Down the Body, Into the Body: Reaching the Ends of Western Washington – Washington, USA
The Forgotten Land
Entering The Forgotten Land I wound further toward the most northwesterly point. The highway was littered with debris; rock, sand, dirt, remnants of trees from last week's storm. I could make out the traces of mudslides in route, the black tarmac stained with the enriched brown of fertile soils.
Slowing around each curve along the water, I looked as far ahead to the next bend wherein there revealed a cleared patch of earth, a deep brown scar clean of green mosses and ferns, or a fallen trunk laying in pieces, now sawed and mangled to keep traffic flowing.
To my right, the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To my left, the Olympic National Forest. Above me, hidden in the branches, the eagles and hawks of the Pacific Northwest. Winding along Highway 112, I was reaching the ends of the earth in search of the sea's waves.
Blazing The Trails
Route 112 leads from Port Angeles, WA to Cape Flattery. It is a roadway that curves licentiously along the southern edges of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It enters and exits the Olympic National Forest, and at these borders, it's plainly obvious.
I took this route with friends over five years ago on our first northwest surfing trek. Then, the region appeared pristine to our youthful eyes. Trees stretched for miles. We dreamed of the days of backpacking, losing ourselves at will in the wilderness – The Call of the Wild – with a pleasant ending. We would imagine bringing our surfboards, our backpacks, our stoves and our minds and leaving everything behind.
We drove out to these reaches with a fury to experience it all; to become men, real men. And men we grew into, men with hearts conscious of the world around us. Together we sat in the seas, thick in heavy wetsuits, peeing as much as we could to keep warm. We laughed and informed each other as the liquid in our suits crept up our bodies. A swell would arrive. We paddled, we shouted – we couldn't but revel in the beauty of our surroundings. Rock croppings stood in the waves, some pillared with a singular pine. Somehow, by some grace, a seed had reached its summit years prior. Over the decades, through the storms, the seed sprouted – the sapling flourished – and grew into the mature tree of that day.
In the water we would see these marooned rock islands and hear the sea lions grunting at their bases. Eagles would circle in the air, and often a whale would breach on the sea's horizon. We had heard of bears; surfers' tales of having to run for the water sooner than anticipated. It was Nature, rugged as we liked it, and we were surfing Her waves, enjoying the time of our lives no matter how cold and how little we had to pee.
As the years passed, as we took this route and others time and again, things changed. The landscape and its borders became more apparent. Highway 112 took me along the furthest points of Western Washington. After the debates and cries for relief among numerous conscious-abiding people, I passed stretches of forest that had been decimated. Clearings of trees – complete clearings – where not a sapling remained, were flattened to an ugly graveyard of deforestation. Bark and their splinters were red in the heavy moisture. Just minutes prior, I drove across the National Park's boundaries.
Distinct Lines & Futures
For miles I drove, witnessing man's greed for Mother Earth's impermanent resources. I thought of the oil around the world, and now this: Her skin and Her trees. I came upon plots of land where groves of pines were replanted. Their dates were indicated on signposts: LAST HARVESTED: 1976 PLANTED: 1980 NEXT HARVEST: 2030
Nature had become a laboratory, a field to be harvested, replanted, and then harvested again. What was odd, though, on this drive and those with companions in the past, was the clear indication upon entering and exiting the park boundaries. Clearings would halt abruptly and like a flick of the switch, I would enter a forest inside the park's perimeters; daylight to darkness (metaphorically; darkness to daylight).
Ancient old-growth sat like aged men. Their beards sagged with moisture; lime greens and pale pastels of lichen and mosses. Under their lanky arms, I drove. I peered up out my front windshield at their wicked arms in beautiful knots where large drops of liquid struck the roof above my head. Rain fell from their grips, saturating my mind with their healing medicine. The sound was soothing, the darkness of the foliage enlivening to the imagination, and the inhabitants of this forest – the wise sages and their solemn air – kept an original unique beauty. It fed me. It kept me alive too.
I breathed the air and it breathed me; its sweetness – pines and cedars. These trees were my lifeline, and would remain so until the last was gone. Just as abruptly did I enter the National Park system did I leave. The shades of trees gave way to a seemingly unnatural light as I emerged onto private land. There I discovered another clearing where once archaic traces of Mother Nature stood cleansing our air. Now, their remains – bones of years of growth turned to ash. Like farm-raised sheep, they would be birthed again for the harvest of man in future time. More so then ever in this year, when even the President recognized our addiction to natural resources with his empty words, did I see this contrast of pristine Mother Nature along the borders of man's craving needs.
I drove along Highway 112, upon the cracked roads and underneath these stretches of original old-growth, where I reveled in the magic of feeling the wild beauty the forest's sages emitted. Would my child be able to experience this? Would my children's children?
Neah Out of Sight
I continued driving alone, around the curves and bends with the water to my right. A week prior to my departure, a storm struck the northwest knocking out power for one day, often two or three for the most distant reaches. High intrusive winds gusted through canopies, reaching a breath of 80 m.p.h. Rain sliced the air and tormented the region's satiated hillsides.
Highway 112 leading out to the most northwesterly point of the lower forty-eight states had been closed, shutting off any ground connection to the rest of the world. Mudslides occurred. Roadways gave out. Tumultuous surf broke the barriers and covered man's pathways.
What lies in this farthest corner is the Makah Indian Nation. Their reservation covers the tip of the Olympic Peninsula where their local neighbor, the National Coast Guard, bases its headquarters.Neah Bay; an old rusted fishing port with few paved roads and gargantuan potholes. As I pulled into town, rain poured in growing pools and fog swept across the Earth's canvas.
It was cold, a desolate town with little care and attention paid by few locals, passer-bys or officials. Along the main street, a small wooden market boasted its only life. A dead seagull lay in heaps of feathers on the road. It appeared to have been run over repeatedly for the last two or three days. Boats sat like deadweight near their docks while few remained marooned on the rocky shores.
The last time I passed through Neah Bay was over a year ago. The hulls' familiar scars were little repaired. At the end of town was a log. It appeared to have the only growth, the sole momentum in the atmosphere. It was freshly stripped, possibly recovered from the prior storm. Lying by the side of the road, it was suspended in the air by two benches on opposite ends. Passing, I saw an axe sticking out from the wood and piles of fresh shavings splintered by its sides. A totem pole.
At this sight, I was given a sensation of pride. It was a sense of sympathy mixed with a pride toward a people who continue to be shoved into the rugged pits of our habitation. A former New York State Governor recognized this back towards the very beginning. In the year of 1868, when Horatio Seymour was nominated as the Democratic candidate for the presidential elections, he spoke his heart's feeling toward the Native American peoples.
Every human being born upon our continent, or who comes here from any quarter of the world, whether savage or civilized, can go to our courts for protection—except those who belong to the tribes who once owned this country…The worst criminals from Europe, Asia, or Africa can appeal to the law and courts from their rights of person and property—all save our native Indians, who, above all, should be protected from wrong (Matthiessen, p. xxi).*
Mr. Seymour never won the presidential elections, and quite possibly, the state of the Native American today would be very different today if he had won. From a life of politics, he had found understanding in the process of democracy. He continued to speak for the nations of Indians and in the year 1881, his voice echoed on the titled page of A Century of Dishonor .
The book, written by Helen Hunt Jackson, inevitably became an unfavorable read in a stiffening society. With Horatio Seymour as the introduction, its prospects of a broadening audience diminished. Seymour continued to remind the public of the American vision.
There is but one hope of righting this wrong. It lies in appeal to the heart and the conscience of the American people. What the people demand, Congress will do. It has been – to our shame be it spoken – at the demand of part of the people that all these wrongs have been committed, these treaties broken, these robberies done, by the Government.
The only thing that can stay this is a mighty outspoken sentiment and purpose of the great body of the people. Right sentiment and right purpose in a Senator here and there, and a Representative here and there, are little more than straws which make momentary eddies, but do not obstruct the tide.
What an opportunity for the Congress of 1880 to cover itself with a luster of glory, as the first to cut short our nation's record of cruelties and perjuries! The first to attempt to redeem the name of the United States from the stain of a century of dishonor! (Matthiessen, p. xxi).*
Whether the heat of a New Mexico desert, an Ohio plain, the Black Hills of South Dakota, or this very northern corner of the Western United States, reservations were installed and an original nation of people were ordered to relocate.
No matter how many years passed, no matter how many events thrown by the wayside of forgetfulness on top of this singular act, the nations of Native Americans remain where a government left them. They remain (despite how diluted) with a culture. A totem pole was being resurrected; a trace surviving in the puddles of man's historic torrent.
Driving Through the Ocean
I reached the Pacific Coast shortly after and came to the sands of Shi Shi Beach. There before me, sheltered in the heated confines of my mud-splattered vehicle, a blown-out massacre lay in the waters. Waves rolled in the sea with fury, approaching from every direction; crashing without form, without grace. Peaks and sections, which in the past might have lined up on a good day, now beat one another from every angle.
My surfboard lay behind me, in the rear in a lonesome and eager state. A three-hour drive led to nothing, and would remain so on that day. But it was one day out of many to come. I was in route on Day One, driving from Cape Flattery, the most northwesterly point of the lower forty-eight, heading down to the southern reaches of California, where family and friends waited.
The Pacific had many reefs, many coves and bays where her swells might reach some order as I passed their break. I turned around, drove two hours back to the junction with Highway 101, and there continued my journey down the Pacific, her body to my right. Together, with my board, music and the silent musings of my mind, I contemplated the hours in meditation, passing the works of humanity and the life we live with one another.
I discovered the ocean's waves not only on Her littorals, despite how rocky or sandy She could be, but reached the point within where the waters softened and broke with a consistent state of adventure. Each moment was a new wave, and each bend along 101 or California's Hwy 1 offered a new perspective into the wonder of Mother Earth. Each brought me to the end, and subsequently, to a new beginning.
This surf was what I originally sought to discover, and all along, it was within me; in front, behind, on all sides, below and above. I was riding the sea as it moved through me, down her body, into her body. No longer was a board, no longer were wheels, no longer was a thought necessary. I was the vehicle.
*Matthiessen, Peter, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse