Point Defiance Metro Park
February 18, 2006

I was supposed to be up high in the Olympics along Gladys Divide this weekend, and instead I found myself in town under immaculately clear skies. I was distracted, somewhere else, and the previous summer had taught me never to go in to the backcountry when my mind was wandering elsewhere, pondering things other than the here-and-now. Temperatures on the divide would be in the teens during the day, and in the single digits at night, conditions harsh enough that I would have to actively participate in my own survival, rather than just winging it. No, my head just wasn't where I needed it to be to do such a thing as the Olympics this weekend.

But unable to live well without some measure of beauty woven into the fabric of every day life, I set out for Point Defiance Metro Park, a gem in the middle of the urban wreck that is the South Sound. The park is historical in nature: Along with Fort Steilacoom further south, Fort Nisqually, sitting strategically on the spit of land named Point Defiance, were two of the first outposts of the US Federal Government in the West.

The park, given the urban setting, is extensive in size and diverse in nature, providing many opportunities for people of all inclinations. I wanted to stroll along the water, as every time I do so I seem to gain some measure of insight into what ever problem is vexing me at the time. From the Marina I set out along the water, walking the seawall along with a few families and couples and solitary photographers.

The seawall ends more or less at a parking lot, but the shoreline continues for some ways. Indeed, on one of the first weekends after moving here in 2004, I set out trying to walk the shore all the way around the point. On that warm summer day, I had made it most of the way around, fighting along the brush-choked slim shoreline of high tide, only to be stopped at the very end by a stretch that I would have had to swim. Not wanting to be completely soaked, I instead opted to climb up the cliffs and into the woods above me.

On this cold and windy winter day, I had no illusions about wading or swimming, but I did have a semi-low tide to make the walking easy. I began to round the point and left the cold shade for the comparative warmth of the setting sun. The squish of the soft ground underfoot and the rolling of the waves soothed me and brought the sort of relaxation necessary for understanding. Or, rather, for being able to put a form on the problem that I was working over. A log jutting out over the water gave me a place to sit and be still in the sunshine for a while, to give the subconscious a span of time to work without the constant jabbering of conscious-thought getting in the way.

I sat on the log for a long while, long enough, anyways, to get a slight chill. I had to decide to do something, so I decided to look at the islands of the Sound and the sprawling development on some of them. The close-packed houses didn't seem so oppressive and ugly from the perspective on the log. They just seemed to be there, without qualities, without characteristics. They simply were there.

My log sitting had to come to an end at some point, and I felt no closer to a form, let alone a solution, for the problem that had kept me from Gladys Divide. I set out back toward the Marina feeling much more relaxed and calm, however, than I had just a few hours ago. The sun was getting close to the horizon, yet I lingered along the shoreline, watching the light dance on the islands and a fishing trawler moving slowly through the Sound.

I rounded enough of the point to regain the cold shade, and also a warming view of the snowbound heights of Mount Rainier. Although I was in the shade, the mountain itself was being bathed in a pale pink light, cast by a dying sun that would soon give life to the Far East. Just as it left here, it began anew there. Cheered by the thought and by the sight, I comprehended part of what had been bothering me since Thursday; I had some insight, some notion, some cognition, some understanding. And that was enough. Indeed, it was all that I needed. For now.


From Lakewood, take Bridgeport heading north, crossing over SR16 (where it turns into something else), and make a left turn on Pearl Street. Follow Pearl Street to the park. To get to the water, follow the signs for the Marina. Entry and parking is free and there is a lot more to see and do than what I did. In the spring and fall, the gardens are particularly impressive.