Adventure is not always to unfamiliar places, and the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula is one of the places I have most often been to over my 66 years. On Easter Sunday, my sister and I returned to a favorite place of our childhood to scatter some of our mother’s ashes on this one year anniversary of her death.
As children, we traveled on the sticky vinyl back seats of the one-tone-green ’56 Chevy station wagon, hauling with us whatever out-of-town guests were visiting. My father pointed out the commercial timber forests to the visitors, citing the year they were clearcut, replanted, would be ready for harvest again, while we rolled our eyes from the back.
Our first stop—Rebecca and I—was at Lake Quinault Lodge, where we spent the night in the oldest part of the hotel. Franklin Roosevelt had lunch in the dining room there in 1937 and is rumored to have decided to create Olympic National Park while sitting in the lodge, perhaps in front of the enormous stone fireplace. The lodge sits in one of the three temperate rainforests in the world and is one of the wettest areas in the contiguous US, so there is a fire pretty much every day.
My mother and I stayed at the lodge a couple of times in recent years when I came home for a visit. We always sat at the same table for meals, her with her back to lake and the light that hurt her eyes, me across from her watching guests playing lawn games, the hummingbirds at the feeders, and the sinking sun setting over the pristine lake. Rebecca went to the dining room for breakfast ahead of me. When I followed a minute or two later and found she had been seated at the familiar table, my eyes filled with tears.
After breakfast, and some time reading in front of the fire, waiting for the fog to lift, we drove on to Kalaloch beach. It was not our childhood destination, but was the beach my parents enjoyed in later life, staying in the cabins on the bluff. They took the grandkids there when they came to visit, digging in the sand and making sand casts on the beach. My mother’s “Purple Arts Festival” group gathered there each year too, doing art in one of the cabins and on the lawn. I’m not sure why we didn’t visit the so-named Tree of Life, or at least I have no memory of it, perhaps because the riverlette has to be forded to get there. It should be one of the natural wonders of the world.
Next stop, the Big Cedar. The ancient tree (estimated to be over 1000 years old, according to the internet) is my Notre Dame. It sits in a forest of other large trees, the mother cathedral among the lesser cathedrals. Its immensity, even after losing a “spire” in a storm in 2014, is almost too much to take in. It is not a single tree, making it difficult, I suppose, to determine age; or just how much of it is original. It is a true “mother tree,” pulling to her many children of other ethnic origins and giving them life. The simple sign at the road “Big Cedar” with an arrow, is tantamount to a sign pointing to Notre Dame that says “church.” The park service, just this month, is finally giving her her due, constructing a fence to keep worshipers from climbing on and into her, and improving the trails around her and her fallen spire as well as back to other huge, ancient trees.
A favorite hymn of my mother’s: I know a green cathedral, a shadowed forest shrine, where leaves in love join hands above, and arch your prayer and mine…
On to Ruby Beach, the favorite of mine and my sisters. We were greeted on the trail down from the parking lot by the smell of a fire, flashing us back to tiny fires built between the drift logs to protect us and the flames from the wind, roasting hotdogs for lunch, before or after we stacked and leaned logs to build a fort and searched in high competition for the roundest stone. On nicer days we, floated on logs in the river—the water play alternative on these beaches with too strong an undertow to venture into the ocean. We had the best childhood.
No place really felt right for scattering ashes, but we wanted to leave some of Mama on this wild coast. We returned to Kalaloch with our collection of heart rocks (none of the round ones we found would have met our father’s strict criteria and the test of his calipers) and set a small shrine in the sand to hold a bit of her. As I write this, it has long since washed into the sea, taking her a little farther away from us.
And now I am the grandmother, passing love for the beauty of this place to my grandchildren. I am hoping to take them at this summer’s Camp Gigi. What lives in hearts and is passed to the next generations is never truly gone.