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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Waite

The Changing Tides

Birch Bay is a little notch in the Salish Sea near the northern edge of the United States. It’s a beautiful spot that Kathleen, Ria and I visited for a few days recently, staying in a rental house along the southeastern shore. It was hot when we arrived, the sun baking the home’s concrete deck. The blue water shimmered in the golden afternoon, and mountains stood in all directions—the Cascades jagged and imposing to our right, Canada’s Coast Mountains crowning the distant horizon. A kayaker circled the bay. When the sun lowered, the sky turned the color of crab meat and then darkened to a purple glow.

By the time we finished our pancakes the next morning, we might as well have been in an entirely different place. The tide swept the water away. Buoys and innertubes that had been floating the previous evening now sat on cakey brown sand. Green seaweed was so thick and prevalent on the beach, that the ground looked almost like farmland, rows of fresh crops sprouting from upturned earth. In the air hung the smell of saltwater, a reminder of a sea no longer visible.

Kathleen was super excited. She’d dreamed of low tide, of handing Ria a bucket and a shovel and letting her explore. So that’s exactly what we did. Ria stomped through the squishy sand. She spotted crabs the size of pebbles and collected rocks covered in barnacles. Brown sand dollars glistened in the muck. Tiny fish darted in puddles. Life in the tide pools teemed.

It was eye-opening to see all these tiny creatures thriving on the floor of the bay, a place that’s covered in feet of water half the time. But this shouldn’t have been surprising. When you look closely at something, when you bother to spend time going beneath the surface, you see the truth about what’s really there.

Cellphone cameras have exposed police brutality in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Like the sand under the water, it was there all along, but only those immersed in it, those forced to live with it day after day, truly understood it. Now, we’re all seeing it, and reform seems to finally be possible.

Last week, I wrote about visiting CHOP, the autonomous zone in Seattle organized by protestors demanding actions such as defunding the police by half and reallocating money to community programs. I wrote about how peaceful our visit was. But in the week since, there have been three shootings in CHOP. A 19-year-old is dead. As a result, the city is stepping in, and the police are planning to return to their abandoned precinct. Even protest leaders have called into question some of the activities taking place in CHOP, explaining that it should be more of an 8-to-8 work zone, not a 24/7 party.

I worry that the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater. I worry that all of the overwhelming good that’s coming from CHOP and similar demonstrations around the country will be overshadowed by a few bad actors or a few setbacks. We can’t let that happen. We can’t lose sight of what truly matters.

By the late afternoons during our visit, the water would return to Birch Bay, washing over the sand and the sea life. Buoys rose and drifted on the sea above now unseen crabs and fish. But, remember, those fish and crabs didn’t go anywhere. Half a day later, when the water receded again, they’d still be there, for everyone to see. –Andrew Waite

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