Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Day At Doe Bay

The whitecaps were worrisome. It was a windy day, one of the windiest I had seen for a few weeks, if not months, and it did not bode well for our flight that day. Did seaplanes fly on such windy days?

We were jogging the crown of Queen Anne hill. We looked down at the water. The surface of Puget Sound spit and churned menacingly under the abrading wind. When we rounded 8th Place West and headed east down Highland Drive until Lake Union came within view, the water glittered merrily, as it usually does, with only here and there a feather of white glinting the surface. We found ourselves trying to read the fate of our day in the whimsy of water, the insanity of wind.

Roberta suggested we call Kenmore Air. I said naw, if they had to cancel flights every time the wind blew, they couldn’t run a business. Deep down, I knew this kind of hubris leads to trouble. I did not want to follow the example of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. But there, I had said it.

Roberta, ever the wiser, checked the phone. Kenmore Air had not left a message. We went ahead and packed.

I did not have much to pack. We were only going to be spending one night at Doe Bay Inn. But packing is part of the ritual of travel. I had to pack. There was a tacit obligation to pack. I packed a pair of jeans, a shirt, and some underwear, thinking that if I slip and fall off the plane’s pontoon, or a slippery rickety dock, I can change my clothes. I tossed a few items into my little zippered toiletry pouch with a view toward keeping my person within reasonable bounds of hygiene. I also included the two books I was going to be reading from, Backscatter, and Souls Of Wind.

Ironic that, Souls Of Wind.

We arrived at the Kenmore terminal on Lake Union at 11:00 a.m. It’s an easy walk from our home. This was to be part of the day’s charm. The convenience of air travel minutes from one’s home. And on water, too.

The Kenmore terminal is the opposite of the terminals for the big commercial flights. For starters, it’s small. About the size of a Triple AAA office, T-shirts and blouses hanging on racks, three casually dressed agents behind computers, scales for luggage, the weather channel on a plasma TV.

Secondly, it’s calm. No paranoia, humiliation, shoe removal, scanning machines, body searches, or long, interminable lines listening to people share their latest visit to their doctor, or their invaluable insights on Twilight, seeming to talk to no one but some imaginary audience, on their Bluetooths and cell phones. No wailing babies, kids on the loose, TVs blaring, fat hairy bellies hanging out of loud Hawaiian shirts, or stale, overpriced chunks of chemically synthesized matter masquerading as food. Kenmore Air’s terminal was what an airport used to be: a calm, comfortable place to daydream or read a book until your plane arrives.

We approached a young woman standing behind a computer screen. We gave her our names. She gave us the sad news: our flight had been canceled but a three minutes before we arrived. The problem wasn’t the ability to fly, but the waves. These were, after all, seaplanes. They have to land and take off from the water. And the winds were blowing far more forcefully to the north in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands. That’s where the real problem was.

We thought instantly of our chances of returning home, throwing our bags in the car, and heading up I-5 to Anacortes and catching the ferry to Orcas Island. But one of the staff members, a young man at one of the other computers, said he might be able to pull some strings. He disappeared into an office and emerged a little while later to say that there was a couple who might be willing to reschedule their flight so that we could catch a wheeled plane out of Boeing Field. We waited anxiously, talking to the young woman who had initially helped us, who was from Juneau, and was now on the floor folding T-shirts. She loved airplanes, but had not yet made the commitment to fly. Lessons can run as high as $30,000 dollars.

There was a video of Harrison Ford. He bought a Beaver from Kenmore after falling in love with one during the filming of Six Days, Seven Nights.

Our agent returned with some good news. The couple in question were willing to slide their flight back to 6:30 so that we could board a wheeled plane flying out from Boeing Field at 3:30. Whoever you are, wherever you are dear couple who did that, thank you. And thank you to the staff of Kenmore Air for going beyond the call of duty and helping us get off the ground to Doe Bay.

A pilot drove us to Boeing Field in a van. We went in and weighed our luggage. My bag weighed only 8 pounds. The limit is 24. I worried that I had exceeded that limit. Eight pounds. Clearly. I need to do some weight lifting.

There was only one other couple in the waiting room overlooking the field. I got up and looked at some of the artwork, which I found quite good. There were a series of drawings in gesso and ink by Meredith Lee, funky airplanes and goofy looking spaceships on long delicate insect legs, a flying machine that looked like a potato bug with a propeller on its end. A highly amusing painting of acrylic on wood panel by Cathy Fields called “Ralph Goes Fishing,” a cartoon-like man and his beagle in the cockpit of a small airplane as it approaches a landing field and banks at a sharp angle, making the perspective all cockeyed and funny. Ralph wears a festive Hawaiian shirt and a fishing hat bristling with lures.

At boarding time, we walked out onto the field to get in our plane, a 9-passenger Cessna Caravan powered by a Pratt and Whitney turbine engine rated at 675 shaft-horsepower. A young man with neatly groomed dark hair named Tony welcomed us aboard. I got a shot of Roberta as she clambered aboard the craft. “This is my first time in a small plane,” she said to Tony. “Mine too,” said Tony.

Tony, as it later proved evident, was an expert pilot. The plane was buffeted with winds the entire way. We would drop suddenly, then found ourselves pushed rapidly aloft again. Windswept one way, then windswept another way. It was like being on a small boat in rough seas. Though rather than a rough, turbulent sea, where there remains a sense of horizon, a division between water and sky, we were at the mercy of a volatile gas called air, where there is only space. Clouds and angels. There is nothing for your senses to take hold of. There is total, implacable chaos between visually perceived movement and our sense of where we are in space, our equilibrioception, or proprioception. When these become disoriented, the result is nausea. Fortunately, we had had the foresight to take some Meclizine several hours before our flight. Otherwise, we would have been making heavy use of our vomit bags.

Tony made a safe landing at Friday Harbor, despite the buffeting of a crazy, bullying wind working hard to upset our plane. The wheels touched ground. Screeched. The engine roared. We slowed to a stop, and we all applauded. A few of the passengers disembarked. Then we took off again for East Sound. Tony said it would be a bit smoother. This was a relief. I was beginning to break out into a cold sweat.

East Sound was calmer, but raining heavily. We scrambled to the small terminal where a young woman named Heather greeted us. She had been sent to give us a ride to Doe Bay.

We conversed a little on our way through the heavily wooded Eden that is Orcas Island. Heather was from Chicago. She had studied biology in college and was the Doe Bay gardener. I asked about wildlife and Heather said the deer population was way out of control. They had no predators. And no one had the heart as yet, apparently, to begin hunting them. But how do you hunt in such a small geographic area with so many residents and tourists wandering about? It occurred to me that the riddance of deer might be something of appeal to rock star Republican Ted Nugent.

Heather dropped us off at the general store in downtown Doe Bay. Downtown Doe Bay consists of a general store, a scattering of anonymous houses, sheds, and outbuildings, and a very fine restaurant.

We entered a shop whose shelves were crowded with an array of familiar and unfamiliar items. A huge handsaw hung high above the door. It felt solid and old inside. The wood floor seemed ancient. It was like stepping into 1870. I would not have been surprised to see a man with a slouch hat, badge, handlebar mustache and a pair of pearl-handled Colt revolvers come walking in.

There was a small office area with a large open space and a counter. A young man named Kegan welcomed us and gave us a map, indicating, with a yellow marker, where our cabin was, and outlined the trail to get there.

We went outside. It was raining heavily. I studied the map, covering it with my hand to keep it from getting too wet, and seeing our neatly outlined way turned illegible and smudgy. We headed up the main street, Doe Bay Road, made a wrong turn at Ganesh Way, reoriented ourselves, and located the trail that took us to our cabin. On the way, we crossed a bridge with a creek bubbling ebulliently below us, no doubt happy with all the rain that was feeding its sparkle and verve.

The cabins have different names. Some of them are Sanskrit words, such as Chakra, Churi, Padma and Agni, and a few are more pastoral, such as Salmonberry and Skyview. Ours was named Priya, which means (according to the Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary), "beloved, dear to, liked, or favorite; to feel affection for, love more and more." After a night in Priya, I would have to agree. Priya neighbored Bhakti and Kutir. Bhakti means intense devotion, with connotations of worship, piety, faith, religious principle or means of salvation. Kutir means, quite literally, small cottage or hut, though with connotations of being a hermitage-like residence. It is common to see, in Hindu literature, the two used as a single term, Bhakti Kutir: a retreat for deep meditation and spiritual devotion.

These names were apt. There was, it could not be denied, real divinity in the air. The most diehard positivist would have to admit that there was something truly serene and trance-inducing in the mingling of mist and rain and surge of vegetation, the dense stands of Douglas fir rising exultantly into the sky, the air laden with a gazillion mingled fragrances, a soothing quiet imbuing everything with an omnipresent balm, and resilient aggregates of Garry oak, a.k.a. Oregon white oak, a broadleafed deciduous hardwood good for boat building, lending a somnolent majesty to the floral amalgam.

There is also quaking aspen, lodgepole pine and mountain juniper. We were surprised to see lodgepole pine, which normally grows east of the Cascades, in the dryer regions of Washington state, but the San Juan islands are in a rain shadow. The islands receive about half the average amount of rainfall in Seattle, which is about 37.1 inches per year.

The soil in the San Juans tends to be rocky, gravelly, or sandy which requires that plants adapt to limited water during portions of the year and rapidly draining soils. Rare and endangered plants, such as the Brittle Cactus, the Naked Broomrape and the Golden Paintbrush, can be found in certain locations. Spring flowers, such as the Buttercup, Chocolate Lily, Shooting Star, Blue Camas, and Calypso Orchid embroider the island’s tapestry of tall grass and tangled underbrush.

A rain shadow is created when mountains, in this case the Olympics, block the passage of rain-producing weather systems.

No rain shadow that day, however. I was nearing that point of rain-soaked discomfort where my additional pants and shirt, still nicely dry, might come in handy.

The cabin was clean and warm. Since we were both a bit wet, we decided a little extra warmth would be a very good thing. There was a small electric radiator available, which we plugged in. In minutes, it was radiating delicious heat, and had become my best friend.

Roberta napped while I sat at a small table and read Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs by Jean Genet. My reading lately had been drawn toward misfits and outlaws. Crazy Heart was waiting for me at the library when we got home.

Time slipped by. I didn’t realize how late it was getting to be. We strode down to the restaurant at about 6:30 p.m. for the reading. We were warmly greeted by Jennifer Brennock, organizer of the Artsmith Salon Series, who had invited me to read there that night, at the suggestion of Renae Keep, whose husband, Pliny Keep, is general manager of the Doe Bay resort.

Jennifer is a petite young woman with a large spirit. She reminded me a great deal of the time in which I had come of age in the late 60s, down in California. It seemed there were so many passionate, creative people back then. What had happened to them? Perhaps Jennifer’s grandparents were among that population of people I missed from the 60s.

The reading was scheduled for 7:00 so we decided to have dinner after my reading. Jennifer gave me an enthusiastic introduction. I read a chapter from Souls Of Wind, and some prose poems from Backscatter. The audience was warmly receptive and appreciative.

After my reading, we chatted with Renae and Jennifer and several other audience members, and ordered dinner. A young woman named Mary took our order, and later read some of her poetry at the open mic session which followed my reading after a brief intermission.

There was a painting above the reading area which was graced with a music stand, microphone, heater, and wrought-iron candelabra with five burning candles.

I was greatly intrigued with the painting. A man dressed in an orange suit of indiscernible material cinched with a black belt cradled a huge fish and smiled while, behind him, an immense dark cloud gathered. The mood of the painting was strange, at once foreboding and benevolent. Judging by the grass in the foreground, and distance in the background, the man seemed to be standing in a very remote, northerly latitude. A place of miracles and oaths, heroic deeds and rugged enchantments.

The cook brought our dinner while our waitress, Mary, read her poetry. I enjoyed a bowl of fennel and potato soup, followed by ling cod, which was out of this world. White tender meat embellished with udon noodles, vegetables, and a rich buttery sauce. Roberta had the vegetarian pizza, garnished with gorgonzola and mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, onions, and spinach. How do people so transform organic matter into something that transcends mere food and becomes something more like art, or music?

The restaurant at Doe Bay uses natural, locally grown ingredients. Renae explained that the eggs on the island were particularly nutritious and savory, because the chickens were allowed to forage, and ate a lot of insects, which augmented the amount of keratin in their eggs, and mitigated the insect population.

It was fun eating my dinner and listening to poetry during the open mic. I normally don’t enjoy the distractions of dinner theatre, but this was different. This was more like dinner with friends, a cornucopia of poetry, food, and some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen, rugged rocks, towering trees, and the lure of wooded isles in the distance.

It was dark when we made our way back to the cabin. A few lights guided our way. The cabin felt cozy. In minutes it was deliciously warm again. We were enveloped in knotty pine. The nightmare that is the United States safely remote, all but forgotten. The destruction of the Gulf of Mexico, depredations of the outlaw gang that is Goldman Sachs, literally sacking the country’s economy, on top of the two wars sucking it dry, torture, rendition, shredded constitution, tea bagger maniacs sporting guns at political rallies, all that seemed to belong to a horrific dream the magnitude of which could not possibly belong to this world, the world of fragrant air and knotty pine, sea otters cracking mollusks on their bellies and deer grazing in meadows dripping with fresh rain.

12 comments:

Joseph said...

Love that place. We were out there for a few days last summer. A perfect spot for a reading! And apparently elsewhere on the island is a theosophical retreat center!

Steven Fama said...

It rained too when I was on Orcas Island, although that was in 1978 so I'm pretty sure there have been plenty of sunny days since.

Did you and Roberta get to try the seaplane when you flew back home?

John Olson said...

Thankfully, I refrained from getting my hands on the joystick.

We waited for the seaplane on a dock in the Rosario marina. It began to hail. We took refuge under an umbrella at a nearby restaurant, then ran back down the dock to catch the plane. But the rest of the way home was sunny and smooth. I can't believe how beautiful Washington state is. So many islands. So little time.

Steven Fama said...


Ha-ha (you and the joystick), and yes I should have asked not did you get to "try" but did you get to "ride in" the seaplane on the way home!

I remember riding the ferry out to Orcas, the same sense of oh my how amazing.

I request more on the seaplane, if you please. As in, what was it like, the moments just before, at, and just after, take off.

That's all incredible during a land-based take off. The surge and rush and speed down the runway, the miraculous initial lift, the ground receding. I imagine from the water it's like being on water skis (my only comparable experience) but waaaay quicker, with little waves licking at, almost chasing, the pontoons as the plane gradually comes up off the water....

John Olson said...

The plane lifts from the water much faster than I had imagined. The pontoons slice through the water very smoothly. I thought there would be more bouncing. Maybe because as soon as the plane acquires speed it also acquires lift, mitigating the bounce factor. The sensation of lifting in the air is much more acute than it is on a jet. The craft is so much smaller. It doesn't go nearly as high, either; cruising altitude is about 4,000 feet, so you never lose sight of all the detail on the ground, as you do on a commercial jet, where you mostly look down at clouds.

As long as I have lived in Seattle, I have wondered how those seaplanes manage to land and take off with so many sailboats and kayakers in the water. Lake Union gets pretty crowded in the summer. We look forward to one day taking off from the lake. It merits another trip to Doe Bay.

I also kept thinking of that scene in Point Break where Keanu Reeves leaps from the plane without a chute to catch Patrick Swayze.

Harald Striepe said...

John, I wish I could have been there, perhaps staying in one of the cabins with Cheryl. I could have thrown spitballs, or perhaps had a pithy comment making people chuckle in the back. You - looking up - first uncertain, then slightly annoyed - clearing your throat, and then proceeding to ignore me after a suitable glare (stereotypical).

Instead, we saw Laurie Anderson at Stanford. "Delusion" - a show filled with genius and a melancholy that shocked some of the audience. Fleeting time, age and death, and the words left unsaid are weighty subjects that linger in the empty space between my ears. All the things left undone...

Aging gracefully, not easy, when filled with childish yearnings!

John Olson said...

I love Laurie Anderson. Saw her a long time ago, 90 or 91, give a talk at the UW. She is a bright light. Maybe there will be a DVD or YouTube of "Delusion." We just finished watching the HBO movie about Doctor Kevorkian with Al Pacino and Susan Sarandon. It was quite moving. You would think that choosing to die gracefully, and as painlessly as possible, when death is inevitable, and imminent, would not be subject to courtroom debate.

You and Cheryl would love Doe Bay. It is so unbelievably peaceful there.

I wish Kenmore Air flew to northern California. Or we had a speed train. 250 mph. Here to San Francisco in about 3 and 1/2 hours. What a dream.

Renae Keep said...

Love your description of the painting of the man dressed in an orange suit cradling a huge fish. AJ Power's painting. See more here: http://www.ajpowerstudio.com/

Harald Striepe said...

"Homeland" will feature pieces from Delusion. Not sure, why not all of her shows are made into DVDs, they are precious.

I have been talking about coming up to Seattle for many months. But now, we are scrimping (really more - borrowing) to fund Bryn's theatre study abroad in London (LAMDA), she will be great.

All the things we never had - all I can think of is the summer we spent painting the apartment complex "Desert Sand Brown" to earn our tuition - your "grand scheme," I think! Listening to the theme of "A Clockwork Orange" on the way home, we were so dead tired that two cans of beer got us falling off our chairs over cleaning the brushes. And that comely lass coming by every morning that finally made me literally fall of the ladder disappearing into the bushes, which made you laugh for days, whenever you looked at me. And that waitress - old to us, but not less attractive, probably all of 35 - that had a kind heart, and served us lemon juice in the sun.

Come to think of it, the memories are not that bad.

We never lacked for conversation...

Anonymous said...

Man. Yer like the Indiana Jones of the Pacific NW. What big nuts you have. But I guess those run in da family.

Guess who?

Harald Striepe said...

Could it be the infamous John Marble?

mr0btuse said...

Nope. It's me...mr0btuse. John's smarter and better looking brother.