts of things about what had transpired in the days and months before.

The gazebo shared space with the fire.  This was a primitive fire pit we used for the majority of the cooking and also, bonfires at the end of the night.  Depending on who was present.  If the aunts and uncles were there, you could count on a roaring fire.  Of course, all of us cousins would get sent up to the cabin to play Uno by candlelight.   But we could still hear the whoops and laughter from down below.  Some nights the fire would be very quiet, and then you knew there were hard things afoot.  Things only silence could hold.

Cooking Fires

One of my favorite campfire meals was hot dogs and peanut butter.  I think my Aunt Cynthia invented this.  A stroke of brilliance!  The grown-ups would send us kids onto the beach with old plastic milk crates to pick up bark for the fire.  Looking back, this should have been fun for us, but since it encroached upon our perceived freedoms, we all grumbled about it. 

I remember one time when I was particularly annoyed, I asked Grammother why we couldn’t just use the garbage since we burned that too?  It couldn’t have been a more stupid question.  “You don’t cook on a garbage fire,” was her response and I felt both chastised and embarrassed.  Though I had no idea why you couldn’t cook on a garbage fire.  Geez.  I thought fire was fire.

It is one of those things that has stuck with me all these years.  When she spoke it, she spoke it into my soul.  As if I learned anything from her, this was going to be it.  I mean, she said plenty of other things to me too.  Like, if you don’t like back fat, you’ll need to diet. “That’s not an agate, that’s a sugar rock.”  And also, she told me my name was old fashioned, which delighted me.

Lessons Learned

“You don’t cook on a garbage fire.”

The lesson was lost on me at the time because I had more important things to do like lure dogfish to the dock with last night’s chicken bones, and catch jellyfish.  Even still, I’m a little fuzzy on it. 

My Grandmother has been gone for many years now.  I imagine sitting with her and asking about the garbage fire.  Is there a lesson in there or am I trying too hard?  I see her shrug her shoulders, and I finally get it.  Some things just are what they are.  The fact that we experienced them together may be one of the ways that we stay connected.

And so, this morning, I am enjoying the company of my Grandmother.  I imagine us sitting on the deck of the cabin in the noonish sunshine.  The radio is tuned to daytime soap operas, probably All My Children or General Hospital.  Our tuna sandwiches are delicious.

If you are seeking meaning or are content to allow what is, if your heart is longing for connective experiences, let’s be friends~

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