Strange Conversation at Irely Lake, Olympic National Park

So it was I found myself on the shore of Irely Lake, talking out loud to a tree…and I’ll be damned if the tree didn’t talk back.

It was one of those days of common desperation. Common for me, anyway, the man who never outgrows his existential angst. No matter how old I get, the nagging doubt remains. What am I supposed to be doing here? Why do the answers fade as fast as they arrive? Is there a reason or isn’t there a reason for anything and everything, and what am I supposed to do with either of those possibilities?

Christ, man, I’m tired of this shit.

Just like every other time my head gets too loud, I felt the need to get away from the commotion of modernity and into the woods, so I hopped in my car and drove three hours to the Irely Lake trail.

The trail head is a few miles outside Lake Quinault, down a couple dirt roads rough enough to turn most the city cars away. Quinault’s one of my favorite places in Washington state. It’s got elk and cougar and bear, rain forest, mountains, miles and miles of trails…and silence. The people there pretty much leave you well enough alone, unless you’re up for a brief and friendly chat.

It’s a short walk along the trail to the lake. Only a little over a mile, I believe. But this was still the winter season. Winds had blown two enormous trees over the trail and water flooded some other parts. This made for some fun obstacles, and even better it meant the trail was mine, so that only a mile from the road I felt completely alone in the rain forest.

Reaching the shore of the lake, which has trees and brush encroaching all along its bank, I saw a duck and its ducklings fly down and splash into the water. A moment later a pair of grown ducks flew side by side over the surface of the lake and away. Right after them, like a glitch in the matrix, two more identical ones followed in seemingly the exact same flight path.

I sat down next to a big old spruce and found myself thinking in the rain. My mind felt like a rabbit getting chewed up by a rabid dog…ugly and haggard.

So I turned aside and look at this big old spruce tree beside me and I said, “Hey, old man, I know this is kind of crazy, but there’s no one around other than you and me and I’m wondering if you can tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life.”

I sat there looking at the tree, not really expecting an answer. Hell, I’m crazy enough to talk to a tree, but not crazy enough to expect it to talk back.

But, as I sat there staring at this thing, I began to notice some details I’d previously glossed over. Multiple species of moss grew on its bark. The bark itself was incredibly thick and the cracks in it were deep; it undoubtedly gave home to all kinds of insects and worms. Up in the branches, birds and squirrels might have nested. If not, they at least certainly stopped there for some time now and then. In the warmer season, I bet that tree was crawling with life.

That’s when it hit me, so clear that it was like the tree was talking directly to me.

What I realized was that that tree had never done anything with its life other than stay rooted on that lake shore, yet in doing so it had given home to a multitude of living things. In staying motionlessly true to itself, it had became a home for life. Zen moment. Bam.

“Thanks old man,” I said.

I stood up, patted the tree’s side, and headed back, feeling lighter as I went.

What’s my purpose? It is to give my absolute best at the things that come most naturally to me. It’s to write and think deeply and create, and to laugh at the absurd things that strike me funny and to read obscure history and study things I’ll never actually use. It’s to explore and to give and to find magic in the world so I can write about it for others. It’s to be selfless and fearless. It’s to be my true self.

At least, that’s the answer I’m toying with now. Here’s to hoping it lasts, because this one feels good and right.

(In “Wandering Around With a Notebook” entries I share the poetic or philosophical side of my travels. A more utilitarian entry will be made for this location.)

Tacoma Budget Trip: Point Defiance Park

Point Defiance Park is a Great Tacoma Budget Trip

Whether you’re in the mood for swimming, hiking, tossing a football around, taking a scenic drive, or just chilling in the sun, you’ll find plenty of room and opportunity at Point Defiance Park. There’s also the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, boat rentals, and eats, of course, but in this blog post I’ll be focusing on Point Defiance recreation activities that cost little to no money. Point Defiance makes for a great Tacoma budget trip for people on a budget.

Owen Beach and the Waterfront Promenade

Owen Beach, which sits on the shore of the Puget Sound, is one of the main attractions at Point Defiance.

Owen Beach in winter. During summer, there are far more visitors, and the beach is usually a bustle of play.

Children love playing on the drift logs that lay along the sand—and many adults do, as well. The main beach area, seen in the photo above, tends to have the most concentrated crowds. The beach stretches on for quite some ways, however, and the farther you go the less people you’ll find.

 

There’s also a wide lawn with concessions and kayak rental shops, a picnic shelter, and restrooms. Nearly $5 million of improvements are being planned for 2018.

Though the main beach is developed, this location still has a bit wild streak, and it’s not uncommon to see seals and sea lions near shore.

A long waterfront promenade leads from Owen Beach to Boathouse Marina. This walk is fully paved and level and makes for an easy, scenic excursion for people of any fitness level.

Gardens Upon Gardens

In the rush to get to the beach, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers. Point Defiance is full of them!

The Rose Garden covers more than an acre. In addition to the roses themselves, there’s a wishing well and multiple gazebos to sit and contemplate the beauty.

The Pacific Northwest is known for its greenery, and it’s not always easy to find the other vibrant colors of nature. That’s not the case in Point Defiance. In addition to the Rose Garden, there’s an Herb Garden, a Fuchsia Garden, a Dahlia Trail Garden, and more.


 

     While you’re enjoying the flowers, keep an eye out for the many birds that like to congregate inthis area, especially in the pools scattered around the property.

Few things are better at reminding us to relax and enjoy life than watching ducks go about their business.

These Trails Were Made for Walking

Point Defiance has nearly 10 miles of walking trails.

None of the trails are far from the main park area, and none of them are very rugged. It’s casual hiking.
But, because of the thickness of the vegetation and the contour of the land, you get little stretches where you feel peacefully removed from the hustle and bustle.

No Matter the Season, Point Defiance Always Makes for a Nice Visit

In the wintertime, the park is refreshingly quiet and calm. In the summer, it’s got the energy of family and friends getting out to enjoy that long-sought Washington state sunshine. You can’t ask for much for from a place with free entrance.

Whether you’re in Tacoma or farther out, it’s a great day trip.

Introvert’s Getaway Series: Packwood, Washington and the La Wis Wis Campground

A Perfect Escape into Quietude

If you’re a Washington state introvert looking for a quick weekend escape into relative solitude (as much as you can get without actually going into the back country), then I’ve got a place for you.

Near the southern entrance into Mount Rainier National Park, there’s a little town named Packwood. A few miles beyond that, a National Forest Service campground named Las Wis Wis.

 

Packwood, as you can see above, isn’t Las Vegas. It’s a mellow place, even by Washington mountain-town standards—especially in the fall and winter off season, which is precisely the time I recommend people go.

There’s nothing intrusive about the town. Packwood takes your money for the basics and then leaves you alone, asking and tempting you with nothing more. The town just sits there meditating amidst the mountains, as ready for you to be driving away as driving in.

For folks who are looking for a silent escape from the rat race but not in the mood to head into the back country or leave civilization entirely, it’s a great town to visit.

Amazing Drive

Like the Interstate 90 route through Snoqualmie Pass and the 101 Olympic Peninsula Loop, the White Pass drive is a spectacular scenic excursion. Packwood, which is just off this route, is an ideal base camp for those looking to explore the road’s full length.

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La Wis Wis Campground—A Gem of Silence

About 8 miles north of Packwood, located just off US 12 as you’re heading into that White Pass Scenic Byway, is the U.S. Forest Service’s La Wis Wis campground. It’s located on the shore of the Cowlitz River.

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Some of the sites are located right alongside the water, while others are tucked inland amidst Douglas fir, hemlock, and cedar. The pic below is an example of the latter.

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La Wis Wis campground is nice any time of year, but for the quiet introvert getaway I’m recommending here, the ideal time is late in the tourist season when it’s already begun to get a little colder at night. The campground closes on Labor Day, so the window I’m recommending is late August into early September.

Last time I went, on Labor Day weekend 2016, I was the only camper within earshot. There were a few other visitors alongside the river, but I felt like I had the run of the place. At night, it felt as silent and remote as actually being deep in the woods.

Up the Cowlitz Lies the Blue Hole

At the end of a very short La Wis Wis hiking trail is the Blue Hole, a swimming hole with pristine blue water.

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It was too cold for swimming in early September, but I had a great view of a few salmon making their fall run. The water was so clear that every detail of the fish and the river floor was visible. I sat on the rocks for a solid hour watching the fish go about their business.

On the beach, which is rocky but sandy enough to walk comfortably barefoot, someone left the heart shown above. It was rather beautiful, and its artists nowhere to be found. Beauty in solitude—exactly what I’d gone in looking for. If that sounds appealing to you, as well, then I highly recommend La Wis Wis in early fall.

P.S. Even in the peak season, this area isn’t as highly trafficked as many other Washington destinations and is good to ditch the crowds to some extent, but I’ll be writing a more general post about that this summer.

Tacoma, Washington: Just the Right Combination of Glitz and Grit

In Tacoma, History and Innovation Blend Seamlessly

Come to Tacoma for beautiful historic landmarks standing right beside newly constructed museums and restaurants. Feel free to wear your best dress or your favorite pair of blue jeans. This city doesn’t ask anyone to put on any airs.

As anybody who has lived in the Puget Sound Basin will attest, Tacoma has a bit of a reputation around these parts. Many see it as the Gotham City of the Pacific Northwest. In that aspect, the city has attained a kind of mythical status, a steam-painted town in a black and white movie that will never be colorized.

Some of this reputation was earned in the city’s past. This place was was built by the blistered hands of longshoreman, fishermen, and the men of the train yard. Later, particularly in the 80s and 90s, the city became synonymous with gang violence.

Those days are gone, though, and downtown Tacoma is a thriving place full of culture and energy.

The rebirth initiated by the construction of the University of Washington, Tacoma’s campus has brought all kinds of worthwhile sites to this city. Yet, underneath these renovations, Tacoma still maintains its gritty character. Amidst the museums and theaters and galleries, there is also the remnant of the industrial heart of this city, still beating, and still beautiful in its rusted, corrugated way.

The City’s Got Soul

This is the kind of city that I appreciate. It’s got its best Sunday dress on, but there’s a bit of dirt underneath those fingernails to show that this place still has a soul. Its daddy didn’t put it through art school. No, it had to work nights at the packing yard to get through.

Stand at the corner of Market and South 11th and you’ll see art murals painted on building fronts, Mount Rainier, and the cranes and boats of a working waterfront, all in one sweep of the eye. Tacoma probably wouldn’t appear in a Beatles song, but it could be the star of a Tom Waits album. Springsteen would appreciate the heart of this place, too, I think.

For all its new culture and energy, Tacoma still is not a city that puts on airs. You can sit in bar and meet real human beings. Far as I’m concerned, it’s got the perfect balance of glamour and grit.

The City’s Better than just Pretty and Nice—It’s Straight Up Poetic

I love this city, and this post comes from the ragged guts of my poetic sensibility, I know. I can’t help it. But there’s a more businesslike introduction to Tacoma, as well, that I wrote for the fantastic folks of Travelicious.

That introduction catalogs all the sites for you potential tourists. It shows you how you can see the Tacoma Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Chihuly Bride of Glass, and the Washington State History Museum all in one day, entirely on foot. The trip would also have you around the shops, restaurants, and taverns that surround the University of Washington, Tacoma campus.

Follow the link below, adventurer, and see what Tacoma has to offer. All poetic sentimentality aside, this is a great city to visit for a day, a weekend, or longer.

http://travelicious.world/tacoma-washington-a-city-reborn/

First Time Elephant Ears

The crew of Portlanders sitting next to me in the bleachers titters at the hokeyness of their first small-town rodeo. Then the bull rages out of the gate in a cyclone of horns and hooves, throws its rider on the second buck and kicks the grounded man square in the chest. The crew grows quiet.

Down in the arena a rodeo clown distracts the beast as attendants rush the shaken competitor to safety. “Damn,” one of the Portlanders finally whispers, to herself as much as to anyone else, “that was intense.” Her companions nod in agreement.

She’s right, of course. It was more intense than I expected it would be, having never been to a rodeo before. That’s not what brought me to Tillamook, though. Not entirely. For me, the attraction was more subtle than that, and perhaps more serious. In a way, it was more about the spectators than about the spectacle.

A person can spend only so many days staring into computer screens before the whole world starts to feel like one dimly lit, claustrophobic little box. That was how I’d been living for months, and it had become downright depressing. Constant connectivity had me feeling completely disconnected. Somewhere along the line, I found myself longing for the kind of small-town community interaction that I’d grown up with, the kind that seemed to have gone extinct over the last twenty years.

So, at 5:30 on a June morning, I started the 150-mile drive south to Tillamook, Oregon. I didn’t need to leave that early for the rodeo, but the June Dairy Parade started at 10:30, and I had no intention of missing it. It was the thing that had caught my eye more than the rodeo itself. In its 59th year, the parade represented a touchstone to the past and the kind of Americana that my flabby, office-cubicle spirit sorely needed.

I got there early and found the town still sleeping, empty foldout chairs lining the sidewalks along the parade route. I parked my car on a backstreet and headed towards the center of town where I found the Coliseum movie theater’s marquis looking like a beacon shining from the shores of the 1950s, calling me back to a time I never experienced and yet often miss. All of downtown Tillamook, really, looks like a place preserved in amber.

A gentleman in good blue jeans and a Vietnam veteran’s hat talked to me for a good five minutes about where to get breakfast and about some of the town’s latest news. He made it clear he was in no hurry at all. And why should he be on a summer Saturday?

Most of the seats were filled at the Dutch Mill Café when I walked inside. People flowed in and out of the door as I sat drinking coffee. Some of them ordered food. Others just stopped for a few minutes to talk about the parade or about their farms. They all seemed to know each other’s names. My eggs over-medium were perfect.

Spectators started filling the streets about half an hour before the parade. I finished my coffee and went out to join them. The event was delayed because a car that had been left in the middle of the route had to be towed. Signs had been posted for multiple nights warning drivers about leaving their cars, one of the organizers told me with a shake of her head.

Nobody seemed to mind the delay. The weather was perfect, and people just milled around talking and laughing. When it finally did get rolling, it was even better than I could have imagined.

Fire trucks and convertible cars. Synchronized dancers and bands playing on hay bales stacked atop flatbed truck trailers. The theme was “An Udder Day in Paradise,” and the floats were decorated accordingly, often with hilarious results. Kids scrambled amongst each other to gather the candy and cheese packets thrown out to them by the handful. I managed to snatch up a couple pieces from the frenzy and still get my arm back intact.

Parade participants called out to friends and family who clapped and cheered them on in return. I turned to a woman I’d previously exchanged pleasantries with and said, “Wow, it’s hard to find stuff like this, these days.”

“Well,” she said, “Tillamook is about fifty years behind the times.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

She thinks a moment before laughing. “Well, I guess it’s a bit of both.”

She knew better than me, of course. It was her town, and I was just a visitor. Nothing is perfect. Stare too long at paradise and you will begin to see the flaws. But the experience was exactly what I’d been needing, and I left the parade feeling a warm buzz.

With a couple hours before the rodeo I went to the Blue Heron French Cheese Company because I liked the look of the building. Kids squealed nervously as they fed goats and mules by hand in the yard while, inside, two musicians entertained wine tasters with a soulful rendition of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel.”

With a stomach full of fancy cheeses I went to the Tillamook Air Museum and checked out Aero Spacelines’ Mini-Guppy which, contrary to its name, is absolutely enormous.

Standing behind the cockpit and looking out through the windows of the plane built in 1949, I absorbed that singular feeling that comes from being immersed in the past. What’s the proper name for that sensation?

It’s a kind of sublimity, nostalgia mingled with trepidation, the feeling of being planted firmly in the ground, the sensation of temporal roots growing from the bottom of our feet and anchoring deep into something vaster than we can comprehend. It’s the comfort of realizing we are part of something much bigger than ourselves, and it’s the fear of becoming lost and forgotten in the immensity of that boundless continuum, all of it exhilarating in its silent, subtle way.

I arrived at rodeo just before the start of events and found a seat in the bleachers. Before things kicked off I watched a little girl, maybe five-years-old, take her first, tentative bite of an elephant ear. Her eyes lit up like pinball machines when it hit her mouth, and her family broke up laughing.

The competitors paced around each other in the chutes, eyes focused upon their ropes, saddles, and horses, triple- and quadruple-checking everything before it was their turn to perform. They paid for a slot in the competition, money slapped down for a chance to win glory and prizes.

By the time the crew of Portlanders climbed into the stands beside me, I’d already found everything I’d gone to Tillamook to find. The world is much wider than a computer screen, and runs a whole hell of a lot deeper. The places we came from are never as far away as they seem. And those rumors of the death of the quaintness of small-town America? Well, they’ve been greatly exaggerated.

The Portlanders grow quiet as the next rider hustles up to try his luck. I hold my breath in anticipation right along with them. I might have come for something different, but dudes mounting monstrous, pissed-off bulls just to see how long they can last before being flung to the ground and possibly kicked in the chest? Yea, that’s pretty cool, too.