My adventure this week turned out to be a pilgrimage to honor my parents, though I didn’t know that when I chose it. I was in a quandary about where to go as I have a stinkin’ cold, my first in more than a year. I couldn’t afford to be sick when I had to be with my mother nearly every day. Now that responsibility is over and whammo, out of nowhere. Anyway, the idea of the lawn in an Adirondack chair in the sun at the lodge had high appeal. Maybe a walk in the rain forest. Or not.
My mother and I stayed at Lake Quinault a couple of times when I came home for visits after my father died. She sprang for meals in the dining room at a table by the window, me watching the light change over the lake and the hummingbirds at the feeders hanging from the eaves, she with her back to the light.
It was cloudy when I got up. What? I checked the forecast again. Sun coming soon at home, but not until 11 at the lake. No worries. I love sitting in the lodge; I went several times a few winters ago, driving two hours to write until time to drive back home and make dinner for my mother. I adjusted my vision to a fire in the huge fireplace. I wanted to work on my part of my mother’s eulogy anyway.
When I arrived at nine the fireplace was out of commission for chimney cleaning. Great. I anticipated noise and soot. But it was fine.
I finished my eulogy draft at noon and there was still no sign of sun. I decided to go to Kalaloch (pronounced Clay-lock), 30 minutes up the road. It was my parents’ favorite beach. We went to other beaches when I was a child. Ruby, the next one up, is my favorite; Rialto, a little farther north takes longer to get to because of having to skirt around the Quinault Tribe reservation; camping at Moro. But in their golden years they stayed in the cabins at Kalaloch; and my mother and friends went there for their private Purple Arts Festival for several years.
I ate my lunch in the car because it was overcast and looked too cold to sit on a drift log. As I sat looking out over the river to the Pacific Ocean, I read my 2500 word eulogy aloud to time it. Fifteen minutes. Going to have to cut. Don’t want to.
Turned out it wasn’t cold at all, when I finally went down off the bluff and into nature’s art gallery.
The beach was strewn with millions of razor clam shells (I think) with brittle translucent sails attached, as if set to lift them up in the next storm and transport them elsewhere. I have never seen such a sight. In death, they were the most beautiful thing.
I walked a ways down the beach, first on the logs as I did as a child—going forever without touching ground—then on the sand past the ancient storm-tossed root sculptures, marveling at the trees that cling to to the cliffs in spite of erosion. (Once again, I forgot to look for the so-called “tree of life” across the creek in the other direction. Next time.)
When I returned to Lake Quinault, the sun was out. I wanted never to leave. I’m plotting a camping trip soon. It feels strange to have this freedom to do whatever and go wherever I want without making arrangements for my mother’s well being. I think it may take a while to embrace it.
Okay. Done that. Check it off my list for this century. I’m a mountain girl, not an ocean girl; but it’s been so hot, the beach seemed the place for my adventure this week. I do try to go once a summer. I love the Olympic Peninsula beaches with their drift logs, stone beaches, tidal pools: Ruby (my favorite), Kalaloch (my parents’ favorite), Rialto and LaPush (farther afield); but since I’m camping at Oregon’s Mt. Hood at the end of the month, I decided to explore the Oregon beach too.
Here’s the thing: Oregon beaches have beach towns. Beach towns have people. I am not a fan of either. What was I thinking?
Cannon Beach was still socked in with fog when I arrived at noon, and crawling with tourists from full-up motels and rental condos, no parking. I figured I would find lunch, check out the beach access, drive farther down the coast if it didn’t look interesting there. Short version: Getting lunch took much longer than anticipated, beach was boring and crowded, drove on.
I parked in a nearly full state park lot and headed to the wide, sandy beach, fog still hovering just above the water. Why is it that people congregate at beach access points? It was swarming with beach umbrellas and towels, kite flyers and sand castle architects, dogs and coolers, a not-in-use volleyball net. Not many in the water: frigid, no doubt. These people would love the southern beaches on either coast. But in the PNW you don’t wait for appropriate weather, especially if you’ve forked out the bucks for a condo vacation.
I walked down the beach and was quickly beyond the hoards. There was no wind—unusual at the beach in this corner of the country—so not uncomfortably cool in spite of the lack of sun, and that I left home in a hurry, forgetting a jacket.
It was a black and white photo day, even without adjusting the setting on the camera. I loved it in the end; and I’m not a fun-in-the-sun beach person anyway. It’s the kind of undistracting weather that gets me into myself. Here’s where this tale gets interesting.
I walked until I got to the “haystacks” and to where the headland stretched out into the sea. I hadn’t checked the tide table, and the fog-shrouded haystacks and the secrets their tide pools hold were out of reach.
Clambering over the rocks, I found a private beach, save for the gulls. Though it’s true that I saw only a half dozen people since I left the crowd at the access, from here I could see no one nor be seen. Sadly I saw no puffins; maybe if I’d had binoculars, or been looking harder.
I didn’t stay long; I wasn’t sure if the tide was coming or going and I didn’t want to get stuck. But it was long enough to get my heart going in love for this wild paradise I have come home to. The waves rose and broke as they crashed against the rocks off shore. The gulls shrieked. The trees high on the cliffs above me, permanently bent in the direction of the relentless prevailing winter winds, are evidence of who is in charge here. And it’s not the humans.
A friend asks me over and over what it is that brought me back here. “It’s home,” I tell her, “it’s where my soul needs to be.” “But what about it?” she persists, urging me to get to the bottom of it. She’s not satisfied with my vague response: the mountains, the trees, the hills, the valleys.
I love it here because I grew up here. Like other people love Texas or Kansas. She tells me she is from here—well, from the other side of the mountains, which is not the same—but she doesn’t yearn for “home.” She most feels home in England, where she has never lived. She tells me she loves England because of its history, she felt it in her bones and in her breath from the moment she arrived on its soil at her first visit.
Finally, walking on this beach, I got her question; and she’s been hinting at the answer all along. It’s not that my answers were vague or untrue, but they were the “what,” even I wasn’t feeling the “why,” other than it’s home.
I love this land because of its history too; but because of its natural history. I love it because it’s “new.” I love it because it’s not ancient ruins and because—except for the Indian Wars, a horrific exception that can’t be overlooked—it isn’t built on a long history of generations of spilled blood. It was built from nothing, on the backs of hard-working, courageous men and women. There is no history other than the giant ancient trees that fall in the rain forest and become mother logs to new trees; the trees that fall into the ocean and move in and out with the tides, until they are tumbled bare and finally thrown up onto the shore where children play on them for a few seasons until they are washed back out in the next massive storm; the mounds in the earth from ancient volcanic eruptions; the mountains that still erupt. No one has tried to tame anything, beyond what they need to survive.
On “my” beaches farther north, there are no beach towns, no condos. In my mountains, there are no Gatlinburgs or Dollywoods. If people want to visit these places, they have to be okay with inconvenience and the whims of nature, maybe crappy roads. They have to be content with entertainment in the form of hiking and walking on drift logs. No one owns the land, other than the American people, and maybe some timber companies; at most some mom and pop cabins for rent.
Visitors come because they love the mountains and the sea. There’s no Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, no putt putt golf, no Waves beach stores. Even restaurants are hard to find at the Washington beaches and mountains.
My mother loved the Appalachian mountains of her youth because you can touch them, be one with them, climb them in a skirt. I love my northwest mountains because they hold all the power and we humans are small and insignificant. These wild places are impervious to and untamed by humankind.
It’s not because I grew up here, I realized as I walked down the beach, back to the crowd a few safe yards from their beach town. I am my parents’ daughter. My father grew up in the mid-west and as a boy, dreamed of moving west “until he was stopped by the ocean.” He’d never been west. My mother, at the beginning of America’s entry into WWII, put in for a civil service transfer to the Territory of Alaska. She’d never been west. (She only got to Spokane that time.) She was participant with my father, as they dreamed through the mail during the long years of war separation, that they would settle in the far west.
Love for this wild, nearly untouched land is in my DNA. No wonder I felt like a stranger in a strange land those 36 years in the southeast. I’m home now. My heart beats strong again, my lungs fully expand. My soul hums.
This is why I adventure, to access what I know. It’s never wasted time, even at an unfamiliar beach in the fog. Still, I’m sticking with the wild coast of the Olympic Peninsula and the not-to-be restrained mountains. Sayonara, beautiful tame Oregon.
It wasn’t much of an adventure: I sat in my tent and worked on my writing project. I had to come home for the quiet and to hear the owls and coyotes: a logging truck rumbled and groaned down Hwy 101 about every 2.4 minutes, starting at 4:30am. Still, the lake was beautiful, especially when the sun came up, and sparkled out my tent window the rest of the day. And I love to camp. If only someone would bring me food, I could live in my tent, writing at the little table that is part of CuRVy’s standard equipment. (I’m keeping the table when she is replaced.)
So this is a pictorial log. I did walk to Marymere Falls, a flip-flop friendly, well-populated hike. And watched the sun come up over the ridge each morning. Of course there are other hikes: I checked out trip logs for Storm King Mountain (“A very strenuous and monotonous ascent.”) and Pyramid Mountain (“The trail is washed out in one place, but don’t look down and you’ll be fine. You can hold onto rocks in the outcropping, but be careful, some are loose. Wished we had gloves for the ropes at the top,”) and decided my tent and writing and campfire were just fine for this trip.
Tomorrow I’m hiking Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, Rainier NP. See you on the other side! (That would be with salmon burger and beer at Base Camp in Ashford at the end!)
#5 (and last) essay on my camping trip to Staircase in the Olympic National Park
I love walk-in campsites. They are farther from the road, closer to the water, no RVs. And this one was the best ever, except maybe for an exceptional site in North Carolina. But this one had a bear box—my own personal cupboard—so I didn’t have haul everything to the car every night.
They arrived about 4:30 on my third night while I was sitting on “my patio” above the river with my wine and cheese appetizer reading: the husband on the backside of 70, the younger wife with her very clean artificially straightened long hair, the pregnant daughter with her sweatshirt reading “Camping Sweatshirt,” the small dog.
“I don’t want to be rude,” the wife said, when she walked up from behind me, breaching my solitude. “We’re expecting a lot of people and I just wondered when you are leaving.”
I was thinking she could have looked on the registration board and found out when everyone in the campground was leaving. Did she not see the barrier around me? The neon “KEEP OUT” sign? Have I mentioned it was my third night, and my hair was not clean and I smelled like a campfire, and I didn’t give a rip? I don’t know if my answer “tomorrow” was good news or not.
Apparently they were providing for all of the “lots of people.” The husband carried stuff from their truck for three solid hours. And their site was a good bit farther from the parking area than mine. I’m sure they would liked to have had the one I was occupying.
I finished my appetizer; he moved stuff.
I built a fire; he moved stuff.
I sat by the fire with a second glass of wine; he moved stuff.
He dropped something and stuffed the huge, loosely rolled piece of foam under his arm, shifted the sleeping bag in his other hand, and reached down to pick up the broom. That was my first unconstrained snort of laughter.
I decided I really wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to cook supper; he moved stuff.
I had my first s’more and some solid grapes; he moved stuff.
I put the food boxes and cooler in the bear box; he moved stuff.
I made a second s’more and ate it; he moved stuff.
I walked down to the bathroom to brush my teeth as he moved the last load—except for the three chairs left in the truck.
The next morning I got my stove, food box, and cooler out of the bear box while the husband and the pregnant daughter unloaded her car.
They were staying four more nights the husband told me as I loaded my car to leave (in five trips). Okay, that’s pretty long, I guess it requires a lot of stuff for “lots of people.” I will not judge. Much. Rain was forecast for the following day. The wife’s hair will frizz.
I moved my car to the trail parking lot and went for a hike.
I checked the registration board when I returned to the car, they had snagged my campsite.
Essay 4 from my recent camping trip; I’ve gotten a bit behind.
A few days after we celebrated my mother’s century birthday in grand style, I celebrated my own birthday alone in a national park. The National Park Service was born the same year my mother was. Because my mother was born, I exist. Because the NPS was born we all live and breathe.
The NPS is a national treasure. Thank you to Teddy Roosevelt who designated the first national parks, to Woodrow Wilson who signed the National Park Service into being, and to Franklin Roosevelt for the Olympic National Park. The NPS has been called America’s best idea. Amen to that.
If you’ve never visited a national park, there are 59 of them. There’s one near you. Get yourself there. I’ve been to 19, that I know of. I’m a little foggy on which “canyon” ones I might have visited as a child, and others I visited during childhood I barely know I’ve been to. It’s a drop in the bucket.
At the top of my bucket list, just above “go to Italy” (or move to Italy if a certain terrifying presidential candidate wins) is to visit all the national parks. I’m pretty sure that won’t happen, but I do plan to add to my list. I’ve been in all 50 states, which is worthless if I haven’t been to their parks.
Granted, they aren’t all the Olympic National Park, where I was on my birthday. Though all the parks are special in their own way—highlighting the diversity of America the beautiful—the ONP holds my heart.
As the daughter of a forester, I get that trees are a crop and that if we are going to keep using toilet paper and living in houses, we have to grow them and we have to cut them. But standing in the ancient enchantment of an old growth forest quite literally causes me to forget to breathe. The trees are immense, and their age is mind-boggling; they are older than my mother, older the NPS.
The destruction when they fall in the wild winter storms here on the Peninsula is staggering. Because of the NPS policy, except for clearing trails, they are left to lie where they fall, along with everything they take down with it. And their life is not over. New trees grow on top of them, spreading their roots to embrace the fallen mother, holding her close, taking nourishment from her even in death.
I’ve seen no one for over an hour and I feel deep, deep in the beating heart of the forest with only the river and the trees for company, and a host of unseen critters. As I walk, utterly alone, a grouse beats out a rhythm: happy birthday, National Park Service; happy birthday to me.
At least I think it’s a grouse. Could be a Sasquatch I suppose.
I sit on the rocky shore of the Snohomish River nursing a beer, reading a memoir about the grief of losing a mother too soon. I have my own “personal” patio at my campsite. I hear the cackling call of a bird and look up. A mother duck and her baby—no, two babies—are playing at the convergence of two forks of the river. They swim upstream then ride the rapids down.
Mama duck half flies half hops to the rocky bar in the center, her willful children don’t follow. She cackles at them and they scramble onto the rocks. She floats off the other side and they follow her, gliding into calmer water, then suddenly turn and beat a path back upstream while their mother isn’t looking.
Three more ducklings appear from the shore and she hollers for the other two, who don’t come. She leaves the three and flies just above the water’s surface to round up the rebellious twins, then turns and flies back to the triplets while the two breaststroke toward them with all their might.
Mama cackles at the disobedient ones and all six float around the bend and out of sight.
I finish my beer and return to my book, glad it’s not my problem. Not today anyway.
The next morning I drive to a hike destination and am delayed by a gaggle of lollygagging geese, some of the children on a sit down strike. I have all the time in the world. Today anyway.