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.

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.

Aberdeen, Washington: Not the Lying-Down Kind

The city’s bridges sag over their 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 everything.

Orange lights glow in pub windows, the 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 out of the mountains.

Yet, for all their subtracted voices, the people stay, and in staying they honor a history of hard work and tough family. Theirs is not a surrendering sadness. No, not that kind.

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

Aberdeen is a mother feeding 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 its people.

“Let’s get to work,” they say. “Our bridges may sag, but they never break — and neither do we.”


Talking Ghosts at Alfred’s Cafe in Tacoma

Interesting Conversation

One of the great things about being the Northwest Nomad is that I have a permanent excuse to drink beer and chat with strangers at bars. It’s what I call “conducting research,” and I’ve found all kinds of interesting informational nuggets out there that way. A couple days ago I had such an encounter at Alfred’s Cafe in Tacoma.

I’ve been to Alfred’s Cafe a few times before. It’s one of my favorite breakfast spots in Tacoma, in fact. On this day, though, I heard something very intriguing — Alfred’s is haunted!

I’ve ordered some books to see what I can verify about the restaurant’s paranormal past, but for now I want to relate what I heard as I heard it, because it was an interesting conversation for sure.

Alfred’s Cafe: The Woman in the Corner

My conversation with the bartender and the patron turned to ghosts when the lights in the building started flickering. They did so in two clusters, roughly five flickers each, set about a minute apart. I didn’t think much of it, but the bartender and the patron smiled knowingly at each other.

I asked what they were smirking about, and they proceeded to tell me that it was probably the ghosts at it again.

The nuts and bolts of the tale are the standard pictures-falling-off-walls and mysterious-footsteps kind of stuff, but one particular aspect of the tale lent it more validity than the typical haunting story.

At least two Alfred’s Cafe employees have quit the restaurant after seeing the reflection of a woman sitting in the corner of the eating area. The sightings occurred on two separate occasions, while they employees were shutting down at night.

Quitting one’s place of employment isn’t the sort of thing people normally do for a hoax, especially not a hoax that brings them no fame or fortune.

The Little Girl in the Window

Alfred’s restaurant occupies the bottom floor of one of the oldest buildings in Tacoma. That bottom floor has been renovated for the modern age, but the upper two floors remain as they were when the building was built. There’s a massive grand staircase that connects the top two floors (the employees told me about this). The staircase used to run down to the ground-level floor, too, but it was taken out a few years ago.

The upper two floors are today used only for storage, giving plenty of time and space for the ghosts to scamper about at will.

One of the entities living up there, I am told, is a little girl who can occasionally be seen looking out of one of the top-story windows. But how did she get there in the first place? Well, the story behind that little bit is rather interesting.

Prostitutes and their Daughters

The reason why ghost is a young girl and the other is a grown woman lies in the history of the structure.

The building that now houses Alfred’s used to be a brothel. This much I was actually able to verify with some internet sleuthing.

Brothels were notoriously dark and violent places in early America, and the legend is that some ugly, ugly things went down in the building that now houses Alfred’s — things as ugly as murder. Does this mean the woman’s ghost is some ill-fated prostitute? We can’t be sure, of course, though evidence leans that way.

As for the little girl, the Bull’s Eye indoor shooting range across the parking lot from Alfred’s was supposedly once a school for little girls. The prostitutes working the brothel would send their daughters over there during the “work” day.

Well, according to legend, decades ago that school burned down, killing seven girls.

So, perhaps the woman and the little girl are mother and daughter?

Or, perhaps there’s a whole host of women and little-girl ghosts there, singing and crying to each other. Maybe the many sightings have actually been of multiple different people.

There’s no way to know for sure, but I do intend to find out.

Let the Paranormal Adventure Begin

The Alfred’s conversation has inspired me to add a new section to this blog and a new mission to my travels. I’m going to begin covering paranormal destinations in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ll get to the bottom of this Alfred’s thing soon enough. I’ve got my books coming, and I’m going to do some gumshoeing.

So, stay tuned, friends. Also, please do let me know if you’ve got any tips on this or any other Pacific Northwest paranormal story.