Wild Pacific Northwest Coast
I wake, realizing that if I slept next to the ocean every night, perhaps I'd be far calmer. All night the surf thunders, booming its curling weight down on the ocean floor, then washing through me, decimating frozen thought patterns. Then it sucks everything out with the mighty pull of my sister moon. With her comforting whisper, she draws out every sin, every worry, the concerning gossip, each embarrassing foible. She finds and flushes even my carefully concealed cavities. I wake cleansed. The morning is a new beginning.
I have slept well and am running late for a Park Ranger Program on Beach 4. I set up fire for coffee on a bluff above the sleeping campground. Morning's rosy light creeps into the glassy silver tidal pools on the beach below, tinges the billowy white clouds hugging the horizon, casts rainbows in the ocean spray.
I am quietly conversing with the ranger when two others approach. We laugh when we meet and agree that there was something familiar about our relationship even before we met 770 miles ago on the trail along Two Medicine Lake at Glacier National Park. We do not know then that we will have another chance encounter soon, but it would not surprise any of us.
The splendor of life in the intertidal pools surrounding the sea stacks floors me. I touch the clonal sea anemones. They are sticky and feathery and beautiful, in orange, red, yellow and green hues. I fall head over heels for the thick, fat sea stars in their glorious rich colors and cringe when I see those afflicted with the wasting disease. There is so much we simply don't know about life. About diseases. About dying. About species extinction. In the parking lot as I am leaving I hear a couple whining to our hapless Ranger. "Why can't we take our dogs to the beach?" For God's sake, can't we save marine life on any beaches? What is wrong with people that they need the constant companionship of a pet? Holes to fill, I mutter to myself. We are a deficient species. Maybe that's the overarching reason we're going down. In a very real way, our consumer demands are destroying the very air we breathe. But maybe there doesn't even need to be a reason for a species to wink out.
I decide to visit Third Beach. Surprisingly, it is over an hour's drive from Beach 4. The names of the beaches on the Olympic Peninsula make little sense, even considering the vantage point of the Navy operations when they were named. The southernmost beaches in the Olympic National Park running from south to north are Beaches One through Four and then Ruby Beach, named for its ruby crystalline sand. Traveling north, crossing the Hoh River and turning beachward from the town of Forks, I take La Push Road out to First Beach, before stopping for a cold can of beer from a store on the Quileute Indian Reservation to stuff in my backpack, and heading south to the parking lot for the wilderness trail to Third Beach.
Third Beach is wild, with strong cross currents running between magnificent sea stacks. It is fairly empty. Just a few backpackers drying out damp tents on black jagged rocks among giant whitewashed logs that have crashed against the shoreline. It feels mythical. The seaweed strewn upon the shore glimmers like jewels.
I am three weeks into a car camping trip and feel fantastic. I have not eaten any processed food at all and I have not eaten out. I usually have oatmeal with granola in the morning, fresh fruit from a farmer if I can find it or nuts and dried fruit as a snack in the afternoon and an organic vegetable dish (Tasty Bites or Maya Kaimal) in the evening from pouches I have packed. But today I follow my mantra "everything in moderation," with the emphasis on "everything" and the advice from a Ranger at the Kalaloch District Station to try the fish and chips in La Push. I only had time for coffee for breakfast and want to patronize the tribe there anyway. Thankfully, they too are concerned about COVID and offer outdoor dining. The meal is enough for three, but I polish it off and it is wonderful. Between bites, I dismiss a complaining German woman who doesn't understand why the local tribes don't have more gift shops. They'd make a killing in Europe.
Afterward, I follow the hand painted sign I'd seen earlier for smoked salmon, winding my way through a somewhat impoverished suburban neighborhood. The Quileute Indians have been relying on the salmon run here for centuries and run a spring fed hatchery, The Lonesome Creek Hatchery for raising salmon and steelhead and releasing them into the nearby creeks and rivers. Far from dissuading me, I found the architecture of the smoke house alluring. When I get home I will find that this smoked salmon is by far the best I have ever tasted.