Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of my dad, mom, two sisters, and a ten year old me walking the wind tormented beaches of Point No Point beach near my portside hometown of Poulsbo, WA. In contrast to the peaceful tourist laden streets of Poulsbo, Point No Point is filled with buildings that are held up more by salt blown in from the Puget Sound than by their original cement and nails. I can still feel my eyes watering in the wind and smell the subtly putrid stench of low tide. In my memory, everything is just slightly in disrepair and coated in steely grime that the Sound so graciously provided. I can hear the seagulls calling back and forth with high pitched bugles.
Where Poulsbo is always filled by warmly dressed tourists snapping pictures of neatly kept and brightly colored store fronts, the beach is always full of tourists of a different sort. Men with coolers sunken into the sand behind them would engage in a particular kind of irrationality and wade knee deep into the surf clad only in flannel and waist high waders. Further out into the water, the occasional oil slick seal head would slide from beneath the waves to look inquisitively at the fishermen who were so far away from land. After all, the fishermen knew full well the most they would catch might be a piece of driftwood or a dogfish covered by sandpaper skin.
My family and I always began our visits by moving past the loose sand, down the beach, and past the rocks brought in by the high tide onto the darker, stronger sand left by the encroaching tides. With the parking lot on one side and a white spraying expanse of the Sound to the other, we would venture as a group down the beach to search determinedly for a place of refuge from the constant gusts of wind. My dad wading ankle deep in the surf with a backpack strapped to his back and a spotted green Coleman thermos in his right hand. The rest of us trudged resolutely along closer to the rock line that marked high tide, alert for the slightest glimpse of a water spout coming from around the tidal pools scattered intermittently across the darkened stretch of sand before us. The first wet squelch and miniature geyser erupting would have the same affect as the crack of a staring pistol on my sisters, one older ̶ one younger, and we would shoot forward like Olympic athletes. Stomping the sand around us vainly; hoping to trigger a second miniature eruption.
Next to the parking lot at Point No Point a preserved and decommissioned lighthouse squats in a way that is decidedly less majestic than the spiraling, towering structures that christen common conception. Instead the lighthouse exists in a manner that is decidedly more colonial. A square white house bisected by a tower with a focal height of only twenty seven feet. The lighthouse, while now mostly gutted and no longer functioning, still gives a taste of its past to visitors as a well-cared for nautical museum. Walking through the expertly preserved doorway the house opens up into tables covered in artifacts and pictures of the lighthouse in its hay day. In fact, the lighthouse is so well preserved that its countless layers of varnish have laminated the originally concrete structure within a hard plastic shell.
Venture further into the Lighthouse’s bowels and you’ll come upon a ladder leading up into the light tower. The lighthouse lamp was first lit with kerosene in 1880 and was
eventually automated in 1977. By the time that it was automated, the house was equipped with a fourth order Fresnel lens and lit by a massive electric bulb that illuminated out to fourteen nautical miles.
Despite its diminutive size, the upper level of the lighthouse commands a surprising view of the coast line and out into the water. Along the horizon kites bob and weave through the breeze in what my dad would describe as “a kite flying paradise.” Simply walk around the human sized clear glass bulb and through the door into the wind. From up on the lighthouse balcony the coastline opens up to you like a kingdom opens up to a king glancing over his domain.
From the time I was a toddler up until now at twenty three, I have loved going to the top of the lighthouse. I would walk out from the musty tower interior into the salty tang of a sea breeze and let the wind fill my consciousness. It fills my mouth and nose and before stealing the sound from my ears, leaving them empty of everything but natures’ labored breath.
Just down the beach, a massive rock alternates between an island and a monolith as the tides ebb and flow. Point no Point’s rock, though it could have been a boulder if it was on a mountainside, used to be one of my favorite places to play. My family and I would gather around the rock to listen to the barnacles covering it burble.
If you’ve never heard a barnacle covered rock make noise before it’s like nothing else. Thousands of small shell trapdoors moving open and shut, releasing water trapped during high tide. Altogether, the barnacles sound like a combination of soft rain falling onto the ground and fallen leaves crunching beneath booted feet. The bottom of Point No Points’ resident boulder creates a safe haven for sea life during low tide within small tide pool left behind by receding waves. Starfish drag themselves slowly beneath the water or cling like stickers onto the sides of their rocky home.
My siblings and I, and sometimes my parents, would splash quickly through the pools. We would reach down to touch the starfish, though not too much because a starfishes’ skin is bumpy and awkward. Afterwards I would lean in close to the barnacles to hear their music better.
After getting bored of rocks, barnacles, and starfish we’d skip old white sand dollars and flat rocks until our arms felt like they were about to fall off.
On the way back to our car we’d help my dad fill up the plastic bag that he always brought for trash. We would balance on drift wood and challenge each other to reach the end of the beach without falling off of the logs that had become piled up next to the grass by high tide and by industrious, fort building, families. After we reached the parking lot we would hobble barefoot over the rough combination of asphalt and gravel between us and the car. If our feet had dried off, we would brush the sand off before stepping into the car. If our feet were still wet my sisters and I would wait for the towels our parents carried to scrub the course, sticky sand off before piling unceremoniously into the car. Our pockets filled to bursting with bits of glass ground smooth by the waves and interesting rocks that never managed to stay as mesmerizing after they had dried.
For the rest of the day, my body stayed sticky with salt and I continued to find sand in my clothes and hair for days afterwards. Point No Point was remembered from then on in the vases throughout our house filled by us with our collections of rocks, shells, and sea glass—our pirates’ treasure. We would store the kites we had flown without bothering to scrub them clean of dirt, only stopping to shake them. After all, what was the point if they would just become equally as dirty the next time we flew them? I didn’t understand then, but the beach was bound to become part of my identity for forever.
As my sister puts it, “whenever I leave, I feel like my soul has been scrubbed clean.”
To this day when I head back to my hometown, and if I have the chance, I still drive the thirty minutes out to Point No Point’s gusting beaches. I bring a Thermos of hot chocolate, like my dad, and a plastic bag to hold any trash that I find during my walk. I balance on logs cast up high next to tough sticky blades of grass. I walk barefoot through sand so full of salt that it squeaks, looking for an abandoned driftwood palace.
It’s comforting to watch the passing transport ships stocked full of shipping containers stacked like children’s Legos. It makes me smile watching dogs throw themselves face first into the waves: creating foaming V’s of ocean spray on either side of their bodies. I watch as they swim otter like out to a thrown stick or out to a particularly interesting floating piece of debris. Parents lounge alongside me as their children play Frisbee or dig pointless holes. In front of me, teenagers throw wakeboards into the shallows, skimming across the waves or falling flat onto their faces with a meaty splat. Above the water and above me, seagulls wheel through the air training their hungry eyes onto anything that looks even suspiciously like food.
The same seagulls shriek split the air as I lean back into a rudimentary driftwood fortress, sip my chocolate, and let the sharp tang of the air carry me back. Or I bring nothing, and I let the wind whip and tear at my clothing. I bask in the eye of the storm.
Samuel Klusmeyer is a Montana based freelance writer currently writing for WRIT 373. The ocean will always be with him.