Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Deception Pass

I knew that Jane’s birthday plans would take me to hot springs and waterfalls in Canada, but I was unaware of exactly how far I was to travel that weekend. We had come to British Columbia to mark her sixtieth birthday. This special occasion required a special location, and she chose Harrison Hot Springs in the Canadian Rockies. I had been to Vancouver and north to Whistler, the famous ski resort, but never ventured into the eastern mountains of the province. It was a beautiful day to drive through B.C., but then, any day is a beautiful day to drive through B.C. The remaining maple and alder leaves clung to the branches of the trees, turning the highway hillsides yellow and red. The fields in the Frasier Valley radiated purple and orange in the low fall sunlight. Everything around us glowed in color. Serious questions seemed as far from us as the States we had left behind. We were in Canada to toast the beginning of Jane’s next sixty years.
The morning of her birthday, we sat in the resort hot springs. The rock edges of the pool were dotted with couples enjoying the ninety-eight degree mineral baths. Steam rose from the water’s surface obscuring the details of faces and bodies. No one moved. We sat on the ledges by the rocks letting the warmth of the water contrast the cool air around our heads. Quietly, young couples ran their hands over each other’s skin, kissing occasionally. Older couples sat and stared into the steam, while the men would turn to see what new bathing suit had entered the pool. I had forgotten my suit and purchased one in cranberry from the resort shop. My blond hair was clipped in a chignon to keep it from dropping into the water. An older, fleshy man turned as I slipped into the pool.
Jane smiled. “This is the best day of my life.”
Jane had an ability to see every day as the best day of her life. I was flattered that she wanted to share this special one with me. We talked about her future plans, to retire from teaching in a year, to possibly consult as a coach, and to travel to the Mediterranean. She was saving her money for an expensive cruise. She rarely allowed herself luxuries. I was excited for her.
She turned to coach me. It was part of her being, and how she communicated. She was proud of what I had accomplished in the past two years, adapting to changes. She praised my talents. It made me tired. I just wanted to sit in the hot pool, hair up like a model, and not think. Deception.
Sitting nearly submerged in the heat of the water, staring at the couples surrounding me, my brain attempted to rewrite my life. Regrets filled my head, regrets from before I was born. They flowed with my wrong choices through schools and university, through relationships and family, then flooded into a failed marriage. They washed me into Harrison Hot Springs, where, even with regrets, I felt happy. I needed to keep the happiness alive. Mist rose around me, as I silently searched for solutions that were not there.
While Jane was checking out of the room, I purchased two chocolate covered fortune cookies from the gift shop.
“You choose. It’s your birthday.”
Jane’s cookie said that her decisions would be directed, or that her life had come together, or that all things would work out for her. I don’t remember her fortune. Mine said that I was cultured. Deception. Who cares? Maybe instead of hiking in the mountains, I should be visiting a museum. I was glad I had taken my hair down, and put on hiking pants.

We headed to Bridal Falls. We were taking each moment as it came and had no schedule.
After a short hike through dark hemlocks, crossing streams that rushed over beds of golden leaves, Bridal Falls called through the trees. Standing at the base of Mount Cheam, and rising four hundred feet over broad flat rock, the translucent waters cascaded like the layers of netting from a bridal veil.
“Jane, for my second, third or fourth weddings, I would like to have it here,” I laughed.

Deception. I couldn’t imagine getting married another time.
We slipped and slid over the wet leaves and mossy tree trunks back to the car and drove to the border. I had crossed into Canada illegally. Deception. I had been unable to find my passport which I hid for safety in my closet. Now it remained safely hidden from me. I carried with me in a manila folder, an out of date passport in my old name, my birth certificate in an older name, and my driver’s license in my new name. The Canadian border guard did not care. She welcomed me into her country.
Jane and I now faced security officers from the United States.
“It’s all copy for a writer. Just know that I will be enjoying every moment, even if they hold us for hours. I’ll write about the body cavity search,” I joked. “Do you think I can keep my recorder running while they interrogate me?” I had been interrogated before, stories I never told. Deception.
“Don’t say anything,” the coach warned. “You always want to tell truth. Only answer what the questions they ask.” Yes coach, I will try to listen.
The border guard did not welcome us home to America. We were driving a Prius, protecting our environment, and still got no smiles. I smiled calmly, as if all my papers were in order. Deception.
“Why were you in Canada? What are you bringing into this country?”
Confessions fell from my mouth. “I bought a cranberry colored bathing suit and fortune cookies.”

Jane shot me a look to quiet what she knew was coming. I smiled. Yes Jane, my papers are in order. Deception. The guard walked to the back of the Prius, peered in, and took our passports to have them scanned on his state of the art security device. I held my breath.
“Welcome back,” and without a smile, the officer motioned us through the boarder.
“So where is all the security?” I wondered. “I am actually disappointed that there wasn’t a cavity search!” Deception. Jane interrupted my thoughts.
“We have some time. Let’s go see Deception Pass on the way home. Have you been there?”
“My Ex drove us across the bridge on the way to Whidbey Island, a long time ago.”
“No. That doesn’t count. You’ve got to see the beach and walk over the bridge. We’ll take Chuckanut Drive. You’ll love it.”
Chuckanut Drive connects Bellingham to the Skagit Valley where the tulips grow. The winding ribbon road carried us around the rocky cliffs that overlook the San Juan Islands. The sun shimmered on the bay, painting a pathway of light to the Sound and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Houses with sailboats nestled on moorings gave the illusion that life was peaceful on Chuckanut Drive. Deception.

We drove through without stopping until we reached the valley floor, where the road straightened. We passed dairy farms and antique stores. The black fields, freshly plowed from the harvest, held water deep enough to entice traveling swans to stop and rest. The smokestacks of the Texaco refinery spouted fluffy white clouds that decorated the blue sky. Deception. We were nearing the Pass.

In the 1700’s, George Vancouver named the Strait Deception when charting the Inside Passage. Original Deception. I stood at the exact center of the arched metal spans that connect Whidbey Island with Fidalgo Island, peering over the railing to the swift current nearly two hundred feet below. The rushing blue water runs at ten knots, creating patterns of swells, waves, and white foam. From the height of the bridge, the vista below resembles an astronaut’s view of the earth. The swirling whirlpools in the current form the black holes of outer space. I watched a small white boat speed through the center of the pass, rocking in the water from side to side as it slipped and swerved to safety on the other side of the bridge. The circling gulls laughed as the boat struggled through the foam and navigated around the twisting currents. The Olympic Mountains were turning lavender as the sun began to think about setting. Before Jane and I walked down to the beach to say goodbye to the day, I needed to throw some personal items from the bridge railings, ignoring the posted signs to the contrary.
Deception Pass. The western border of Washington and Canada. A perfect location to rid my life of illusions; First to go, a family heritage, the Greek pedigree, hoisted high to elevate grandparents to royal stature. Gone. Scottish castles, a history of power to be worn as a tartan for everyone to see. Gone. A Debuatant, southern social survival, a country club too exclusive to call by specific name. Deception. Gone, into the whirling current. A young girl, waiting to be a mother at the expense of being a woman. Gone. Dependence on a man. Deception. Gone. A perfect family with perfect children, living in a perfect house, and celebrating each holiday with perfection. Deception. Gone and away into the black sink hole of water. Hope for a fair maiden to be rescued from the whirling, swirling, deep blue water by a knight on horseback. Deception. Gone. Pretty and sweet, talented, smart, and deserving. Deception. Gone. Ignoring the painted signs and all thrown over the railing. Tearing fear that cannot be faced alone. Gone. All gone. Nothing left to drop to the water’s surface, to watch disappear in the foam. Gone. All deception gone.
As I watched the water engulf my thoughts, Jane reminded me that sunset was nearing. Crowds formed along the bridge sidewalks. People holding cameras with large protruding lens, waited to capture the exact moment the sun disappeared, silently hoping to see the green flash of light before the day ended. I thought of Oia on Santorini, with hundreds of silent sunset worshipers waiting on the stone walls to say thank you to the cosmos for the beauty of the finished day. At the exact moment that the Cyclades sun disappeared into wash of florescent pink, the watching crowd spontaneously burst into applause. We wanted to be on the beach beneath the bridge for that moment.
We sat on logs that had washed ashore from the Sound and arranged themselves like stadium seating. The water on the edge of the beach was smooth and without waves. We faced the setting sun and the bright rays of light that spread from the horizon. We rubbed our fingers in the cool sand and waited for the day to be officially over. When the full moon rose, and we knew it was time to leave.
Jane smiled. “I think this was the best day of my life and definitely the best birthday.”
I smiled. “It was a perfect day, Jane.”

I turned from the beach to walk back to the car. I returned home with far less baggage than I had carried with me at the start of the weekend. It would be a much easier journey now, having returned to Seattle by way of Deception Pass.

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