Salmon Beach

Scraps from an old letter:

I am in Tacoma, WA, living in my sleeping bag on the floor of a house on . Salmon Beach is an old fishing village at the bottom of a bluff on Puget Sound. Technically, it is part of Tacoma, but in every other important way, it is a place unto itself. The houses are built on pilings out over the water. It was dilapidated and very nearly vacant when the hippies started moving in sometime in the 60's. When last I visited there, just a couple of years ago, the homes were going for half a million bucks. Many of the hippies got jobs and decorated. It still smelled like rotting wood and seaweed out along the boardwalk that runs behind the houses along the base of the bluff, but through the windows, you could see shiny wood and stained glass. You could see people's dreams come true.

I was in my sleeping bag on the first floor of my friend Michael's house the night Mt. St. Helen's blew up. The sound of pounding from beneath the house woke me. I thought it was a storm, and went to look out the window, expecting to see heavy surf. The surface of the Sound was smooth as glass, to coin a phrase. The sky was blue. It was a lovely day. Back in my sleeping bag, the pounding continued for awhile, like an immense heartbeat in my ear. Trolls beneath the world. We rode the motorcycle up to Seattle that day, stopping finally at the Phinney Ridge Cafe for cinnamon rolls. The customers were all gathered around a TV watching scenes from the mountain. The winds blew east that day. I watched for ash for days, but it never fell here. When I drove across eastern Washington later that summer, I had to keep the windows closed because the ash still lay in drifts along the road, and hung in the air when the wind blew.

Salmon Beach was almost paradise. Except that sometimes trees would shake loose from the bluff above and slide down and through someone's home. And if you didn't have a boat, the only way out was to climb the over 200 steps of dilapidated wooden steps that wound up to the parking lot at the top. It was the sort of climb that, if you got to the top and found you had forgotten your car keys, you knew god did not intend for you to go to work that day