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November 25, 2018 / annakpf11

When the Tide Calls Your Name

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“. . . Making the day expand in your heart and return, you play a limited part in whatever life is, practicing for that great gift when enlightenment comes, that long instant when the tide calls your name.”

—Excerpted from Waiting by the Sea, by William Stafford (1914—1993)

In Port Angeles, Washington, we board a ferry bound for Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Suzy travels in the hold with other vehicles, packed together like sardines, while we join our fellow passengers upstairs in the spacious observation deck. A garbled announcement over the loudspeaker, a gentle, gliding momentum, and the ship is underway. For the next hour and a half, the only decision we need to make is whether to read a book or look out the window. The water slides by, and a sense of relaxation washes over us, almost as if a magic carpet were transporting us across the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.

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Victoria, BC must be among the most idyllic cities on the planet. Clean and prosperous, with an enlightened mixture of traditional and modern architecture offering vistas across blue water to the distant peaks of the Olympic Mountain range, the city feels accessible, the quality of life high. We stroll along the quayside, explore neighborhoods and marvel at the miles of pristine public parks and shoreline.

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The warm, sunny weather might be exerting a positive influence on our opinion, but Victoria seems like a fabulous place to live. At lunchtime we park on the waterfront, open Suzy’s sliding door, and picnic with a view across the harbor.

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A parade of dog-walkers and pedestrians stroll past, and a man and a woman about our age pause as they come abreast of Suzy. They smile at us, and we smile back. And so begins an animated discussion about camper van models and the relative merits of life in Victoria. “We hope you move here,” they exclaim as we part. Somehow I doubt this will be possible (due to a minor issue called immigration law, if nothing else), but one can always dream.

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As much as we are captivated by the fantasy of living in Victoria, the city does not appeal as a place to camp, and so we head north in search of a more rural locale. Along the way, we detour to Butchart Gardens, a botanical masterpiece and national historic site that Anna has been told is a “must see.” Not surprisingly, Dave suggests that instead of paying two entrance fees, he should stay behind and take a nap.

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Created in the early 1900’s on the site of a former quarry and cement works, the expansive landscaped gardens now attract busloads of tourists every day. As I navigate the lattice of interconnected pathways, I decide that the park would be even lovelier in early morning or late evening, when fewer people swarmed its lush acreage.

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A distressing number of visitors stop squarely in the middle of walkways, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are blocking the path for everyone else. Never mind. Veni, vidi, vici.

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Back at Suzy, energized after his nap, Dave has scoured the AirBnB website and booked us a mini-respite from camping. A cottage about an hour’s drive north, in a wooded neighborhood near Shawnigan Lake.

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For two nights, Suzy sits in the driveway, temporarily abandoned while we luxuriate in a full size bed, a fast, reliable wifi connection, a washer/dryer, and ample floor space for yoga. The first evening, we roast salmon and vegetables in the well-equipped kitchen; the next, we treat ourselves to a Japanese meal in the village of Mill Bay.

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The autumnal equinox approaches, and instinct now impels us to fly south. Reluctant to part from the watery world of the Pacific Northwest, we plan our journey to include as many ferry rides as possible, beginning with a short, early morning hop across Saanich Inlet, followed by a three-hour passage threading through islands in the Puget Sound.

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Each time our ferry slips away from the dock, we surrender our fate to captain and crew, and wellbeing pervades our spirits. Nothing to do, except be.

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And so we depart Canada. Long lines at border control have Dave fuming at the inefficiency of the system, but eventually we land in Anacortes, a waterfront town where we stock up on groceries and gas. Our next stop is Deception Pass, one of the most photographed sites in Washington state, a deep, slender slice of water dividing Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. The channel is so narrow that it deceived early explorers into thinking it was a cul-de-sac, hence its name. Leaving Suzy safely parked in a layby, we set out on foot to get a good look.

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In an attempt to capture the drama of the precipitous gap, we risk vertigo (worst case, our lives) by stepping onto a narrow catwalk, venturing out to the middle of the span and aiming our cameras into the void. The bridge trembles under our feet as cars and trucks thunder past no further than an arm’s length away. It seems imperative not to think about falling. Photos do not do justice to the long, sheer drop, or the velocity of water sluicing underneath.

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Even driving across the bridge induces an uneasy feeling of vertigo. But it’s worth it to arrive at Deception Pass State Park, a place of extreme beauty where we have our pick of wooded campsites.

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Time to catch our breath and regroup. A late afternoon walk in the rainforest and along the shore, and then we prepare dinner of fresh scallops, sautéed cauliflower and basmati rice.

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The next day, we forsake the feathered ridgelines of Washington’s Cascade Mountains for the broad, fertile farmland of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

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South of Portland, we exit Highway 5 and head for Champoeg State Park, a heritage site, nature preserve and bluebird sanctuary offering three separate campgrounds and miles of walking and cycling trails. My kind of heaven.

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Campsites are assigned on a first-come basis, with self-service registration, and we hope that given the time of year, we will find a vacant spot. But we have arrived too late in the day. We cruise past every campsite and all are occupied, or have a “reserved” notice tacked to a numbered post.

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We are running out of daylight, and we are running out of options. Harvest Host doesn’t list any wineries in the area that offer overnight RV parking, and there are no other campgrounds within a reasonable distance. Simply pulling off the road to camp is illegal, not to mention unsafe. It’s time to improvise.

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Shadows lengthen as Dave guides Suzy down a bumpy lane leading to a winery where we hope we can persuade someone to let us park overnight. The tasting room door is open, but the cavernous barn is empty.  Our footsteps echo on the polished concrete floor.

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A door opens and closes, and a petite blonde woman wearing jeans, a Led Zepplin T-shirt and a plaid jacket steps into view. Dave explains that we’d like to taste some wine, and also that we need a place to park our rig overnight. She frowns. “I’ll have to ask the manager. Would you like to try some wine while you wait?” She uncorks a bottle of Pinot Gris and pours us each a taste.

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When the manager appears, a dark-haired, kind-eyed woman, she chats us up, presumably assessing whether or not we can be trusted, and after a time, gives us the nod, inviting us to stay. She also swears us to secrecy. While she is happy to do us this favor, she has no wish to set a precedent. We solemnly agree.

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While we’ve been talking, we’ve been tasting—Pinot Gris, Syrah, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir—and out of sincere appreciation for both the wine and the place to camp, we buy a mixed case.

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Dave parks Suzy on a level spot overlooking the vineyard. We unfurl our awning, pour a glass of Pinot and enjoy the sunset, all the while blessing our hosts for their kindness. We are alone, but we feel peaceful and safe in a way that we wouldn’t if we were trespassing in a random field, or stopped for the night on a lonely country lane.

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At first light the next morning, we drive south to Eugene, then head southeast. We are following the path of the Willamette River toward a region we’ve always been curious to visit, the northeastern edge of the Sierra Nevada.

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Our route travels through a rich riparian landscape of evergreen and deciduous trees, as well as mill towns whose economies have suffered from a decline in the timber industry. We wonder what new industries could sustain both the population and the environment.

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In the late afternoon, our daily quest for a campground ends at Casey’s Riverside RV Park, a peaceful place where a river flows by and a rainforest cloaks the surrounding hills. There’s not much space between campsites, but occupancy is low, and we find a spot with no immediate neighbors.

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Cradled by tall trees and the rustle of water, we might be tempted to stay more than one night, except we’ve reached a tipping point, the moment when instead of feeling invigorated by the discovery of new places, we’ve begun to long for the particular place we call home.

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And so we make haste, wheels churning over pavement, landscape blurring past, hapless insects splattering our windscreen. Forested hills give way to a semi-arid landscape, and in Klamath Falls, a name that evokes evergreen trees and gushing waterfalls, we are disappointed to find a forsaken collection of nondescript dwellings on a barren expanse of ground.

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We press on, through miles of monotonous landscape, eventually crossing the California border into the Modoc National Forest, an unexpectedly drab expanse of dun-colored grassland dotted with sagebrush and stunted pines.

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Dave is at the wheel, and Anna reads aloud from “The Big One,” a New Yorker article about the catastrophic potential of the Cascadia subduction zone, a line of tectonic tension capable of producing an earthquake and tsunami big enough to wipe out everything west of Highway 5 from Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino. A quiescent seismic monster, the Cascadia subduction zone only wakes up every 300 years or so—give or take a hundred—and as far as scientists can tell, it is overdue for another upheaval.

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It is sobering to be reminded how profoundly vulnerable we are to disaster. But once we accept the underlying uncertainty of everything we hold dear, we turn our attention to appreciating the small joys of daily life, not to mention the larger miracle that we are alive at all.

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We push on, driving through mostly uninhabited terrain until we come to Lake Almanour, a summer vacation and recreation area. A few of the RV parks are already closed for the season, and many do no accept short-term stays, but we manage to find a site for one night at a mom-and-pop campground that is about to shut down for winter.

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The next morning, loud scraping and banging noises startle us awake. We peer outside to see a workman stomping atop the roof of a nearby bathhouse, wielding an electric saw, ripping into the shingled surface and flinging debris to the ground. End-of-season repairs, it seems, are underway.

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Soon, we too are underway, ready for the long stretch of road ahead, and the deep satisfaction of returning to the blue bowl of bay and sky we call home.

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Postscript: Soon after our return, unprecedented wildfires scorched California, and for two weeks, our corner of the earth remained shrouded in a toxic, murky pall. The simple act of breathing could not be taken for granted.

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Rain finally arrived and the air cleared. Apocalypse averted, for now. Life goes on, even for those who’ve lost homes and loved ones, even as global warming gains speed and momentum. We do what we can, knowing that whatever small actions we take can multiply. We breathe in and out a thousand times every hour, and we no longer take anything for granted.

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