Saturday, April 14, 2007

the cascadia aesthetic

the waters of the pacific northwest are cold. even in the heat of the summer, such as it is, puget sound and the waters to the north, past the queen charlotte islands, stay bone-chilling cold.

the occasional fantasy of 85-degree water is moderated by the reality that our corner of paradise would be overrun by folks who know and care little about quiet, solitude and a few square miles free of fast-food opportunities.

no, better to sit and be still, looking out over the clear, cold surface, or walk along its edge, picking your way between tidal pools and driftwood, up onto rocks where the tide presses inland. carrying some strong, steamy coffee, perhaps, on a misty morning.

within 7 minutes of our house is a rocky beach where it's possible to walk, completely alone, within sight of downtown seattle. harbor seals sometimes swim just offshore, popping up their heads to take a look around, then diving under again. closer to home, a nesting pair of bald eagles occasionally perch in the trees above our house. they're a marvel of survivability; an anachronistic, metaphoric, hopeful phoenix.

the san juan islands lie not too far to the north. pitch a tent in san juan county park, and you can paddle your kayak to the next sandy beach, encountering an extravagance of animal and plant life along the way. wild turkeys, bald eagles, ferrets. giant pacific octopii, clouds of migrating salmon, harbor seals, dahl’s porpoises and the resident pods of killer whales. occasionally, migrating humpback and gray whales will venture through.

the san juans are remnants of an ancient continental terrane known as wrangellia. tens of millions of years ago wrangellia was a continent in search of a home. it wandered the pacific basin, like a drunk bouncing around an unfamiliar pub, before careening into the north american pacific coast. the collision was not widely noted at the time, but it did form a mountain range of some note, approximately where alaska, vancouver island, and the san juans are today.

geologic evidence of those mountains suggests they were quite spectacular. towering over today’s rockies, putting the alps to shame. and yet somehow, despite their magnificence, they still fell victim to time and gravity. the wrangellia range withered and shrank, until the highest peaks barely showed their noses above the glacial waters that rose to subsume them.

millions of years later those waters are clear, cold and deep. and inviting, just the same.

No comments: