In 2006, the journalist and screenwriter Nora Ephron published an essay in The New Yorker about her love affair with the Apthorp, a Beaux-Arts building on the Upper West Side, where she resided for more than twenty years. Ephron’s piece is an evocative meditation on nostalgia and the meaning of home. Love, she writes, is a kind of homesickness; we tend to fall in love with people (or apartments) who remind us of something familiar. It was during a particularly low period in her life that she felt rescued and liberated by a sense of place. Over the past year, many of us have been forced to reexamine our notions of what home means—whether it’s due to the transformation of a city we love or the absence of family members who have always brought us a feeling of contentment.
That got me thinking… a perilous thing some say. I grew up with the impression that I lived in a middle class environment. Most likely my impression was close to the mark. I spent my early formative years in the small community of Lakewood, Washington. It is wedged between Tacoma to the North, McCord Air Force Base to the Southeast and Fort Lewis to the Southwest. It was the kind of place you could leave your house in the morning on your bike with a sandwich and a can of Fanta in a paper sack, and as long as you got home before dark, all was well. Our community encompassed the socioeconomic scope of Americans, majority white in the 1950’s, with increasing diversity in the 1960’s and 70’s. There was always a range of many other ethnic groups due to the close proximity of the post WWII military influence on the community. I just read a brief history of Lakewood that I found on the internet. Every town, village and whistle stop has a history, and there always seems to be someone who collects and assembles the artifacts and stories about their “place”, and commits them to the permanent record. I found the history of “my” place interesting, and more so because I am familiar with most of the places and names mentioned. Every town has history buffs. What was there before? Who settled it?
What is the history of your “place” if you have one? Where was it? Where is it? What still draws you to it? Does it feel like… home? Does where you live now feel like home? Do you have a yearning for “home”?
What I found most interesting while reading the Lakewood history was how it awakened my subterranean memory. I’m not talking about the subconscious here people! I’m talking about what echoes through the canyons of your mind when a thought, a smell, a picture, or a story reminds you of a time, when…
The “history” included information about the early influence of the Hudson Bay Company and Forts Nisqually and Steilicoom. That took me back to times we played on the ramparts of the replica Fort Nisqually located in Point Defiance Park. It reminded me of all things Lakewood, and after that brief sojurn, it triggered memories of Puget Sound gravel beaches made up of the deposited remnants of melting glacial moraine; The beach logs that wash up and stay on beaches above the level that King tides reach; The baby crabs that scrabble away from you if you are indifferent enough to move the rock they were hiding under; The bounty of butter clams, oysters, dungeness crab; Going to salmon bakes on Owens Beach during the late summer; The closeness, accessibility, and solace provided by spending time in the wilder parts of the mountains, forests, valleys and prairies…
So many of those memories remain familiar because those places are the places that Les, Leo and I visit on a daily basis now that we are back… and living on a boat that helps us to access them.
My Washington inner montage consists of car trips to Mount Rainier, camping on the Pacific Ocean’s edge and digging for razor clams on the broad sand beaches South of Westport, camping in the deep woods of Ohanapecosh perched on the protective shoulder of Mount Rainier. Those inner echoes were mixed in with cross country skiing up the Alpental valley and snow camping, braving the bone chilling ride up the old Chair 2 at Crystal Mountain, and riding up above Iceberg Ridge in -4 degrees F weather and near katabatic winds… just so we could ride the fresh powder in Green Valley.
There was a lot of boating… It started as canoeing as a boy scout and graduated to fishing from a 12 foot Sears aluminum car topper powered by a clutchless, 2 cycle, 5 horsepower Clinton brute. That is the vessel that started me off wandering about Lake Steilicoom and American Lake. I built a folding kayak and expanded my wanderings to other little lakes, big lakes, streams, and a small part of the upper Columbia river.
I recall water-skiing behind boats that were brand new then and are now sought after plastic “classics”. And… traveling to places by little cruising boats and picking up moorings or anchoring and just messing about in the dinghy, fishing, beach combing… the activities that cemented my love for boating.
So where is my home now? That’s what this is getting at, eh?
That is an interesting, thought provoking question. Coming back to the Northwest after 45 years of absence sometimes feels like, without getting too anthropomorphic, akin to what a salmon must feel when being driven to attain the spawning grounds where it was hatched. The salty and silted water of bays gives way to salt free river water… to crystal clear streams and creeks that feel and taste just right. I feel like that sometimes now that I’m back; When walking the Rainier Trail in Port Ludlow amongst the ancient trees, ferns and salal; When driving Great Northern to Gig Harbor and exiting Colvos Passage and turning my eyes to the Southeast past Tacoma to view the magnificence of Mount Rainier gazing down upon her domain…
The closer one gets to the source, the better it seems to feel. The wildness of the mountains, foothills, valleys, beaches and water are my “source”. And cruising about the Pacific Northwest on a well found trawler lets me visit those places in safety and comfort. I’ve had a simple, comforting, and rewarding insight: Home is where the boat is.
Through all of the anchorages, transient docks, inter-island passages, wind, rain, calm, and sun, we’ve experienced in the Northwest, Great Northern is the one constant. We are always home regardless where she is located. I wonder at times at how it might feel to “swallow the anchor”, move ashore to a location that is locked in place to the land.
We’re not ready for that…
We’re home already.