Home, This Must Be the Place

 

Infinity of blue

Infinity of blue

Home – is where I want to be
but I guess I’m already there.
…if someone asks, this where I’ll be…

Talking Heads, This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)

 

When my sister asked me if I wanted to go on a Puget Sound cruise I laughed. “I live here, why would I do that?”

Two years ago Kathi and I had done an Un-Cruise Adventure to Alaska with our mom. The small-boat cruise company focused on outdoor adventures like kayaking and hiking. Kathi had some credit with the company that needed to be used soon. They had just opened some shoulder-season trips in Puget Sound going to places I knew, but also to places didn’t.

“Well, have you ever seen it by boat?” she asked.

I hadn’t. And, we had never done a sibling trip together. But I was most intrigued by the idea of taking a vacation in my own backyard. We take so much for granted in life, including the beauty around us, and the people in our lives. I agreed to go.

Sound, referring to a feature of coastlines, comes from the Middle and Old English sund, “to swim.” The word in its modern guise evokes both this water root, as well as the idea of soundings—measurements of depth, quests, or probings, downward and inward.

Home Ground: A guide to the American landscape. Barry Lopez ed.

Being that it was the first trip of the season there were boat problems. While the engineers worked to fix the ship’s generator we were shipped off by bus to hike Staircase Rapids trail, near Mount Cushman, in the Olympic National Park.

We hiked a five mile trail along the Cushman River, icy water tumbling through rapids at our side. I stopped and felt the sphagnum moss, listened to the birds. I had been to the park many times, but never to the eastern side of it. I was used to the lush, temperate rainforest of the western side and wasn’t prepared for the drier, more open forest. I was drawn to the Olympics when I first move to the Northwest with its rugged mountains. I had explored some of it, but there is so much more to see, I realized.

We ended our hike at Hama Hama Oyster Farm in Hoodsport. We were fed fresh, salty-sweet oysters, pulled minutes before from Hood Canal. Many of the guest were squeamish about eating raw oysters, as many landlubbers are. Being an adopted Northwesterner I ate them like popcorn washed down with white wine. A call came in from the boat. The generator was running and the boat would meet us at Kingston. We all cheered.

In the morning we woke to glassy water and an infinity of blue sky at the mouth of Discovery Bay, between the Miller Peninsula and the Sequim Peninsula. The Olympic Mountains were to our south and Protection Island, a national wildlife refuge, was off the bow of the boat.

We spent the day kayaking and hiking a remote trail on the mainland. As we pulled away in the afternoon it was happy hour. As I sipped my beer I watched as clouds played at the top of Mount Olympus, a peak I’ve rarely seen in 25 years living here.

Archipelago, from the medieval Italian archi, meaning “principal”, and pelagus, Greek for gulf, pool, or pond. Italian seafarers might well have known it as the medium for Odysseus’ return to Ithaca—long delayed by misfortune and enlarged by mythical island encounters.

Home Ground: A guide to the American landscape. Barry Lopez ed.

We anchored that night in Aleck Bay, Lopez Island, the southernmost of the San Juan archipelago. I had spent ten years exploring Lopez Island. I’d ridden my bike all over the island and I knew most of its walking trails and hidden beaches. But I’d never been to this rocky bay.

In the morning our hopes for snorkeling were dashed by high winds. Kathi took a skiff tour of the bay, while I sat on the top deck in the sun and watched the brutal wind, listening to the siren-song of Lopez.

That afternoon we set out after lunch for Orcas Island. The captain warned us that high winds would make it a rough ride. Motion sickness tablets were passed around and we hunkered down. That night we anchored in Eastsound, in the middle of the horseshoe that is Orcas Island.

Mount Constitution, on Orcas Island, is the highest point the San Juan archipelago. You can drive there, or you can walk, which a small group of us did. I’d been to Mt. Constitution before, but never walking. We climbed for four miles, through an old-growth forest. From the top you can see forever. Well, a Puget Sound forever anyway. All of the San Juan Islands were below us, the mainland to the left, and the depth of Puget Sound in front of us.

That evening the captain took the boat north, around Orcas Island, to the northernmost island in the archipelago—Sucia.

“Why do they call it Sucia,” Ale, the Colombian-Australian asked. “In Spanish sucia means dirty.” I raced to look it up in the Washington Place Names dictionary. Apparently our Mexican-Spanish explorer friends referred to this island as sucia because of the rocky shoals that surround it.

Sucia looks like an atoll. It has a horseshoe shape with a protected harbor. It is the northernmost island in the archipelago. Population four. Recently a dinosaur bone was found here, the first in the entire state. It was the bone of a ferocious creature known as a theropod (think T. Rex). No one knows where I came from as dinosaurs never live around here.

The wind was blowing strong again as I headed out solo in a double kayak into Sucia bay. Paddling with the wind, towards the shore, was easy, but I had an unsure feeling about paddling back. I tried to turn the boat around but the wind caught the bow and I can’t change direction. I snuck into a protected cover and tried to get the boat turned around. I managed to point the kayak in the right direction and kept going toward the boat. About halfway back to the boat, the skiff, motored by the handsome Second Mate, pulled up to me. “Are you having fun?” he shouted, “or do you want a ride back?” Yes, a ride back, please.

That afternoon we headed south arriving at Deception Pass, at the north end of Whidbey Island, at dusk. Deception Pass is not a mountain pass, but a pass between Whidbey Island and the mainland that was, as Captain Vancouver put it, deceptive. That night the boat made it through effortlessly, passing under the bridge that I’ve driven over many times.

The next day we motored the inside passage between Whidbey and the mainland. The water was calm.

“Whale!” a guide shouted over the loudspeaker. We all rushed to the top deck. At a distance we could see the plume, and the occasional breach, of what we were told was a Gray Whale. We had been hoping to see Orcas the entire trip. Some of us did. But most of us were disappointed. But the Gray Whale has only recently been coming back into Puget Sound, we were told. Apparently this was kind of a rare sighting. A sign that Puget Sound was again a viable ecosystem, open to diverse species. These whales were a harbinger, a sign of something wilder to come.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

T.S.Eliot

As we made our way back to Seattle that evening I began to see familiar peaks in the Olympic Range, I was getting closer to home. Mt. Constance and the Brothers were peaks I could see from my home. They were beautiful always, but tonight heartbreakingly so. As I’d traveled in these waters, like Odysseus on his way home, I had fallen in love with it all over again. I remembered why I live here. And I felt lucky, and blessed, to be able to share it all with my sister.

We take life for granted, and occasionally we need to be reminded of the people, and the beauty, around us.

Eastsound, Orcas Island

Eastsound, Orcas Island

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