Between Hoquiam and Forks on Highway 101 is a beach called Ruby. The beach huddles around a creek just south of the Hoh Indian Reservation.
Dad and I pulled off the 101 into a crowded national park lot. Early August, just after noon, every caravan winding its way around the peninsula had stopped here ahead of us.
Behind us, the mists of Oregon crept up the coast. In the parking lot I peered up at the sky and wondered if the fog we’d been trysting with all along the Pacific coast would meet us here. The clouds held a familiar shape.
Ignoring the crowd, we made our way down to the beach. The Washington coast is craggy, marked by volcanic rocks too stubborn to be weathered away by anything short of a millennium.
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My father and I stayed close to where the ocean had wet the sand enough to make for easy walking. The ground was soft, but solid. Low tide pulled the sand out to sea as we made our way down the beach at Cape Lookout.
At one point he turned to me, “you want to keep walking?”
I’d stopped next to a small depression filled with imperfectly arranged stones, half a shattered sand dollar, and a small puddle of water too fearful to run out with the tide.
“Yes,” I replied, looking up from the stones at my feet. “I want to see what’s down there.”
I pointed south. Mossy crags curved into the sea at the other end of the beach. Something glittered on the walls there and I wanted to see it.
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One of the beaches is called Cape Lookout but I’m not sure what to look out for. All I see is ocean. Some would say endless in its vastness.
The ocean is not endless. Thousands of miles west of here are the Kuril Islands. Russia and Japan, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan. Travel further west and there is all of Europe and then the Atlantic. Another three thousand miles of America and I see myself. There I stand on the beach looking at my own back.
I am looking into tomorrow.
Disputed and distant, the world seems very far away when your toes are digging into warm sand.
The Washington-Oregon coast is marked by monoliths, massive rocks jutting up from the sea, the inexplicably tough remnants of an older, more distant coast. Gravestones for dead titans.
The signs of life here are more like memories. Scarred, broken shells whisper of crashing waves; the carcasses of sand dollars tell tales of searing sunshine, brittle old age, and the strong hands of cruel children. Mussels, stood on end and pushed into the pulverized remains of a millennia of erosion, serve as a reminder that being monolithic has nothing to do with size.
Standing on a beach gives you perspective.
Beside the ocean, you are minuscule. Atop the sand, a giant.
Italian pizza ought to be followed by a warm cannoli. Greek pizza, however, should be seconded by a pair of baklava triangles. West Seattle’s Alki Beach, facing Puget Sound, reminded me of Revere Beach north of Boston (a grand family tradition). The beach goes on longer than you’d want to walk and the water is probably colder than you’d want to swim in.
But, the pizza and the sunshine is worth the time spent hunting for parking. In Alki Beach’s defense, the baklava at Christo’s, is worth waiting for.
My father and I sat in the plastic-seated booth for some time. An older Greek woman poured us water before retreating to a booth with her friends to chat. Having spent my afternoon waiting for a train than never came in Carkeek Park, I was thirsty and downed the water immediately.
The woman came back a few minutes later.
“The girl come by yet?”
“Nope,” we answered.
Another glass of water and a few more minutes later our server emerged from the back, all smiles. It did not take long before we had a magnificent pizza steaming before us–pepperoni under the cheese and a perfect pan crust.
The beauty of summer is that the days stretch on for hours, glorious days even more so. We were never going to make it to sunset on Alki Beach so we made our way back around the peninsula to Seacrest Park to see the skyline.
Beneath the immense empty sky and beside the gently shifting sound, the city looks like a miniature of itself. When you’re driving through the city the buildings loom above you, the alleys seem to pull close together and highway 99 rumbles overhead. From across the harbor, it seems small and distant. The Space Needle, over to the north of downtown proper no longer dominates the skyline, except in uniqueness of shape.
Though Seattle’s skyline is diminutive, this is only because the sky is bigger and the water bluer out west. It may be officially nicknamed the Emerald City but from West Seattle the town looks nothing like an emerald and everything like the flicker of light trapped in a sapphire.