Category Archives: Wandering Around With a Notebook

Faith restored in Roslyn, Washington, united states of america

New Magic, Old Ghosts, Good Times

I’ve been to Roslyn, Washington, more times than I can count. I’ve loved the town ever since the first time I went there in search of Northern Exposure artifacts. It’s much more than just a pop-culture landmark. The town has a certain magic. I feel a downright mystical vibe in that place, if I’m being honest. History breathes there in every building stone and pavement pore.

I’d become acclimated to the usual energy of the place, so I was surprised to find myself having such a potent visit on my most recent, which occurred on July 17, 2021, in the smoking aftermath of 2020 and the glimmering rays fighting the growing dark of an uncertain future. Such is this strange new world we find ourselves, I suppose.

Coiled metal wire
The center of downtown Roslyn holds some old coal-mining artifacts. I thought this looked interested up close.

Out of the Puget Sound Basin and into America

Living in an urban part of the Puget Sound basin, I often forget that the whole world isn’t full of angry people snarling about world peace and spitting on each other in the name of brotherly love. There are still places in this state where people live with a general human comradery and friendliness, places where people shamelessly love this amazing nation we live in. I found them in Roslyn.

What I experienced there can’t really be explained by the events alone. Before the madness of 2020 upturned reality, the things I did in Roslyn would have been trivial.

Yes, I had a great meal at the Roslyn Cafe (great and unique ragù). I once again explored all the historical buildings. I visited, for the first time, the amazing historic cemeteries (if you think cemeteries can’t be great destinations than you haven’t seen these…or been to New Orleans). I also hiked the Carlson Creek Loop, which is technically in Teanaway a few miles east of Roslyn, but still the same basic area.

These are mostly things I’ve done before or are at least the types of things that I’ve done before. On this trip, however, they took on a special magic.

Roslyn Yard in Roslyn, Washington.
Outdoor eats, music, happy people in the Roslyn Yard.

The Human Circle

At the café there was no talk of politics. People flew American flags everywhere, and they did so shamelessly. The ’80s tunes on the café playlist were the same old hits I’ve been hearing since I was a kid, but they sounded life-affirming, this time, simple celebrations of this blessed gift of existence.

Part of this was, of course, the fact that we are coming out of the COVID lockdowns. It was good just to sit in sunshine and hear laughter, to share grins with strangers and banter with our most excellent server was more than that.

It was more than that, though. It was also stepping back into the warm sphere of shared humanity, one that gets filtered out completely by corporate and social media. Spend too much time on the screen and you start to believe that the whole world is full of doom, gloom, and hatred.

Certain places to indeed reflect that darkness, as well. I know this, personally, all too well, having experienced years of hatred spawned by political differences.

In Roslyn, Washington, however, people were just being people. There was a basic shared sense of humanity. A lot of people had come in to visit, and my guess is that the ideological mix was about representative of the nation as a whole. In that place, though, on that day, none of the differences mattered–just people being people, digging life.

It was the first time in a long time that I felt like I wasn’t a lonely ancient relic for loving the nation that I live in, for loving its people and its land, its bones and its spirit.

Clock above door to historic Roslyn building.
I love this old clock and doorway in an old brick building in Roslyn, Washington.

Simple Things Made Profound by Modernity

Kids laughed. People toasted beers. Servers smiled and cracked jokes. It felt like a Steinbeck novel made real. No, wait, more fittingly–it felt like a Northern Exposure episode made real.

I sincerely thank that little town for being what it is and reminding me that America isn’t dead. There are still good people in the world that just want to enjoy life with other good people, politics be damned (seriously, politics be DAMNED).

You want it? You can have it. It’s in a little town named Roslyn, Washington. United States of America, baby.

Happy nomadding, friends.

I’m going to close this out with Bobby McFerrin’s amazing “Common Threads.” Northern Exposures might remember which episode this was featured in. Drop it in the comments section and I’ll buy ya a drink of your choice. The song gives me goosebumps every single time.

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

Ruston Waterfront: The Nightmare Continues

I have written in the past about the terrible, mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston Waterfront. I write now to let you know the horror is multiplying, and the nightmare has deepened.

I was out walking the Ruston waterfront on this beautiful April day of sunshine, seals, and the Sound, when I discovered to my great dismay that a new suspended bike has appeared.

This one’s red—spawned, undoubtedly, from the same nether regions as the last bike, which has haunted my dreams from the I first set eyes upon it—monstrous, unnatural thing that it is.

When the tide is out, as it was when I got there today, you can get rather close to the new bike. It was a just a couple feet off the shore, screwed to a pole in shallow water.

In researching this phenomenon, I found that my friends over at Grit City have already located this bike, and are less irrationally horrified by it as I am.

Grit City‘s excellent detective work puts forth the hypothesis that this and the other bike are related to Burning Man in some way.  I’m not going to plagiarize or steal their thunder here, so I’ll just say that it’s erudite detective work on their part, and you should follow that Grit City link up above to see what they’ve to say.

Let no one say that the Northwest Nomad is less than noble in his content creation…and let no one say, either, that the Nomad is anything less than paranoid about cool art sculptures that add so much wonder to our fair city of Tacoma.

Thanks, suspended bike guys…gals…demons…whatever thou be.

Thanks, too, to Grit City for the fine gumshoeing.

If you’re mad enough seek this bike out, I can tell you that it’s near Cummings Park, which I’m going to pin to a map below. Good luck, seeker, but remember the old adage: be careful what you wish for. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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.

The spot where I saw the monster you see in these photos, though, was on the trail to Point Robinson on Maury Island, just off Vashon Island.

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.