Comfort & Joy
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I have to remind myself forcibly that I’ve never been here. I have done so much research on the area I could have a Ph.D.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic takes me to Tacoma, a city that is low and gray and seems to huddle beneath a layer of ominous clouds.
Olympia, the state capitol, is unexpectedly rural from the highway. Every now and then I see an official looking building, with a spire or a rotunda or columns, hidden in a thicket of trees.
By the town called Cosmopolis (wildly inappropriately named, I might add), I am in a different world altogether, where huge stacks pump noxious smoke into the sky, and peeled logs clog the waterways. Here, at the mouth of Grays Harbor, the economy is obviously based on timber and the sea, and both industries seem faded or failing. Houses are run-down, shops are closed up, the streets of the various downtowns are empty of commerce and people.
At Aberdeen, I turn inland onto old Highway 101, which promises to take me to Queets, Forks, Humptulips, Mystic, and Rain Valley.
This is it. If my dream is real, I’ll find it on this road, the only one that man has built between the mighty trees of the rainforest and the gray swell of the Pacific.
I pull off the road and park, suddenly afraid.
“Get a grip, Joy,” I say out loud, trying to use my best librarian’s voice, but I am like one of my own students—unconvinced. With shaking hands, I open my map.
The town names taunt me. Which one of them is “my” town? Or will they all be unfamiliar? Am I looking for Daniel and Bobby and a lodge by a silver lake or was that all just a promise, a signpost to a future that hasn’t begun yet? Am I supposed to find a man like Daniel? Is Bobby the son I may someday have?
It overwhelms me, that thought, leaves me shaken. How will I know what I’m looking for? I reach for my cell phone and call my sister, who answers on the first ring.
“Damn it, Joy, it’s about time. I have no fingernails left.”
“You had none to start with.” I stare out the windshield at the empty road. “I don’t know where to go, Stace. It all looks . . .”
“Take a deep breath.”
I draw in a deep, calming second breath and release it.
“Now,” she goes on, “where are you?”
“A logging town on the coast. About an hour from the start of the National Park. What if I don’t find this place I’m looking for?”
There’s a crackling pause before my sister says, “You will.”
“How can you believe that?”
“Because you do.”
Her words sink in and settle. They give me something to cling to, remind me that though I may be crazy, I’m not alone. “Thanks.”
“I’ll be sitting by the phone, you understand that, right?”
“Where’s your first stop?”
I glance down at the map. “Amanda Park.”
“That sounds promising.”
It rings absolutely no bells in my head, but then again, my head is clearly unreliable. “Yeah. Talk to you later. Bye.”
I hang up, return to the road and drive north.
As I near the start of the Olympic National Forest, the view changes. Here, the landscape is unexpectedly shorn of trees. The area along the highway has been logged and replanted, but in the distance, I can see the white-capped peak of Mount Olympus rising into the gray sky.
There are hardly any mailboxes along the road, and the few homes I see are mobile or manufactured, set back on clear-cut lots with no hint of landscaping. Perhaps this place can’t be clipped and claimed and domesticated; it can only be taken by force and held onto by luck.
Amanda Park is a quaint town on the shores of Lake Quinalt.
Neither of which I recognize. I drive up and down the streets but nothing is familiar, so I return to the highway and continue north.
A sign welcomes me to Queets. I follow the old, poorly maintained road toward the town and through it. Nothing is familiar.
Back out on the highway, I take a sharp turn to the right, and there is the Pacific Ocean. Endless gray water, dappled by a sprinkling of rain; white, roaring waves. I pull off to the side of the road again and get out.
The driftwood is exactly as I remember it. So are the wind-sculpted trees. Only the sand is different. On my beach night, I stood in ankle-deep California pale gold sand to dance with Daniel.
In reality, the sand, like the sky and the sea today, is a shade of gray.
The entire coast is a riotous band of emerald green—huge bushes and stunted trees and mammoth ferns. I recall from my reading that it is the longest wilderness coast left in the world. Then, I was captured by the word “coast.” Now, standing here, I see the word that matters is “wilderness.”
As I get back into my car and drive back onto 101, I am tangled in my own emotions. Amazed by the parts of my dream that were accurate, and heartened by them, and disturbed by the pieces that were wrong.
Several more towns welcome and disappoint me. Though the landscapes are familiar, none of the towns are the one of my dreams.
As I leave the wild gray shores of the Pacific and head inland again, the landscape becomes wilder and more primitive. Here, the trees are gigantic and straight, blocking out most of the sunlight. Mist clings to the old asphalt and gives everything a mystical, otherworldly feel. I drive through town after town and find nothing that speaks to me. By late afternoon, as the golden sun sets into a cache of thick, black shadows along the roadside, my faith is beginning to fade, too.
Then I come to a sign made of sculpted metal that welcomes me to Rain Valley.
My foot eases off the accelerator. There’s a nervous flutter in my stomach that I haven’t felt before.
I coast forward. In a way I’m moving against my will now, being drawn forward.
I’m afraid to believe I may have found my town . . . and more afraid that I’ll be wrong again. There are only a few more turns left, here in the deep woods, and only Mystic and Rain Valley are near lakes.
I turn onto Cates Avenue and roll into Rain Valley.
In the middle of the road, I hit my brakes.
It’s “my” town.
And it isn’t.
I pull over to the curb and get out of the car. I can feel the moisture in the air, hear it drop from leaves and boughs and plunk into potholes in the road, but it isn’t really raining. By the time I reach the sidewalk, the sun is breaking through the clouds, gilding the grassy lawn. Dew sparkles on the green carpet.
I feel as if I’m in a Twilight Zone episode. The town—this town—is the funhouse mirror version of my remembered town. There is a park in the center of it—but it’s nothing like I imagined. There’s a gazebo in the center of the park also, its stanchions twined by wisteria that is moments away from blooming. Concrete benches and fountains are everywhere. Off to the left is a covered barbeque area surrounded by picnic tables. A shallow wading pond catches the slivers of sunlight greedily; its rippling surface seems to catch fire in streaks.
Leaning on my cane, I walk across the spongy grass to the main street of town.
My town was comprised of wooden buildings with big windows and cutesy names like the Wizard of Paws pet store, the Hair Apparent beauty salon, and The Dew Drop In diner.
I stop in front of Lulu’s hair salon. To my left is the Raindrop diner.
Only the ice-cream shop is exactly as I imagined it. And the church.
My version is so close that I feel weak in the knees, and so different that I am sick to my stomach.
Was I here or wasn’t I?
Am I crazy? Brain damaged?
Just as I imagined, the town is a sparkling jewel set against a backdrop of the endless Olympic forest. One million acres of trees and mountains and wilderness, without a road to drive through it. The street lamps hold hanging baskets now, their sides thick with brown vines and winter-dead geraniums. A few hardy pansies show their colorful faces.
I walk into the diner first. There is no wall of pamphlets, no man drinking coffee at the bar. There is no bar.
An older woman with a Lucille Ball–red beehive hustles toward me, smiling. “Welcome to the Raindrop. What can I do yah for?” She hands me a plastic menu.
“I . . . I’m looking for the Comfort Fishing Lodge.”
The woman stops and frowns, her heavily made-up eyes almost close completely. “Honey, I’ve lived here for forty years. There ain’t no such place. But old Erv Egin, he’ll give you a hell of a charter. Come salmon season, that is.”
“Is there any fishing lodge?”
She shakes her head. “We ain’t that developed yet, though the good Lord knows we could use a little tourism. There’s a motel out on Fall River that makes a mighty fine breakfast, and the resort out at Kalaloch, and that place up at Lake Crescent in Port Angeles, but there ain’t really fishing at any of ’em. Your best bet is a charter. In May . . .”
“Daniel?” I whisper his name, feeling like an idiot. “He has a son, Bobby.”
“You talking about the O’Shea’s? Out on Spirit Lake?”
My heart skips a beat. “There’s a Daniel who lives on the lake? And he has a son named Bobby?”
The waitress takes a step back. She’s eyeing me hard now, and I don’t think she likes what she sees. Her gaze pauses on the cane, then returns to my face. “Who are you?”
“My name is Joy. I’ve come a long way to find them.”
“They’ve had their share of trouble in the past few months, and then some. What with the accident and all. They don’t need no more.”
“I’ve had some trouble of my own. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt them.”
It seems to take forever, but the woman finally nods. “They’re out at the end of Lakeshore Drive.”
I can’t help smiling. I even laugh a little, though it sounds hysterical. “Thanks.”
I limp out of the diner. I am in my car, easing away from the curb when I realize I didn’t ask for directions.
But my heart will lead me. I’m sure of it.
I drive out along the park to the old highway.
And keep going.
There’s no turn off where I remember.
I drive all the way to Forks before I finally turn around. On the way back, I study every sign carefully, slow down at every one. In the old part of Rain Valley, the houses are tiny and crammed together; the streets are named after trees. None of them is Lakeshore Drive. The sun is lower in the sky now; the streets are slowly fading into shadow. There are no street lamps out here, no sign of people.
I am about to turn around again when I see a small green marker that points to Spirit Lake.
A shiver moves through me at the name. I follow the road out of town. I haven’t gone more than a mile when I come to a barricade that reads: “Danger: High Water.” The river has exceeded its banks and washed out a portion of the road. At least a foot of brown water runs across the asphalt.
I pull off the side of the road and park.
Is it a sign, this flooded road? Am I not supposed to go down to the lake?
Or am I supposed to walk? There’s a strange pull in me at that answer. I walked here once, if the magic is real.