Hikes: Of Tides and Time

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Last Saturday I gave a presentation at Sound Waters University about tides, how to understand them and live alongside them in the Salish Sea. Maribeth Crandell met us afterwards for lunch at Callen's – the salmon BLT is superb, by the way. With full bellies in need of a hike we drove to Long Point east of Coupeville.

Picture a classic February beach scene on Penn Cove: gray clouds above a gray beach along flat gray waters – not even wavelets on the beach, just gentle lapping. You could almost watch the tide receding from the shoreline; little else moved. Oystercatchers hung out with gulls on the tip of Long Point. A seal photobombed some goldeneyes paddling nearby. A raft of scoters swam together just offshore, then dove underwater one by one, reemerged one by one, then spooked one by one and flew a hundred yards away.

To the east, the empty waters of Saratoga Passage mirrored the pale gray watercolor of clouds hanging like a formless diffuse wash. To the West, Penn Cove disappeared into the distance, the Wharf building the only object protruding into the grayness.

We walked the beach, throwing a ball for Murphy who raced after it like a terrier until he eventually tired of the game and just walked the beach alongside us. Conversation flowed between Kath and Maribeth; I wandered in and out of the conversation and along the tideline with the shells and shorecrabs, lost in a reverie of timelessness.

When I was a child, my brother and I would wander down to North Beach from our house near Ballard. We'd play at the water's edge, absorbing the spirit of the Salish Sea, its gray skies, its gray water, its endless lapping of waves. The haunting calls of grebes and gulls became ingrained in our memories as our version of a lullaby. We came to know the flow of the sea, the rise and fall of the tides, the vastness of the waters; Whidbey and the Olympics lay sharply etched beyond us on sunny days and hidden from all but our imaginations when clouds hung low and gray. We knew they were still there; their spirit hung with us as our little legs wandered the shoreline, alone with the elements, becoming a part of them and they a part of us.

Years later we would come back here to find crabs on still winter nights at low tide or catch salmon from our wooden skiff on the open water. I would have my first kiss here late one evening as a gentle rain fell on the beach.

Walking west from Long Point this Saturday, I sensed the same elements playing in my mind, calling through the years. The decades melted into eternity as my wife and my good friend and co-author wandered along together sharing stories. Gulls hunted the shoreline for shellfish; a grebe dove offshore. Beach cabins blended with driftwood, wood smoke drifting among them. A burial ground of native peoples is here somewhere near the point, its exact location lost through the decades, but the ancestral spirits still at home. I could hear echoes of tribal children walking these same beaches alongside us, the children growing into women who gathered shellfish along the shoreline, and men who paddled the calm waters finding salmon and sustenance, smoke from their longhouse fires drifting along the beach and melting into the firs on the hill above.

If you squint, you can almost see them in the background in the photos of our hike together this week.

Halfway to Coupeville, the beach is almost totally blocked by fallen trees from the slumped-over hillside. We turned around and headed back to our car parked at Long Point.

Murphy didn’t want to get back in the car. I felt the same way. The waterfowl, the gulls and the grebe, the seal and the spirits remained there in the gray.


Directions: From the stoplight on Highway 20 in Coupeville, drive 2.7 miles south and turn left onto Morris Road. Take a quick left onto Parker Road, drive 1.3 miles and turn right on Portal Place. Drive a short distance to Marine Drive and turn left; follow it to the end.

By Bike: The last mile is a quiet roadway with narrow shoulders, and a quick drop down to the water. What goes down must come back up.

Mobility: You can drive to the gravel parking lot at Long Point and enjoy the view from there. The beach extends west or south from the point, with a gravel and shell-strewn beach. A high tide takes away the beach, and the uplands are private property in both directions.

Republished with permission. Read the original article.