Recently I made a trip down to Vancouver to see my Mom. I’ve been making this trip frequently and decided to take the long way this time. If I drive directly down the freeway it’s 230 miles and about 4 hours without traffic. This time, accompanied with my 15 pound companion, Pete, I headed to the ferry at Coupeville and would make the trip down the peninsula. Instead of the usual 4 hours I took two days and 575 miles to complete the journey.
Arriving late for ferry reservation I have a an extra two hours to kill at Fort Casey. Pete is ecstatic. Beach and trails abound. This was one of my favorite parks when I was a kid. If given a choice where to go on on a sunny weekend when I was 10 I would choose Fort Casey every time. Pete is of the same bent and we enjoy the mild weather on this Saturday afternoon. Pete gets in a swim and then we walk through the forest up to fort. Fall is is impatiently waiting at the doorstep, the colors evident but the mild temperature and calm air seems more like summer. It is a quiet kind of day.
I am not bent of taking photographs, but I will over the next two days. Sometime I simply can not help myself.
After the ferry ride we head for Port Angeles, a town I have always enjoyed. There is a certain grit to this town that sits on the shoulder of the strait. It’s a town that can’t decide if it was pushed up from the sea or shoved off the top of the mountain. It feels like home. After a few stops we make our way out to the hook for evening light. Again, it is calm and I am a bit clumsy with my camera. I feel rusty.
We continue with only some kind of ratio of west and south as a direction. We end up at Rialto beach north of La Push. It’s just after 9pm and the nearly full moon illuminates the beach so Pete and I decide an evening walk up beach is in order. Pete is sure of himself but I keep him on the leash. I enjoy his easy going temperament. The ocean crashes beside us as moonlight dances across the wavetops. It’s a little early for stopping for the night so we decide to drive around the other side of the Quillayute river to La Push proper.
The reservation always feels a little funny to me, like a military base without fences or a guardhouse. The reservations is like an odd type of chemotherapy treatment for the cancer of expansion and what some mistakenly consider as progress.
I pull into the marina parking lot, as I am accustomed to do in most any town that has them. I study the boats, tied up to their lines, their stories. We wait long enough for a fish boat that enters the harbor, making it’s way to a slip. Pete sleeps on my lap in calm quiet of the night. It’s after 10 and I can feel the boat’s and it’s tethers. It’s skipper, tired, makes fast and goes through his routine. This gets turned off, this gets left on, this gets shut, this gets left open. He walks up the dock and starts his truck and lets it warm up. I wait for him to leave so I can experience this arrival to its finish. He leaves. I hold Pete’s sleeping head, start the van and leave. My arrive in La Push is at an end.
We continue to the highway until running across a state campground along the Bogachiel river. It’s quiet and sparsely occupied. Pete and I decide this will be our spot for evening. Though the day I have been listening to the master cut of James Harper’s new album. The music resonates with me. It’s presence creates an equilibrium between the other worldly sense of now and the thoughts from what sometimes feels like my drunk monkey mind that so often prefers rolling in the past. The album reminds my of the contemplative riffs from the soundtrack of Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man. Pete and slumber off off to sleep as Neil Young cascades across his fretboard in my mind.
It’s not too cold but Pete decide he wants in the sleeping bag. This little 15 pound west highland terrier sleeps with the same abandon that my boys did when they little. There is no greater gift than cradling a being while they drift in the sea of the subconscious. We sleep until 8am. The morning is foggy and Pete and I repack and depart.
I was only spending one evening out so I decided not to bother with packing my camping kitchen. I now regret this decision, miles from nowhere and I am without hot coffee. I don’t eat breakfast but coffee is sorrily missed. I look forward to getting to the next town and finding a coffee shop.
We head down the highway until I make an impulsive turn onto the Hoh Mainline road. I’ve never traveled this road. It winds through miles of DNR land in various states of undress until you get about as far as you can from the highway and then you will find the Olympic Corrections Center. As I slowly drive past the compound I can see men walking the yard in the damp foggy morning. The only thing that separates us is a fence. The incarceration industry is alive and well in the Hoh rainforest.
I do not linger, and beside a brief stop at the high bridge over Snahapish river we make our way back to the highway. I bid this Orwellian detour farewell and continue my search for coffee. We stay on 101 until a turn towards Moclips to get us back to the ocean. Soon we enter Pacific Beach and ultimately the Surf House Coffee shop. The cafe smells of good coffee and I order a Venti with an extra shot so the barista doesn’t have burn that forth shot. He gives it to me but says his machine can pull singles and we start a discussion about coffee. I’ve been roasting my own coffee for years but really don’t know much about the larger coffee serving industry. I chuckle to myself thinking 30 years ago the only decisions for coffee drinking was cream and or sugar. After we exhaust the topic of oxidation and crema it’s time to continue on. Pete waits anxiously, not caring about my cup of coffee, but where’s the beach.
Down the street is beach access and great access it is. Just enough of a barrier between the beach and the city streets and the highway is far off. A river to the south and an open expanse to the north. The beach was sparsely populated so without hesitation Pete was leash free and off and running. What joy Pete gets from running on the beach, in and out of the surf, digging in sand, and his favorite thing is sneaking up on unsuspecting kelp and tearing it to bits. After a good romp we have to find a working hose spigot and have an impromptu bath before he’s allowed back into the van.
I like Pacific Beach and it’s little community. Once back on the highway we cross Joe Creek and shortly find ourselves driving through Seabrook. If there a place to be rolled up and tossed in the sea it would be this place. It’s the regurgitation of a developers boardroom pitch onto the coastal landscape. It stinks of pretension. A town of suckers and their investments. I do not hesitate in the place. Neil Young’s guitar drones on and Gary Farmer wryly smiles at me in my head. We continue.
I care not to venture into Ocean Shores and we turn for Hoquiam and Aberdeen. I’ve always like these two towns, though rougher than Port Angeles. We spend some time driving through its neighborhoods. I can see effort being made, fresh paint, new siding, outright remodels. This community is gasping for a breath, and not the kind from the likes of Seabrook. We stop for a second tank of fuel for this two day journey.
We continue around Grays Harbor to Westport. I like Westport and have a certain connection with the area. My father bought a charter boat here when I was a kid, one that he eventually brought to Anacortes and ran divers to the San Juans out of Skyline marina. Forty years later I would find myself working on deck on a charter boat running divers in the San Juans. An experience I value highly.
My high school friend Lars worked on deck and later skippered a charter boat out of Westport. He tried to convince me to come down for a season to work in the charter fleet, I wished I would have. I love boats, especially work boats.
Pete and I drive through town, I think he remembers this place and he begins to whine for the beach. We head to the park at the south jetty for a walk. The lot is nearly full of vans and empty roof racks. The atmosphere is pleasant and the beach is populated with happy surfers. There is too many people and other dogs on the beach to let Pete off, he has a tendency to want to make new friends, even if they are a quarter mile away.
We wander up and down to waters edge. I screw on a 7 stop neutral density filter so can I shoot into the sun with a wide aperture. The lens hates me for this, the camera hates me, the auto focus groans at me as I coax toy camera and plastic lens images out of pedigreed piece of equipment. The surfers drift to the south and I follow keeping them backlit as they ride. The vantage and the focal length yield a Giacometti-esque scene of solitariness among an expansive beach, large waves and a giant sky. They were alone in their environment, even if in groups. Eyeing opportunity, I was envious. Pete could care less.
We had a snack and not wanting to linger too long we continued. The drive takes us south around the inside of Willapa Bay to Raymond. A working town of boats and chainsaws. We’re back on 101 and heading for Ilwaco. I would like to make it there before sunset. I get distracted by a matchstick forest but my camera is still angry with me from how I treated it at Westport. As we get further south down the highway Long Island becomes backlit against the bay and I stopped at boat ramp to collect the scene. It’s a worthy stop, though probably the nail in the coffin for arriving in Ilwaco before the sunset.
We round the southern end of Willapa Bay and head west. Hitting the junction between Seaview and Holman we find some beach access. The sun was setting and Pete and I head for the water’s edge. I record a quick video to send to my son who is studying in Kyoto. Slivers of orange gently lay on wisps of clouds at the horizon and I tell my son the only thing between him and I is this bit of ocean. As the sun sets for Pete and I, it is preparing to rise in Japan. I miss my son and admire his adventure.
As the planet continue to spin us away from the sun we head to Ilwaco proper and the marina. It is nice to find a row of businesses along the marina’s edge, thriving. We drive around the other side next to the boat lift and take a look toward Cape Disappointment. Our time here is done and we make way for the Astoria bridge. There is little light left and I find a vantage looking out towards the river’s mouth at Chinook point. The tripod and long exposures extract the scene, albeit delicate. I photograph beyond what our eyes can see or brain’s decipher. I make these photographs not for the brain, but for the mind. I extract the sweetness of life from the honeycomb of experiences. Passersby most likely think I’m a nut job taking pictures in the dark. Maybe I am.
We cross the bridge at Astoria. Our westward journey is over and the day is done. Time to turn east and let the planet’s rising tide take us toward sunrise.