evan harris

 

THE SPIT

 

There’s a story taking place at the edge of this world, between Vancouver Island, B.C. and Sequim, Washington. It takes place in fits and starts, interrupted by other trains of thought: derailed, removed, replaced, picked up.

This is an epistolary story, although not written, and so neither blotted out nor sent. These are letters from a province situated far in the interior of a traveled but not charted place. These are letters that cannot bear postage.

Dungeness Spit (Spit: a point of low land extending into the water) is the longest natural land spit in North America. The spit stretches five and a half miles out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and is created by eroding soil, wind, and water currents. It forms a bay, which offers wildlife protection from wind, waves, and pounding surf.

So the literature says. You can read all about it in the brochure. Copies of it are kept, and made available to visitors, in a wooden box at the tip of the gravel path, which is a half mile long and leads down through the woods to the spit. You enter the gravel path, and gain access to the spit, on the honor system. Although there is minor policing, in the form of a sign:

STOP
DID YOU PAY THE ENTRANCE FEE?

FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH ENTRANCE FEE REQUIREMENT
IS A VIOLATION SUBJECT TO PENALTIES PRESCRIBED IN 50 CFR 28.31

Dorrie does not pay.

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

To Whom it May Concern:

I am a visitor to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. This letter is in regard to the fee for entry, which I have not paid. I understand that not paying the fee is illegal under code 50 CFR 28.31, although I don’t know what the code states. I don’t know the rules. I’m far, far away.

It’s beautiful here. Maybe I can stay.

As remittance for failing to pay the fee, I would like to offer an exchange. Namely, I will be your mascot: a solitary woman walking along the beach, miles of sand ahead and miles of sand behind, with the wind whipping her hair and the color up in her cheeks. Waves lap along the shore, gulls fly overhead. She takes in the views. She examines interesting pieces of driftwood as she makes her way down the beach, deep in thought, considering things, possibly even coming to some kind of conclusion, and certainly perpetuating the romance of Dungeness Spit.

In exchange for this proposed work as the mascot of Dungeness Spit, I request that the fee for entry be waived. Any thoughts you might have on this proposal are appreciated, and I hope you will contact me at your earliest convenience.

Yours,
Dorrie Spill

Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA 98382

Dear Ms. Spill,

Thank you for your interest in the Dungeness Spit Recreation Area. The beauty of Dungeness Spit and its environs draws approximately 80,000 to 100,000 visitors from around the world each year.

Your request to serve as the mascot of Dungeness Spit has been received with interest. All correspondence concerning this matter will be handled by the Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee.

In considering your candidacy, the Committee will take into account the needs of the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge as well as your qualifications for fulfilling the duties of a mascot. To the end of determining the latter, the Committee requires a period of review. During the period of review, the Committee asks that you provide a detailed account of your visits to Dungeness Spit. The Committee will level judgement on these accounts.

You will be notified as to the Committee’s decision after the period of review has elapsed. Until such a decision is reached, the fee for entry to the refuge will be suspended. Should the Committee decline your request, all monies will be due retroactively, including those you have failed to pay to date. If the Committee is able to appoint you as mascot, all fees, including those you have incurred to date, will be absorbed by the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge.

Please direct all future correspondence to the Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee at the address above. Rest assured that this matter will be attended to with care.

Sincerely,
Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee

Dorrie walks past the sign, past the wooden box that houses the brochures, and follows the path through the woods. She stops at the elbow of the path, where it takes a sharp turn, slopes downward, and spills onto the beach. Here at the elbow, there’s a long view of the Spit. Sometimes, it is rather majestic: the curve of the land, the expanse of the water, the mountains in the distance. Today, however, the view is clouding over.

Dorrie walks the last leg of the path and steps onto sand. The line of tossed and tangled driftwood that runs down the middle of the Spit, and extends nearly its length, starts here. The line is made up of large beach logs (whole significant parts of trees that only heavy machinery, or the tide, could move), smaller pieces of driftwood, and all manner of wooden debris, anything the tide drags in: every shape and every size mixed and jumbled and heaped and balanced against one another, connected, a ragtag line.

Small as a penny, large as a door; thin as a chopstick, smooth as a banister; curved as a sculpture, flat as a cutting board; delicate as an earring, durable as a battering ram. The spaces and gaps that lie between are as various as the parts themselves.

There’s a game to be played: Don’t Touch the Sand. Walk the horizontal length of a telephone pole. Leap to the next point, a thick stump. Step gingerly up onto the limb of a tree reincarnated as a bridge. Test, calculate the risk of wobble; balance while crossing; be light.

Dorrie proceeds down the Spit in this way until she jumps from a railroad tie, walks twenty paces on a wide plank, and is stranded. Nothing connects; there is no place to jump. She turns and looks backward whence she has come over sand bordered by water, and far distant where –

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dear Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee,

You cannot tell the mountains from the clouds.

Yours,
Dorrie Spill

Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA 98382

Dear Ms. Spill,

The Olympic Mountains, situated on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, are named for Mt. Olympus, which appears in Greek mythology as the home of the Gods. The highest peak of the Olympic Mountain Range, Mt. Olympus, is 7,965 feet. It is followed by Mt. Deception at 7,788 feet. The smaller peaks, Mt. Constance, Mt. Anderson, Mt. Carrie, Elk Mt., Mt. Angeles, and The Brothers, measure 7,743 feet, 7,365 feet, 6,995 feet, 6,866 feet, and 6,454 feet respectively.

Thank you for your observations vis a vis the mountains and the clouds. The views observable from Dungeness Spit contribute to its unique character and beauty.

Sincerely,
Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dear Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee,

I do not think you understand that I am overwhelmed.

Yours,
Dorrie Spill

Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA 98382

Dear Ms. Spill,

In addition to its seasonal visitors, the Olympic Peninsula attracts artists, writers, poets, and naturalists who draw inspiration from the majesty of mountain and water views and the expanse of National Parkland in the interior of the Peninsula. Explorations of the natural world and its intersection with human nature, and humanity as a whole, can be found in the work of these artists and writers who make their homes on the Olympic Peninsula.

The grandeur of nature is often overwhelming, insofar as our own mortality comes into high relief when compared with the elemental, the timeless, and the infinite. This experience, Ms. Spill, is very common.

Sincerely,
Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee

Dorrie turns away from this view, this sweep of water and mountains and clouds. She abandons her game because she has lost, having jumped, balanced, and proceeded gingerly to a dead end. She hits sand and walks toward the water.

Waves form, break, and touch the shoreline. There is a carpet of pebbles there, smooth gradations of gray. Dorrie bends at her knees. She looks closely, chooses a small pebble, and closes it in her fist. She puts that fist in her pocket and presses it against the seam, cloth held together by thread.

If she keeps pressing, her fist will break through. Her wrist, then arm, then shoulder will go out the hole; head, neck; torso turned upside down will follow, forced through the hole in her pocket by the force of her own pretzeling body. She will go spinning through the air, over the water, out.

Dorrie releases the pebble, lets it loose inside her pocket. Still bending at her knees way down by the sand, she looks up, ahead, eyes reaching over the expanse. A gull flies over head and Dorrie watches it, follows it over the water, out and out where –

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dear Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee,

There is nothing but weather in the sky.

Yours,
Dorrie Spill

Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA 98382

Dear Ms. Spill,

The area surrounding Sequim, Washington, which includes the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, is in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. Sequim is known for its particularly sunny weather, which has made it a popular retirement community and makes a travesty of the assertion that it rains all the time in the Pacific Northweast. In fact, clear conditions prevail throughout the Peninsula in the Spring and Summer.

However, rainfall on the Olympic Peninsula is essential to many of its most beautiful features, including the Hoh and Quinalt Rainforests, which are dense with moss, trees, and other vegetation. The rainy season, which lasts from late October to early April, is characterized by constant precipitation, gray skies, and gloom. It’s not for everyone.

Sincerely,
Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dear Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee,

I do not think you understand that I am alone.

Yours,
Dorrie Spill

Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA 98382

Dear Ms. Spill,

Extreme weather conditions such as excessive wind and rain can cause Dungeness Spit to breach, thus creating an island. In the late summer of 1994, the New Dungeness chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society proposed building a 190-foot long floating dock at the end of the Spit to provide an escape hatch in the event of a breach. A dock would also allow more visitors to tour the historic New Dungeness Lighthouse (located at the tip of the Spit), which is maintained by Society volunteers.

The Callam County Shoreline and Sensitive Areas Committee refused to grant the necessary permit for the dock.

While the beauty of Dungeness Spit renders it conducive to solitary walks and rumination, it is not intended for total isolation, which spurs on unpleasant feelings of loneliness, in addition to depression.

Dungeness Spit is a natural landmass, formed during the Vashon glacial era ten to twenty thousand years ago. It is not intended for anything.

Sincerely,
Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee

 

The gull is out of sight. Dorrie stands up and walks on, now on the strip of sand between the line of driftwood on one side and the shoreline on the other, narratives to a story with distance that replaces plot.

Weather continues to collect in the sky, and Dorrie continues to continue down the beach.

There’s a large drop of rain. There’s another.

Dorrie squints when she sees something, some construction built up on top of the random pick-up-stick line of driftwood. She zags toward it. It is a tepee, made from long logs. Someone’s art of an afternoon, someone’s shrine, someone’s shelter.

Knock knock.

No one’s home.

Dorrie creeps inside. She sits with her legs drawn up to her chest; the rough triangular opening is just in front of her knees.

Dorrie takes the pebble from her pocket and puts it in the hollow of the thick log just outside the opening. She circles the pebble in the sand that has collected in the hollow. Her circles push the sand away, exposing gray weathered wood.

If she keeps on, keeps wearing away, it will bore a hole. Working and working, the hollow will become an opening and Dorrie will tunnel, hand and arm first, then whole body, into the interior. Inside, she will splinter, integrate piece by piece into the log and become indistinguishable from it.

Dorrie balances the pebble on the rounded top of the log. Grey pebble, gray log. Outside the tepee, gray air, gray rain. The water roughens and the wind rises and the bleakness bleakens because –

 

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dear Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee,

You cannot tell the mountains from the clouds. There is nothing but weather in the sky. I have turned from gold to yellow to ash. Gray. Better camouflage, anyway.

No one will notice.

May I stay?

Yours,
Dorrie Spill

Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
C/O WA Coastal Refuges Office
Port Angeles, WA 98362

Dorrie Spill
Sequim, WA 98382

Dear Ms. Spill,

Dungeness Spit takes its name from Dungeness Crab, which is considered a delicacy. Other wildlife, including fish, deer, birds, and seals make up the natural denizens of Dungeness Spit. The unique makeup of the Spit provides these creatures protection from the elements. The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, of which Dungeness Spit is a part, ensures the perpetuation of this protection. It is also charged with ensuring protection against any and all encroachments on the environment, which generally arise in human form.

The Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee would like to thank you for your continued correspondence over the period of review, which is now ended. Your petition to serve as mascot of Dungeness Spit has been carefully considered. Unfortunately, your petition has been denied.

Space prohibits an exhaustive list, point by point, of the conclusions the Committee has drawn on your fitness for the task of mascot, or the reasons you have been rejected. Suffice it to say that the Committee did not find you to be a suitable symbol for a land spit, Dungeness � or frankly, any other. The Committee believes this is due to the essential nature of a mascot, which is to symbolize, not to comment, your present circumstances, and your general character. In addition and with all due respect, Ms. Spill, you do not seem to be all there.

Knock knock. Is anybody home?

In conclusion, the Committee thanks you for your time and energy. Please remit all payment for visits to Dungeness Spit, as per our agreement, immediately.

Sincerely,
Dungeness Spit Mascot Committee

At the tip of Dungeness Spit, there’s a white lighthouse with a red top. It is situated inside a fenced-in compound. Short, well-kept grass grows in the perfectly squared-off regions between the Lighthouse Keeper’s house, the poured concrete paths, the lighthouse itself, and several outbuildings. At the gate, a sign reads:

TOURS DAILY 10:00 A.M. TO 4:00 P.M.
KNOCK AT THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S HOUSE

Dorrie enters the gate. She walks the concrete path to the lighthouse keeper’s house. Her hair is darkened by the rain, now sheeting. Her jeans have grown heavy and wet.

On the door, a laminated sheet of Dungeness Spit National Refuge letterhead reads:

KNOCK LOUDLY FOR TOUR

Knock knock

Who’s there?

Yours, Dorrie

Yours Dorrie who?

Your story, taking place at the edge of this world, 3,000 miles west of Now or Never. You moved from the thicket of east coast highways, over lines of state and county, the Mississippi and Missouri, divides great and small, zones of topography and time. You are on the other side of the map, the other side of the rupture in your life.

Stand on the doorstep of the lighthouse keeper’s house, waiting for movement within, waiting for response. And as you stand, you cut. You cut the entire correspondence to pieces as punishment for the vanity of being this entirely alone.