Nomad Poem for Aberdeen, Washington (An Ode to a Rough Diamond)

A One Way sign and a pipe on an alleyway wall in Aberdeen, Washington.
Image from an Aberdeen alleyway.

I love Aberdeen, Washington. The place just has a gritty character that speaks to my soul and imagination. For most people it’s a gateway to the Olympic coast or the peninsula, but the city itself has a peculiar magic all its own.

I wrote a poem about Aberdeen titled “Not the Lying Down Kind.” I originally published it on Medium, but I want to include it here, as well.

Not the Lying Down Kind (for Aberdeen, Washington)

The city’s bridges sag over rivers 
like hunchbacked men carrying too-heavy loads 
for too long.

On the streets, tired, 
dim-eyed cars float into mist 
as a foreign country’s nighttime 
overtakes the city’s sleep.

Orange lights glow in pub windows, 
buildings thus resembling cooling embers from a scattered fire. 
They’re the secret hearts of this world carved out of fog, those pubs. 
Their walls thump with rock, pop, and hip hop.

A tortured, mewling voice echoes faintly through the alleyways. 
“Come as you are,” it says, 
“and then be gone with you.”

The whole of Aberdeen sleeps on the threshold of yesterday, 
dreaming of beds.

In the warm thump of the secret hearts the people laugh. 
Nothing said ever lasts. 
Every word fades into fog rolling down mountains.

Yet, for all their subtracted voices, 
the people stay, 
and in staying they honor a history of hard work and tough family. 
Their’s is not a surrendering sadness.

No, it’s not that kind.

Triumphant and proud, 
it laughs. 
It harvests life out of the hollow, 
it doesn’t give a damn for lying-down things.

Aberdeen is a mother nursing her baby 
after a double shift.

Aberdeen is a grim lumberjack, 
hands numb with callouses, 
laughing with abandon as his son tickles his stomach.

Sometimes hobbled, 
but never cowed, 
Aberdeen is the people
of Aberdeen.

Copyright 2018 Jeff Suwak

Birds of Mount Si

I saw some birds while hiking atop Mount Si in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As usual, it was mostly Canada Jays (also known as Camp Robbers), which are a popular Si attraction because they will eat out of people’s hands without hesitation. I’m not endorsing the practice and don’t indulge in it myself, but the fact is that it’s a pretty regular thing up there for people to do.

Canada Jays no top of Mount Si
These Canada Jays, also called Camp Robbers, can be found all over the top of Mount Si. They will eat right out of your hand (literally).
Canada Jay eating on Mount Si.
Here’s a Canada Jay eating some crumbs on Mount Si. This particular one was on top of the Haystack.

This was the first time I ever saw a Blue Jay on top of Mount Si, which was a thrill. They’re beautiful, noble birds.

Blue Jay on top of Mount Si.
This blue was on the “false top” of Mount Si. Beautiful, regal animal.
Blue Jay on top of Mount Si.

Hiking Mount Si in the Time of COVID-19

Washington State parks reopened for hiking on May 5, 2020. Two days later I grabbed my trusty Discover Pass and headed for Mount Si in North Bend, Washington. 

I kick off every hiking season with a trek up Mount Si and have had many memorable climbs there, including the time I saw a guy carry a tuba all the way to the top. This year’s trip was unique, though, and I suspect I’ll never forget it. It came in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and was the first time I’d gotten out of house (other to walk down the street or grocery shop) in months.

Mount Rainier seen from top of Mount Si.
Mount Rainier as seen from atop Mount Si.

This hike will forever be burned into my psyche as the most life-affirming outdoor experience of my life. It was a reminder of everything I love about the Pacific Northwest, the outdoors, and just plain-old being alive. 

I went from top to bottom of Si without stopping to rest one time. At one point I even broke out in a run. I’ve kept myself in pretty good shape during this winter season, but the fuel that sent me to top of Si was pure elation at being free and outside in the sun on a beautiful day.

Not Nearly as Many People On Mount Si as I Usually See on a Beautiful Day

I didn’t know how many people to expect coming across on the trail. I counted them for the first leg of the hike but quickly lost that effort to the simple joy of being outdoors again.

All I can say is that I’ve done Mount Si dozens of times, and the crowd I saw there this time seemed far smaller than ever before. The weather was perfect, yet the parking lot was at only about 1/4 capacity when I pulled in at 8 am and at maybe 1/2 capacity when I left at about 1 pm. 

Smiling, Friendly People Hiking

Some folks on the mountain were understandably concerned about COVID-19 and wore face masks. They were the exception, but just about everyone was conscious of maintaining space.

Everyone kept at a distance from everyone else the best they could. It wasn’t like the usual Mount Si hike where I’d cross people on the trail and trade hearty “hellos” and jokes about how we don’t know why we subject ourselves to that ascent. People weren’t unfriendly. Just cautious.

Looking out from top of Mount Si
View from atop Mount Si.

The Haystack’s No Joke

This isn’t COVID-19 related, but I want to share something I was reminded of on this hike.

The spot that most hikers consider to be “the top” of Mount Si is not actually the top. If you climb up the boulders of that “false top,” you’ll link back onto a short trail that takes you to the bottom of a stony mound called the Haystack. 

The Haystack is not a hike. It requires actual climbing. The rocks are porous and give good grips, but the fall is no joke.

I think people underestimate the Haystack because there are no warning signs and because so many people hike Mount Si. Don’t be fooled, though, the Haystack is enough of a climb that many people find themselves terrified and clinging to the rocks wondering why the hell they went up there.

I know this for a fact. I’ve seen it a few times in the past, and I saw it again on this trip.

Northwest Nomad climbing up Mount Si's Haystack.
The Northwest Nomad climbs up the Haystack of Mount Si.

I love the Haystack climb, but partway up I looked down and realized that it’s really not something to take lightly. There was never a point where I felt like I was going to fall, but in several sections I looked down and knew that if I did fall I would be seriously injured.

One fellow who I ended up making friends with (shout out to Deepak) told me repeatedly that he couldn’t believe how shady that climb is, considering the fact that there are warning signs or guidelines about using any gear.

I laughed, but Deepak was right. I saw with my own eyes how often the Haystack catches casual outdoors-people off-guard and scares the beejezus out of them.

I love the Haystack climb. It’s my favorite part of Mount Si. If you’ve got the physical conditioning, dexterity, and desire, I fully recommend you go for it.

Just know that it might be above your comfort level once you get up on those rocks. Be mindful of your own limits and all that jazz.

Already Planning Mount Si Hike #2

Early on in the COVID-19 lockdown, I vowed to myself to spend as much time as possible outdoors this year, to really embrace the beautiful world around me and my precious freedom. I intend to uphold that vow.

I have many plans, but a second time on Si is a certainty, and probably sooner than later.