The savage Olympic Coast of Washington State is not a place for the fainthearted. Storm-torn, damp and often dismal, it challenges a visitor to stiffen up your spine or get the hell out. And don’t come back. It is a realm of cold and wet that drives off the casual sightseer. It challenges the willpower of those who would like to stay awhile. But in so doing, it distills humanity down to those few souls who are constitutionally able to forswear comfort for the sake of beauty.
Along this storm-racked coast there are remote places seldom seen–by humans. One of these, and an absolute favorite of mine, is Spirit Cove. Here the coastline seems to bristle against the cold North Pacific’s wave wash, standing in jagged opposition to the huge gray oceanic comers that smash against its bulwarks.
It is a fearsome place. But sheltered by jagged headlands is a small inlet of calm water, an almost impossible place of peace in a ravaged coastline. I have come to Spirit Cove a few times now, walking long, mud-choked, all-but-forgotten coastal trails under deep forest gloom, arriving wet-footed and cold, to be charmed and enlightened by what awaited me at the end of my trek.
Even the stones of the place seem to have life within their hard exteriors. How else can one explain their composition? Here the rocks are made up of rocks in kaleidoscopic earth-tone symphonies of green, tan, purple, and brown. Stupendously huge fallen blocks contain boulders within them, as well as multi-colored pebbles and even the petrified sandbars of a bygone era.
And, sheltered among the rocks, life burgeons. An emerald tide pool teems with eelgrass and myriad tiny fishes. Its waters shout “Green!” to a sky full of muted gray fog.
On wave-washed bedrock, clans of orgiastic snails crowd together amid twining amber festoons of seaweed–kakalaklokadub in the Makah Indian language–that drapes the boulders of the place like intricate natural party decorations. Perhaps those snails gather together to sing potlatch songs, as it was in days long past when humans and animals freely transformed into one another.
Spirit Cove. This is the place where Raven first bit the shore, in the days when he was a giant, to carve out a home for animals and humans too. This is the central locale of my novel The Neah Virus.
Here is where Gordon Steel, the old Makah shaman, built his traditional longhouse without the benefit of saw or nail. Here is where the Lost Souls Disease first came, and where it went, in the old times. Here is a place of mysteries and answers. Here is a place where Raven still rules, where tiny chattering Douglas squirrels sing their songs, where humans come at their peril, and only come if their souls have been purified. Here is a place of dark, and light, and destiny.
Oh. Excuse me for wandering off into story. That’s the kind of effect the awesome beauty of Spirit Cove has on me. How about you?