Flying South

It was our last day before our daughter Bea returned to Stanford, so we let her decide how to spend it.  Hiking was her first choice.   In Washington one must often decide—mountains or ocean?

But the trail at Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island gave us a little of both, plus some Washington State history.

The trail takes you past the historic house of Jacob and Sarah Ebey, built in the early 1850s, and the blockhouse built for protection from Native American uprisings.  (You can’t blame the indigenous people–they were there first.)

Isaac Ebey found his paradise on Whidbey.  The government was granting 640 acres to each homesteader.   Isaac convinced not only his parents, Jacob and Sarah Ebey, to come homestead on Whidbey Island, but several siblings and cousins as well.

From Jacob and Sarah’s house,  you can see Isaac Ebey’s homestead, pictured below.  He was one of the first white settlers on Whidbey Island, was the island’s prosecuting attorney, a representative of the Oregon State Legislature when Washington was still part of Oregon Territory, and he helped persuade the legislature to separate Washington from Oregon Territory.  Ebey was also a tax collector, a customs agent, and captain of the local volunteer militia.

But there was trouble in paradise.  In 1857 Native Americans–probably Haida–came to avenge the death of their chief at the hands of white men in Port Gamble.  The man they meant to kill wasn’t home, but they knew Ebey was an important man, and they knew where he lived.  They knocked on his door; when he opened it, they killed and beheaded him, taking his head as a trophy.

As we walked past Isaac’s house, I thought of his parents, wife, and children, left to grieve in paradise.

The view was heavenly.  From the bluff, we looked west to the Olympic Peninsula and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to the south was Mt. Rainier, and the Cascade Mountains were visible to the east.

We took in the smell of salt, the sparkle of sunlight on the water, the feel of the earth beneath our boots.

The trail took us to the water, and then along some of Washington’s highest coastal bluffs.

Below was the beach…

…and Peregos Lake, formed by a narrow spit covered with giant weathered drift logs.

Via switchbacks we descended the steep golden hillside to the beach….

…where we found all kinds of treasures…

…including several dead Lion’s Mane jellyfish, which we examined in detail.

Each moment has become a precious memory which I will bring out and savor as needed, like a box of fine chocolates.

Looping back toward the trailhead…

…I thought about our little chick.

Soon she would be navigating a different coastline.

For her I wished for calm waters…

…and guiding light.

I had to remind myself how lucky we are.   When the pioneers struck out on their own and bid their parents farewell, it was almost always forever.

But for every bird flying south there will be another trip north.  And for every plane flying out of Seattle, there’s another one coming home.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck.

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The Real Thing

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Last weekend my sister and I happened into Langley, an artsy little town on Whidbey Island.  Tourists scurried about like cockroaches at a crumbfest, only in broad daylight.  A cheesy salesman draped with gold chains leaned over the counter of a jewelry store, talking too loudly.

“A bit over the top,” I thought.  And then, “This guy can’t be for real.”

Well, he wasn’t.  He turned out to be a suspect in an organized murder mystery, with town folk playing the suspects and tourists racing around town in search of clues, for which privilege they paid a lot of money.

I prefer self-directed treasure hunts, only I call it ‘research.’   I’ve always loved travel, but it was in England, searching for the perfect setting for The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, that I truly felt the thrill of the hunt.  Research lent a sense of purpose as I absorbed all I could of the Norman Conquest and life in Anglo-Saxon times.  At the Weald and Downland Museum, I learned the mechanics of charcoal burning, and which stone originated where throughout England, details I put to good use.  At a Dorset heritage breed farm I learned how shepherds were buried clutching a tuft of wool, so when they got to Heaven St. Peter would understand and forgive their long absences from church.  Of course our shepherd was buried with a tuft of wool in his hand!

My family has accompanied me to many destinations chosen for research purposes, others for pure pleasure.  But what do ancient streets of Pompeii, a grassy square in Prague, a dusty trail in Walnut Canyon, AZ, and the Hanseatic Old Town of Bergen, Norway hold in common?

As my kids and I took in the smells, colors, and unique histories of those places, each inspired group brainstorming that resulted in a rough outline of a novel.  Some were merely exercises in creativity, a fun way to internalize information. Others were keepers, and took their place in our Writer’s Egg Chain, where they will gestate until we are ready to return to Prague in search of more hidden story gems to lend light, color, meaning, and authenticity to our embryonic novel.

But your search needn’t involve expensive travel.  In fact, I just finished a manuscript and am ready to crack open the next egg on the chain.  It’s set in the funky Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, only minutes away.  Bea, co-author on this project, and I will explore Fremont’s streets, shops, dives, parks, events and hotspots—like the Fremont Troll, the nude Solstice Parade, and Theo’s chocolate factory.  I am sure that some of them will find a place and help breathe life into our story.

We won’t sign up in advance or pay to participate, and there’ll be no checklist of items to collect.  This treasure hunt will be of our own invention.  We aren’t even quite sure what we are looking for, but we’ll recognize it when we see it.  And when we do, I promise it will be the real thing.

Are there things you look for when you are doing your research?  Have you had an experience researching a project that you would like to share?

See what Bea’s blog post says about research and “Writing what you know.”