In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. Though they live in desert, it still spawns salmon.
Oh, what a fish.
There are eight commercially important species of salmon in the Pacific, and nine in the Atlantic.
Some species can reach five feet in length and 110 pounds in weight.
The body color changes, depending on habitat and the mating seasons. It’s not always the dark orange we see on our dinner plate.
They have a lot of natural enemies, including big fish, whales, sea lions, and bears. Commercial and sport fishermen take a big toll, too.
They’re healthy food, rich in proteins, Vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
They can survive three to eight years in the wild.
They travel thousands of miles from their freshwater spawning areas out to the sea and then return to their birthplace to spawn more. They can climb up to 7,000 feet elevation from the sea to accomplish this. Most will then die of exhaustion.
They do not eat any food during the time they swim upstream to spawn.
Swimming upstream, they can jump two yards in the air.
A female Chinook salmon can carry more than 4,000 eggs.
The Olympic Peninsula, set off in the northwest corner of the continental U.S., is a unique place. My longpoem American Olympus is a travelogue of one week we spent camping there.
Here are ten things to consider.
Size: About 3,600 square miles, it’s a large arm with the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the north, and Puget Sound on the east. You can’t drive straight through it, by the way – only around the perimeter.
Distinctive features: The Olympic mountain range fills the center. It’s dominated by 7,980 foot elevation Mount Olympus, which has seven notable glaciers. The peninsula’s Pacific coastline (including 73 miles inside the national park) has impressive sea stacks and dense old-growth rainforests.
Precipitation: The Hoh Rainforest receives 12 to 14 feet of rain a year – that is, up to 170 inches. In contrast, the eastern half of the peninsula, facing Seattle, is in a rain shadow, where lawns and gardens may require irrigation. The mountains, as you may have guessed, get buried in snow.
Public lands: The peninsula includes Olympic National Park and national forest, plus designated wilderness areas and state parks. The national park itself covers nearly a million acres.
Rangers: The national park has 139 full-time rangers. Seasonal support pushes that to 256 in season, assisting nearly three million visitors a year.
Natives: It’s home to eight contemporary tribes of Native Americans and ten reservations.
Population: 104,000 people. The largest city is Port Angeles, 20,000 residents.
Freshwater attractions: Glacier-carved and crystal-clear, 12-mile-long Lake Crescent is up to 624-feet deep. Average depth is 300 feet. The peninsula also touts 13 significant salmon-bearing rivers, most of them wild, plunging from the mountains to the sea.
Who was Juan de Fuca? The band of seawater between the peninsula and Canada is named for a Greek maritime pilot who lived from 1536 to 1602. Though we know him by his name in Spanish, he was Ioannis Phokas, sailing in service of King Philip II of Spain. He claimed to have discovered the strait on a voyage in 1592, and though much of his report departs from reality, a few details make it possible that he was just a lousy recordkeeper.
When I lived in the desert in Washington state, we used to joke about the “rainy side” of the Cascade mountains, the strip where most of the people resided and worked.
When we visited that side, though, we often found ourselves driving the car onto a ferry and venturing onward. The state government manages an impressive fleet, some of them small and others, well, more substantial. It’s the largest ferry service in the country and fourth largest in the world. Its boats even show up in my novel Nearly Canaan.
Here are its nine routes plus one, all on Puget Sound but the last, which is a private operation.
Seattle-Bainbridge Island: 6,429,853 riders a year. Big-time commuter run from downtown. (That’s still only a fourth of the volume on the Staten Island ferry, and there’s no Statue of Liberty along the way. But the New York line has eight boats compared to this route’s two.)
Edmonds-Kingston: 4,114,181. With a terminal just north of Seattle, this route offers a quick hop across Puget Sound. Obviously, popular with commuters.
Mukilteo-Clinton on Whidbey Island: 4,073,761. It’s the first leg to Port Townsend from Seattle. Most of the riders are commuters who live on Whidbey Island.
Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth: 3,059,587. Operates as a “triangular” route from West Seattle.
Seattle-Bremerton: 2,739,926. Includes some hairpin turns getting into Bremmerton while passing a U.S. Navy shipyard.
Anacortes-San Juan Islands: 2,009,438. The San Juans are four gemlike isles north of Seattle. Popular with sailboat owners.
Port Townsend-Coupeville on Whidbey Island: 819,285. Port Townsend, at the “anvil” on the Olympic Peninsula, has become a trendy, artsy waterfront town.
Point Defiance-Tahlequah: 812,786. Links Tacoma and Vashon Island.
Anacortes-Sidney, British Columbia: 123,001. Also stops at Friday Harbor in the San Juans. Landing is a 30-minute drive from Victoria.
Port Angeles-Victoria, British Columbia. Its 90-minute voyage across the Strait of Juan de Fuca links the Olympic Peninsula to downtown Victoria. The vessel carries up to 110 vehicles and a thousand passengers. The Black Ball Ferry is not a state-run route, but it is truly a “poor man’s cruise.” I remember eating well and being agog at our landing in the heart of the classy Canadian city. (A foot-passenger-only rival sails from downtown Seattle.)
I’ve never seen a photograph that captures the breathtaking majesty of Mount Rainier. Even from miles away, it can seem to hover over your head, perhaps even reaching on around for the back of your neck.
Like Joshua and Jaya in my novel Nearly Canaan, I lived in the desert to the east. That meant we usually frequented parts of the national park that the folks from nearby Seattle were least likely to visit.
It’s been 40 years since I was forced to move elsewhere. Here are ten things that still impress me.
The park: Established March 2, 1899, Rainier is America’s fifth oldest national park. It covers 369 square miles, making it the 21st largest in the continental U.S. and the third largest in Washington state.
The central mountain: Also known as Tahoma, Rainier rises to 14,411 feet above sea level, making it the second tallest peak in the continental U.S. Unlike its rivals, its base is only miles inland from sea level. Measured from base to summit, or by its topographic prominence, that’s 13,210 feet – more than K2 in the Himalayas. It’s the most heavily glaciated mountain in the continental U.S.
It’s a stratovolcano: Rainier is an active volcano, with sulfur-fuming pits in the ice at its summit. Considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, it leaves about 80,000 people and their homes at risk of an eruption.
Distance from the summit to downtown Seattle: 59 miles, if you’re a crow.
Diversity of ecosystems: About 58 percent of the park is forested, ranging from dense evergreen forest to open ponderosa. The tall Douglas firs and western red cedars are nearly as impressive as the sequoias further to the south. Another 23 percent of the park is subalpine, above the forests but having evergreens at distances. In season, this is wildflower heaven, with orange paintbrushes, lupines, and white-starred avalanche lilies in profusion. Above that, half of the remainder is alpine, having unique vegetation, while the other half is permanent snow and ice.
Year-round ice and snow: Depending on your source, 26 or 27 major glaciers cling to the mountain. They release thunderous booms of breaking ice during the summer. Combined with permanent snow patches, they cover about 35 square miles.
Ice caves: By late summer, the mouths of some of the glaciers melt away to form mystical blue caverns. They’re dangerous to enter but unforgettable if you’ve ever been in one.
Reaching the summit: Climbers are required to register for permits before setting out. They must possess technical skills regarding ice axes, harnesses, and ropes and be in good physical condition. They face a 9,000-foot elevation gain over eight or more rugged miles. And then they repeat it in reverse. For most, it’s a two-day trek. About 10,000 people set out for the summit each year, with half of them succeeding. The mountain claims an average of two lives a year.
Thermal hot springs: Furthest away from Seattle is the Ohanapecosh Hot Springs. Once a resort, it now features trails that are delightful to hike in winter.
Two lodges: Situated at 5,100 feet elevation in the subalpine terrain, Paradise receives an average of 53 feet of snow a year. Sunrise, at 6,400 feet elevation, is the highest point the roads reach. The lodges are often snowed in till the Fourth of July.
Like Joshua and Jaya in my novel Nearly Canaan, I was surprised by the relative importance of smaller urban areas in the Pacific Northwest. Look how quickly the population figures drop.
Looking at the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, here are the ten largest cities by metropolitan area population. These figures have mushroomed since I lived in the region four decades ago and even desert communities have been deemed desirable destinations for retirees. As for geographic perspective, remember that the Seattle standard statistical metropolitan area includes the wilderness of Mount Rainier National Park. Anyplace else have an active volcano?
Seattle, 3.9 million. Ranked 20th in the U.S. Feels more like Boston, Chicago, or Atlanta in its impact.
Portland, 2.4 million. Ranked 30th in the U.S.
Boise, Idaho, 730,426
Spokane, Washington, 559,891
Salem, Oregon, 432,102
Eugene-Springfield, Oregon, 379,611
Olympia, Washington, 286,419
Tri-Cities, Washington, 296,224
Bremerton, Washington, 269,805
Yakima, Washington, 251,446. The major metropolis for the middle third of a large state.
Note that six of the ten are west of the Cascade range. None are in the eastern half of Oregon.
Just to the north, Vancouver, British Columbia, has 2.4 million population, making it Canada’s third largest metropolis.
In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state and an agricultural mecca.
Besides the well-known crops of apples, hops, and grapes, let’s consider:
In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state.
The city’s doubled in population since I lived there, but I’m not surprised. It’s mostly sunny.
Here are ten factoids.
The name applies to the city, the county, the valley, and until recently, the Indians, too.
The valley gets nearly nine inches of rain in a typical year, most of it in the winter. Almost every green thing that sprouts requires irrigation. And if that supply fails, everything goes kaput.
The valley produces more than 75 percent of the hops used in American beer – and a quarter of the hops used worldwide. If you’re a beer lover, be grateful. The locale also raises a lot of barley, up in the Horse Heaven Hills.
The valley has more than 70 wineries. It’s become a great place to grow varietal grapes, many of which are pressed into fermentation elsewhere. On the globe, it lines up quite well with France.
The trolleys have been running for more than a hundred years. Fun trip, by the way, especially the ones that run out through the orchards.
The original site of the city was renamed Union Gap, made famous by the rocker Gary Puckett.
Yakima County leads the nation in apple production, with 55,000 acres of active orchards. It’s the state’s highest valued agricultural product. By the way, they’re no longer mostly Red Delicious.
The average income of an apple picker is $6 a day.
The Native Americans have renamed their tribe and reservation as Yakama. One letter makes a huge difference.
I still miss living there, especially Mount Adams every morning.