Running down the driveway to the big house with a bottle of beer and a mason jar, through warm rain that steams up off the asphalt as soon as it hits. Purple flashes stain the groaning slate clouds, and I am hoping he isn’t still holding the hedger. Father and son have taken cover on the back porch beneath the modern greek stucco pillars. We stand looking out over the sound, gracing the seats of the ornate outdoor furniture with our torn shorts and grubby gloves. We sip the beer and watch the electric purple veins strike like long vengeful fingernails the wooded islands across the water.
He kisses my damp shoulder, calls me beautiful, and says thanks for the beer. We sit for a while until it clears, watching the ferry boats and cruise ships drift by; watching the water steam up off the warm grass and pavement; the sun slicing through again.
This weekend we are headed across the water to places with exotic, and mysterious names; distant watery towns tucked into trees, hanging above docks, curled in on the down of soft pastures. We take the car ferry from Seattle. The weather has cleared and the sun cooks Seattle’s sensitive belly. The locals are all but naked in anticipation of the summer weather. 80 degrees with only a 20 percent chance of rain, to me, it feels like October. A wave of salt and cedar slough off the looming coasts of small and little-known islands, soaked in exhaust and algea. I try to tamp my excitement, he points to shadow-green strips of land with roofs and decks poking out and says “Indianola, Kingston, Suquamish, Manitou, Vashon, Bainbridge….” I butcher the old and poetic names with niaeve humor.. “Succotash, Indiana, Manatee…” These are not the familiar Spanish arrangements of my upbringing, but an older and unnatural tounge. I can’t keep strait which are Islands, and which are peninsulas. I wonder about the cold-boned and broad faced people from here. The trickling families, who stays and who leaves, how they get old and petrified with salt and rain like boney logs on the rocky shore.
Once off the ferry and out of town the roads become thin strips of pavement between walls of endless trees. Everything is cut out of the forest with the smallest possible footprint; the trees loom, as if glowering over the gas stations, corner stores, two lane highways, and bright little farm houses tucked apologetically in damp meadows.
His grandparents live in a little wooden house, on a clear-cut patch of grass at the edge of a cliff. “That over there, is Miller Bay…” Grandpa says, ” There is Suquamish, these guys here are getting busted for crabbing without a license… look at them… yeah… busted.” He points down at a little yellowing boat, ensconced in buoys, being approached by a police boat with it’s sirens on. The red muddy tide curls along the shore.
“The crabbin’ been good this year,” He says, “I’m getting some salmon this week… ’bout fifty pounds… gonna smoke it.” This leads to a debate between merits of Sock-eye versus King Salmon (subcategories I only know from menus) settling on the merits of the King, it having more fat, therefore better for smoking. This is all sounding like a foreign language to me, a girl from a patterned stucco suburb of Los Angeles. We fished once a year, at a penny-sized man-made pond called “Trout-Dale”. The thin dead trout would then live in our freezer in plastic bags until mom threw them out.
Grandpa is buying the salmon from someone “in the tribe“, who has the right to fish the coveted breed. The tribe is a presence around here, a frontage road running along side the highway, a sub culture. There is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ with a oval of impasse, relationships of convenience. They mention “the Rez” in the same way that I would mention “Van Nuys” or “Riverside.”
We wrap up our visit with cups of tea and sugar-free cookies. More driving through trees, across bridges, through towns, more naming of beaches – thin and pebbly. The town of Indianola is absurdly charming. There is a stop sign, and a little red building called the Country Mart. Out front – like he was painted in by Norman Rockwell – a little toe-head boy shares an ice-cream cone with a curly-haired dog. We pick up a 12 pack of Rainer (that’s Washington-Speak for Pabst-Blue-Ribbon) and walk down to the dock, where teenage girls lean against the wooden railings talking to thin boys with fishing rods.
We are picked up by a shirt-less crew of Rob’s good friends, in a little speed boat and I work quickly to impress them with my wit, trying hard not to seem too “Californian.” I hide my squeamishness when they pull up glittering cages of brown spidery Dungeness Crabs, clinging in panic, snapping their prehistoric claws with indignant rage. They seem so benign in the big glass aquariums at Pavillions, I can’t fathom how we are going to eat these things, they look like dinosaurs. We zip around to a few different buoys drinking beer, pulling up baskets of angry crabs. The sun lighting us up, burning up the corners of our eyes, and drying yesterday’s storm.
In the grassy yard of a little house, just up the road from the dock, we set up the BBQ and the crabs are boiled on the grass in an old beer keg with the top cut off, the screaming yellow foam brings a few curious neighbors, who ask about “our pull.” They eye me warily, they ask me where I’m from, and with proud grins, inform me with sweeping arms, that I am lucky to be here. I agree as I slice vegetables on a picnic table, help a little girl spell everyone’s name with a crayon, and take shots of whiskey. I watch and learn how to crack crab on a pile of newspapers. Finally the sun sets around 9:30, the fire-pit is lit, and we drunkenly eat crab salad and grilled vegetables. Someone turns on “The Talking Heads” which spawns a sing-a-long. The kids fall asleep in the master bedroom, and I am the only one with a sweater on, as it has fallen below 70 degrees now. The air, the still and shore-clean air holds the sweatness of the grass, and the fresh crab, and the crackling fire-pit. I want to bottle this smell and keep it on a shelf, and whenever I am feeling lonely or sad, I could just open the little bottle and sniff the cap, go back in time to an unfamiliar homeyness I felt, right then.
Rob’s Crab Ceviche/ Salad:
15 Fresh Dungeness Crab boiled in an old beer keg
1 head of crunchy purple lettuce
1 head of Garlic
1 thai pepper
1 purple onion
2-3 heads of fresh uncooked corn
1 can black beans
limes, lemons, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and hot-sauce to taste
Directions: Crack crab on sheets of Newspaper; chop all vegetables; put everything in the same bowl. Enjoy with beer, and friends, on tortilla chips or with a fork.