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.

Your Very Own Hoh Rain Forest

If you’ve ever dreamed of having the entire Hoh Rain Forest to yourself, then go there in January. While it won’t legally be yours, there’ll be so few people there that you can pretend it is.

At least, that’s how it was when I went there last January.

A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.
A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.

The area was so quiet, in fact, that I nearly walked into a tern on the way back to the my car.

I was in the parking lot and had just entered a short trail that connects the two primary parking lots. The tern burst into flight no more than five feet away from me.

The bird flew a little ways and then settled back down by the water. Using my ninja-like stealth, I got close enough to take the glorious picture you see above.

The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the prettiest parts of Olympic National Park, which makes it one of the prettiest parts of Washington state. It’s also more difficult to access than any other part of the park simply because it’s on the far western side of the Olympic Peninsula. The closest town to it is Forks.

A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.

The Hoh Rain Forest is beautiful in January because the mountains in the distance are snowy while the lower ground is not, creating a nice aesthetic contrast.

I stood on that riverside you see to the left for a solid twenty minutes and only saw one pair of people other than myself. It was quiet and peaceful there, even though I was less than half a mile from the parking lot.

My favorite Hoh trail is the Hall of Mosses. Less than a mile long, it takes you on a walk through a forest of enormous trees blanketed in moss. The place feels ancient, as if you’ve stepped into a time machine and traveled back to a time  before human beings. This is doubly true in January.

But, the purpose of this post isn’t to go into specific hikes or sights; I’ll add those things in other posts later. For right now, I just wanted to pass on a little insider information.

Go to the Hoh in January (or presumably any time around that), and you’ll find lots of silence to roam in.

Your very own rain forest. Can’t beat that.

Dreaming about the Lions, the Mountain and the Sea

Come join me by the fire, friends. I’d like to talk, if you’ve got the time. I’ve been dreaming about the lions. Maybe you have been, too.

Do you know what I’m referring to? Yes? No? Let me explain.

From the first time I read Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” the book’s final line has stuck with me. “The old man was dreaming about the lions,” that line goes.

That sentence refers back to an earlier part of the book in which the story’s main character, the “old man” Santiago, is said to have found that in his old age he’s been thinking less and less about his own exploits and accomplishments. What’s stuck with him the most in his twilight years are the wonders he’s seen. One of those wonders is a beach full of lions.

Much has been made about these lions and about Santiago’s dreaming of them, and most of that much-ado is interesting and worthy of meditation. What resonates so much with me, however, and what has me feeling so sentimental today, is something different.

For me, Santiago’s dreaming about the lions is ultimately a hopeful thing. The most hopeful thing in this life of rust and despair, in fact.

For me, the dream of lions comes to Santiago because old age has softened his ego, and the softening of that ego has made him wise. Santiago in his final years has found the simple love of life for the mere sake of life, rather than life as a stage upon which to assert his own being.

To my view, Santiago has achieved enlightenment. This doesn’t mean he isn’t still a proud, strong, defiant man–indeed a “strange man,” as he so desperately wishes to prove himself. But, in that strangeness, he has learned to step outside of himself and appreciate the grandeur of life as it was and will be when he is gone.

I find that notion very beautiful, and very hopeful.

I’m not an old man yet, but I’m old enough that that line from the book has been resonating powerfully with me. As I find myself ruminating upon the things I’ve seen, the mountains and seas and rivers, I find myself thinking about Santiago.

And as I think about Santiago, I think about all my friends, too, and about all of their own inevitable endings.

I thank God for the mountains, seas, and rivers I’ve seen. Beyond all the hardships and the tears of this life, I’m grateful to have smelled and touched and heard nature’s music. I don’t ever want to lose that gratitude, and I hope that no matter how hard things get in the future, I find myself dreaming about the lions.

And to you, my friends, on your own hard, splendid roads, I fare thee well with gratitude. Through all the suffering life will inevitably bring, through all the loss and sadness, may you dream about the lions.

And when your present seems pale and twisted, your future dark and broken, may you dream about the lions.

And, most of all, when that good long night of forever comes to sweep us up into the canopy of mysteries, I hope you’re dreaming about the lions, my friends.

And I hope I am, too.

And that’s all I have to say, I guess, tonight around the fire. Thank you for sitting a while.

The First Time I Laid My Eyes upon Mount Rainier

I’ll never forget the moment I stepped outside the Fort Lewis barracks door and saw Mount Rainier on the horizon for the very first time.

I’d been brought into the base the night before, fresh off the Ranger Indoctrination Program. It was first time ever in Washington,Northwest Nomad sitting on a rock with Mount Rainier in background. but I’d been dreaming of going there for years. Being an outdoorsman, and also being a product of the 90s grunge generation, the state was almost a mythic place to me. There was no way, however, to be prepared for the awe-inspiring sight that is Mount Rainier.
I’m not alone in this. I’ve talked to many people who told me that the first time they saw Mount Rainier was practically a religious experience.

From that moment on, I knew the Pacific Northwest was my home. One could even say the Northwest Nomad was born that day.

Nearly 15 years later, and still there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look at the mountain in awe and gratitude. This excludes the many days when it’s not visible at all (which as we Northwesterners know is pretty damn common), but when it’s out, I’m as in love with it now as ever before.

So, here’s just a little letter of appreciation to the mountain. I’ll never forget ye, nor the day I first laid eyes upon you.

Anybody else out there in the ether remember the first time they saw Rainier? Got a story to tell? Please do.