Here is something I wrote in January 2003. I always have urges to head south of the border this time of year…
I had a rendezvous with a tropical, sunlit beach that I had to let go. Instead, I am here on the western rim of the Olympic Peninsula; where the Pacific surf pounds at La Push. Expecting rain, or at least heavy clouds dragging across tall conifers; I am stunned by this clear blue February sky. The sun shines so brightly on the water that it hurts my eyes. I believe I can find the solitude and inspiration that drove me here. Walking beaches has long been my solace.
Eagerly I make my way over the jumbled array of giant downed trees dashed against the shore. Gingerly I jump log to log. The tide is high, with very little beach exposed, and yet I need to walk. Pausing at the water’s edge, I wait and watch the sets of waves and eye a tree trunk that juts into the surf. The tide recedes. I race around the log before the powerful rush returns. The brute force of crashing waves roils and roll nearby giant tree trunks. La Push is an Indian reservation. I remember the Quileute story about high tide being caused by the “kelp-haired, child snatcher from the sea”. I lose my nerve.
Back up the beach I retreat to the strewn, stable logs of the high-tide mark. There are old, gray weathered trunks and wet, raw ones. Bright red catches my eye as I climb around one. The color is bright red. Cedar? No, a portion of the bark remains; the texture lacks the long flaking strips along vertical grooves. What tree could be so red? It’s a red alder! The bark has been scraped off, bleeding pigment into the wood. I pause; so this is the dye that comes from Alder.
Stepping back from the water’s edge, I take in the surroundings. The view to the south includes new luxury cabins built to remind us of ancient longhouses, with lean-to rooftops. Beyond the settlement, the crescent of beach gives way to rocks, rising to cliffs. The surf throws itself at these rocks, and crashes back to the sea. Further south stand jagged remains of sea stacks, reminders of the sea’s power.
The northern edge of the beach abruptly stops at a heavy rock jetty that shields the Bogachiel River. Past here the town of La Push is gathered along the mouth of the river. (The name La Push is a variation of the French “la bouche” ) Directly across from the Bougachiel stands James Island, a fist of rock with sharp conifers silhouetted against the sky. This is the fortress where the people retreated when the Nuu cha nulth (Nooka) of Vancouver Island came raiding. This is the place where they buried their chiefs. Now it is attached to the shore by a necklace of power-lines highlighted by orange balls.
Hours later, I return to the shore as the sun sets. I stand where I can see it slip into the Pacific beside the island. The orange disc expands and flattens as it reaches the sea. Minutes stretch as the sun pauses before sinking into its own wake of fire on the water. Together they slide below the horizon. The colors that follow are suffused with golden light; above is the palest green, while many shades of salmon streak the western sky. In the silence that follows, I feel calmness settling my busy mind.
Then I realize the quiet I sense is full of sound. A distant fog horn blows in the stillness between the pounding of shore breaks. That pounding will be my soothing companion as I drift in and out of sleep throughout the night. Perhaps tomorrow the coast might be shrouded in fog, but for now, all is golden clear on First Beach.
. Pausing at the water’s edge, I wait and watch the sets of waves and eye a tree trunk that juts into the surf. The tide recedes. I race around the log before the powerful rush returns. The brute force of crashing waves roils and rolls nearby giant tree trunks. La Push is an Indian reservation. I remember the Quileute story about high tide being caused by the “kelp-haired, child snatcher from the sea”. I lose my nerve.
low tide and walking the beach, reflecting
questions about direction…thoughts drifting
the thunder of waves crashing and bringing me to the present
examining one wave as it moves, watching how it begins to crest and how the offshore breeze flings the crest back until it billows bright white against the translucent green of the wave curling and tumbling headlong foaming