I wondered, for a few seconds, if I was dreaming.
Looking out at the wall, a sea of arms looked back at me, waving. Each arm showing shades of grey, corpse-like, yet animated. Was this for real, or a nightmare?
I couldn’t have been sleeping, the cold water on my face would wake the biggest sleepyhead. An ocean full of it, in fact. I was on a dive in the Pacific Northwest, in the San Juan Islands; an area with chilly oceans and a sea bottom full of oddities.
The arms of this wall of oddities were from sea cucumbers. Small, densely packed, their array of branching tentacles hid their cucumber bottoms. Filter feeders, each arm waved in the ocean currents, waiting for some spec of goodness to catch and redirect towards its mouth. Normally I see these critters wearing orange, this wall of grey showed cucs of a more conservative bent.
Ask the average person what you can find under the waves and they’d say fish, shrimp, crabs, lobster, things they can eat. They might mention reefs, but only be thinking warm water reefs. Cold water also has reefs, but usually they’re rock-based rather than being formed by coral. And in the right conditions, they are covered with life. Sure, it’s cool to see fish swimming around, or an octopus or wolf eel hiding out in a hole, but often it’s these walls of life that make a dive. Cucumbers, anemones, cold-water corals, kelp forests, urchins, hydroids; the list goes on.
* * * * * * *
This Washington State Park was the base of operations for our dive club. If I started off with a small deception, please excuse me. It seemed apt. But the park had its own deceptions, beyond the pass. One of them was the weather. We had expected glorious weather the whole weekend, but come the second day of diving the weather seemed to have taken a turn for the worse.
We dive off a 19-foot powerboat owned by one of our members, and when we started motoring out to the islands on day two the going was decidedly rough. Small craft, big ocean. The winds were forecasted to increase as the day went on, so after slogging through chop and slop for a couple miles we decided safety might be the better choice. We turned around and headed back to camp.
This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we missed out on a second day of diving, the main goal of the weekend. On the other, this freed us up to do other things. For my wife and I, this meant hiking in the park, something I normally have little time for.
And the weather, fickle, deceptive thing that it is, decided to not become windy – it improved. So not only would it have been good for diving, it was good for hiking too.
Naturally, I took the camera.
(Click on any picture for a larger view in a new window)
I talked about the pass a year ago, no need to rehash the history and geology here. Suffice it to say the tides trigger considerable water movement through the pass.
With currents like these, I was a little surprised to see a sailboat out beyond the pass. We saw him gearing up at the boat ramp when we came back from our aborted excursion. He must have timed the outgoing tide for the trip out through the pass, and planned to time the ebb tide for the return.
We hiked the Lighthouse Point trail. Another act of deception: there is no lighthouse.
But there were several good places for one. It follows a peninsula (nearly an island) on the northwest side of the pass, and as you follow the perimeter you get a near 360 degree set of coastline views. These were spectacular, both large and small.
You may expect a host of sea vistas, and I took a few. But it’s a little like storytelling. You can tell a big story with broad strokes, or smaller stories with more detailed vignettes about the bigger place. What is more interesting?
Mid-sized can be interesting too. How about a pond with reeds and cattails?
Or getting the eye from a local?
The locals seem nice, it wasn’t too harey. (Sorry, lame Dad joke.)
Besides, who says you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff?
Be honest now. Would you have even noticed these details if you were walking along the path?
You probably would have noticed the Madrones. They’re such cool trees (he said, wistfully thinking the one that used to live in his yard.)
As we climbed to the top of the peninsula, we noted that the trails branched with no signage to give a clue where the branches went. I opted to follow the trail that followed the perimeter. Views, you know.
Maybe not the best choice.
The map did suggest a loop. What wasn’t obvious is the main loop comes back mid “island.” The route we ended up on was more apt for deer, or other younger, more agile creatures than us. Steeps and scrambles, and guesswork to get back to the main path. But we did get more views, including a lawn of lichen and moss.
Deceived again, by trails this time. But what the heck, what would a travel and adventure blog be without a few unexpected adventures? In time we straggled back to the main trail, and on completion drove back to camp.
And later, as the day came to an end, we wandered down to the shore and joined those who find there’s nothing quite like watching the sun go down over the shining waves.