A little less than two years ago my parents embarked on an ambitious move across the country. For over twenty years they lived in the thumb area of Michigan, a wonderfully remote and quiet land that was a perfect place to raise a family. However, after my sister and I left and some time passed, they decided to move out to Washington. There was some family out there in the South Bend area, and a good job, and it was a change. So they headed west.
Between the move and the arrival of my son, Noah, seeing my parents became an infrequent occurrence. So this year Katie and I decided to attempt a week-long visit to Washington. Flying with a year-old infant is not a lot of fun: they are too big (and squirmy) to stay on a lap, too small for a seat, and can be very loud if they want to. We barely made it, dragging a car seat, stroller, three carry-ons bags, a cooler of bottles and a temperamental Noah. After hours of flying, terminals, and stress we landed in Bellingham well after dark.
This was the first time in Washington since I was three so I was pretty excited to check it out everything. Noah was too, which made the two of us exploring cohorts, a practice I hope to keep up in the years to come. Driving from Bellingham to South Bend (through Seattle) was a grand adventure for us, with mountains and cities and tidal flats and huge trees all around.
My parents set up a fun adventure for us on the next day, a drive up to Westport along the 105. Westport is a tiny fishing town that sits on Grays Harbor, complete with fishing boats and restaurants and shops selling taffy. Noah loved the bustle and smells, watching the men toss their catch straight into chests of ice and waving at every adult/child/bird that caught his gaze. We had an obligatory seafood lunch before heading back.
My mom's sister and family all live in South Bend. Her two sons, my cousins, have settled down right in town and one of them even has a few kids of his own (though they're much older than Noah). With all that family there we were obligated to have a big cookout on the weekend. There was fresh crab and oysters and shrimp and fish - a regular bouquet of the sea. It was a wonderfully raucous gathering of adults and children and dogs, topics ranging from general ranging questions about the last ten years and yesterday's town gossip.
After dinner all of the men piled into a big truck and headed into the woods. I had been asking a lot of questions about the area, trying to glean out intimate pieces of the land and seasons, and they finally decided to take me for a short walk. Along the way I learned about the major logging companies, the great gale of 2007, and a bit about the hunt-able animals here (elk, bear, and tiny black-tail deer). We drove up a steep, winding road that led to their hunting grounds and parked at an old, overgrown logging road. This felt right.
The woods were thick and wet, feeling like a cedar swamp of the Upper Peninsula in the early summer, except there were no bugs. Well, not many bugs. I got maybe three mosquito bites, paltry compared to the swarms of Michigan's summer. Moss hung off the trees, thick ferns covered the forest floor, and towering trees soared up around us. We followed the trail along the top of the ridge for over a mile before plunging down to the flats below.
Bone River lay down here, a tiny stream that drained these hills, though most of the water in the creek came from the ocean. The river is a salt marsh. Water from the Pacific is pushed up during high tides, flooding the shallow land, and then pours back out during low, a phenomenon that most have read about but few have experienced firsthand. It seemed bizarre that the grasslands we stood upon, that elk crossed in droves, would be completely flooded several times a month (and close to inundated many more times). After poking around a bit we all circled back and headed up the steep climb and back to civilization.
While we were in Washington it felt mandatory to visit Seattle. Our first stop was the Seattle Aquarium, sitting right on Pugent Sound. This was a wonderful visit. It was very kid-friendly, small pools for Noah to touch the sea anemones and starfish, brightly colored fish in dark tanks, and excited otters and seals that chirped and interacted with people through the glass. Noah had a ball, and my parents ate it all up greedily. After the aquarium and a big lunch we headed over to Pike Place Market. This… was interesting. The building was some six stories tall (though the hill is so steep that one block is on the first floor and the opposite side the sixth), the popular food stalls on the top, and the whole thing was just hard to get around. I'm not sure I'd make an effort to return, especially with an infant.
There was one last thing that we had to do while in Washington, one more place to visit before flying away and returning to everyday life: a proper visit to the ocean. The weather had been nice during our stay, mid-sixties and partly cloudy, but never enough to warrant a real swim. Even when we headed over to Grayland Beach the sky was cloudy and foggy, the type of air that drives people to overindulge in warm clam chowder. Still, the beach was fun, Noah crawling in the sand and mud while Katie and I and my parents fawned over him.
It was hard to leave, hard to say good-bye to my parents and leave the mild green lands of the Northwest for the hot Midwest summer. I could easily picture moving to Washington, raising Noah and the rest of the family close to my parents, though South Bend (with a population around 1500 soaking wet) may be a bit small to support a software developer (or internet in general). The land was magnificent, though, and I have big dreams for the next visit. A weekend up in the Olympics, maybe, or even a hike up Mount Rainier. As long as Noah remains my hiking buddy I'm sure that such lofty adventures would be a great time.