People and Places

Leaving the Peninsula

Posted on June 4, 2012

We left Kalaloch Lodge on Saturday, saying goodbye to our little cabin perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific.  But not before our neighbor rabbit emerged from the bushes to breakfast on our patch of lawn, a hummingbird hovered over nearby flowers, and a bald eagle rode the updrafts along the beach.  Felt like we were in some kind of Disney movie and waited for some trio of smiling bears to wave to us in our rear view mirror, but my fantasy abruptly ended as I instead saw the grill of a Peterbuilt fill the mirror when a logging truck barreling along the roadway came up on my bumper.

We promptly pulled over to let him pass, enormous logs in tow, and wandered our way north.  We did drive some four miles of side road to see a giant Cedar tree the ranger told us about the previous day.  Apparently, some years ago a logger was scouting out new areas to cut when he happened upon this soaring red cedar and realized that it was something special.  He made a call to the Ladies Garden Club of Forks and they confirmed that the tree, some twenty feet across in girth, needed to be saved and that resulted in calls to the governor.  So here it stands amidst state managed timberland and replanted acres, looking down over all else and ancient.  The ranger said it is over 2000 years old.  Elsewhere we read that it is 1200 years old.  It is essentially dead now, acting as an upright nurse log for new growth stories up the trunk.  I found this description:

The Nolan Creek cedar grew in the heart of an ancient forest west of the park. less than 30 years ago, loggers were licensed by the state to clear-fell the whole area. When the chainsaw reached this western read cedar (Thuja plicata) and people realized that it was the third largest red cedar in the world (it’s 178 feet tall with a volume of 15,300 cubic feet) even the loggers’ spirits failed. Generously they agreed to preserve this single tree – worth, they say, the huge sum of $25,000.

And there is stands today. If the loggers hoped the tree would show their hearts were in the right place, they knew little about trees. Of course the giant could not survive the fierce winds of the clearcut. First the mosses and lichens, then the tree itself, began to die. Now it is a bleached skeleton with few living branches. There is a message there, I am sure, that the public can not miss. How futile is it to make this mean sort of compromise, rather than saving the whole watershed . . . Imagine trying to preserve this king of the forest, when all his kingdom lies in ruin. Soon his bones, too, will lie at Nolan Creek.”

-Thomas Pakenham
“Remarkable Trees of the World”

While sympathetic to the local loggers who need to make a living and realizing that trees do grow back remarkably quick here (we saw miles of new growth forests), it takes centuries to create the really towering giants we saw on protected lands and those forests looked fundamentally different.  They looked amazing and vibrant, while the new growth areas seemed stunted in comparison and had not yet developed the layered eco-systems of the old growth, with their ferms and mosses and lichens and variety.  The recently cut acres looked like battlefields, torn up and ugly.  I’m writing a check to Sierra Club when I get home.

We gassed up in Forks, that strange little town for which we developed a fondness, and retraced our route along Crescent Lake and turned off to make the drive to Hurricane Ridge, 5,000′ up along a twisting road with precipitous drops and occasional rock slides.  We drove up through and above the low clouds and arrived at the National Park Service visitors center with snow on the ground and a frigid wind blowing, but the views of the Olympic Range were magnificent.  With newly acquired Hurricane Ridge tee-shirts safely tucked away (we are doing all we can to help the local economy), we made our way back down the white knuckle roadway, not a guard rail in sight, to nearby Port Angeles and a return visit to Next Door, our favorite little gastro pub.  It was just as good the second time around and we met Angela, one of the trio of young co-owners trying to make a go of it in the this tough industry.  She was great and urged us to write a review in Yelp, which I have dutifully done.  As she said, “We live and die with online reviews.”

We drove on to Port Townsend and the Thornton House B&B.  Charlie and Barbara, retired school teachers from Deleware, have set the standard for bed and breakfast places.  Every little detail was just right: great sheets and towels, cookies set out late in the evening, gourmet breakfast, and just two of the nicest people in one of the nicest towns we have ever visited.  Port Townsend is full of retired academics, artists and writers and musicians, aging hippies.  A small place, it has multiple bookstores and galleries.  In the “rain shadow” of the mountains, it only gets 20 inches of rain and is a gardener’s paradise — Barbara gardens even in January (and her yard shows the fruits of her labor).  It is coastal Maine without the black flies or snow and with a more quirky culture.  We found ourselves looking in realtors’ windows and fantasizing about life in such a place.  We hated to board the ferry the next day, but we did and made our way to Whidby Island where we drove north to Anacortes and the 80 minute ferry ride to the San Juan Islands, specifically the town of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. 

We have rented an apartment here for a week and we look out over the marina and watch the Washington State Ferries come and go.  It is still early in the tourist season and we got the place largely to ourselves when the weekenders from Seattle left on Sunday night, long lines of cars snaking through town to await a place on one of the outgoing ferries (it must be a nightmare in summer).  We have one overiding goal for the week: to see the orcas, the killer whales, that inhabit the area and are a large part of the local economy.  The Free Willy movies, sappy as they are, have made orcas celebrities and the area is home to one of the famous pods or families of whales, the J Pod.  Their celebrity status is well deserved, unlike the Kardashians or Paris Hilton, because they are just so cool.  Pods are matrilineal and the female leader of the J Pod was born in 1911.  The pods not only have highly developed communications, but each pod has a distinct dialect.  By the way, they really are closer to dolphin than whale and the distinction is not as clear cut as you might think, as we discovered.  Anyway, this week we seek out the orcas.  

Apparently, one low impact way to experience them is on a kayak.  Some part of that sounds foolhardy to me, city boy that I am.  But I’ve so far escaped any run ins with rougue waves, rabid bunnies, hungry bears, or serial killers.  I seem to be on a roll.

Finally, two telling encounters with the locals.  The waitress at Kalaloch was telling the folks at the adjacent table that it is almost strawberry picking time and that she goes out and picks wild berries.  She says, “Sometimes a bear will be at the next bush and you just move along a bit and let him have the one he is working at.”  Move on a bit?!  I’d move on to the next county. 

As we boarded the ferry in Port Townsend, an elderly couple with a soon to expire multiple use pass were buying people’s trips, apparently unable to use up their remaining trips.  They bought us our ticket and asked us to do something nice for someone.  Later, on the ferry, I heard a young Canadian woman say to the woman at the on-board cafe, “Here’s ten dollars to buy the next person’s coffee.  A nice old man paid my way today and I promised him I’d do something nice.”  I think the state of Washington may actually be putting Prozac in the drinking water out here.  Really.

2 thoughts on “Leaving the Peninsula

  1. For some reason, to me, the last sentence of this post was supposed to read “I think the state of Washington may actually be putting Prozac out of business.” Of course your choice worked well, it was just more of a conspirator’s take than an optimistic one.

    In the same vein, congrats on escaping the rabid bunnies. See you back at campus!

  2. Pamme Boutselis says:

    Bill Bryson sure has nothing on you! I’ve been enjoying this travelogue in a big way.

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