Sunday, April 26, 2009

Growing up on the Hood Canal

I call myself a Pacific NW native even though I was born in Billings, MT. My parents moved us, my brother and I, when we were just babies. So, technically I am not but feel like I am.

From 2nd to 7th grade, after my parents got divorced, we lived out on the Hood Canal. A small salt water fjord off the Puget Sound. Small retirement and seasonal communities dotted both sides of the canal with plentiful, pristine, undeveloped forests, creeks and lakes. We lived in a small town called Belfair with "the big city" being Bremerton a good 30 minutes from home. The real big city, Seattle, was 2 hour drive or an hour ferry boat ride from Bremerton.

We lived right on the water which was considered somewhat affluent although we were not wealthy. Our beach had a sand spit which we called "the island". When the tide was out we could walk all the way around and get out there but when the tide came in it would cover the cause way and strand us.

The island created a muddy lagoon that was populated with layer upon, muddy layer of oysters. In the attempt to utilize this bounty, every single oyster recipe known to man was attempted and systematically refused by us kids.

I remember my uncle from New Mexico, standing out in the mud slurping down freshly shucked oysters right off the beach. My bile rose. I could not believe anything or anyone could be so disgusting.

It was only as an adult, with my brother's help that I managed to find one way to eat oysters. By that time, I was a long way from that beach.

S & D's BBQ Oysters:
Smallish, palm sized oysters barbecued whole, naturally opening as they steam, top shell pulled off, dollops of garlic-butter-olive oil-herbs-sun dried tomato (whatever sounds good to you) dropped directly onto the oyster on the half shell and sizzled in that mixture until done. Eaten right out of the shell. Smokey, delicious, not fishy. Heaven!

We had a small boat and would paddle around the lagoon during high tide, fish for bull heads, an ugly little fish used for further bait. Sometimes we might catch a dog fish, a small shark, that scared the heck out of me in those days of Peter Benchley's "Jaws".

But, my fondest memories are playing in the dense, rain forest that surrounded the Canal. All around us there was undeveloped land. Wildlife trails that we would adopt and make wider, small creeks and tributarys that we would dam and make small ponds, climb trees, manipulate branches, brush, ferns to make forts, hideouts and secret spots. Huckleberrys, Nettle, Salmon Berrys, Madrona, Salal, Deer fern, Doug Fir, Fiddle head fern; we knew all these plants by sight and had our own names for them.

We watched Salmon spawn and die. A usual occurrence. We did not know we were watching a miracle of nature. It just made the streams stink in the fall. We thought it a horrible waste that the big fish died each year until someone explained that the decaying fish feeds the water with nutrients for the baby fish and a whole host of other creatures. The circle of life concept.

I never remember an adult being with us. In fact, we would mistrust any adult we encountered out there. There was a "Deliverance" quality about meeting adults in the woods and we would hide. We would make up suspenseful and dangerous reasons why they were out there. Even though they were probably just walking a property line, collecting Salal to sell to florests or surveying. Our own parents certainly never came with us. We must have been gone for hours upon hours and were completely unsupervised. It was our world alone and it seemed like magic.

I often think that we, as parents, try to recreate the happiest times of our own childhood for our kids. Of course, it is impossible but we try anyway. That is probably why I felt so strongly about being able to offer a rural upbringing for my kids. "More trees than cars" is how I put it to the them. I was trying to give them something that was precious to me. Have I succeeded? Hard to say. That is one thing I long to ask them when they are grown.

The times are so different now. We are in a very different place and time. There is very little undeveloped land and even if there was it would be considered "trespassing". They don't have hours upon hours of unsupervised time. These are different days. But, they do know about Salmon spawning and the difference between Huckleberry and Salal and can recognize a Nettle when they see one. There are little hints of similarities but not many. They will have their own.

By the time we moved away from the Hood Canal, puberty had set in. There was little or no future in a small town like that. My girlfriends were getting pregnant very young, partying was really the only thing to do. My mom saw this and got us out and we moved to North Seattle. I like to think "just in time". Who knows what would have happened if we had stayed. I probably would not now have these crystalline images of the joy of being young in that place. My memories would be clouded with the coming of age saga which would shadow those purer, more innocent times.

As adults, we can never really go back. Even though we try.


Anonymous said...

I spent many weekends of my life running like a banshee around Tahuya river and Maggie Lake on Hood canal as well as Western Montana, like you said times were much different in the 70's and now would not dream of letting my kids do what I had done.

Shea's Mom said...

Small world. Those were the days!

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