Even after having been a resident of the Pacific Northwest for over 4 years now, I still find myself amazed by the beauty of this country and the eclectic, quirky nature of its residents. I’ve of course experienced the charm of Pike Place Market (my exclusion of the ” ‘s ” in Pike should earn me local status, no?), the joy at watching the salmon run through Chittendale Locks, and the staggering beauty of crossing the sound under a wildly colorful West Coast sunset. But the more time I spent here exploring, the more I came to appreciate the small pockets of wonder that don’t get much attention.
As a Seattleite, I am rarely for want of something to do. There are Sounders games, block parties, Solstace Festivals, indie concerts, and the Seattle Aquarium (bio-nerd indicator), all vying for scant weekend days or even scarcer hours in the Seattle sun. But it’s when I wander that I truly see the soul of this wonderful place.
My winter trips to the Olympic Peninsula quickly became an obsession during my second and third years here. After failing to convince any of my friends to wake at 5am, board a ferry, and then drive out in the direction of a gray ocean under a gray sky on a mist-covered land of moss and trees with no particular plan in mind, I loaded up my car with every manner of waterproof layer I could find, charged my iPod, and stood on the deck of a nearly-empty ferry, churning green water into white froth on its way to the looming mountains to the west. Once off, I would choose some small town and drive, never expecting to make it, until something else would catch my attention along the way and alter my course. What I found there was a somber beauty enshrouded in the isolation of neglect. While the people of Seattle were skiing at the local resorts, this patient land stood, largely ignored, for the better part of the year.
I drove deserted logging roads that ended in impassible steel barricades 18 miles in; I visited hidden waterfalls I’d learned about from locals at diners where I’d stopped for coffee; I wandered through clearcuts and scared coyotes; I ambled into the Makah Nation and experienced life without tourists. I had this beautiful place to myself, and though I was in my car on a weekend break from my office job, I felt like a traveler in my own state.
I still find myself in the Olympics several times a year, as I do the Cascades, or by Rainier. Having picked up rafting I’ve had the privilege of floating down some of the most beautiful rivers in the region, and through scuba diving I’ve seen a small fraction of the incredible marine life in our oceans. There is no end to what to explore. I still do my best to wander as much as I can; it’s a difficult task because Washington and Oregon have so many famous and beautiful places that taking the time to chance a trip into the unknown is sometimes a bit foolhardy. But I take that chance when I can, and when I don’t, I still usually get to see something amazing. And hopefully I jot a few notes down about it.