“Time did not exist; or if it did it did not matter. Our world then was both wide and narrow—wide in the immensity of the sea and mountain; narrow in that the boat was very small, and we lived and camped, explored and swam in a little realm of our own making…” –The Curve of Time
In the wonderfully daring and nostalgic book titled, The Curve of Time (and I use nostalgic very loosely here, as it is not my actual memories I feel when reading, but rather a hopeful, yearning kinship that lets me fantasize her remembrances could have been mine), M. Wylie Blanchet writes of a theory of time, “Standing in the Present, on the highest point of the curve [of time] you can look back and see the Past, or forward and see the Future, all in the same instant.”
This fluidity of time, this view of the past, present and future from one lone, standing place, is how I felt when we returned to Caines Head this year, having trekked the same path but with smaller steps three years ago.
And as I reread our last trip report, I wondered aloud if it was redundant to post about the same saunter again. And then my husband said something interesting. “Retracing our tracks is how we lay down memories for our kids.” And he’s right. Home is about familiarity, nostalgia (our own memories preferably), somewhere we return to again and again. Alaska is a massive playground upon which we will never be able to climb all the peaks and slide down all the snow chutes. But by returning with our children in the present, to revisit the past, we give them the chance to layer their memories into a feeling of ‘home’.
From Lowell Point, we wound through the trees now that had watched us then, and tumbled out into the sunlit shore of the Tonsina River. It pours out of the mountains into the sea and the grass covered land beckons you to the seashore.
It was here that my son, who hasn’t seen the diverging paths for three years, one to the windswept grasses and sea, the other winding deep into a fairyland forest, told our group–who had been lured out by the sound of the sea and excited by the scent of salt on the wind, “I’m sure we are going the wrong way.”
Even I doubted his memory, filed into the mind of an eight year old all those years, months, days and minutes ago. And yet, he was right. His remembrance converted that divergence into familiarity for all of us.
We pulled ourselves and the kids back into the forest, enjoying the boarded walks over what must often be mud, and planned more futures–to come camp overnight in the clever little campground nestled between the river and the sea.
After winding through these enchanted woods, draped in mosses and with brilliant, wild greenery flung out in all directions, we came out to Tonsina Point. Breaking out of the forest, the sea is spread wide around you, contained by the bristly mountains on almost all sides and topped, that day, with swirls of white on blue.
From here on, the tides dictate if you can pass or not, so you must be careful to time the rest of the hike carefully using the tide tables.
The kids decided we needed a break and the grownups were lulled by the sun, the sea and the sand.
The teens collapsed while the younger kids hunted treasures.
Just as we decided we really did need to get going, a whale and her calf swam lazily by, spouting for us. A shout went out and most of us ran down to the shore. Because the channel is not too wide, we were able to be quite close as they passed by.
The walk out to North Beach is all on rocky shoreline, but the terrain changes with the size of the rocks, making the footing tricky at times. Watching where we stepped is like being up on that curve of time.
We see the past in the present as we walk on the faces of the rocks. The water, that seemingly inconsequential, fluid playmate, coaxes them, molds them, so they glitter in the dry light with an imprint of the past–a memory of waves.
Or corrals the little skipping rocks to march around in a somewhat orderly fashion, playing soldiers on the seashore as the waves say, “Imagine you are one. This then, is what it feels like to be me.” And the rocks play along, standing still in movement.
In some spots the rocks heave up, and the crossing demands your attention.
But in others, you can tell quite long (really very long stories) without a care to where your foot falls.
There is one pinch point that requires clambering over slippery rocks. We had a few members slip, but no injuries. There was no shame in holding hands and everyone’s helpful side came scurrying forward.
Walking for long enough, time can seem surreal and all you know to do is to keep moving forward (and ask for more lollipops).
So when a low flying airplane zipped along the beach and out of sight, we all wondered if it was real.
The beach in the distance, on the left of the photo above, is the access point for Derby Cove Cabin (the first trail you come to, well marked) and North Beach (the second trail), which is just a few switchbacks over the small hill. My memory of the “small hill” was that it was somewhat torturous at the end of the long, beach walk.
There is small waterfall just before that drains into a mysterious pool. Because the ocean has thrust a rock shore all around the fresh water, there appears to be no outlet. Instead the fresh stream must drain out, under the rocky shore, into the ocean, unseen.
That torturous hill three years ago, was a skip and jump in this present time. With legs and minds more accustomed to long days of walking, the kids didn’t skip a beat.
And then North Beach appeared. There is camping all along the beach, beyond the high tide line. On this end, there are bear boxes, on the far end, a stream for filtering water. We chose to camp on the pier end, a relic of the past.
And with help, the tents were erected in record time. Watching the teenagers set up their own tents gave me a small view into our possible future.
In the morning, we arose in staggered groups, with the teens bringing up the rear, hands down. They were all quite proud of this distinction.
Some of us may have chirped rather early and forced stumbling parents out onto the beach to avoid waking the rest of the camp.
Next time, sleep farther away from our neighbors…
There was time for arts and crafts and exploring, and a few groups of kayakers to arrive, head up to the fort, before the whole camp was awake and ready to head up to For McGilvary, the remnants of a WWII defensive structure.
In the past, this day hike had also been much more arduous than it was in the present. At this rate, in the future, they’ll hopefully be carrying us.
Our kids were the only ones of our group that had been here before and wanted to explore the whole area, but we ended up going straight to the main gun platforms for the view–and to eat the lunches we’d brought.
Of course, after eating, Sardines, Hide and Go Seek, yodeling and a newly created bunker game were the order of the afternoon. Some of the grownups would take turns running around in the dark scaring kids but beyond that, we weren’t needed this time.
When we returned (and it was a particularly hot day), the swimming commenced.
And the drying and warming up under a pile of rocks. With a few buried bodies along the beach, you did have to be careful where you stepped.
The tide was also out, so we could explore the caves on the far end of the beach that are only accessible at low tide.
Dinner and some poetry reading ended the evening, as well as a good campfire and a discussion on the theory of economics by a thirteen year old.
Morning brought rock skipping,
and morning greetings,
And more rock drawings.
And then we packed up and headed out, again, aware of the low tide needed to cross the beaches before us.
Retracing our steps up and over the knoll,
down to the beach below,
watching a raft of otters scavenge on the way, and a quick float down Tonsina River (much colder than the ocean was), brought us up to the present.
We had only to hike the remaining few miles up through the forest to Lowell Point again.
As layers of the past become memories that construct our present feelings of home, we arrive at a truth, casually printed in neon yellow, courtesy of a major sporting brand. For really, what matters for our actions, attitudes and aspirations today, is that OUR TIME IS NOW. On this fact rest who we are, wholly in this present place.
And yet. Though we can only choose now who we are, what matters just as much is that we have each other. And that, thankfully, is timeless. It sits there, a little magpie perched up on the curve of time, forever embraced by a changing us and untouchable by time itself; even when ‘now’ has passed.