Just because a place is beautiful doesn’t mean you are perpetually happy. Just because a skyline is postcard-picture perfect doesn’t mean you know what your future holds. And just because sand, shore, forests and mountains form the boundaries of your home doesn’t mean your life is any less complex.

Because like its rugged and unafraid counterpart, human nature is unpredictable. You cannot harness the moon to pull the tides your way, neither can you by your own power pull circumstances in your favor. 

And subduing your own nature will in time grind and crush you like the shifting sand works a glass bottle into a shard of sea glass.

It is at once familiar and foreign, strange and beautiful, this place I thought I had known. But that was once upon a time, nearly two decades before today. Then I had lived in only sections of this city, bound by the neighborhood of the University where I was schooled for four years, earning a degree and by default an entry into adulthood. The usual highways I traveled back and forth from my home holiday after holiday, and the ever widening streets I traversed, to and from an ever growing cache of stores, all were my own car playmat rolled out for use during a time when I needed structure and security, when I couldn’t rely on my courage and imagination to get me where I was going.

When I left, it was to a place as uniquely seperate as this city and the home before it, where I began.

I would only come back specifically four times to this part of the sprawling metropolis built of towns and districts along the watery state border, that at a glance through a car window look photocopy alike. Two times were for weddings in one way or another, other visits we were pulled to the south, closer to a river than the sound.

Even years later when a trip meant packing a van full of baby conveniences and two young sons, this place was not a destination. It was only purposefully once, to visit my husband’s cousin and family.

More often, we took in museums for children, sat in children-friendly restaurants to dine in, and pushed strollers through zoos and aquariums set on piers. There was one lone time we found our way here, with sister and brother-in-law along to this point to visit, a zoo edged on both sides by near-ocean, a fort to tell the story of the part of one peoples beginings there, and a beach at the foot of the steep, steep hills; a shore and brisk water for toddling baby feet to leave their imprints in cushioning sand.

And then, it was almost a decade until we returned. It seemed an odd choice to stay for the first part of our vacation; a second tier stop to the shining city north.

But, it held two destinations for us; one, the Museum of Glass, which as we took in the Chihuley Glass Garden by the Space Needle in the waning days of last summer, I had promised my middle boy we would visit the next year. Two, the Point Defiance Zoo, after having already conquered the Seattle Zoo and Aquarium, both in record time last summer.

And I knew I could find enough to fill in the spaces with a Tacoma Rainier game and visits to attractions Pinned on my trip boards or by searching TripAdvisor, and of course, an excursion to Whole Foods, a favorite for Haden and me.

The first evening we pulled into a hotel in downtown Tacoma, which I booked on a Living Social deal.  We looked like we were staying in a hotel used to much different clientele. No pool, strike one for me, my boys were horrified despite the gorgeous glass inspired skyscraping hotel. So we packed back into the van and headed to the very beach two of my boys played on so many years earlier. 

Descending the hilltop and curving along the flat waterway, I noticed the places that had been there two decades earlier; and the new. It felt less desperate, more like renewal. 

The shoreline gave way to mysterious heavy forest and a gentle looping road that led us down to the rocky beachfront at the very end of the trees.  

It was cold; but not yet sunset, just enough evening light left for us to join the community of families and friends, lone walkers and dogs on leashes all spread along the waterfront. Our shoes soon dotted the beach and the boys braved the wavy water in the clothes on their backs. 

I think then we all found a peace that we hadn’t expected to discover, or so soon.

The vast expanse of ocean-salty sound water was equal only to the broad canvas of sky on which the sunset painted a picture of eye widening beauty. Soft pink twilight bathed Mt. Rainier in an ethereal glow; reminding me how it is always a surprise for us from the east side of the state to re-encounter the mountain that defines the very word. 

We walked and gathered shells and driftwood and balanced on long bleached logs; catching our breath.

My promise kept; the glass museum, the zoo and aquarium visited and capturing the boys attention far longer than we had anticipated, and we have found beaches and parks and today a farmer’s market at which I purchased farm-fresh berries and wildflower honeycomb for us to try for the first time. 

Locally sourced and made ice cream was licked and gone too quickly, suitable cups of coffee consumed, and a full seafood dinner right on the water fulfilled. 

And while the second hotel where we have rested our fresh air and sunshine weary heads for three nights also had no pool, we have slept over the water; and our boys have discovered the delights of tides and beachcombing, scuttling sideways crabs and barnacles.

By far this is the most relaxed we have started a vacation. Maybe it is the pace of the waterfront; while busy and teeming with activity during the day, the sea is always beckoning and there is always a moment to stop and take in the blue-green of water, white and grey of cloud banks far over other bays, the texture of rocks and sand. The near and the far all in one gaze.

And I think it may be the most of it too; less concrete and more earth, less indoors and more under the sun and trees, less distractions and more face to face time.

Of course we are on vacation, no truly pressing schedules but to check into places to stay along the route. But it is more than all of this too. There is something to visiting somewhere you thought you knew or imagined you knew about, but seeing it for what it truly is that can capture your imagination, recapture your hope.

I will be sad to leave this place, and the little routines we have carved out on our own. I think I won’t be the only one either. 

But as in life, an adventure, a plan, must continue and be completed to discover what it is we have set out to find.

So as I take in a last deep breath of sea-salty briny air, I feel that spirit stir, and I know.

I won’t be saying goodbye to this place; I’ll just be heading out braver and more than ready to go. 

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