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LIFE ON A SHIPPING LANE…

I’m returning after weeks of dark silence with a bit of regatta, having been collecting shots toward a blog posting such as this for several years. If everyone loves a parade then this flat-lander, who grew up on a wheat farm in the waterless central plains, hopes you might enjoy this endless variety of boats as seen from our perch. I love realizing atop this cliff overlooking the lower Puget Sound… I’m most certainly not in Kansas any more!

To give a bit of orientation, here is a photograph from the air of Dilworth Point, the easternmost point of Vashon Island. Just to the south of that is Soundcliff.

[To see any of these images larger click on them…]

Stephen named Soundcliff as both a description & a prayer for this sensitive site perching some 40 rather vertical feet above the high tide. Lower tide on the rocky beach shows the result of eons… the erosion of alluvial layers built from melting ancient glaciers, rocks ground from wherever north it might still take days to drive by car, laid down between the residual clay resulting from stress under such immense weight. Still, that relatively recent construction of geologic compaction is far more fragile than any bedrock. We are rather vulnerable to rain & wave. We are indeed quite frail against tidal forces. We sit atop the cliff here… you can barely see Soundcliff just above & to the right of the two green patches of this bleak winter shot at low tide. We celebrate the stone bulkhead, even as it looks ultimately inconsequential to the obvious history…

From up here, however, even from bed, we enjoy an expansive view over the shipping lanes to & from the port of Tacoma. Beyond the water is the mountain known commonly now as Mount Rainer, but we prefer the native name… Tahoma. Here she is with one of the huge container ships which pass by daily.

We can hear them well before they come into view from the north around the point where they fairly fill the view with their broadside before turning to shrink into the perspective of distance… looking rather more toy-like as they move toward Lady Tahoma.

I enjoy the mystery of what is inside those sealed steel boxes, knowing that most are filled with the mundane stuffs of everyday trade, but at least some must be fair troves of treasure bringing finer dreams from faraway…


Especially when the sun strikes from under our fabled cloud cover to inspire such speculation with golden light!

The real treasure here, visible or not, is always the mountain…

Of course others, like these barges of crushed automobiles wending their way to further recycling behind tugboats, are obviously trundling treasure of quite a different kind…

As often come gems…

As go lumps, blending into the intense vagaries of our ten thousand grays…

One recent day I was amazed to see a barge loaded with four of the huge cranes seen in the harbors of any modern port, used to load & unload those containers onto truck beds or railroad cars to continue their journey by land. They look like prehistoric science fiction hard at work in that usual place, but in this situation are themselves a rather precarious & uncomfortable looking cargo! Birds mimicking cage?

They too fade into Tahoma’s much sturdier story…

Another rare sight is one of our Washington State Ferry System’s vessels sailing far from any of its usual runs, presumably out for a maintenance test drive or perhaps for training?

This colorful dowager looks like a quite the floozy version of fun for cargo of the human variety! She looks to be a remnant of our famous old “Mosquito Fleet” of ferries which once plied the Sound in a veritable swarm of possibilities no longer possible in today’s economy. There were numerous docks around the Island served daily by dozens of such boats. That was before we had so many roads up on the Island. Now we are constrained to an ever decreasing schedule for the same commute to the mainland from only two docks…

Progress?

More placid times give us glimpses of small sailing craft, sometimes in true regattas…

Occasionally they come close enough we might shout to them…

Here is a view, from one ferry, of another just pulling into the dock on the north end of our Island. A sail boat uses it’s engine to make it’s way across the route we were using to get to Southworth, on the Olympic Peninsula. Thus I come to liken these waters unto the freeways of my Midwest filled, in something approaching Biblical abundance, with cars, buses & trucks.

A photo earlier showed our view from the bedroom of fishing boats, which during the various salmon seasons often wake us early with the racket & roar of their process. We love to eat their catch, quite literally, since there are fishers on the Island who also sell directly & tell us that the fish we are buying was caught within sight of our house, one of the landmarks they use for the rich situation resulting from the Point’s sheltering of the tidal currents.


The method involves the spreading of a long net across the current with a smaller, but quite noisey boat which strains, holding that length against the flow & circling back to close the hopefully bulging net & reconnect it to the large boat in a dance of a struggle.

Our theater often boasts a troupe of 4-5 rigs all doing & repeating this process in turn as the tide tugs them past our vantage point.

In a quick pas d deau the smaller boat passes off its end & ducks under the upper line of the net to continue its roaring work, closing the lower line of the net into a purse to secure the catch which will be hauled up onto the deck & into the hold of the fishing boat… if the catch is good we sometimes hear shouts of exclamation in celebration.

More often we don’t hear a thing except that infernal sound of fuel being burned.

Our fish stock is being depleted. Living so close to that life cycle we must accept only a temporary custodial joy on this fragile cliff. The clay which slumps from our garden is the major nutrient for the eel grass which, growing in the tidal shallows, hides & shelters the salmon fry [baby fish] until they are large enough to protect themselves, or not, on their years of further migration out into the Pacific. We must share our security as part of theirs.

We thus become students of the food we eat. The reality of our situation allows & requires us to make peace with this moment in time. Everything always changes & we live on an actual edge of all that. We must trust one day we too will become useful as part of that food chain. Better to accept that gracefully than the alternative of no survival at all, which is what the salmon must be trying to tell us.

More important is the message from the magestic Orcas, who do not show up so frequently as they used to, even in my short experience on this cliff… they eat salmon too. We live in each other’s back yards. If they can’t survive, how much oil will it take for us to learn the same lesson?

I suspect we are becoming the fossils to fuel some next intelligience…

So, I now offer an example of how much fun the problematic interim processes can be. We accepted an invitation one summer evening to go for dinner at a dockside restaurant in Tacoma with friends whose family speed boat was moored, along with many sailing vessels, in Quartermaster Harbor, the boater’s haven enhanced between what once were more actually two islands. Maury Island still keeps a certain identity even as it was long ago attached as an ithmus to Vashon by filling the tidal spit with more sand to make a connecting roadway. Once the tide sloshed over to help refresh the harbor… but, that is another lesson learned lately by the prey of environmental process. Try banking on any “safe haven” these days…


Our Wheee! exuberantly spends our temporary dividends in the wake…

Motoring out of the inner harbor & around the Burton Penensula we passed the camp with the same name where most summers finds us as counselors for a group of differently abled adults. A favorite part of each day with them is canoeing after dinner out into the same channel, just as the sun begins to settle… [see Stephen’s blog] Boats become an evermore intimate part of my life far from Kansas.

Since I’ve already strayed out of our immediate baliwick I’ll hold a couple more boats which I want to share… later, perhaps. I close this already long post with a view of Our Lady Tahoma in some furious drag several days ago, with my best wishes for clear sailing into what is.