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The other part of Washington that no one cares about

Kelly is probably the most intense person I know, just based on the number of activities (and words) she can cram into a given length of time. I was unprepared for the sheer recreation I would experience as her guest in her hometown of Port Angeles, but the surprise was mostly pleasant. A rundown:

  • Port Angeles, which everyone in the car told me I must stop deliberately mispronouncing or face painful death, is really in the middle of nowhere, four hours west of Seattle. Most people think that the state kind of stops at that point, but really that’s just where civilization as we know it gives up the ghost. If you drive far enough into the sunset, you reach Port Angeles, and then eventually La Push. One good thing about being that far removed from electronic superstores and such is the lack of light pollution. We lucked out with a clear night and were treated with the best star gazing I’ve encountered since being in the middle of the New Mexico desert; I could see faint clusters of stars I’d forgotten were there, and the Milky Way was a soupy band through the middle of Cassiopeia. It was truly epic. After I’d drunk in the sky longer than was practical, I wanted nothing more than to sleep the sleep of the very tired or the very drunk; I fell into the former group, but unfortunately for me some of Kelly’s friends showed up around one am and proceeded to loudly join the latter.
  • Kelly’s parents are an unlikely pair of stereotypes, which I mean in the nicest way possible. He’s a lumberjack, complete with suspenders, handlebar mustache, and flannel; she’s a flower child, which is more an attitude than a collection of visual traits. Her mother’s name is Debbie, but I don’t know her father’s because – I swear I’m not making this up – everyone calls him “Dude”, and has since Kelly can remember. They showed up early on Saturday morning and made us all a county breakfast, apologizing for the light syrup on the French toast, and pumped enough coffee into my sagging forebrain for me to acknowledge my sleep debt but not nearly enough to cure it.
  • Kelly has livestock at her house, specifically a cow and a calf. Before we could leave for the day, Dude wanted us to help him transfer the calf back from his neighbor’s pasture, where they’d stuck it for short keeping while the cow was paid a visit by a bull. Apparently, that really happens (imagine being an animal whose only purpose is to travel the country having sex). The plan was to detach the electric fence at a node and hold it open like a gate while a few people herded the calf through the opening, across the road, and home. To herd a cow, you form a human fence and walk it, nice and slowly, where you want it to go. In practice, it wasn’t so simple. First, the calf was huge, easily big enough to gore you if it felt like it. Kelly and Marta were both terrified of it, which made it difficult for them to stand their ground, the appropriate behavior, when it charged them; Kelly threw her hands in the air and said “That’s it! I’m done! No more cow!” and walked away muttering, “I hate the cow!”; Marta covered her head with her arms, as if the calf were going fall onto her from the sky, and ran away giggling. Second, cows can move. I was running at a dead sprint and barely keeping up with it, although to be fair to me I had to dodge around the cow chips, which slowed me a bit. Dude and I chased the damn thing all around the pasture, through four unsuccessful attempts at a transfer, before Dude called it quits. Actually, I quite enjoyed myself, and eagerly await the next time I get to herd a mammal.
  • After cow time, the four of us (Kelly, Marta, Jason and I) drove to the Olympic hot springs, in the National Forest of the same name. Kelly and Jason had a wedding to attend, so they rode ahead on bikes to save time while Marta and I hiked the two miles to the springs. It was a beautiful trail, and we reached its end just in time to see Kelly’s and Jason’s pale asses as they got out of the first spring. As she dried off and got dressed, Kelly advised us to find the uppermost pool, since it was unarguably the best one – they didn’t have time to hike up there themselves – and then rode off down the mountainside. We climbed up a steaming stream bed in search of it, and she was right. The pool is two and half feet deep and surrounded by little improvements made by previous visitors: a candle ledge carved into a log; colorful flowers sunk to the neck in the moss, so that the buds appear to grow out of the vegetation like anemones; shag carpet lining the bottom of the tub. The water is about the same temperature as a hot tub, but much dirtier – little flecks of dirt settled on our legs as we soaked, and stuck to us after standing up. Initially, Marta and I were a little hesitant about what company we might encounter in the pool, and agreed that the worst-case scenario was a leering, overweight man in his thirties. The actual scenario was much milder, a couple our age from Evergreen State, the Northwest Mecca of hippies and potheads alike. I expected it to be weird to have a naked conversation with complete strangers, but it honestly wasn’t, and I didn’t feel the slightest bit self-conscious as we made small talk. We left shortly after they did, about an hour later, and on our way down met about eleven people looking for the place we’d just exited. Got out just in time. Marta couldn’t make it back to the trail without stopping to soak in another pool, and I joined her reluctantly but was glad I did. The second was inhabited by a huge, rotund old man with bad teeth and a suntan who’d been soaking for over twenty-four hours straight. He kept trying to get us to hang around all night. “I can’t leave until my candles burn down – almost killed me hiking em in, sure as hell not taking em out.”
  • Somehow we found the campground where the wedding reception was being held in the dark, on a dirt road off highway 112. Kelly and Jason were already passed out in her parents’ trailer, but we woke them up and drug them back into the revelry as best we could, and it’s a good thing we did – rednecks know how to get down. There were dozens of boiled Dungeness crabs, burgers, pastries, and of course an endless supply of Rainier beer in cans. Walking around the fire pit, I could have easily assembled entire lexicons of hick-speak. These people are loud, crass, and unapologetic. They use some derivative of “fuck” at least twice a sentence. They speak of hunting and fishing with an enthusiasm bordering on mania. I had a great time.
  • The heat inside the tent woke us up relatively early Sunday morning, and we made mimosas from the plentiful leftover champagne to go with breakfast. Back in Port Angeles, Marta and I shopped at the local Goodwill while Kelly tied up loose ends at her house. We both expected a veritable treasure trove of used clothing (“just imagine what these people throw out!”), but I was sorely disappointed with the selection. You expect the majority of clothing at a used store to be undesirable, but the merchandise at this store was ugly even taking that fact into account. I did find a nice burgundy button-down shirt, and Marta picked out some glasses for her kitchen, so it was worthwhile all in all.
  • I got home around nine, stumbled into bed, and woke up to what may prove to be the week that finally kills me. I desperately need to arrange my schedule and plan for the next 5 quarters, and in the mean time reorganize my closet, finances, and apartment. On top of that, everyone is back in town for school and they all want time I don’t have to give. But I’ll manage; I met Christina for a half-hour during my lunch break, and I’m sure I could squeeze in one of you one of these nights.

    Also, I’m writing a weekly column in the Daily this fall, running on Tuesdays. I don’t have a title yet, but the best candidate so far is “Nerd’s-eye View.” Like it? Have a better idea? Let me know.

    Posted in Musings.

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