Dark Carnival

Have you never felt your life was set on a stage with players and props and painted scenery and when you moved from place to place, playing your part, speaking your lines, the painted scenery was moved as well, providing a thin semblance of depth and continuity? But what lies behind the familiar painted screens? What exists beyond the stage props? What occupies the shadows past the blinding footlights?

Carnival_clownPhoto credit: flickr

Something is stirring but I don’t know what it is. Some rough beast may be slouching toward Bethlehem again. Magic is alive, God is afoot, but are we sadly mistaken about the nature of both?

At some point magic comes head to tail
with science like a snake devouring itself.

I am not a religious man. I suspect the purpose of organized religion is to efficiently control people’s behavior through fear. But I begin also to suspect the world is far more mysterious than we’ve imagined and that religion may be a more appropriate response to the mystery than science.

In subtle and unexpected ways science and religion are approaching common if uncertain ground. At some point as the scientific focus becomes more and more specific, as the particles examined by quantum physicists become more and more elusive, magic comes head to tail with science like a snake devouring itself. Mystery escapes its cage of scientific incredulity.

But magic isn’t all wonder and delight. There’s a darkness that occupies the heart of everything living just as there is light. Each strives to consume the other. It’s only in the balance of opposites that we survive. And we’ve long been out of balance.

By the pricking of my thumbs…

The Wisdom of Spiders

Commenting on my blog post, Ghost Dogs, Trina said:

I am trying to find some kind of significance with a particular recurring dream/ hallucination..(it’s hard to distinguish). Usually when I am on the brink of sleep I will see the unmistakable figure of a dog in my room. It never makes any sound, only stands and watches me. Sometimes it will scare me awake, but other times it seems more dreamlike. The dog doesn’t have any distinguishable features like eyes or fur it is just a figure. I haven’t come across anything as close to what I’ve been experiencing as this.

It might help following my own crooked path to understanding a recent experience. I don’t mean to imply I have any special understanding of these things. I’m not a professional, not even trained in the interpretation of dreams. Whatever knowledge I’ve gleaned is simply that of a dreamer.

Spider_web I woke from sleep staring at an immense spider scurrying across our bedroom ceiling. It was a big as a tarantula. My wife is terrified of spiders, a fear bordering on technical phobia. My first thought was to ensure she didn’t see it.

I walked around the end of the bed. The spider dropped silently to the floor and disappeared. My wife asked me what I was doing. I answered that I must have been dreaming but I was awake when I answered. We both went back to sleep. (She’s less afraid of my dreams than unreasonably large arachnids.)

I doubt a broom and dust pan would have been adequate weapons against a spider the size of a Frisbee.

Again I woke to find I was staring at the enormous spider on the ceiling. It was more shadow than substance, more shape and movement than a specific species, but it was undoubtedly a spider and undoubtedly in my house. Again the spider fell silently to the floor. We don’t have spiders the size of tarantulas in Seattle. Rationally I knew it must be a waking dream or hallucination. I suppose they’re the same. But I couldn’t distinguish between the dream and reality. For me they were the same.

It happened three times. The third time I went downstairs to get a flashlight and a broom to hunt down the spider hiding beneath the dresser. I was acting as if it were real because it was real. Our reality is determined by our perceptions. It’s all in our heads. The terrifying hallucinations of a schizophrenics are real to them, as real as the bus stop or McDonalds. I’m not schizophrenic but the difference in experience is only one of degree.

Spider

Obviously I never found the spider. I doubt a broom and dust pan would have been adequate weapons against a spider the size of a Frisbee. But I’ve thought about its significance since. It’s disconcerting not knowing the difference between waking reality and a dream.

I believe the experience had meaning, that it wasn’t merely the random misfiring of synapses in my brain. It wasn’t Scrooge’s bit of undigested beef. Whatever meaning would be peculiar to me—the particular bias I’ve built from all the bits and pieces of my experience—but nested within the larger experience of all humanity, our common cultural heritage.

The repetition of three is itself significant. The cock crowed three times in the garden of Gethsemane. The number defines the trinity, a union of duality. It’s repeated in myths worldwide. The repetition of a dream three times adds weight to its meaning and takes it out of the ordinary. (Not that chasing dream spiders across my bedroom is ordinary.)

They are messages, mostly messages to our selves, but so dense that they require unraveling…

I don’t have any particular fear of spiders even if I didn’t collect them as a child. I admire the complexity and beauty of their webs. Years ago when I bought my first Nikon SLR I took dozens of macro photos of spider webs strung across the morning light capturing droplets of fog on Point Reyes. It’s that image I remember first when I think of spiders.

Size often represents importance. Something larger must represent more of a kind—more wisdom, more ferocity, more power, more authority. What are the characteristics of spiders that might be exaggerated by size?

I searched the web for references to dream imagery and spiders. There are a lot of references to spiders in myth, especially native American myths. Among the Southwest tribes Old Spiderwoman is the mother of wisdom. There are myths where the stars themselves are dew captured in a spider’s web woven across the sky. Some of the dream books associate spiders with creativity, especially writing. I’m not sure of the segue between webs and words but I am working well into a novel, not my first attempt but my most promising and most determined. Could the repeated waking dream represent an encouragement to continue the work, to complete it? Could it be reinforcing the importance of the work, at least for me? It seems a strange way to go about it.

And there lies the mystery of dreams. They are messages, mostly messages to our selves, but so dense that they require unraveling, sometimes over years, before they’re understood. They’re like a ball of thread compacted by the gravity of a black hole. The threads each have to be followed before the heart of the mystery is revealed but each thread carries its own meaning. Each thread leads us toward the heart.

Dreams are shaped to capture our attention like a spider’s web. They are webs shaped by a part of ourselves to snare the attention of another part, the waking part which arrogantly thinks itself the only part. The strands of the web are made of images, not words. They require thinking about in a way that precedes words.

So, what’s the meaning of my dream? What’s the meaning of Trina’s? It may take me some time to understand my own but I regard it as important, something worth remembering, something worth reconsidering. It is a message to myself and maybe a message with a larger context. It’s a little scary, surrendering control, acknowledging that my conscious self can be usurped, that dreams can cross over into reality, but also an affirmation that what lies beyond consciousness has tremendous power and potential.

Ghost Dogs

Last night, New Year’s eve, the transition between one year and the next, I lay in bed with a fever and heard Moppet’s bark, a single bark from a dead dog. I recognized it immediately. I had no doubt. I had heard her bark a thousand times. It didn’t seem a dream. I couldn’t distinguish is from waking reality. It was equally real but impossible. I lay in bed thinking it one of those experiences on the edge of dreams, between sleep and wakefulness, and then I heard Mizzen’s bark. A single, unmistakable bark.

Both Mizzen and Moppet died last year. I had been beside them at their death. Hearing them bark could only be a hallucination, probably the result of the fever.

I had been reading Marie-Louise von Franz’s  book On Divination and Synchronicity, The Psychology of Meaningful Chance. She writes about the activation of archetypes and access to the collective unconscious. I thought perhaps my unconscious mind was aware of a danger and using a hallucination as a warning. What more appropriate image of warning than a dog’s bark?

I checked the entire house armed with a .38 caliber revolver. Nothing. The sound of a frame house cracking its joints in the cold, the whirring and humming of motors, my own heartbeat. Otherwise, nothing. No smell of smoke or burning insulation. No footsteps. No shadows fleering in the corners.

Entire worlds might fit in
that space between what is
acknowledged and what
ignored.

Logic assured my conscious mind that no one was in the house but my wife and myself. The perimeter was guarded by alarms. Nothing was likely to get in. There was no immediate risk. I slept uneasily the rest of the night, more awake than asleep. Nothing happened.

But the experience of my dogs barking was so realistic, indistinguishable from reality, that it had significance for me. Of course I could ignore it as an anomaly, symptomatic, random synapses firing in my fevered brain, but that’s what most of us do when confronted by something inconsistent with our definition of normality. In doing so we narrowly constrict what is real. We exclude what doesn’t fit. Entire worlds might fit in that space between what is acknowledged and what ignored.

Today, the first day of the new year, I read in von Franz’s book about animal helpers in fairy tales. Wherever there is a helpful animal in a fairy tale, there is an assurance of success.

Native Americans believed in totem animals, spirit helpers. It’s no longer a common belief in Western cultures enamored with science but perhaps it remains valid in the unconscious where archetypes are less affected by fashion. Although it sounds absurd perhaps my hallucination was a helpful sign, a reassuring sign, rather than symptomatic. It’s a small thing but I’ll take it.

God, Chess and Einstein’s Dilemma

Tristan Jones once sailed to the Arctic Ocean in a converted lifeboat and the company of a three legged, one-eyed dog. Frankly, I think the dog was the only one he could convince.

Tristan_Jones Inevitably the ice fields closed around him and the boat was trapped in the lee of an enormous berg. The counterbalancing mass beneath the surface eroded and the berg shifted, positioning thousands of tons of blue ice directly above the lifeboat held fast by the pack ice. Throughout the arctic winter the odds were even whether the pack would free the boat first or the berg would turn turtle and crush it like a rotten melon.

Jones mostly ate burgoo, a loathsome layering of porridge, bacon, and whatever else was at hand, flavored with whiskey and frozen in a barrel on deck. Meals consisted of chipping off bits of burgoo with a hammer and heating it in a paraffin stove. The dog ate the same but probably enjoyed it more.

God lit the fuse that ignited the Big Bang, the dice were rolled, and the game begun.

Jones played chess with himself. A game with proper suspense required he forget his opponents’ strategy, a sort of self-induced schizophrenia. At first he had to wait several weeks between moves until he had forgotten the old strategy of what was now his new opponent. It was awkward.

Over time he perfected his ability to play without cheating. Not only could he bounce between players in the game, occupying the memories and strategy of one while forgetting the other, but a third personality developed, a meta personality that impartially observed both players, cognizant of either strategy, forming judgments and opinions but giving away no clues to the opponents. The lifeboat became rather crowded.

I wonder if God plays chess.

Before the first creation, before the spark that ignited the universe, God was pure potential, the sum of all possibilities but the realization of none. What’s the point of potential if it’s never actualized? I suspect God was like a kid with a new 12-gauge shotgun and nothing to shoot.

Of course it’s absurd to ascribe human emotions to something utterly beyond human experience. Whatever the impetus, God lit the fuse that ignited the Big Bang, the dice were rolled, and the game begun.

There’s a problem. A game is hardly interesting if you already know the outcome. God was faced with Tristan Jones’ dilemma: How do you play a game alone? I suspect God’s solution was the same—forget that all the players are yourself.

It’s an elegant solution if simplistic. Everything comes from God initially; everything returns. In the interim, everything forgets itself in order to play the game convincingly.

Einstein, confronted by the inherent uncertainty of Quantum Mechanics, asserted that God didn’t play dice with the universe. Perhaps he was wrong.

Of course, it’s not my original idea. It’s been kicking about for thousands of years, probably first recorded in cuneiform on clay tablets. God is insatiably curious. Curiosity is the spark that ignited creation. Of course God, being omniscient, already knew what would happen. But we didn’t. We’re continually surprised, delighted, appalled, enraptured, disgusted, intrigued, excited, depressed, disappointed, amazed. In short, we’re immersed and enthralled by the game.

And that may explain those people with near death experiences who don’t remain dead, their entire lives flashing before their eyes in exacting detail complete with emotional soundtrack played in a bubble of timelessness. It sounds rather like a data dump, the incredibly dense data of a person’s entire life.

Albert_EinsteinI find that thought oddly comforting. Nothing is lost, nothing forgotten. Every false start, every failed ambition is remembered. As well, every kindness, every selfless act, and every bit of wonder.

Einstein, confronted by the inherent uncertainty of Quantum Mechanics, asserted that God didn’t play dice with the universe. Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps God does play dice. Or chess.

The memory of crows

Crows remember the faces of people who’ve wronged them. They have a long memory and they share their memories with other crows. Researchers disguised as Dick Cheney when banding crows were afterwards mobbed by the same crows when they returned. Crows that weren’t witness to the original harassment also came to recognize the danger posed by Dick Cheney. Wherever Cheney went on campus he was mobbed and met with shrill derision.

Posted via email from Charles Thrasher’s Lifestream

Miles From Nowhere

After 58 years of memories, many of them crowded out of awareness by the sheer volume, the jostling mass, there are several that always remain salient. They are like familiar faces at the front of the crowd. One of those is of the coast north of San Francisco. It was 1969. I was 19. The Coast Highway was a two lane road threading the edge of the continent between cliffs falling away to the wide Pacific and old hills rounded by time and shaded by live oak. I was hitching on an empty road in the company of a few sheep. The scattered clouds looked like fleece. I had new camping gear and a sleeping bag I’d bought in Haight Ashbury. I threw my rucksack over a rusted barbed wire fence and climbed to the crown of a hill and laid down in the summer grass that waved in the sea wind. The sky was pale blue, as fragile as egg shell. The skirling cry of a hawk carried down the wind. I was utterly alone, free of the past, unburdened by the future, without expectations or demands. I was perfectly, completely in that moment, of that moment, and nowhere else. But the moment was unsustainable.

I slept there that night without a fire or tent, laying in the grass, at the bottom of a sea of stars. They seemed a vast adventure.

I felt like a taut string vibrating with the tension between solitude and the need for community. Those are conflicting demands I’ve never resolved. Perhaps the function of life isn’t resolution but living within the tension like a water ouzel swimming in a mountain torrent.

The sound track of that moment is always Cat Steven’s song Miles From Nowhere.

Posted via email from Charles Thrasher's Lifestream

A Small Dog’s Death

Yesterday Moppet died. Linda cried all day and fell asleep crying. So much grief, such a small dog. Today the page is blurred by my tears. I’m slower to respond than Linda; perhaps only one of us can be crazy at a time.

Moppet could no longer stand upright when we took her to the vet the last time, wrapped in a blanket that will forever belong to her. Linda washed her beforehand. She lay in the tub without lifting her head. She was hardly more than bones and beautiful hair. She never weighed more than four pounds when most substantial. She was little more than a whispered breath at the end.

After so many years life becomes welded to life, even the life of disparate species. Sixteen years is a lifetime for a dog and no small part of a human lifetime. The shared times and places form a web of connections that are sundered by death like a storm wind scattering the strands of a spider’s web.

She was a stubborn little dog who consistently failed to recognize her proper size, intimidating much larger dogs that could have ended any debate with a single bite. Four pounds isn’t much weight to throw into a dog fight. It was as if she cast a virtual presence, a shadow much larger than herself. She was most like a Bouncing Betty, a disagreeable little anti-personnel mine made popular during the Vietnam War. Step on one and they would leap from ground level to detonate in your face.

For a lap dog she was surprisingly disdainful of laps nor did she care to be coddled. Perhaps she was true to her genetic coding. Dogs bred to follow rats down their holes shouldn’t be humiliated by cloying familiarity. It takes more bravado than brains to beard a rat in its own den.

She died with her eyes open but unseeing. She seemed incredibly small on the vet’s examination table, diminished by death, her consciousness collapsing into itself like a dark star.

Sixteen years is a long time for a small dog. Near the end she was crippled, blind, deaf, incontinent…and unrepentant. That seems to me a worthy ambition, to be whatever you are without excuse, without apology, and without repentance.

Sound of Silence

I was 19 years old when the city fell silent. I had lived my entire life amid the sound of traffic—tires whining on dry pavement, engines accelerating from a dead start, brake pads grinding metal on metal, trucks rattling over potholes and expansion joints, and rarely someone pushed beyond endurance to use their horn. In LA in the ‘60s, flipping off the guy in the next car was less aggressive than using your horn.

SoCal_Freeway 

The freeway interchange that collapsed in the San Fernando Earthquake. Photo attribute: MyDifferentDrum on flickr.

LA might have been called the city of angels. In reality it was the city of engines. Their sound insinuated my dreams. The ground trembled slightly beneath their weight. The sky thickened with their exhaust. I had grown up living in the continuous presence of automobiles, every hour, every day. It was a presence as familiar as my heartbeat, and equally ignored, until it stopped.

It was 1971…muscle cars thundered down Van Nuys Boulevard and Bob’s Big Boy was fined for making hamburgers from horse meat.

I didn’t live in LA proper but the Valley, the San Fernando Valley, where adolescent girls spoke an English dialect called Val Speak. Every sentence began with “OhMyGod!,” three words hurried into a single breathless rush. The greatest good was called “tubular” after the shape of a wave hollowed by an offshore breeze. Frank Zappa made fun of us. He could afford to. He came from Lancaster, a fly blown town on the edge of the desert where the wind herded tumble weeds down the main street. I came from Van Nuys where we didn’t lock our front doors at night and no one spoke Spanish. We were living in a surreal dream of unremittingly white security. Later I realized that the dream ended precisely at 6:00 am on February 9.

Armageddon & LA

It was 1971, the era when gas was still $0.21 a gallon, muscle cars thundered down Van Nuys Boulevard, and Bob’s Big Boy was fined for making hamburgers from horse meat. At 6:00 am I was still in bed, a college boy living at home, when the earth moved. More than moved, it began lurching like a drunken sailor. The house creaked and groaned and popped arthritically. The light fixture suspended above my bed, a glass globe hung several feet from the wall, began to swing, gathering momentum. There was a basso profundo rumble from somewhere far away like the earth clearing its throat of phlegm. I was tossed side to side in my bed. It seemed like the bed accelerated rapidly in one direction but only a few inches before it stopped abruptly and began accelerating in the opposite direction. I felt like a rope toy in the jaws of a big dog. I spread my arms to keep from being thrown to the floor. The glass globe was describing wide circles above my bed. Inside the house I could hear crockery falling. I thought of getting out of bed and leaping through the window but I was utterly naked. Finding something in my closet to wear while the earth was doing a demented hornpipe seemed too challenging. A conversation with the neighbors start naked was even less attractive. The glass globe was thrown violently against the wall and shattered, showering my bed with shards of glass.

The earthquake lasted only 60 seconds. Afterwards 65 people were dead, $505 million dollars of property was damaged, and glass littered my bedroom floor. But it wasn’t the earthquake itself that was most remarkable.

The earthquake not only collapsed hospitals and bridges, it weakened an earthen dam that withheld 10,000 acre feet of water poised like the apocalypse above the San Fernando Valley. If the Van Norman Dam failed that water would seek the lowest point—the Sepulveda Catch Basin. We lived directly in front of the Catch Basin.

My choice was mandatory attendance at the Burbank Foursquare Church where they spoke in tongues or a horrible death in a Biblical flood.

Predictably, they evacuated the Valley: 80,000 people along a six-mile swath of potential destruction. My family left to stay with my paternal grandparents in Burbank. Given the choice of mandatory attendance at the Burbank Foursquare Church where they spoke in tongues and threatened to roll in the aisles or dying horribly and alone in a Biblical flood, I chose to continue classes, sneak past the police roadblocks, and return home each night.

We lived within sight—and sound—of the San Diego Freeway. It wasn’t the most desirable location but my parents had bought commercial real estate, a set of four single family, low income rentals, and lived in one while managing the rest. Real estate was their means of financing an interest in boats they couldn’t otherwise afford. I grew up remodeling houses and living near the freeway.

When the authorities evacuated the flood plain they also closed the San Diego Freeway. Police cordoned the area with roadblocks. The city was dark, without electricity. Police cars on patrol continually broadcast a warning that looters would be shot on site. It was the only sound in a city of empty streets.

An Architecture of Sound

Before then I hadn’t realized how a city is an architecture of sound as much as concrete, bricks and mortar. Sound creates a topography that can be felt if not seen. During the bustle of daylight it burgeons, growing large and complex like some gothic architecture of crooked alleys and spiked towers. At night it contracts into subtlety and murmurs and isolated alarms. But it’s never silent. Even in the dead hours of the night there is a background of sound like an archetypal cat purring. It colors and shapes the cityscape.

In the silence that descended after the earthquake the city collapsed. The horizon contracted. Sound drained away like water seeping into the dry soil, utterly absorbed. Only a dry husk remained.

I’ve experienced one other similar profound silence, in the days after September 11, 2001 when the sky was empty and no plane flew overhead, none except military aircraft looking for an enemy.

Had the Van Norman damn failed, I later learned that a wall of water 10 feet tall would have swept across the valley floor studded with the shattered remnants of innumerable frame houses and the broken bodies of people too foolish to evacuate.

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Floating Houses

Living in a houseboat is like inhabiting a shell, like a nautilus moving through chambered rooms worn smooth by use and bathed by water music. An empty houseboat, like an empty shell, inspires daydreams of refuge.

Houseboats_Winter
Snow on Lake Washington houseboats. Photo attribution: Cap’n Surly on flickr

There is something about water that compels us to dream. I’ve dreamed of a house where the kitchen floor remains partially unplanked and a stream flows through it. On crisp mornings fog would rise from the water and condense on the window glass; frogs would croak; the kitchen would be full of water music. I’ve seen a house on Bainbridge Island made from a covered bridge that spanned a creek. Transparent panels were set in the floor. It must have been like walking on water. And at Point No Point on the Kitsap Peninsula the bridge of a tramp freighter has been made into a house with running lights. I wonder if the steel still smells of salt.

Houseboats5

The community of houseboats on Lake Washington is like a dream in bright colors. Photo attribution: Ambrosia apples on flickr

Perhaps there is a lingering, molecular memory of the time before we crawled out of the sea onto the shore, surrendered weightlessness and succumbed to unconscionable gravity. Perhaps the sound of water invokes that ancient memory. We have no adequate words; the memory precedes language. Even poets describe only its shadow.

Fish nor Fowl

A houseboat is neither one nor the other, neither house nor boat. A house isn’t meant to float; a boat isn’t meant to remain fixed to the shore. A houseboat doesn’t wholly belong to concrete earth or mutable water. Instead, it occupies the borderland, the crack between worlds where it is possible to dream without constraint. What more perfect shell for dreams is imaginable than waves lapping against the hull, fog rising from the water, a fire burning behind the grate and shadows polishing the walls?

Houseboats are populated by lawyers, doctors, dentists, tax accountants but are still considered bohemian by most of us. We look askance at the impracticality, the impermanence, the lack of real estate or resale value. Communities of houseboats occupy the periphery, the edge of respectability, like trailer parks. Marin County redefined them as landfill in order to remove them from Sausalito’s waterfront view.

Perspective of a houseboat sailor. Photo attribution: Bev and Steve on flickr

In The Poetics of Space Gaston Bachelard mentions a mollusk called the Grand Benitier (Great Baptismal Font) so large each bi-valve weighs 500 to 500 pounds. Wealthy Chinese mandarins made bathtubs from the shells. Such a bathtub would perfectly furnish a houseboat.

I’ve lived onboard boats and I suspect my dreams have been more compact, more seaworthy. A houseboat allows more room to dream. And what dreams might be imaginable immersed in a Mandarin’s bathtub floating on the water?

Houseboats4
Houseboats reflected on Lake Washington. Photo attribution: Jonathan Hanlon on flickr.

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A Mythical Bridge

image  Hood Canal Bridge. Photo attribution: timtim 011 on Flickr.com.

The Hood Canal is a narrow body of water extending about 50 miles from its entrance at Foulweather Bluff, past a hard turn to the northeast at The Great Bend, and another 15 miles to the shallow tideland at Lynch Cove. It has an average width of 1.5 miles, a mean depth of 177 feet, 212 miles of shoreline, a surface area of 148 square miles, and it’s spanned by a mythical bridge.

Certainly the Hood Canal Bridge has a concrete reality, not to mention construction. It’s supported by cement pontoons that float, mostly, above a depth of water between 80 and 340 feet, water subject to a tidal range as much as 18 feet. It spans the 7,869 feet between the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas. Together the two spans weigh almost 5,000 tons. You can find all that on Wikipedia. But the bridge floats upon a fjord, has foundered and been refloated, and even its current reconstruction has resurrected the dead.

A Historical Misnomer

image 
Hood Canal Bridge from a distance. Photo attribution: keistersmom on flicker.com.

But first, a bit of background. The Hood Canal was named by Captain George Vancouver, one of the first cartographers to Puget Sound and therefore entitled to name things indiscriminately. Of course, those same things had been named by the people who already lived here but, frankly, they weren’t English. Vancouver named it after Samuel Hood, Lord of the Admiralty and one of Britain’s few competent commanders during the American Revolution. Actually, he named it twice—Hood Canal and Hood Channel. Both were wrong.

Outside of Puget Sound,
bridges rarely float.

A canal is an artificial waterway used either for navigation or transporting fresh water. A channel is typically a navigable passage between larger bodies of water. The Hood Canal was shaped by glaciation utterly without the help of humans. It doesn’t connect one body of water with another. It’s an inlet or, more exactly, a fjord. And a fjord, to restate the obvious, is a valley carved by ice and drowned by the sea. The fact that it’s called Hood Canal has led to some puzzlement in other parts of the world. In Puget Sound, we’ve gotten over it.

Bridges usually soar above an obstruction. Outside of Puget Sound, they rarely float. There is a floating bridge that across Dubai Creek (who knew they had creeks in Dubai?) but it’s temporary. And until 1992, a floating bridge spanned the Golden Horn in Istanbul. But the only other part of the world to make common use of floating bridges is Norway where they have even more fjords than Puget Sound.

Foundering

image The Hood Canal Bridge in a breeze. Photo attribution: Chimacum Joy on flickr.com

The Hood Canal Bridge hasn’t always floated. Eighteen years after it had been launched, it sank in a storm. Sustained winds of 85 mph scoured the Hood Canal. Gusts of 120 mph buffeted the bridge. Pontoons lost their anchorhold and drifted free. Hatches were blown open, pontoons filled with water and sank. The western half of the bridge to the drawspan foundered. It was three years before the damage was repaired. And it’s not the only time a local bridge has sank.

The lifespan of a bridge floating in salt water is longer than that of a Portuguese water dog but less than a Galapagos tortoise. Fewer than thirty years after its resurrection, the bridge builders began building its replacement. In those intervening years the population of Puget Sound has blossomed like pond scum and the industrial waterfront succumbed to gentrification. There was no place near Seattle to build the massive pontoons. Instead, Port Angeles was chosen.

Port Angeles was much further from the Hood Canal than Seattle but had the advantage of poverty. Since the timber industry and commercial fishing had shriveled, there was plenty of waterfront property available in Port Angeles and a desperate desire to utilize it. The people of Port Angeles saw the construction as their bridge to prosperity. But when the construction equipment began clearing away the industrial remnants of the timber industry from the shore of Ediz Hook, they began unearthing bones. Human bones. A lot of them.

Village of the Dead

It was Tse-whit-zen, the ancestral village of the Klallam people occupying the Lower Elwha River. The Klallam had lived on Ediz Hook for generations prior to first contact with Spanish explorers in the 1770s. Then they began to die from smallpox, influenza and measles. They had no immunity, no protection. Entire villages of First Peoples were decimated throughout the Pacific Northwest. In some places there was no one left alive to bury the dead. There may have been 3,200 Klallam before 1770; by 1880 there were 485.

image 
The ruins of Tse-whit-zen. Photo attribution: nwpainter on flickr.com

At Tse-whit-zen, the dead were stacked like cordwood. They embraced one another, husband and wife, mother and child. Among the dead was a mother with an unborn child in her womb. There was no ceremony in their burial. They were hurried into the ground by the few who remained alive but those few may have taken revenge upon the shaman and medicine men who failed them. Skeletons were found beheaded, buried face down, their hands covering their face.

The Washington State Department of Transportation finally abandoned the site have disinterring 335 intact skeletons. The construction equipment fell silent, the workers left, and the dead reclaimed their land. The bridge was built in Tacoma.

A Mythical Bridge

The bridge spans more than the Hood fjord. It’s footed in time as well as space. It guards the western approach to a land that is itself mythical, a land form by the c
ollision of the sea and the shore where mountains rise like stone waves, forests are entangled in cloud, and people hunt whales with clam shells.

"To see! To see! -that is the craving of the sailor, as of the rest of blind humanity."