This is a series of posts I started in late May and plan to continue for 40 days, with a goal of hitting 50,000 words by July 5. It’s inspired by a three-day solo trek on the Washington coast, with side-story memoir scenes wrapped by a few themes. I’m writing each post live, pulling in stories I’ve drafted before or I’m writing for the first time, for this project. You can come and go (it’s non-linear) or start at the beginning here, which is really the end.
After I got over the rock scramble it was maybe a mile back to the car, most of it along the shore, some in the forest. Most times if the tide’s in you have to cross over a logjam vs. the beach to get back to the forest. This time with the tide out I could stay low on the wet, compacted sand. Other hikers appeared from the south just starting their hike, and with the fog/mist it was dramatic how they materialized as they neared. I always thought of the King Arthur film Excalibur, those battle scenes in the fog, the clank and gore of it, close combat. The scene where Merlin transforms Uther through the Charm of Making so Uther can sleep with the Duke of Cornwall’s wife—and yields a gift for Merlin as payment, a baby boy, Arthur. Uther on a steed, galloping through fog, transforming as he approaches the castle. The awkward love-making/rape scene, 1981.
The beach, as beaches go, was always changing but remained the same. It was the memory of a generic beach, really. But this one was different, with all the logs. The logs I imagined got spit out from the river, where the river ran into the ocean and together, they worked that way: the river fed the ocean the logs and the ocean spun the logs, sanded them down, spit them back up onto the beach. It looked like a giant puzzle, emptied out and shuffled.
The first time we found it it seemed the logjam was more intense. Like higher, more logs. Each year I came back, there were less. Because the logs were wedged together they were easy to climb and jump across. Sometimes you could look down between the logs and get the sense it was a far way down, to the ground. And what awful things lived down there: surely rats, mice, snakes. Some detritus from the ocean, weathered plastics, bits of brightly colored fabric bleached out by sun.
But on my last day out, driving home later, there was none of that. I was too tired for log-hopping, I was grateful for sand. I rounded the beach at the end, where the river comes in and on the other side, you can see an outcropping of land they call the Lower Hoh, and a random shack with a light and paved road.
You come down where the river forms this estuary thing, an in-between staging area for the tidal exchange, some brackish green/blue water I sometimes drink from, but filter. And along the edges of it, a brown/gray lip of mud all around, tiny prints from the water fowl that linger there in groups; I startled a bunch as I came over the hill and in return they startled me, flying off.
And then you follow the river along a stretch that narrows from ocean beach to river shore, and you’re back against a stand of trees, a forest, and have to look for a round sign that marks the entry point for the trail back into the woods, a short hike back to the car.
There was the large tree stump from the time Loren was with us and took a picture of me and the family, and the kids were really small: all of us squinting into the sun and brown/pink ourselves: late August, Labor Day weekend, and you can tell by the quality of light it’s that late summer/early autumn sunset that’s long, golden and pink, but doomed to disappear, you can feel it. The tree stump reminded me of a tooth, with its dangly roots. So big, the kids could climb up on it, likely hurt themselves if they fell.
And there was the grove of trees where we camped that first time, probably ’97: me, Joe, and Joe’s friend Miles: the three of us goofy pranksters, Joe with his dreadlocks and Miles, one of those stubby pony-tails, intellectual glasses, guitar cases, harmonicas, would-be musicians.
We were in our late 20s—and funny, thinking back about time, and how much of it it seemed we had then, like the faucet could just keep running indefinitely. I could leave my apartment without a care for days: my Cajun friend Myki would stay there and look after my two cats, my plants…and he’d play classical music for them even when he was out, insisting the plants responded to that, and they always looked better when I returned—I think he talked to them, too.
Joe, Miles and I camped a couple nights on the peninsula and had one more night left, but didn’t know where to go—just thought we’d drive to the coast and rummage around for a spot. We stopped at a roadside place for beer, one of those places that mainly sells ice and bait, gas. We would have lingered there a while at the cooler gazing at the beer, trying to decide what kind: and we likely weren’t very sharp by that point, a few days out camping.
The old guy at the counter described a good place, said you take the 101 to Forks and turn left past the Hoh res, to the Cottonwood rec area, but it’s an 11 mile road and unpaved, so you have to go slow.
And sure enough he was right: it was a great, little trail through old growth, not long until you came to a point overlooking the river, an emerald, magic green: and then, a round, disc-shaped sign tacked high on a tree where you come out on the sand, follow it for a bit to the base of the ocean shore, and there was a graveyard of smoothened trees all jammed together, some lean-to’s established: but Miles found a killer spot just inside the forest, on the edge of the beach: and it was raining/misting but we were protected by that under a canopy of maple, and got to setting things up and cracked a beer, and wondered at the magic of it all, with no one else around.
I have a picture from that camp Joe must have given me, back when it was all film-photos: there’s the ocean behind us, the color tones all beige, gray and brown: save the fact I’m wearing one of those one-piece thermal underwear things with the buttons in the back you have to undo when you need to go, it’s bright red.
Coming back again to Oil City with Dawn or others, I’d poke around looking for that spot. It was hard to remember where exactly it was in the trees, and every year the brush was different. Once I thought I found it but it was destroyed, everything broken up, battered in. There’d been some logs where you could sit and cook, a makeshift fire-pit…but with the winter storms and surf, everything got rearranged. You had to let things go like that I knew, but it was hard not to reconstruct it.
And that time Loren took the photo of me and the family by the tree stump, it must have been the trip he told me driving out they were pregnant, and the following spring it was a boy (Arthur). And I think we were in Pennsylvania for Easter when I got the text he’d arrived.
I came to the spot where I’d always look down at the river to say goodbye, the end of the trail, the reverse feeling coming in: when I started this hike the scale of it looked different, like the river was much closer. I joked, wondered with myself if it was just really high from all the glacial runoff. Now it looked so much farther down, a really bad fall, you could kill yourself: but I pictured jumping off the edge to clear the rocky cliff walls below, as I had at times in Eastern Washington with Joe, jumping into Soap Lake, or the Potholes state park. I wouldn’t be jumping into lakes or quarries like that, probably ever again.
No, I’d come out to think through and process this strange malaise that surfaced with a singer killing himself. I didn’t even like the music that much, hadn’t listened to it in a while. Couldn’t understand why it shook me the way it did. But it felt like something good had to come from it, for him or for me, as a way of balancing things out.