The road to Tokeland

Heading north from the furnace of Portland was like heading back in time. The smell of firs and spruces sweeter and rounder in the ebbing afternoon heat softer than the sharp pines and oak meadows of my adopted home. The roads I traveled were the roads of my young adulthood; when I was the age my son is now. Getting off the Interstate in southwestern Washington my little Toyota sighed with relief; based on designs dating back to the days of “Fifty Five saves lives” it struggles at today’s freeway speeds. Leaving the Columbia we head over the Willipa Hills and west.

Like me she is more at home on the winding roads and “Blue Highways” (thank you William Least Heat Moon) together we amble through the lengthening red evening light through Vader, then a wrong turn to the dead end town of Ryderwood where a loan deer ambles across the road to eat rosebushes. Through Boisfort and then towns vanished leaving behind a smattering of houses and occasional Storefront: Ceres, Meskill, Doty, Dryad and finally a real town Pe Ell follow the course of the Chehalis River. Four blocks later the town is gone and the trees hang over the road between farms and fields through Walville, then Pluvius. Up in the hills we leave the headwaters of the Chehalis and enter the Willipa River drainage at Frances where a giant church sits bereft of a town that has washed away. It sits towering white and austere embraced in firs set against a steep hill. The Lebam Bar and Store both stare at the road with vacant eyes as we roll by. The sun is setting now as I head west deep umber burning through the windshield between the hills. Holocomb and Menlo come and go until a town, with a light: Raymond.

Two quick turns and then onto 105 heading back to a place I have not been in a decade. Tokeland is a spit of land surrounded in low tidal estuary that once boasted a beach resort back when people called traveling a hundred miles an adventure. Now the town has been passed by: off the Highway, off the road off the Highway, a dead end at a muddy beach. That time as this I stayed at the Tokeland Hotel, a beautiful aging structure from the glory days of this place. Last time the owner was absent, there were no other guests and I stayed alone among the stuffed elk heads and half assembled puzzles for three days before someone else arrived. It was beautiful in a love-among-ruins kind of way. Like the Acropolis of an abandoned church yard. Not for everyone but defiantly for me.

This time new owners have taken charge; they are young, to me anyway, and are already clearing the cobwebs and benign neglect. Far from wrecking the building’s charm they are exposing it. As an archeologist will peel back the sands of time to bring forgotten treasures to life the new owners are peeling the ages of dated remodeling choices to display the charm. Rather than a beautiful ruin it is in the midst of rebirth. Some people might prefer one or the other; but for me to be where things are as they are is the gift of travel. The same place becomes a new place through vision and hard work; a laudable story. That they also serve a good drink a bonus.

The heat in the valley has brought mist heavy enough to rain to this little coastal town. Now dark I stand in the yard and lift my hands out to feel the cold clean air. I miss home but if I have to be anywhere this is a good place to be; settled in my past but looking forward, old and new woven together into a tapestry. I am fifty. I get it and am over it.

And so I say goodnight.

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