We recently spent three days in Birch Bay, Washington, for a reunion of some of Molly’s cousins. Molly’s mother was Flo Wick. Flo’s sister Ruth had three daughters, and these three sisters, Sandy, Gail and Sue Ellen, were our reason for being in Birch Bay. Sandy and Gail were each traveling solo, while Sue’s entourage also included her husband Tom, daughters Kim and Kelcey, and grandsons Riley and Jack. We had a full house in our rented condo where we enjoyed catching up and sharing a lot of laughs.
I knew that Cousin Sandy had a friend who owned a condo here that was available to rent. But I had not realized that Sandy, Gail and Sue had a connection with Birch Bay dating back to their childhood. I was reminded of my mother’s attachment to the Mendocino Coast in California, as she spent many childhood summers there escaping the heat of the Central Valley, and my own relationship with Bodega Bay, CA, where I used to get away from the heat in Sacramento. Molly’s cousins were escaping the heat of Yakima, WA, (also Molly’s hometown) located on the eastern side of the Cascades.
Birch Bay is an unincorporated tourist destination 100 miles north of Seattle in Whatcom County, WA, not far from the border of Canada. In fact, I was surprised to learn that while we were in Birch Bay we were actually north of Victoria, BC, Canada!
A large sandy tideflat of several square miles, the shallowness of the bay contributes to the warmth of the water. It has one of the largest heron nesting sites in the state of WA and at any given time we could see several great blue herons standing in the tide flats snacking on the abundance of sea life. Birch Bay is one of 50 sites in the state of Washington classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA), especially for sea- and shorebirds, by the Audobon Society.
I was charmed by how people flocked out onto the mud flats when the water pulled back at low tide. At the peak of tourist season it was certainly not crowded by California standards, but adults dragged their beach chairs out to better supervise small children who busily flung mud into buckets or onto each other. Some beach-goers clammed while others walked the shallow waters with buckets and rakes seeking crabs, the season having just opened.
One thing that was a bit startling to us Californians were the ubiquitous Private Beach and No Trespassing signs, forcing us to get off the beach and walk on the road. In California there is no such thing as a private beach—the intertidal zone is public property thanks to the California Coastal Commission. We are grateful to the Commission and all the activists over the years that claimed the California coast for the Commons. It reminded us of the seldom quoted verse from Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land:
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
Written by Holly Holbrook