The boys were playing in a cubbyhole of interesting driftwood where a trickling creek braided into algebraic, labyrinth channels through still-wet sand of ebbtide. The beach was wide as a football field so we didn’t worry about them too much and their mother and I walked ahead for quite some time talking but finally she wanted to stop, to find a piece of her own driftwood to relax against and finish a stubborn novel. Despite feeling a tad woozy from a mild virus earlier in the week, I continued because the lure of the Hoh River three miles to the north was strong, nothing sounded more intriguing than to admire the river up close, marvel at the blue-green glacier water spilling into the Pacific.
The walking was remarkably pleasant on firm sand at surf’s edge. Sometimes, in the pursuit of exploring those jumbled stacks of driftwood for hidden treasure, I’d climb steep banks of cobbles which formed a bench below the hundred foot-high forest bluffs. There was no one else around (some sort of feat hereabouts for a holiday weekend) until the mouth of the river, where a posse of lazing sea lions, perhaps seventy to a hundred feet offshore, studied a leathery net fisherman hard at work. Five bored-looking bloodhounds guarding buckets higher up on the beach bounded over to me with wagging tails and sloppy sweet kisses for my hands. The fisherman smiled from the waist-high surf, he was working hard, I continued politely on my way choosing not to tarry long as usual at the splendid confluence of river and ocean, so good did it feel engaging the walking feet.
Later, upon my return south, the boys and I played Driftwood Ball utilizing a perfectly round piece of driftwood and little orange rubber ball (mistaken at first for an impossibly-adrift baby tomato) found in detritus. Other wanderings lead us south of Abbey Island to additional quiet places (caves, eagles) away from the hubbub where tannin-rich Cedar Creek empties to stunning nearshore rock formations which understandably serve as people magnets.
Along with sea glass, we discovered a long-lost, sturdy camera blanketed in kelp and connoisseurs of found objects that we are, this was a delightful find. The body was mostly well-preserved plastic but rust seeped out the guts of the thing, the LCD screen on the back was a shattered spider web and the aperture was stuck half open like a tired eye. Adam has fingers like a Swiss army knife, he pried a crusty hatch open revealing a surprisingly well-preserved memory card (the battery was gone, polluted into the ocean). We pondered the stories which may be contained inside while feeling wistful for whomever lost this photographic record. Adam is youthfully optimistic about the stories but it’s highly doubtful the card is readable, anymore. Probably it’ll end up the story itself, perched upon the shelf with our sand dollars, plastic mermaids, rusty screws, and bobbers.
Coastal indigenous peoples used the air bladders (pneumatocysts) from kelp such as the one you see above for dolls and also fashioned fishing line out of the stipes (the long tube-like structure connected to the bladder). Oftentimes, the boys and I enjoy playfully spinning ourselves about with one of these not unlike a human-helicopter rotor so as to clobber anyone within a nearby radius with the soggiest, putridest pile of sand fleas, brine and goopiness that you can imagine. I’m all too proud passing old-fashioned foolishness down to the younger generation.
In the northeast part of the range on Saturday, Oliver Fern and I descended into the canyon through which the Graywolf flows, far too early for the Rhododendron show yet the oft-gnarled, skeletal form of the wild rhodie holds its own charm for the connoisseur. Altogether with side-trips we journeyed seven miles, enjoying a long lunch at the river. Oliver whittled a branch into an arrow, blanketing himself with fragrant curlicues. We explored downstream on the other side of the river until it got too dangerous for him, the disused path is carpeted with fine grasses of the understory but traverses a vertiginously steep slope which crumbles away in places, far down into the river.
One day after school earlier this week a stressed but unpanicked August urgently summoned Oliver and I to stay with young Selestino because she needed to be at the hospital after overdoing it (tearing) and she took the baby with her, in a cab. Selestino’s father, Ernesto, got stuck down south all morning getting his documents updated, having wanted to get this off the to-do list for some time, for fear of that certain xenophobic mania. Doggone it, he hung around for the rest of the day and got sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America! Part of me wanted to be delirious when he walked in the door as I’m a sentimental fool but pardon the dampened enthusiasm seeming as how the country is swirling down the drain a bit, of late. Misty relief, certainly. Ernesto, who left Lima at seventeen and also holds Italian citizenship (his grandfather) brought Selestino across the street to our place before dinner, I called upon him regarding an urgent matter as I felt a little sheepish not taking him up on that drink back at his house (no boozing until all the kids are off the bus) and so I poured us something potent, probably only the second time I’ve imbibed this year and it was good. We chatted on the back porch while the boys guided Selestino through the rusty toy truck graveyard. Forgot but should’ve told Ernesto about this winter when the boys, their mother and I waited in a dreadfully long line at the State Department. We turned around and saw Donald Trump’s portrait on the wall and the boys burst out laughing so hard I thought they were gonna pee their pants.
postscript: For what it’s worth, in the case of my beloved neighbors I’ve utilized pseudonyms. So if for some reason you found the name “Selestino” to not seem believable, your hunch was right.
Last summer is when I took this, we were getting ready for a walk back to the trailhead several miles through cool, upland forest, having spent the entire day on the beach. My original goal here was comic relief- pictures of the boys’ mother climbing over the labyrinth of driftwood which required various crazy gymnastic maneuvers and as she’s a bit uncoordinated, three feet tall and carries a rope ladder everywhere she goes, it was gonna be pretty good but then I was distracted by the beauty of layers here, the sea stack concealed as it were by vine maple (some ferns and maybe alder, too) and fog and also I had to dodge mysterious rocks hurtling my way, out of the veil.
But on a serious note, that pile of driftwood really was formidable. Which means the boys loved it. This was a fascinating day on the coast in that the fog seemed on the verge of burning off at any moment yet the most tantalizingly thin curtain held for eight or nine hours, right up to the very end. We certainly didn’t mind the air conditioning for it was a brutally hot, dry month back in the city (furthermore, the fog is wonderful for photography). Speaking of which, it’s quite a warm weekend for Seattle. Adam has a baseball game and the boys’ mother could use some kind of break from foolishness so Oliver Fern and I will catch the boat right after school, maybe you’ll find us in the woods dipping our toes in a cold mountain stream.
After we had been walking for a couple hours, the sagebrush was getting taller and the views broader. Riparian lushness of those Yakima and Umtanum Canyons below transformed higher up into the arid watercolor of springtime steppe but the going grew far steeper until even the sagebrush petered out, the wind was gusting so we buttoned back up and then we were climbing through wavy, flaxen bunchgrass and finally we stumbled onto a high plateau with distant views to all points of the compass and it felt eons from civilization though paradoxically it became less difficult to visualize recruits pumping dollars per bullets into berms at the Yakima Firing Range. We walked west for a time on primitive road for what appeared to be the final rise to the highest of ho-hum highs. So what’s more, imagine the horror at that distant rumbling, columnar cyclone of dust as the local gang of fifty bouncing, revving dirt bike motorcyclers headed in our direction, on the verge of overtaking us to Highpoint City.
We stepped off that rugged two-track which follows the crest of Umtanum Ridge for miles, one-by-one the motorcycles rumbled past like a funeral procession (rest in peace, quiet). Buzz cuts, camouflage-trimmed sportswear and concealed firearms, many of the riders eyed us with such disdain did I momentarily consider tying up that long, tattered Saturday hair underneath my cap so as to appear less unkempt, socialist, animal-loving or whatever but gee as Grandpa himself inexplicably packs heat for protection from, er, the rest of the gun-toting crazies, I decided there had to be one amiable soul in the bunch and sure enough a half dozen wheels before the back of the menacing train, a stubby, happier fellow, returning our wave with such an exaggerated Mickey Mouse salute as to leave us chuckling, set our hearts to less sinking but our legs continued churning because now you’ll have to imagine Adam and I veering off the two-track on motorcycle feet, determinedly cutting through grass in the quest to reach the burned-out fire lookout before the gang of noisy motorcycles attained the holy grail.
Being that he’s in the fifth grade, Adam’s more firmly in charge of such lunchroom-and-recess nonsense, I told him leave me behind for the vultures and good luck with those guys (or something like that). A hundred dusty feet later I found him at the top of the rise with a grin on his face, standing on the highest point anywhere for a million miles around and furthermore, miracle layered-upon-miracles, the motorcycle guys had vanished! Delicate birdsong replaced the ringing in our ears. On the south side of the windswept knoll was a spur track dropping off the side of the ridge into who-the-heck-knows-where (the binoculars could not reach) and so after the dust settled we relaxed at the prize USGS marker and ate lunch. Two snowy volcanoes on the horizons! A rusty old spark plug in the trash pit was dedicated to Adam because if only you could have seen him dashing through ticks on Heartbreak Hill! Nearby, a very dead coyote lay at the base of the rickety earthquake early monitoring antennae which truth be told would’ve looked at home atop Grandma and Grandpa’s trailer. Billions of broken, tiny shards of beer bottle glass glittered the ground around us. Good old boys know how to get transcendental. Scenic clouds drifted over the snowy Stuart Range, to the north.
postscript: The boys’ mother has been in the real desert (saguaro cacti and everything), this week. When the cat’s away the mice will watch baseball during dinner, not take baths and what’smore tuck themselves into bed at night with giant books that take a long time to read. This morning as Oliver and I hurried into the schoolyard before the final bell he opined wouldn’t it be a rather funny thing if instead of zits, people got barnacles? That doesn’t really have something to do with anything. On a less unrelated note, in case you’re wondering, that’s a different spool of rusty barbed wire. Didn’t want to leave the impression I went around the steppe posing barbed wire on every dilapidated fencepost to be found. Oh, don’t get me wrong…..occasionally I’ll take artistic license in the rearranging of a leaf or two. Splash some water on scenic, bank-side cobbles. Shoo a pesky fly out of the flowers……