A Pacific Afternoon

Sunday morning, driving up Interstate 5. I wanted to see the Pacific, or at least Puget Sound, since I'd never been close to that ocean before, and Alan was cheerfully willing to go along with any project that got us into the country. Surrounded by fir trees, as I had been ever since the plane descended into Sea-Tac Airport, I asked our latitude. 47 degrees north. Okay, I guess a forest of mostly conifers makes sense, though it left me feeling subtly out of place the whole time I was in Seattle. My eyes want maple, oak, ailanthus, tulip, mulberry, elm, not impressive Douglas fir, mountain ash covered in orange berries, or the cedar that subtly perfumes the city.

We eventually drove over a bridge lined with stopped cars, whose drivers were looking down at the waters of Deception Pass. Down a winding road to a parking lot in the state park. I smelled the water, heard the surf crashing on the beach. We walked across the strip of sand, and I took my shoes and socks off, rolled up my jeans, and got my feet wet in the Pacific. Cold! I splashed around a bit more, because this was after all a new ocean, and a sunny day, then licked my hand to taste the water. Just like the Atlantic I'm used to, if memory is reliable for such a subtle point: a bit of salt, with some kind of organic undertone, the memory of millions of years of plankton. (Later in the trip, I heard that Victoria, B.C., has been discharging untreated sewage into Puget Sound, but it wasn't noticeable that day, and I wanted to know this body of water with all my senses, as thoroughly as I could in blue jeans and a t-shirt.) I'd heard stories of the special blue of the Caribbean and Mediterranean, and vaguely thought that the Pacific ought to look different from the Atlantic. To a sailor, I'm sure it is, but northern water crashing on the shore is much the same at either edge of North America. I was reminded of Cape Cod: the cold water endlessly approaching the land, blue sky over blue sea.

I put my shoes back on and we started walking, and suddenly it wasn't Cape Cod, or anywhere else I'd been. The trees were firs, but not the same firs, and the undergrowth was full of ferns. We never left the sight of water and the sound of surf, as we luxuriated in greenery and strayed through the forest. From time to time, a path led us back down to a beach, where a few gulls cried over the water, with green islands behind them.

Copyright 1994 Vicki Rosenzweig

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