The Olympic Peninsula, or Reflections on Falling in Love

ruby beach

“I think this one might be my favorite,” Doug tells me as we pull into the empty parking lot above Ruby Beach. It is a confession, spoken quietly, as though he’s afraid other beaches will hear.

I smile, amused by his comfort with the Olympic Peninsula. He’s been visiting this place since boyhood; can navigate without a map; can tell you without looking how many times the Olympic Highway crosses the serpentine Sol Duc River as it meanders on its way. He rock-hops over the tide pools on Beach 4 with all of the unbridled comfort and bliss of a child on a playground.

That morning, as we left Seattle on the Bainbridge Ferry, he led me onto the open-air deck and closed his eyes, breathed in as much of the curling mist as his lungs would hold. “Smell that?” he asked. “Saltwater and wet timbers and creosote. Best smell in the world.” In this place, he is home.

It is our first trip together, a whirlwind tour of his second city, the place where he lived as a child and where he returns whenever fate allows. We’ve already gorged ourselves on Seattle’s flavors and sights and sounds, and now I am to see the real reason he loves the Pacific Northwest. So we drive the Peninsula, stopping at forgotten pawn shops and sipping coffee from roadside shacks all the way from Port Angeles to the Pacific Coast.

Descending the stairs to the beach, we pause to photograph banana slugs as they amble across the rainforest path. Later, I’ll learn that on sunny summer days a person can run in this place, and shout, and play, but in the rain the rules are different. Today, the Peninsula summons reflections, beckons us to be still.

In a salty tidal stream along the path, we stand nearly silent as we skip sea-rounded stones, big and flat as saucers. Onward at the beach, the Pacific meets us with a roar as enormous surf ushers in an impending high tide and an offshore storm.

I am mesmerized. For the first time, I understand the ocean for all of its power.  Massive drift-logs that have long since washed ashore create petrified walls, and those broad, flat, rounded stones land in piles against them. The sea is building a wall between itself and the earth. I stare at the water, humbled and disturbed.

And then: “Kate! Look!” he gasps, taking my hand as he, too, gazes at the ocean. But he doesn’t see the darkness. He points into the mist, where rainbows leap from the churning whitecaps, illuminated by one stubborn sun ray that forces itself through the clouds.

Without warning, I am in tears. Perhaps I can see the future, and I am overwhelmed with the emotion of it. Or maybe I do not yet know. Maybe I cannot see that someday, in this very spot, we will become engaged. I cannot yet see the joy I’ll feel someday, watching my children dig for buried treasure in this wild place. Maybe it is this simple: On this remote, eternal beach, there is light, and I’ve found someone to show me.

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