Magnolia News Jan. 18, 06

Growing up on Magnolia (on 26nd, in between Dravus and Barrett), I was offered abundant opportunities to explore my immediate surroundings. There were plenty of parks and playfields available, most with adjoining greenbelts generally referred to as “the woods”. It seemed every neighborhood had at least one overgrown lot where we youngsters played war games, picked blackberries and constructed any number of camps, tree houses, and underground forts. I was perhaps a bit more fortunate. I made use of woods directly across the street from our home within easy earshot of a parental holler.

I inherited a tree house from neighborhood kids who had gone on to organized sports and set about arranging the small space according to my own standards. A box at one end that would hold comic books, maybe a flashlight or gum, and also served as a bench seat. A ladder further up to a platform I called the crow’s nest gave me a spectacular view towards downtown and the cascades.

As I grew old enough to leave home for the day, I would spend time in the local parks we had visited as a family. Lawton Park was the closest and had tempting trails leading through it but my favorite became Magnolia Park. The southerly view is outstanding, the covered kitchen area provided shelter from the rain, and the swing set is a pleasant diversion. My friends and I often organized baseball games in the park that would end when someone hit a line drive or foul tip into the woods and the ball would become irretrievably lost.

At the time, there was a trail from the park that wound its way to the beach. The presumed assumption was that the beach and surrounding area was an extension of the park and I eagerly explored the paths that lead off “Beach Road”. Normally rocky and difficult to walk at high tide, the sandy beach was exposed at low tide. It was a delight to inspect the tide pools, lifting large stones to uncover the swarming crabs and other crustaceans. One favorite memory involved drawing an enormous figure in the sand with a stick, dressing it in kelp, rocks and driftwood for a belt, shoes, or what have you. Then a short climb up a trail to a vantage point on the bluff to appreciate the finished product before the tide came in to clean the slate, so to speak.

Thanks to the unstable bluff, many homes above the beach and those on pilings on the beach are in constant danger of destruction from landslides and it seemed every winter the storm would destroy a couple. Often the unfortunate residents would attempt to rescue the house or ameliorate the damage, just as often as they would simply abandon the structure, which would soon become overgrown and eventually forgotten. My friends and I began to rehabilitate some of these forgotten buildings as a more elaborate extension of the simple tree houses and camps we constructed when we were younger. Using boards that had washed up on shore and keeping the rain out with rolls of tar paper, we soon had a network of several modest buildings on the beach and a few more in the woods above the beach.

My personal house began with two crumbling walls of what I assumed had once been a chicken coop. It was an arduous hike to get there even more so when carrying building supplies. Past the dead end and along trail that led to an open area we called the “Ivy Forest”, then down to the beach and up another trail. This led to an isolated spot where solitude reigned supreme, a place where time was irrelevant, and I seemed in union with my wild surroundings. I kept this place secret from all but my closest friends and spent as much time there as I could. Some drinking water, crackers and cheese comprised my larder and some books or other were my only companions as a lazy summer drifted along.

The end of most days was signaled by the return from Victoria by the Princess Margarite. It was impossible to miss as it neared Magnolia to its downtown berth. I would hasten to the beach to witness the huge rollers that would crash upon the shore, the foam illuminated by the moonlight.

The following autumn, I began college and dismissed my beach activities in favor of scholastics, but would often daydream in class of my private reserve and would long to return to my special place. My other friends had abandoned their miscellaneous shacks, but had maintained their friendships with the tenants who lived in the legitimate homes on the beach. In time, a few of these became available for rent and were immediately acquired. Thus in the course of two summers we had gone from being squatters in little shacks to legal and respectable residents. Evening bonfires became the norm. I brought down the small family rowboat for coastal excursions. Our beach parties became legendary, with no neighbors to complain; we played the music loud and stayed up all night.

Landslides claimed two more beach houses and the property changed hands and evictions became inevitable. That brief and memorable time was unique and I feel fortunate to have been a part of a scene that could only have occurred on Magnolia Beach.