…for a special promo for a special person, and a special book. My friend and writing buddy Iris Graville is about to launch her book of essays, Writer in a Life Vest, and when you’re done reading this, I think you’ll want to order a copy or two.
Just in case you’re wondering, “But Gretchen, aren’t you still on the road? Has nothing happened during the past week?” the answer is, Yes, and No. We’re happily ensconced at Tierreich Farm (“Kingdom of the Animals”), a.k.a. the home of my Amazing Parents.
We’ve seen a ton of ACC basketball, eaten a ton of Mama Dip’s fried chicken and Allen & Son BBQ, walked and ridden our bikes through what’s left of the country woods of my youth (this place sure has grown in 30 years), and caught up with many of our Far & Dear.
But since that’s always been the purpose of these road trips, I don’t feel the need to re-describe the above. Check out any of my old blog posts from the second week of March and you’ll find it there.
Iris Graville has lived in Washington State for four decades, after childhood and early adulthood in Chicago and small towns in Southern Illinois and Indiana. A long-time Quaker, an environmental and anti-racism activist, and a retired nurse, Iris believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s the author of two collections of profiles—Hands at Work and BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community. Her memoir, Hiking Naked, was a 2019 recipient of a Nautilus Award.
…but as I put it, Iris is also a remarkable example of a writer at her most humble, hard-working, and creative. To start with, she created the post of “Writer in Residence” for the Washington State Ferries–just came up with the idea, got in touch with the Ferry Powers That Be, and made it happen! Then she rode the ferry at least once a week for the year, writing–you can read about that fascinating “job” here while you wait to read about it in her book.
And humble? As a member of her writing critique group, I was privileged not only to read many of this book’s essays in their early form, but also to listen to Iris grappling with the challenge of learning as much about the Salish Sea and its inhabitants as she possibly could, in order to interact with the experts she was meeting and interviewing…in order to tell the story of the Salish Sea’s glories and vulnerabilities without setting herself up as an “expert” herself. She was a public health nurse, for goodness’ sake–but thanks to all her work, Iris can now write like Rachel Carson! (Fun fact: Ms. Carson actually makes an imaginative appearance in one of Iris’s essays.)
So that was also the “hard-working” part. But back to “creative” for a moment: in case you’re turned off by the word “essay” (apologies on the part of English teachers everywhere for possibly ruining that word for everyone), Iris’s pieces are all over the place! This book “contains multitudes,” as Whitman said: narratives, interviews, poetry, letters, even a playful messing-around with keyboard symbols (one of my faves). It features whales (and whale poop!), gorgeous marine descriptions, vessels, statistics, and challenging questions. Its pieces are dire, funny, heart-wrenching, hopeful, and above all, inspiring.
When you read Writer in a Life Vest, you will want to do more to protect whatever fragile environment you feel connected to. And who knows? You may feel inspired to invent your own Writer-in-Residence program at a place of your choosing–Farmers’ Market? Train Station? Dunkin’ Donuts? (j/k–that might kill you)
So, my friends…order two copies, one for yourself and one for a whale-loving friend. Then take a moment to marvel at the hard work behind such writing. Then maybe go do some yourself! (Or just get outside for a good, long, grateful walk.)
[Disclaimer: I fully understand that the storm of November 15, 2021 took an enormous toll on the lives, environment and property of thousands of folks in the Pacific Northwest, on either side of the border. Please know that this tale of plans gone sideways is not meant to lighten that truth.]
That said…here’s my response to “So that Birthday Mystery Trip you planned for your Mate–how’d it go?”
Chapter One: NO Canada!
Our top-secret Mystery Destination was the lovely Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, a place I’d been introduced to by a friend’s travel blog. Having studied the regulations, I knew we’d need a COVID test–the PCR type that requires labwork, not the instant antigen test. That test needed to be taken 72 hours in advance, no more. Since we were leaving on a Monday, I did the math: take test Friday morning, immediately send it off via UPS. The nice person at the company whose test kits I ordered assured me our results should be available online by mid-morning Monday, just in time for us to present at the border.
The Mate met me at the bakery Friday morning, just after our local UPS-ing shop opened. I went on break and we gingerly took our tests on the back deck. We sealed them up and walked over to the shop…where we were informed the UPS driver had already left. “With so few ferries, they just zip in first thing and go,” the woman in the shop told us sympathetically.
Horrified, we raced over the post office, ready to pay whatever it took to get that precious, swab-filled package to the lab next day. No luck: living on an island, “next day” has a whole new meaning. But, the clerk helpfully informed us, “The UPS driver’s probably waiting in the ferry line right now. Maybe you could drive down there and catch him?”
The Mate did just that, while I went back to work. Twenty minutes later he returned, reporting success! Hugs all ’round. Canada, here we come!
Or not. Next day, tracking our package, I found its arrival listed as Monday. I called the test-kit company…and once more a nice person informed me that, even with my package expedited, the best we could hope for would be results…”Maybe Monday evening. Maybe.”
Somehow, hanging around the border until evening, waiting on a “maybe” just didn’t appeal. And that was before I started paying attention to the weather.
Chapter Two: Plan B
So I said goodbye to my Canada plans. I called BC ferries and that cute little motel to cancel reservations. Then I got busy making more.
Some place special! Some place further away than the usual 1-or-2-night trip (we had 3 to play with). Some place with some options for not-too-steep hiking and biking. And some place not too high up; I didn’t want us getting snowed in anywhere.
Got it! The Hoh Rainforest.
I found us a cute cabin near the town of Forks (famous for glittery vampires), on the Soleduc River. Beautiful, remote venue near gorgeous hiking? Check. Beds for us plus surprise guest, Son Two? Check. (Son One couldn’t get away from work.) Small kitchen for me to prepare delicious birthday dinners? Check. Weather report? Uh, yeah…I mean, it’s supposed to be rainy. And pretty windy, come to think.
But hey–rainforest! Where else would we want to be?
Chapter Three: Nope.
So early that dark, wet and windy Monday morning, the Mate & I boarded the earliest ferry, the 6:40. It was already running 30 minutes late. How, we wondered, was that possible? Crew problems? Fog?
Turns out, that wind I’d been ignoring? It was now blowing so hard through Rosario Strait that the boat had to slow to what I texted Son Two (waiting on the mainland) as “a wallowing crawl.” But slowly, rolling and juddering, we made it to Anacortes, by now a full hour late.
This next part? It went exactly according to plan. (I had no idea how special that was.) As agreed with Son Two, I pulled into a convenience store and went in to get a growler filled–and he slipped into the driver’s seat. Surprise!
Happiness all ’round. We let the Mate drive, and I directed him toward the Coupeville ferry, the jumping-off point to the Olympic Peninsula. “Don’t worry,” I told Mate & Son, “that ferry’s running. I just checked.”
Well, it was running, when I checked. But 20 minutes later, when we got there, it wasn’t. “Might the winds die down later?” we asked the guy at the booth. His response: “Actually, they’re going to get worse. I’m sorry.”
Chapter Four: My Family’s Smart
Smarter than me. I was at a complete loss. Backtrack north, then head for the Cascades? Into what was probably a blizzard by now?
“Look, Mom,” Son Two said, consulting his phone. “We can keep going south and get on the other ferry, to the mainland. Then drive just a little and get on the one that goes to the Peninsula.”
“Are they actually running? In this weather?”
They were. I guess those crossings were short and sheltered enough. So here’s the route we took:
Chapter Five: Not So Fast
Along our happy way, as I congratulated myself on saving Plan B, my phone rang. The connection was spotty, but I managed to discern that it was the owner of the cabins near Forks. Saying something about “It’s pretty much Armageddon here.” I promised we’d bed down in Sequim that night–just fine, after such a long detour–and we’d see her in the morning. (Got a motel with a kitchen–yes!)
Next morning, she texted me this photo of her property.
With sincere wishes for a quick relief from the flooding and a mutually agreed-upon cancellation, I scrambled to find a motel in Forks NOT too close to a river. With a kitchen. Gotta have that kitchen! And I found one. Hooray. Off we go to hike in the rainforest!
“How far a drive is it?” the Mate asked.
“Lemme check the Google.” …. “Oh. Google says we can’t get there.”
Thanks to WSDOT, whose photos I’m using here, I learned that the flooded Elwha River had strained the bridge so hard they couldn’t re-open until after major structural assessments.
Chapter Six: Happy Endings
OK. No Forks. No Rainforest. Not even any of the beautiful points west of where we are. What’s left?
Why, everything! We found a trail leading up up up into the heart of Olympic National Park…
It was steep enough, the water came pouring directly out of the mountainside…but that steepness kept it from pooling. Safe hiking!
Of course, as we gained elevation, we met up with frost…
…then…y’know what? I’m good with turning around here. You? Alrighty then. Let’s go find a motel, then check out the coastline.
A visit to Dungeness Spit reminded us just how hard that wind was still blowing, even after the sun came out.
Thanks to my fixation with cooking dinner (no kitchen luck in Pt. A), I changed our final night’s reservations to the only affordable place I could find in Port Townsend with a kitchen: Fort Worden State Park.
What a joyous find! It had the coolest housing, converted officers’ quarters:
…and even, up among the batteries–huge structures to house huge guns (which I did not photograph)–poetry!
And yes–it had a wonderful kitchen for a wonderful birthday meal for my wonderful family.
Chapter Seven: Moral of the Story, or, Can We Wrap This Thing Up?
We came home to discover the storm had been much, MUCH worse than we’d imagined.
That road in the video? That’s the road to our house–our only exit. Here’s what the storm did:
But any “oh shits” for my island PALE in comparison with what the storm did to Vancouver Island and others north of here. They got SLAMMED, not only by rain and wind, but by snow, which then melted. As of this writing, much of the island is still under a state of emergency due to flooding. Ferries have been cancelled. Misery abounds.
O Canada, you’re in my thoughts. But I’m so relieved those COVID tests didn’t allow us to visit you in your time of trial.
I didn’t manage to put this post out there in time for official Thanksgiving. But my unofficial thanksgiving is this: thanks for the bravery of those who stride straight into the teeth of a storm. Thanks for the cozy love of my family, who made wherever we were be where I wanted to be. And thanks to who or whatever was responsible for getting us all home safely.
I used to have a 25 minute commute to my school, mostly ugly interstate, which I blanked out by listening to the news. Gotta admit, I hear less news now. Somehow the world manages to turn anyway.
(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
My former principal and his wife used to commute an hour and a half each way to their jobs in Tacoma…jobs which started at 6:45 am! Those are practically baker’s hours.
I know about baker’s hours now. I’ve noticed that folks gasp and shake their heads when I tell them I get up at 3:45 for a regular shift, or 3:15 if I’m head-baking and want to get a head-start. (Next week, as the bakery gears up for July Fourth, which is like Black Friday for retailers, some of us bakers will be getting up at 2, and on the Fourth itself, starting work at 2.)
(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia)
Thing is, though, this is only a part-time job for me. Getting up before sunrise on the daily? No thanks. But three times a week…turns out it’s kinda cool.
So I’ve been experimenting with biking to work.
I used to do that only when I worked up front at the counter–i.e., during daylight hours. People would admiringly ask if I did that when I baked and I would respond, politely, “No, I need more sleep than that,” all the while thinking, “Are you NUTS? Bike at 3:30 in the morning??”
Guess what? I AM nuts. I LOVE biking at 3:30 in the morning.
3:20, to be exact. If I leave then, I arrive @ 4:15 (taking the most direct route, which I usually avoid due to traffic, but at 3:20, it’s just me and the deer). That gives me enough time to change clothes and slurp down a bowl of yogurt before diving into the dough.
I have great bike lights, rear and front (except when I forget to charge my headlamp and it goes out on me–but that’s another story). When it’s starry, I have stars to gaze at, though I really do need to keep my eyes on the road because our deer are legendarily STUPID. I do NOT fancy hitting a deer in the dark. Last month I had a big, fat, lopsided pumpkin of a moon off to the west. Hints of sunrise beckon in the direction of my ride. And now, at midsummer, the sun’s doing more than hinting, it’s coloring the bay pink and purple as I speed down the hill toward the village.
Am I more tired at the end of a baking shift if I’ve biked in? Sure–but I’m infinitely more satisfied. And, once I get myself home–okay, I’ll admit, biking home is the hard part, when fatigue is riding along with me–I don’t have to worry about waking myself up later for a workout. I am DONE. Best. Nap. Ever.
Don’t get me wrong: I won’t be doing this every day. Biking takes 40 more minutes than driving, and those 40 minutes would pack a cumulative wallop of sleep deprivation if I missed ’em too often.
But those days when I do bike in? I’ll be baking with a big, smug smile.
(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia)
What does “commuting” mean to you? Is there any opportunity to be gleaned from it? Favorite radio show, music, digital books? Kid time? What’s the coolest commute you know of? How do YOU make that boring word a little more descriptive?