Cape Flattery Perspectives

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV).

Hank and I walked from the dimness of the Makah Cultural and Research Center museum at Neah Bay into bright summer sunshine. I love the feeling of history that pervades that place. It’s not at all like most USA small-town historical museums. No stagecoaches, no old-time wash machines, no photos of early-day street scenes. The history here goes way back, thousands of years before the European arrival on New World shores.

Five hundred years ago, a mudslide buried the Makah village at nearby Ozette, perfectly preserving everyday household articles, tools, basketry, ceremonial objects…all made of ordinarily perishable fiber, bone, and wood. Archaeologists and modern-day Makahs rescued these artifacts and used them to reconstruct parts of the ancient culture lost with the coming of the white man. They built the museum to share that culture with visitors and to teach it to their young people. The past, the present, and the future come together here.

We’d observed how the Makahs adapted to the changing natural cycles: gathering roots, berries, shellfish and other necessities; fishing; seal hunting; whaling. Their long houses built of cedar planks were well-suited to the cool, rainy climate. We marveled at their ingenuity—from constructing end-to-end whalebone and driftwood drains to carry rainwater away from their houses—right down to the tiny torches that seal hunters wore on their headbands while searching dark sea-caves for their quarry.

We drove through the town of Neah Bay to Cape Flattery—the westernmost headland of the contiguous United States—to one of our favorite places: a three-quarter mile trail leading through fir and cedar forest to the point of the Cape.

It’s a popular trail. We lingered while other hikers passed us on the new boardwalk, noting scars on cedars where Indian women had once harvested bark for making mats, baskets, hats, capes, and other articles of clothing. We imagined them picking huckleberries and salmonberries, thimbleberries, and salal berries like those growing in the understory beside the trail.

In weather less calm than this, visitors hear waves crashing into the cliffs long before they see the ocean. On this day, we heard mostly the cries of seabirds echoing through the forest. Then the point narrowed. From either side of the trail we looked down into blue-green waters reflecting the sedimentary bluffs and sea stacks.* Arching caverns yawned deep into the bluffs. The scene looked like it hadn’t changed for an eternity, but a sign posted along the trail informed us that on a stormy day, we would feel waves crashing into those caves, shaking the whole point. Someday, who knows how far into the future, the roofs of the caves will collapse and the point we stood on will erode into the sea.

Fog had closed in by the time we reached the final viewpoint, hiding nearby Tatoosh Island from view. In summer, Makah families once camped on the island to dry their winter’s fish supply. Whalers set out in sea-going canoes to intercept their migrating prey. Later, the Coast Guard used the island. An inoperative lighthouse still stands.

On my first-ever visit to this magical place, I peered into the dark caves where bold hunters once swam in pursuit of seals, imagining them armed only with spears and the tiny torch flames on their headbands. Even from above, the water looked frigid.

Suddenly, a pale shape rose from the nearby depths. My heart nearly stopped as the apparition grew larger and larger. A big, sleek head popped up, followed by huge shoulders and flippers. Two-thirds of the creature was still underwater–the biggest sea lion I’d ever seen. Two dark, inscrutable eyes peered into mine. The creature blinked and sank straight down and out of sight like a spirit from the deep.

Today, the waters are full of orange hemispheres trailing whitish tentacles. Squid? “No,” said the Makah ranger, a woman, stationed at the overlook to answer visitors’ questions. “They’re migrating jellyfish. It happens about this time every year.” She didn’t know where they came from or where the current would take them. But as far as she knew, they always came and always would come.

That would be nice. But history—ours, the Makahs’, that of the ocean creatures—tells us that nothing lasts forever. Yet, God has set eternity in the heart of man, and he has made everything beautiful in its time. He has done that to turn our hearts to our Maker. I think that’s what I feel most powerfully when I walk the Cape Flattery trail.

* Columns of rock cut away from the main mass of rock by wave erosion and standing alone, often crowned with their own small forests.

Surprised by Serendipities

When my husband suggested a vacation trip recently, the tedium of a long car ride loomed large. Projects needed doing. I preferred to stay in my familiar holding pattern. But obviously, Hank wanted to go, so I arranged with a feline-loving friend to take care of our cats Popcorn and Peanut and to water our flowers.

Hank’s home-town high-school reunion was to be only a little more than 200 miles to the southwest of our home. But we took a long way around to get there. First, we drove north to cross Deception Pass bridge, then south down Whidbey Island. My enthusiasm quickened when I sighted dozens of brightly colored sails moving across the sunny waters near Oak Harbor. From a restaurant in Coupeville, above Penn Cove, we watched dozens more sailboats gliding back and forth in a slow motion race…a lovely serendipity.

We crossed Admiralty Inlet on a ferry so small that every storm halts its operation. Near Sequim we stopped to walk a sandy path topping the dramatic bluffs at Dungeness State Park. The pale bluffs contrasted with the deep blue of Puget Sound far below. Suddenly, a fountain of spray broke the undulating pattern of swells. A whale’s long, dark back broke the surface, then disappeared. Again and again, we saw spouts from at least three gray whales feeding in the shallow waters. More serendipity!

From there we drove on to Port Angeles to

visit my sister Patty. For the first time we
saw Patty’s new home and garden; small
but beautiful jewels reflecting her creative
skills. The next morning, she suggested
we drive to nearby Hurricane Ridge in the
Olympic Mountains to see the wildflower
display. Up a narrow, winding road we went,
heading into the sky. The steep slopes above
and below us wore borders and splashes and
carpets of wildflowers. We pulled off for a
face-to-face inspection. They were lovely.
I have photos to prove it.

From Port Angeles, we drove on toward Neah Bay,
Washington’s westernmost town. The road winds along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with picturesque sea stacks, wild beaches, and views of distant Vancouver Island. We walked the shore and watched fog drifting in and out and even rising from the damp sand beneath our feet. Another serendipity.

We hiked to Cape Flattery where the Makah Indians once hunted whales. We visited ocean beaches to the south, along Washington’s coast. We stopped at a village called Taholah. A spit piled with huge, silvered logs and stumps–a graveyard for the bones of old growth forest–guards the mouth of the Quinault River where it slows before discharging into the surf. Lines of stakes curve out into the calm river where Indians still fasten their nets in an age-old method of set netting. I’ve seen Alaska natives on the Yukon and Koyokuk do it the same way.

On Highway 101, between Aberdeen and Raymond, we passed through thousands of acres of forest leveled by 125 mile-an-hour winds in December, 2007. Trees lay like spilled toothpicks, tops all pointing in the same direction, an awesome sight. We’re not supposed to have hurricanes in Washington, but tell that to foresters trying to clean up the mess.

By now I’d lost count of serendipities. We arrived at Washougal, Hank’s former home at the entrance to the Columbia Gorge. After a wonderful reunion with high school friends as well as relatives, we attended his former church. I hugged our 90-year-old friend Hazel and her husband Clias. Hazel had been felled by a simultaneous stroke and heart attack the year before. We never thought we’d see her again…but here she was, walking and laughing and thrilled to see us. I stroked the velvety head of her newest great-grandbaby. These church folks had been my friends for only nine years, but some of them had crossed into old age in that time and young people were now middle-aged. We stood talking with Hazel and Clias about the changes in the church. Clias looked from the newborn to his wife, and said, “Yes, one by one, we come…and we leave.”

My heart flooded with gratitude for one more chance to reconnect with these people we loved. The trip I dreaded had surprised me with such a shower of blessings, I can’t even remember why I didn’t want to go!