There were tears in my eyes as we drove back down the hillside in our sporty red car, leaving our friends behind with promises of trips to California and repeat trips to Washington. Late night wine fueled conversations had widened the cracks of clarity in my heart and mind, the knowledge that so much of my life was noise, so many of my goals collecting dust with a curled edge post-it note promising later.
The first part of the drive was familiar in the way driving through your childhood is. I saw the sign for Paradise State Park and wondered, as I had when I was little, if it was truly paradise and if I'd ever get a chance to stop and see it. We passed through Woodland and I found myself searching the roadside for the familiar Whimpy's Burgers sign, disappointed to find it replaced by a Starbucks. We drove past the cliffs with their metal nets set up to catch falling rocks and I remembered staring out the windows on the drives home from visiting my aunt and uncle, wondering how many rocks they could hold. We drove past the wide lake with the houses on the edge and over the metal trussed bridges. I passed Longview and Kelso and the Three Rivers Mall where at one time I'd known all the stores and shops. We turned at Exit 49 in Castle Rock and made our way up the road to the visitor's center.
When I was four, I watched Mt. St. Helens spew ash and rock across the sky from our Woodland home, turning morning into night.
When I was nine, we drove up this same road, the ash and desolation turning it into a moonscape. We stopped near the bank of the Toutle and walked through gray dust to collect pumice, the silence of the land nearly absolute.
When family visited, we took them up the mountain, past the A-frame house buried to its second floor to where the road ended. Every time, we recognized the land was healing.
Just before I graduated from high school, we went to the new Visitor's Center. The film, the views, the ashen colored exhibits behind a wall of glass were bright with promise of future expansion.
I stepped out of the car and grabbed the bag containing our lunch with my gingers in tow. It looked the same as it had twenty years ago. A little worn, perhaps, a little smaller certainly. We walked to a bench and ate while a chipmunk played. We took pictures in a tree and walked inside. We spent two hours listening to rangers, learning the history of the mountain, watching the same film I'd watched with my sisters so many years ago.
I wonder if I'd stayed in Washington if I'd have felt that strange feeling of past and present melding, of memories overlapping, the disconcerting sensation of standing in the same space as my younger self.
We got back on the road and pointed ourselves north. There was traffic, an accident, more traffic. The hours ticked by, more hours than I'd anticipated. The kids fell asleep in the back while I chatted on the phone with my mom. They woke up hungry and thirsty and cranky reminding me a road trip in Washington is the same as a road trip in California. We passed through Seattle while I pointed out Mt. Rainier.
"It looks like San Francisco with more water and volcanoes," Elizabeth observed. I laughed a little and nodded my head, making a mental note to come back to Seattle for a few days another summer and show them the charm of Pioneer Square, the excitement of Pike's Market, and the views of the Space Needle.
We stopped for dinner at a drive through, my eyes on the clock and forefront in my mind, the knowledge that a missed ferry meant no place to stay overnight. We pushed our way north until we arrived in Anacortes and, with a grateful sigh, pulled into our spot in the line for the 9:00 ferry. We stretched our legs until it was time to board and then walked to the top deck where the cold wind whipped our hair and sent whitecaps across the Sound.
Whitecaps. The term came to my lips easily after decades on an ocean and dry riverbed.
We left the landing, taking picture until it was too dark to continue. We ate a snack on the metal benches, settling our stomachs. We waited patiently until, a little over an hour after leaving, we were sent to our car to disembark.
The ferry landing was a dim spot of light in inky blackness. There were no streetlights. Any houses there might have been were hidden among the trees. I followed the directions sent to me by our host - a man we'd never met but came with high recommendations on airbnb. I followed the road for three miles through deep forests and past vast empty spots I would discover to be lakes in the light of day. We turned onto a gravel road and crept our way towards the driveway of two dirt ruts, a thick tuft of grass and flowers growing between. We followed it until it ended at a seven foot high gate of wood and iron.
"I don't think this is safe," Joseph whispered from the back seat.
"It'll be great!" I said with false bravado, my mind already leaping to serial killers creeping through the dark of the woods. I got out of the car and walked in front of the headlights to the gate. It was a rustic concoction with large slabs of rough wood and what appeared to be hand welded metal. Lifting a hook, it swung open on soundless hinges rather than the grind of metal on metal I'd expected. In front of me, the only light came from a small pane of glass in the center of a large dark building.
"Hello?" I called into the emptiness. A door opened and into the light cast by my car, a man and dog walked out.
I smiled gamely and introduced myself to our host.
The studio cottage was cozy with colorful blankets on the beds, warm wood panelling, a bookcase filled with an eclectic selection of books, and windows reflecting pale, tired faces. As Todd left, I ran to the porch and called after him, "You forgot to leave a key!"
"There are no locks," he said with a cheery wave, disappearing into the darkness of the trees. I rubbed my arms and stared at the spot where the light of his flashlight had been devoured by the night. Going back inside, I looked at Joseph and Elizabeth sitting on the bed. Wedging a dining chair under the door handle I set about looking for curtains so we could change into pajamas and get some sleep. Large expanses of bare glass met my gaze. I hustled them into the bathroom, changed and tucked them in after killing three spiders. I lay on the daybed surrounded on three sides by glass and the oppressive darkness beyond, tapping on my phone.
We made it to the island. Finally. Our host seems nice, his dog isn't Cujo, but there are no curtains on the windows, no locks on the doors, and I have no idea where we are. Have to admit I'm a little freaked out.
I pressed post, waiting for the comfort of hundreds on the other end of the satilite signal.
There was no service.