Travel is Wonder, and Wonder is Free

I grew up in a family that didn’t have much money, where everyone was constantly telling me that it was too expensive to go anywhere or do anything. Only when I got older did I realize what a bunch of bullshit that was, and only after that did I begin to see how many people around me were feeding their own heads with that exact same bullshit.

Look, I’m fully aware of how stressful being poor is. I’ve been there. But I’m even more acutely mindful of the fact that stress will just keep you locked in those stressful circumstances you are if you let it. It’ll become your epitaph. Your prison sentence. And that, my friends, is the ultimate bullshit.

There are many ways to get out of stress, but the one I want to talk about today is one that doesn’t get a lot of press: the act of cultivating a sense of wonder.

It’s tough to rationally explain how much this topic has me pumped up and pissed off right now. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning with this post in my head. I scribbled it down right in the dark in the notebook I keep at my bedside. I realized in that moment that this is what Northwest Nomad was always supposed to be. It’s not just a travel blog. It’s a fucking mission to get people off their asses and out into the world with a fresh sense of life’s possibility, beauty, depth, and inspiration, because I remember what it felt like to have none of those things in my life.

I can’t stand all those travel blogs full of privileged pretties trumpeting the spiritual epiphanies they’re having in foreign locales and 10,000-star restaurants and bla bla bla. Those things piss me off because they make travel, wonder, and adventure seem like some inaccessible fantasy that the vast majority of people can’t hope to experience. That’s not what I’m about, and that’s not what Nomad is about.

Listen, I do big things like climb Mount Rainier and party in downtown Seattle, but that’s such a small part of life. For me, the adventure is out there every goddamn day, right on the streets and trails around me, just like it’s all around YOU if you’d just LOOK.

Do you realize that no morning is ever the same? Not even close. To say days are “foggy” doesn’t capture the totality of any given foggy day. Not if you’re really paying attention. There are different kinds of fog. Each one hugs the landscape just a little differently and smells a little differently and feels differently on your skin. No two rains are ever exactly the same. No two sunshines. No two breezes or snows. Every day is a once-ever-in-existence phenomenon, and that’s a fact.

Some part of you knows this, but you fight it or you deny it as something trivial. I’m writing this to tell you that it’s not trivial. To be washed over with wonder is to step outside yourself, outside your stress and fears. It’s goddamn transformational. It puts you in a state of expectation and optimism.

Wonder is what we really mean when we talk about travel. The trip is just the vehicle to get to wonder. And those big exotic trips are awesome, and I fully encourage everyone to go after them. But, in the meantime, finances should never be a reason to live separated from wonder and amazement.

That country road down the way; the road right outside your house; the train tracks and the marina; all of it, everything, is potentially wondrous if you’re willing to bring a sense of wonder to it.

I’m going to end up repeating myself, so just let me say, in this late-night-passion-borne post, that travel is just another word for wonder, and wonder is free.

Let me say that again more simply: travel is wonder, and wonder it free.

So get out there. Open that heart again. Open those eyes. See the moments and the spaces around you for the miracle they are feel how incredibly privileged you are to witness them. There’s beauty out there. There’s a world of wonder swimming in a sea of never-ending transformation.

Join it. Swim with it. Get out and drop the bullshit, my friends. That’s all I want to say. Get out there and take a deep breath, and take in that world around you and marvel at it.

Travel is wonder, and wonder is free, so drop the excuses and get travelling.

Attack of the Giant Banana Slug!

There are few things in Washington state more majestic than the glorious banana slug. And yet…and yet…there are also few things more terrifying than that very same gigantic banana slug bearing down on you very, very, VERY slowly! Such is life, I suppose, a study in contrasts. A paradox, if you will. The very same slugs that inspire us to greater heights in life can also paralyze us with terror. It all depends on the context.

It’s kind of a Jacob’s Ladder deal. The angels are demons and the demons are angels all depending on how you view life. If you’re still reading, then truly I applaud your tolerance for weirdness.

Close up picture of the Pacific banana slug.
It’s coming to get you, Martha.

The Washington banana slug is more properly called the Pacific banana slug, which is more scientifically known as the Ariolimax columbianus. 

You can see these marvelously slimy creatures in many places in Washington state, but the majority of my sightings have come at various spots around the Olympic Peninsula, particularly in the Lake Quinault and the Hoh Rain Forest. Yes, those areas are veritable slime beds of these wondrous creatures.

A slug with a 3.5 inch long knife beside it. The slug is twice the length of the knife.
The knife next to this slug is 3.5 inches long.

It’s hard to capture the true scale of these animals on camera, but I’ve taken a picture with one stretched out next to my 3.5-inch-long (when folded) pocket knife. The specimen in the photo is actually not the biggest one I’ve seen (that’s what she said…sorry can’t resist).

Banana slugs aren’t always bright  yellow (as you can see here). Sometimes they are brown/green, and sometimes they even have black specks that can be pretty thick.

Obviously I’ve had a little fun with the giant slug thing here, but truthfully, these things are quite a sight if you happen upon one in the outdoors. They are HUGE. Personally, I’ve always been fascinated that such slow, harmless creatures can be so successful in an evolutionary sense. These things seem to be doing just fine in the Olympic rain forests.

Incredibly, there have actually been people who have eaten these things. The Yurok Indians and 19th/20th century German immigrants dined on them. While I have a fondness for the banana slug, you won’t catch me trying to find out how they taste. This much I can promise you.

Double Breasted Cormorants on a Rock in the Ocean Just off the Coast of Neah Bay

I caught sight of some double breasted cormorants hanging out on a rock in the savage waters of the inappropriately named “Pacific” Ocean. I found the image to be rather striking and fascinating in some aesthetic way that I can’t fully explain.

So, I then took pictures of the double breasted cormorants perched there on the rock out in the raging sea.

I’m arrogantly proud of those pictures…oh so arrogant, and oh so proud! And here I show those pictures off in all my arrogance and haughty, Godless pride! Look upon the visual grandeur with me, and wonder and awe!

Awe and wonder, my friends! Awe and wonder at this savage, tender world! Ha!

Three double breasted cormorants perched on a rock in the Pacific Ocean. Three double breasted cormorants perched on a rock in the Pacific Ocean. Three double breasted cormorants perched on a rock in the Pacific Ocean. Three double breasted cormorants perched on a rock in the Pacific Ocean.

Sand Point Trail at Lake Ozette, Washington

Moss covered bridge leading to the Sand Point and Ozette Loop trail heads.
Bridge leading to the Sand Point and Ozette Loop trail heads.

Far off the semi-beaten path of Highway 101, near the northwestern corner of the state of Washington, lies Lake Ozette and the Sand Point trail. It’s a ways from the usual tourist stomping grounds, but there are few places a person can go to better witness the Washington coast in all its raging, primal beauty. Lake Ozette itself is a good place to visit in itself, but today I’m going to cover the Sand Point trail and the rugged beach it leads to.

The Sand Point trail represents 3 miles’ worth of the 9 mile Ozette Loop trail. My intent upon visiting Lake Ozette was to do the whole loop, but the rain started dumping heavily on me at the end of the Sand Point trail, and I was ill-prepared to keep my camera safe from the elements. (A little-known fact is that the full extent of the Northwest Nomad’s hiking preparations generally consist of him running towards his destination with tongue flying in the wind like an idiot dog.)

Anyway, all is well, because the Sand Point trail itself was a good walk, and the Northwest Nomad escaped with his camera and his fantastic, artful, brilliant, sensitively gorgeous photographs intact. His humility survived, as well! Worry not, fair readers. Worry NOT!

To your right, my dear friend, you see a wooden walkway that represents the makeup of roughly a quarter of the Sand Point trail. The rest of the trail is a regular sort of National Park trail over the forest floor, but in the first portion of the walk is designed by National Park Service to keep your feetsies dry (thank you, Big Brother, ha!).

I’m not sure if the trail gets flooded by Lake Ozette floodwaters or if there’s some other explanation for the ground’s rather aqueous influence, but I could see in the vegetation composition that the ground there is frequently wet. Why else would they build a wooden footbridge, anyway? This isn’t rocket science, people!

The trail was nice and quiet while I walked, and I didn’t see a single other hiker on that stretch. It’s 3 miles out and 3 back, and I didn’t see one other person on either the going-out or the coming-back leg. I was there in January, so I’m not sure if it’s always so little-traveled.

Regardless, one thing I know for sure is that it leads to one of the best beaches I’ve ever found in Washington state. I’d rate it right up there with La Push and higher than the always-awesome Ruby Beach.

I wandered that beach for about half an hour and only left when the rain blew in and drove me out. Truly it was a transcendent experience of nature’s awesome power. The place looks like it was just blasted out of the side of the Earth by waves less than a week ago. The wounded land is raw, and the ocean’s power immense. I’m pretty sure if I stood there much longer I would have torn off my clothes and run off to live naked and free in those savage lands, living for only a few days, certainty, but oh so ecstatically so!

Damn you, civilization! The Northwest Nomad has felt life outside your deadly comforts, and it was sweeter than honey, damn it. Sweeter than honey!

Who am I? Who cares! Look at that rock yonder, that massive presence contemplating the sea forever. That’s what matters and that’s why you walk a trail like Sand Point.

Be the rock! Witness the rock! Love the rock! And worship it…yes, yes! Get down on thy knees and worship its beauty!

But no…no! I’m teetering on madness now, fevered with the memory of that brush with freedom, that little taste of honey at Sand Point, three miles from Lake Ozette, on the ocean side and ready to fall headfirst into eternity.

And is that not the dark side of sublimity? Becoming lost in one’s own nonexistence? No, I say. No!

…I pull back…

It was a recuperative trip, friends, and nice to get far out of cell phone range and into the mighty elements, to be reminded of how simultaneously small I am and how monumental life itself is.

The rock and the sea and the wind blowing through it all…Sand Point is a good place. Perhaps one of the last of the good places, as I imagine Hemingway might say if he’d been in my shoes.

Sand Point. Lake Ozette. DIG IT.

Northwest Nomad, over and out.

The 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum, Tacoma

Last weekend I visited the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Tacoma in order to research a piece I was writing for Grit City. I’ve been interested in checking the place out from the moment I first saw its sign just off 19th Street a couple months ago, but I underestimated how moving the experience would actually be.

“Buffalo Soldiers” was a term given to African American soldiers in the late 1800s, reportedly by Comanche or Cheyenne Indians (there’s some debate among historians over which it was) seeing a resemblance between the hair of the soldiers and the tufts of hair between buffalo’s horns. Some sources suggest that the tribes were also impressed by the buffalo-like toughness that the soldiers displayed.

Whatever the exact inspiration for the name, the term “Buffalo Soldiers” became the widely used monikers for black Army units back when the military was segregated. The term persisted all the way up until the end of the Korean War, when the last all-black unit was dissolved.

I already knew about the Buffalo Soldiers before I went to the museum, but actually walking among the artifacts they used and the stories hit me a lot stronger than I expected it would. I’m a veteran, and it really bothered me to hear about the disrespect that those men had to endure while they were serving their country. As Colin Powell said it, “For a long time they served a country that didn’t serve them.”

It was difficult for me to not allow my anger to overshadow everything else in my experience. I didn’t want that to be my focus. Those men deserved to be honored, not pitied, and I made sure to keep my mind fixed on that outcome. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bothered by it.

It’s remarkable to think of the hardships the Buffalo Soldiers endured. The thing that stuck with me the most from the visit was something that the woman running the museum told me.

Her name is Jackie Jones-Hook, and her father, William Jones, had been a Buffalo Soldier and POW in the Korean War. The museum was stated in his honor.

When I asked Jones-Hook if her father ever talked about the racism he and his brothers in arms had to endure while they were doing something that should have been commended, she replied that he used to repeat the phrase, “We got this far by faith.” William Jones was a man of deep faith in the Good Book, and he lived his life by that standard.

Ultimately, Jones-Hook told me, her father and his compatriots served for their faith in God more than anything else. When their own country disrespected them, they went right ton serving, because they had faith that God would make things right some day. I found that notion moving and powerful, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot ever since, and it’s something I doubt I’ll ever forget.

It’s hard to fathom the strength of character it takes for men to persist in the way that William Jones and the Buffalo Soldiers did. I’m left humbled and awed by their example. Sincerely, I want to be a better person in light of their stories.

I also want to encourage as many of you as possible to visit the Buffalo Soldiers museum in Tacoma. The place doesn’t have a big budget and so doesn’t have a lot of advertising. Go there and tell others about it, if you’re so inclined. The place deserves to continue operating because the men and women it memorializes deserve to be remembered.

I’m not going to write any more about what I saw or felt there. I’m not that fond of talking about myself, but most importantly, I’d like to encourage you all to go see it for yourself rather than take my word for it.

It’s well worth the trip.

Critters Chilling at Clallam Bay

On my recent trip to Forks, Lake Ozette, and the Hoh Rain Forest, I drove through Clallam Bay. I didn’t stay there long enough to get much to write about, but I did get some cool pictures from a high point looking down on the bay.

Seals and double crested cormorants relaxed on the rocks below me. The temperature was cold to my standards, but they looked comfortable as can be.

It was a reminder of what I love about living in the Pacific Northwest…and, well, just living in general. Clallam Bay is a beautiful little place with a wild heart tucked away in the to left corner of the state, all right there for the seeing. It’s like stepping into a time machine and getting a few thousand years away from social media and politics for a bit.

Clallam Bay is quite a bit off the beaten path of the 101 loop. The roads are well paved and easy driving, but it’s a bit of a long haul to get there. Still, it’s the only way I know of to get to Lake Ozette, so if you decided to see that sight you may want to put some time aside to visit Clallam Bay. I wish I’d had more daylight to explore it further.

I’ll definitely be visiting Clallam Bay again. For now, however, I’d just like to share my pictures from my brief drive-through.