There’s a tiny stretch of shore on the east side of Lake Union in Seattle where my son and I go to sit and throw stones. The little beach there is often littered with washed-up trash and the refuse of revelers who party, or just survive, by the lakeside at night, which detracts from this otherwise serene spot.
But as my son has gotten older, we’ve been able to clamber over some rocks to an even smaller beach nearby. The litter there tends not to be crushed beer cans and rusted needles, but pondweed and spatterdock, maybe a few branches blown down after a storm. It’s an unremarkable place with an obscured view. Somewhere you wouldn’t really notice and probably wouldn’t picnic. But my son and I like it, and we go sit there all the time.
And maybe through ritual this place has come to feel ours. Not a possession, but a connection—a place we belong to. I imagine this is how the Duwamish might have felt encamped nearby before the white pioneers rolled in. And maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’ve often felt, sitting on that scratch of shore, something of their presence. The other day I came across a 30-inch fish spine on the shore. No fish that big swims in that part of the lake. And yesterday, after rain, as an old log dried, the face of a crow revealed itself in the wood grains. In the mythologies of agrarian civilizations, the crow tends to be a negative symbol, an omen of death. But in older, nomadic civilizations, the crow, an intelligent bird, is a creator, a protector spirit that organizes the world with a flap of its wings. It’s these older meanings, those of the nomads, that I accept when I sit on this little beach with my son, protected, I now see, by the crow inside this wood.