The eastern shore of Hood Canal on a beach speckled with Pacific oysters is a good place to spend a Sunday afternoon, the Olympic Mountains loomed a mile away to the west. By evening, incoming tide forced a gradual retreat from the boys’ fort in the tangled branches of a fallen madrone and so we moved to the mouth of Boyce Creek where they played for some time. Unbeknownst to me, Adam would smuggle home several pounds of empty oyster shells in his backpack, I discovered them last night after the smell began leaching out very slowly like a faulty nuclear reactor. The odor: It was more offensive than if you imagine Sasquatch is real and has a problem dribbling pee on himself (the shagginess and whatnot) and the whole matted, knotty uriney mess is fouled by his own rotten saliva (having recently savored left-over entrails of a diseased cougar) after an unsuccessful spit bath on himself for the purposes of disentangling a chaotic chunk of crusty braids. Adam is harboring artisanal notions of barnacle-encrusted oyster shell jewelry and he explained to me how the fluted shells could hold photographs and precious stones although the wearer of such rather large pieces may contend with attacks from aggressive gulls.
Before setting out for the trailhead (on a hill high above) at sunset, at our urging Adam abandoned the wayward oyster trap you see him wearing here after it swung around for the umpteenth time and smacked him in the kisser (he kept forgetting he was wearing a trap when stooping down for interesting rocks and shells). It was an unwieldy beast which I found earlier but bequeathed back to mother nature in order to avoid contracting Mad Shellfish Disease (just wasn’t in the mood for gross briny stuff). As a consolation prize, Adam kept the floats……
A bit more terrestrially-speaking: Slipping into Elliott Bay Bookstore on Saturday afternoon for just a spell before an engagement, Adam and I hoped to find some sort of reference for the flight simulation program we’ve started working with but we came up empty. I did leave with a copy of Paula Becker’s Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I. We shortcut across Cal Anderson Park, observing scruffy, radical skateboarders on the tennis courts taking meticulously choreographed iPhone videos of each other in various stunts whereafter we cut a diagonal course for 15th Avenue East and I dropped Adam off for a friend’s birthday party. On the trudge home, I stopped at fancy Ada’s Technical Books which feels as sterile to me as the day it opened but nevertheless has become a popular gathering place for millennials and their laptops.
Finally, if you will allow me to vent insectorial matters of recent frustration: I stopped counting ladybugs into the bug-collecting jar the other day at number 27, all in one south-facing bedroom window. Egads! At night most of them tuck into the cracks of our drafty double-hung windows for bedtime and dream about springtime buffets of aphids but there’s always at least one renegade who gets overly excited after my reading lamp has been on for a spell, occasionally pinging me in the side of the head while twirling in small circles like a Dutch swing and extremely beneficial critters though they may be- our guests have sort of turned into the lazy couch surfer friend who leaves gobs of peanut butter in the jam jar and takes half-hour showers. One morning, I slid out of bed and noticed I’d fallen asleep on a ladybug and a moment later it slow-crawled away and when I came back it was perched on the bed post like it wanted to get my attention and I felt a little like Horton the elephant and transported the little speck but I can’t do that for all of ’em……..
This coastal image comes several hundred miles to the south from a little town on the Oregon coast we like to visit a couple times annually, usually in the wintertime and early spring. We often splurge and rent the same place right on the beach so if bad weather beats us back we can press our noses to the windows and shiver in triumph at the rain. In order to find some peace and quiet from all the Portland day-trippers, it will necessarily behoove one to sneak off and I’ll admit that daring adventures have taken place in the gap at the toe of the distant headland, over the years. However, typically it is necessary to go up-and-over and one must take care to not slip in elk dung on the way down.
Adam and I explored for miles to this point, crossing four distinct beaches, a swift creek, the lush evergreen headland where false lily of the valley was probably invented and then some tide pools to finally arrive at a colorful-but-foul purplish kaleidoscope of slime and moosh: Velella velella (by-the-wind sailors). Several days prior, Oliver Fern had an apoplectic fit the first time he inadvertently stepped into a mushy pile of this jellyfish-like creature while barefoot. It’s distinctly possible this particular unusually massive die-off of Velella had something to do with the warm blob of water that was parked stubbornly off the Pacific coast at the time. Lord knows, there has been plenty of depressing weirdness going on in the oceans these days. Continued, very close monitoring of our world waterways is more critical than ever if we have any chance of figuring our asses out from our elbows (before the entire food chain collapses would be a good goal) which is why I grieve moreso everyday at the cavalier charlatan standing at the helm of the United States along with his various superrich oligarch appointees, collectively stunningly belligerent to good science or environmental stewardship that extends beyond useless, corporate day-of-caring sort of baloney. If I were a fish, I would head for the bottom (evoluting into something bizarre such as with a little lantern perched on my forehead, no doubt) and just stay there with the tube worms.
In other more polite news: Seattle was blanketed with snow earlier this week. Snow Day!!!! Er, for some of us: The boys’ mother dusted off her snow boots, backpack and trekked to the train station in the dark of early morn. Adam and Oliver Fern slept in: Upon waking and blinking with shock at the storybook whiteness outside they bull-rushed their way past me to the closet for snow pants, gloves, balaclavas, scarves, hooded parkas……. they seemed to think we were venturing out onto the icy Pole in search of The Thing so I had to start ’em over. The morning was delicate and a bit tricky- little brother was recovering from pneumonia. I was relieved after a half dozen trips up and down our hill (one of the steepest streets in the city) for sledding- all that slippery trudging lowered his enthusiasm a few notches. We chucked a few snowballs and he was ready for hot cocoa. It’s true he occasionally soured and grimaced askance at the picture window in the living room when he caught glimpses of Adam zooming down into the valley but for the most part we were cozy and happy to be inside.
After sledding on his own for an hour, Adam picked up the fellytone and called his pal down the street who had enough of his big sisters and brought a few friends with him up the hill and I was shocked at how fast the kids were negotiating the hill. I made Adam put on a bike helmet. He and his posse of fellow bespectacled nerdy nine year olds got chilled and they disappeared to the warmth of someone’s house in Montlake for the rest of the day. He would resurface in the evening. Oliver and I had ventured out for a walk to check on the neighborhood when Adam appeared out of the fog like a ghostly apparition, albeit one with the unmistakable glaze of tired satisfaction- along with pizza sauce, cookie crumbs and God knows-what-other junk food consumed in ridiculous quantities- plastered across his face.
postscript: I’m retroactively publishing this tepid commentary about oceanic crisis and unsafe urban sledding, only patches of snow remain. We’re reeling a little. The night of the snow day was our last walk with Lucy the pug. Born fourteen years ago in St. Helens, Oregon, she died this week very unexpectedly. Lucy was one of the sweetest, friendliest dogs you could ever hope to meet. I’ll look forward to sharing a little ditty about her later when it becomes easier to focus on wonderful memories instead of the horrible empty space. In the meantime, Adam won’t let me wash her filthy, stained quilt. All of us have always groaned about how disgusting it is there in the living room for anyone to see, God forbid you would touch it by accident and contract Pug Leprosy. Now Adam’s using it as a sort of throw on his bed for nighttime. This morning, a severely mentally-ill homeless fellow with a reddish beard and battered, white construction helmet stood in our driveway for ten minutes profanely telling the world off……fuck this, fuck that, fuck everything. I even heard him tell Donald Trump to fuck off (he wasn’t completely out of his mind, then). Whenever I witness someone so profoundly disturbed, I can’t help thinking about what their life was like when they were five, ten or fifteen years old and I just weep inside. And this is the thing I dislike about snow days: That temporary, very sober period which follows when the snow melts and everything suddenly loses its brightness.
Last Saturday, the exploding surf was as high on the beach at Rialto as I’ve had a chance to see in some time and the obstacle course of tangled, skeletal driftwood was getting more and more complicated for Oliver Fern’s short legs and it was getting close to lunchtime so we decided to stop for a couple hours to admire the hissing and rumbling and let the boys’ imagination run wild amidst nooks and crannies. We were on a gravel, forested bench- scattered, gnarled spruce and fir around us with a most excellent view of the surf and yet it was higher ground with mini bus-sized driftwood piled up in front of us that hadn’t gone anyplace for awhile so we had a reassuring bulkhead. Still, every few minutes: Cold, wet lightning struck in the form of biggie waves splashing over our barrier and we collectively flinched and shuddered and nervously laughed. The boys’ mother and I reminded them over and over: Stay vigilant, stay alert…. be wary of the surf. Never keep your back turned for too long. Get away fast if you see anything bigger than yourself getting washed ashore. Know where your exit is. Keep an eye out for sea glass.
So I was thoroughly thunderstruck after getting blindsided by icy surf while standing higher than I am tall, atop an enormous cedar which constituted the superior portion of our bulkhead. Absorbed with the breathtakingness in my viewfinder (James Island, plus I was trying to position an infuriatingly uncooperative gull in a better spot for my frame) little old me got walloped and the bird watched me take momentary leave of common sense: Leaping into the air like a worn-out salmon desperate for a final homecoming (run for the trees) so far did I fall it felt like sky-diving except for landing flat on my face in a gruel of rolling, miniature cobbles and splintered branches which absorbed much of the impact (along with the salty backwash).
The boys stood transfixed as if they’d just witnessed the Goodyear blimp executing a landing on the beach. I moaned and dragged myself to our gravel bench, lay completely still on my back for a spell and delicately reviewed the important pain centers of the body to gauge short-term consequences. Miraculously, other than the nasty jolt of a landing and the vicious knot in my upper back that lasted for several hours, I was spared damage to either wreckage of my shoulders. The contusion on my knee was the least of my concerns.
My boys are such sweethearts, it took comedic theatrics but they helped me overcome the stark gloominess I felt at my carelessness: Acting out a variety of hilarious, faux injurious falls they forced me to laugh at myself but what made me feel that not all had been lost was the stern lecture I received from the boys about following my own gosh darn advice. After cheering me up, they went back to playing on the gravel bench with their mother while I shambled away for a circuitous trek to the trailhead for a desperately-needed change of clothes. After all that backtracking but mostly because of the madness of pulling off wet, heavy jeans and underwear in the front seat of our station wagon like a wounded sea lion with its flippers tied behind its back, I was chastened for the rest of the day. By the way, in case you’re wondering- the camera emerged unscathed in the fall except for wetness and some scrapes on the lens body (glass okay).
Later in the day, the surf finally began the imperceptible withdrawing for evening tide and so big brother ventured with me to Hole in the Wall. Somewhere after Ellen Creek I took this picture. Adam sang himself silly while devouring half a bag of Sour Patches but as I had compromised most of my moral authority earlier in the day I could only sigh to myself in silent dismay about battle-picking. The unceasing, never-ending hopping through the Driftwood Labyrinth of Insanity to our prize destination might have burned into my brain for the rest of the evening like a Tetris binge but we took plenty of time gazing atop a small headland with nice views and the walk back was easy-peasy on that dark cobble of Rialto which I love so much.
The grasses have grown up considerably in this particular spot since I first started coming here, you sort of have to wade in now and softly bed down and it’s nice to close your eyes and feel the silky tassels tickle your face. This is where I always rest for lunch and maybe a snory snooze, I was thrilled to bring Adam with me for the first time this season. I’ve been here on the most sunshiney days but it’s more common for weather to roll in which is highly preferable because you get to see the clouds and light do things you’ve never seen before. Half the time you’ll spend watching the air take magical shape around you, the other half you’ll keep trying to make out what’s making the shadows, splotches of light and twenty shades of blue on the ocean for what seems like a thousand square miles below.
Later you’ll realize those blobs and squiggles of light were fierce squalls and by the time you figure out what hit you the gosh darn rainbows come out- just hope it doesn’t rain too hard or your life could be in danger during the Traverse of Death, which weighs heavily on my increasingly mobility-impaired self each season. We got blasted hard for awhile and I felt a little sorry for Adam because he was squinting through his raindrop-speckled glasses like the nutty professor, to see where he was going.
A couple months ago I saw this when we were walking around Hanapepe with the boys and grandma- it made me feel pretty good, like I was at home but a downpour walloped us right after and it was so humid I paraded around for the next hour or two like a top contestant in the Hawaii Man-Boobs Wet T-Shirt Showdown, which is normally dominated by Samoan gents as their island is a mere few thousand miles away and hence it’s basically a home match for them. A friend of mine is visiting Kauai next week for her first time and she asked me for recommendations and I described a handful of my favorite places, hopefully she won’t wander too close here and get shot in the leg.
After the seventh jam-packed Metro bus roared past us Saturday morning in the span of a half hour without so much as a gee sorry but this bus is full courtesy wave we finally secured a ride to the Womxn’s March on Seattle, hitchhiking aboard a kind stranger’s little pea-green Ford. Encountering the same problem as us, she had made the last-minute decision to drive as close as possible to the beginning of the protest which would turn out to be the largest political demonstration in the history of Seattle. She had more useful junk, ballpoint pens, spare change and dog-eared notepads in her vehicle than even the boys’ grandma and it felt like we were riding in a traveling hardware store as she disclosed her daughter was in the march on Washington D.C. while here in Seattle she was doing her best to rendezvous with friends in Judkins Park despite misaligned plans. We got into the heart of the Central District and a long line of stalled traffic was a rude but not unexpected greeting: Parking was going to be a monumental feat requiring precious time and our new friend implored us to get out and insert ourselves into the protest for her sake and I stood on the sidewalk and clasped both hands with her through the driver’s side window, she had a twinkle in her eye. We gave her our phone number to call in case she needed help retrieving her car in the evening but I knew we wouldn’t hear from her, she seemed no-nonsense to a fault. I won’t soon forget her kindness.
Later, at twentieth and Jackson a pair of soaring Bald eagles circling over the delirious sign-holding and chanting of the march elicited gasps of astonishment from claustrophobic thousands (which included far more stripes than the negative nellies chattering about self-indulgent identity politics could possibly imagine because their monologues insist protesting anything at all is a waste of time). The eagles lingered for so long in perfect formation, Adam and I at first swore they must be disguised drones, someone’s clever idea for a cheesy prank.
Finally, we had no choice but to drop out of the demonstration at Westlake in downtown, having fallen to the back of the procession over the course of four and a half hours. In the rearguard, getting a little impatient as they’re wont to be on such occasions were the fancy, dark blue police cruisers with hypnotically-flashing red and blue strobes and muscular bull bars: It was just us, a couple ladies with tired arms holding up a This is Not the End sign, some punchy elderly lesbians with bad mullets and the garbage picker-uppers. We merged to the sidewalk with curious bystanders and headed to the monkey bars next to the hot dog stand where the boys played extremely rough tag with a band of rowdy, hungry children who also had exited the demonstration before its conclusion at the Seattle Center. The boys eventually collapsed in a sweaty heap, gobbled up a pair of hot dogs like vikings and we rode the train partway home.
The boys capped off Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a spirited game of Battleship. Adam and Oliver Fern can only play the game in bastardized British accents (a streak of jolly Gargamel mixed in). No doubt, the Reverend King wouldn’t have exactly approved of this popular, classic board game. As a matter of fact, I harbor distinct reservations about this blatant glorification of naval warfare and yet the boys’ interest in Battleship was only further piqued last weekend by the enormous, mothballed aircraft carriers in Bremerton.
Earlier in the day, Oliver Fern, Adam and I participated in the march which honors Dr. King and does provide an ideal platform for peaceful yet boisterous consciousness-raising about any number of issues that reflect how fucked-up certain things are. The 48 bus had got us down ripped-up 23rd Avenue to Garfield High School, the starting point of the march, in surprisingly no time and while we were waiting for more and more people to assemble for the march we used the restroom inside the high school and I shivered at the hugeness of the place and it was hard to imagine Adam going to school there some day (my podunk high school graduating class barely consisted of a hundred students) and I couldn’t get the idea of Hogwarts and Draco Malfoy out of my head. At any rate, soon enough the band played and the march proceeded spiritedly toward downtown. Oliver Fern strolled with his cardboard sign which had been fashioned with random marks, scribbles and letters of the alphabet and that in his herky-swirly handwriting (and at certain angles) distinctly resembled Arabic script and it drew widespread attention throughout the march no doubt from those who wondered if the sign was somehow preciously ironic in the spirit of the day’s diverse umbrella.
Over the span of a couple hours we gradually were overtaken by faster marchers and imperceptibly faded from the front of this wondrously-long line of concerned citizens to the literal, very back of the procession where police motorcycles were waiting to gobble up stragglers, pushing them to the sidewalk because life just has to go on. Adam’s legs and hips were getting stiff from walking and he wondered if we could rest a moment and my hummingbird-sized bladder was filling up with what felt like the combined flow of Victoria and Niagra Falls but I told him he should be glad we weren’t being blasted by a fire hose or bullied by German shepherds and therefore he needed to put his beliefs into action and did he ever look at me like I was comparing his knowledge of Pokemon with his and he began walking too fast for Oliver Fern and I to keep up. I thought I was going to pee from the exertion of catching up with him and soon we again found ourselves with the Filipinos for Black Lives Matter chanting for no new youth jails and the drums were beating so loud I thought the Bonneville Dam was going to burst and I channeled my rage and felt the urge to walk up to the snarkiest-looking motorcycle police guy I think I’ve ever seen, he must have stood a steroidal six foot five and was puffing on a stogie like some kind of goon in an episode of CHIPS where a rogue cop double-crosses Ponch and Jon, and I’ll admit I harbored a violent fantasy about ripping the cigar out of his mouth and screaming Black Lives Matter! but Oliver Fern is only four years old and he still thinks all police officers with motorcycles are archangels-next-door (and maybe this officer was a good guy and simply in desperate need of some public relations work although I highly doubt it) and this was a peaceful demonstration named for the Reverend King and we don’t need any more white guys showboating but in particular I envisioned the indignity of wetting myself while being handcuffed on the ground.
The collapse of an original, not-very-well-thought-out plan for Saturday had us wondering how else we’d like to spend a sunny but freezing cold January afternoon and we decided to ride the rusty Bremerton ferry across Puget Sound and explore some wetlands that had been on my mind for some time. Getting there was more than half the fun, the boat was sparsely passengered as to lend the feeling of a chartered excursion and the boys were preoccupied with a spirited card game called something like Yell at your Brother for Cheating and were gradually driving the few other passengers away to quieter quarters. Along the way we did enjoy the beautiful, wide-open expanses of Puget Sound and treed horizons not to mention a trio of seals mostly lounging on a big red buoy in Rich Passage. One of the seals was bobbing its head, really making a big racket. Obviously, it was frustrated with the would-be alpha seal that anyone could tell was being the seal equivalent of a seat hog on the bus, splaying its blubbery body all over the place and taking up valuable room with a mostly-empty backpack and was falling asleep despite vibrating, ridiculously oversized Beats headphones.
A short drive across the Kitsap Peninsula brought us to Belfair, a little town tucked in the trees and which I noticed has at least two cannabis dispensaries in close proximity to each other, one much nicer than the other. Our main reason for coming to Belfair was the estuary on the shores of Hood Canal, the nature preserve here is an enjoyable place for walking and pushing your children into the prickers for fun when they won’t stop trying to wrestle you to the ground despite countless admonishments.
We spotted three river otters by a log, they scampered across the mushy, marshy brown of low tide. The boys kept throwing ice chunks at each other which were gathered from either side of the raised dike upon which we strolled (salty on one side, fresher on the other). After awhile we sat down on a wooden bench to eat salami, crackers and cookies. A most enjoyable, enchanting aspect of our day was observing the difference between the tides, as the estuary started to flood by evening and the landscape changed. In the waning light, the boys shimmied on the rails along the South Tidal Marsh Trail without touching their feet on the boardwalk and got terrible slivers in the process. En route, a jolly fellow in full camouflage enthusiastically greeted me and inquired as to what I was after and I told him I was photographing backlit cattails and he was distinctly disappointed at my mission involving mere fuzzers and informed me that if I didn’t have noisy children I might have stood a chance at observing the family of muskrats that lived in the log just over yonder. The sun finally kissed the horizon and it got freezing cold fast and so we headed out of dodge, back to Bremerton. Our timing was excellent- we boarded the boat after waiting for only a few moments. Oliver Fern alternately terrorized and amused passengers for the next hour, running like a banshee from one end of the boat to the next.
Adam recently finished reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Hound of the Baskervilles and it seemed only fair at his urging that I should give J.K. Rowling a spin and I just got done with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and now I’m making headway into the fourth year at Hogwarts and so far I’m finding the series to be a satisfying literary diversion and as Adam waits with bated breath upon my completion of each chapter, hopefully the feeling can last for all seven books although I can’t say the same for the film adaptations.
As this is my first post in many months and the beginning chapter of the new year 2017 (not to mention Friday the 13th my lucky number) part of me would like to write a not-so minor essay about the coming year and my hopes and dreams (big things and so forth) but as I am not a Big Deal Danny sort of person it seems better to let things unfold small and uncontrived as possible, sneaking a big thing or two of consequence and artifice into the middle of the occasional thousand word run-on jumbles which mainly offer glimpses of regular, little going-on stuff that make up the whole of my existence: Books, long division, haunting rejection, enormous piles of kelp at low tide, mischievous boys, ukuleles, Lego, Star Wars, justice, petrified boogers on the walls, unholy fart stains, ticklish nose hairs, loneliness, quieter places in the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, first drafts, photography, songs, long walks, mossy forests, ice cream, the library, colored pencils, coming of age and crumpled pieces of paper with inky ballpoint surprises.
A candid portrait that speaks to me: It’s of Adam while he and his cousins were scrambling uphill from a musty riverbank, crossing the viaduct one-by-one like wary raccoons doing the rounds in a popular campground the middle of the night. Most of the time to my resigned frustration, he isn’t a willing (let alone rascally or playful) subject in front of a lens but somehow I caught him unawares, here. For those readers who still know things like books and libraries and enjoy pointless guessing games, his distracted countenance reminded me of a certain classic children’s storybook cover. I took him and the cousins into town for errands and yet felt far more like the tag-along. This location never occurred to me as a place to shoot, I came back more than once with a neutral density filter and wide angle lens before we headed back to Seattle. On a gloomy day it feels like a forbidden, mystical cavern with blocks of light illuminating the shadows (in this case, Adam’s face and some leaves in the center and on the margins). I like both the monochrome and color exposure. The black and white appeals to my momentarily classical sensibilities since he’s wearing a bright red superhero t-shirt.