Last summer, we traded in our private, deer-visited, woodsy home in Virginia for a home on the edge of a small town just north of Seattle. We got lucky and found a house that looks out on the vast, blue, ever-changing Puget Sound. Between our backyard and that body of water sits two train tracks. Throughout the day and throughout the night, Amtraks zip and coal-holding cars chug along. It takes some getting used to but we love that these trains are part of our life.
The trains are mostly charming and the water is mesmerizing, but there's one more thing I love about our home: neighbors. We got lucky in that respect, too. We live in a community where half of the population is over 60 years old. But right next door to us--together with their 60ish year old grandparents--lives a family with three young children. Their two boys are about the age of our two boys, and the four run from one house to another, one yard to another, one family to another. (We each have a girl in the family, but mine is the oldest, and theirs is the youngest, so that match up doesn't work quite as well.)
We borrow sugar or oatmeal from each other, we bring flowers over for a birthday, their (homeschooled) boys come over and ask if they can play with our puppy when my children are in school (always, always I say yes).
Yesterday I received a text almost simultaneously from the grandmother and the mother saying, "Kate! There's a whale! Are you home?" I dropped what I was doing and ran outside to find the grandparents and oldest boy staring out into the Puget Sound. It was a gray day, but the water was a blueish-gray and the sky was a light gray, and the clouds threatened rain all day but only spat out some drizzles every now and then. That didn't matter much, because spotting a whale was worth the wet.
The four of us, joined by the mother a short while later (who had been watching from inside) stood outside together, chatting but keeping our eyes trained to the water, trying to spot the whale again and again. We agreed it was a humpback, we agreed it was lingering more than we'd expect, and we agreed it was awesome.
For me, this whale-spotting is magical because they live in a whole, complicated, mysterious world so near to our home. There's still so much we don't know about them, and yet humpbacks have been part of humans' history for thousands of years. When this humpback surfaced yesterday, she was visiting our known world for a few seconds before returning back to hers. I was awestruck in that moment, when we were both in the same world.
But I think that's the same feeling I have towards my neighbors--I am old enough to know that there is a whole lot I don't know about other people's marriages and a family's inner workings that goes on behind closed doors. I respect those closed doors; I have them myself. But maybe that makes these moments when our families come together and look out and share a laugh over a backyard fence just as special as spotting a humpback. And when these two moments come together--AH!--well...that's downright heart-warming.