Friday, September 25, 2009

The coast

We just got back from four days on Washington's Pacific coast, at a resort in the tiny town of Moclips. Seattle doesn't face the Pacific proprement dit, but instead is guilty of a sort of maritime navel-gazing into its own Puget Sound, the long, twisted arm of salty Pacific water that curls around from the north. It forgets the true coast, which is separated from the city by water, then mountains, then forests of giant Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar swathed in moss and dripping with rain. The coast has more gnarled logs than beach-goers, and you can wander for miles without counting more than a half-dozen human souls all dressed in boots and Gore-Tex.

I wouldn't have it any other way. Washington's Pacific coast suits me, which must be why I so loved Brittany's coast this summer. I love that the rain falls there like an everyday blessing, and that sun is an almost unusual surprise. I love that there are probably more salmon running in the streams and rivers than cars passing on highway 101. My husband, a connoisseur of the ends of the earth, humors me. He enjoys trekking through the rain forest or running along the deserted beach, but I suspect he still counted the days until our return to civilization.

When we foraged for food, morning, noon and night, our comparisons with France were not always flattering. We had two excellent meals at the resort, but went to a chain motel dining room on the third night, where we waited (and waited, and waited) for food with an impatient toddler before giving up and walking out. So much for exceptional American customer service.

Breakfast at the resort was good but heavy, and the leisurely start to the day incompatible with our plan to hit the trail early on our second day. So we looked for coffee, fresh fruit, and (preferably unshrinkwrapped) pastries at a grocery store on the road. My husband came back with four apples in sorry condition and a package of Chips Ahoy cookies.

"Do you know what's in these things?" I started to read off the long list of ingredients while a famished le Petit gobbled down three cookies in a row and cried for more. My husband spit out his first bite of apple in disgust and declared it inedible. I whined until we finally found coffee: only in Washington State can you get a good cup of espresso at a bait and tackle shop.

As we polished off the coffee, we turned off the paved road and started up a gravel track to the trailhead. We weren't there to eat, after all; that wasn't what made me homesick. Leaving the car at the very end of the road, we started hiking up the north fork of the Quinault River. I savored pronouncing 'Quinault' the American way, 'kwin-awlt', landing on all the consonants.

We followed the rocky riverbed and hiked between old-growth tree trunks meters in diameter. I pointed out lacy western hemlock, sturdy salal bushes, fragrant red cedar, and sun-dappled vine maple to my husband and if I were introducing him to old friends. We stopped to let le Petit splash and run about the sandier parts of the stream, and apprehensively pointed out fresh bear and elk tracks in the mud. Three startled mergansers noisily flew off, and I watched an osprey dive down from its perch in a dead snag. It was sunny, there wasn't a cloud overhead; the 'rain was in remission,' as our fabulous guidebook described it. I drank in the scent of the forest and the sound of the gushing water, knowing it would have to quench my thirst for this place months, maybe years.

"There's nothing like this in France," I said obviously, uselessly.

I vowed to spend as much time as possible on our infrequent trips back home hiking and exploring Western Washington's wilderness. I love this land with a visceral familiarity, and no other landscape on Earth feels so much like home. I want le Petit to feel the same way.


Isabelle said...

What great memories you are building for Le Petit!
I'm sure he'll love this land as much as you do ;)

paola said...

YOu did well hiking with a toddler. My 4.5 year old is a great little walker, but the 2.5 y.o., not so much. And we are both hikers/nature lovers, but can not see much walking in the forseeable future.

I really can relate to your adventure foraging for something decent to eat. Whenever we go back home to Aus, it's the same for us. I have gotten to be a food snob and well, my husband has always been one. Faux Italian makes us barf.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@paola - We're lucky that le Petit loves to walk. In fact, the biggest problem we have at the moment is convincing him to happily get back into the Ergo when the trail is unsafe or he's not going fast enough. I suspect it will be tough when we have a second and inevitably there are some things that we know we can count on with le Petit, who is a good walker and a good eater, that the second just won't do the same way.

US food is now quite good in the cities (and often more imaginative than in France, if a bit overdone sometimes, if you know what I mean) but it is hard to find good stuff anywhere else (with the notable exception of good steaks in some places). And I have definitely become a food snob. I lived in New England for years and they were obsessed there with faux Italian -- greasy chicken parmesan, especially. Blech.