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.

UFO/Paranormal Summit at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino

On my way out of the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino after day 1 of the 2018 UFO/Paranormal summit, a young casino employee jokingly warned me to be careful. “Don’t get abducted on the way to the car,” he said with a snicker and a wink at his coworker.

I didn’t take the mockery personally, because I was there as a tourist of the UFO/Paranormal world, not a true member. It was a taste, however, of what “experiencers” (the name used to designate those that have directly experienced UFO contact) and general paranormal enthusiasts alike have to put up. And you know what? It’s a bunch of crap. Those UFO/Paranormal “nutters” are some of the best people you’ll ever meet.

The truth of the matter is that I went to the summit hoping to see a bunch of weird, eccentric people. The truth is also that this article would be sure to get more “likes” and “claps” and shares if I pretended that was the case and exaggerated the people I met and made fun of them. I’m not going to write that, though, not only because it’s not true but also because, after hearing what they had to say, I’m one of them, damn it.

The people I met at the UFO/Paranormal summit were some of the friendliest, most curious, down-to-Earth (pun intended) people I’ve ever met. It was a pleasure to share the conference room with them.

UFO Summit menu, with picture of alien wearing a chef's hat.

I didn’t meet any fanatics. Really, considering the current political climate, where formerly rational people fly off the handle at anyone who slightly disagrees with them, these people were refreshingly open-minded and moderate in their views.

They also were unafraid to laugh at themselves. Stuffed aliens, a big cardboard cutout where you could put your face in the face of an alien in a disco suit, and funny images such as the one seen to the left were all over the conference room. These people know damn well how they’re perceived by the outside world, and they accept it. In fact, I’d say most of them seemed proud to have the courage to explore outside the mainstream. That’s the kind of folks I met.

The lectures and presentations were fun and fascinating. Wildlife biologist Joe Hauser, who also runs the Montana House of Mystery, was my personal favorite presenter. He discussed energy vortexes and the possible connection they may have to paranormal phenomenon, of which UFOs are now widely considered to be another part of. It’s a view that was also supported by Portland, Oregon science teacher and bigfoot researcher Thom Powell.

This is complex stuff that is too complicated to go into at length here, but I strongly recommend that anyone interested check out the fellows mentioned above, as well as physicist Jacques Vallee. The general idea they all play with is that there are porous spaces in the fabric of reality in certain places around the world, and the things we call “paranormal” come through these porous spaces occasionally.

If that hypothesis is right, then UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts, fairies, and all the myriad of other things we call “paranormal” are all actually part of the same phenomenon.

Some of the other presenters stuck with subjects that were more nuts-and-bolts types of things–the kind of simple “grey biological beings in metal spaceship” stuff you see in the X-Files.

Maureen Morgan, Washington state’s MUFON director, presented a very well-researched case to challenge the legitimacy of the recent government UFO disclosures. Morgan was passionately erudite in her presentation, slinging out referenced facts and biographies at breakneck speed. She practically had to be dragged off the stage, so caught up was she with this urgent need to get out what she had to get out.

Watching her, I decided that (1) she did indeed present some compelling information, and (2) she was the kind of person I wanted to hang out with, no matter if he ideas were right. She had real, earnest passion for her subject. How often nowadays do you find somebody like that? It was inspiring, to say the least.

So, I’m not going to give an extensive recap of the whole event here as it would take a few thousand words to do so. What I will say is that I had a great time at the UFO/Paranormal Summit, and I really look forward to hanging out with that crowd again.

In the meantime, I’ve got some research to catch up on. There be Bigfoot in them there hills, and the Northwest Nomad intends to find them.

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.