I recently came back from a trip to Washington state, where I wanted to sample a little bit of everything: the San Juan Islands, the coast, the rain forest, and some of the harbor towns. The problem was that we had a week, and in the end we did more driving than sightseeing. The rain forest was spectacular, with brooding trees that stretched to the sky, but was it worth the several hours’ drive through clearcut hillsides where the state’s dark and deep forests have been reduced to stumps and piles of dead branches?
We were staying at lodgings on the Strait of Juan de Fuca where our suite looked out over a beach framed by tall pine trees and two tall seastacks (above). Cargo ships and cruise ships plied these waters, as well as bald eagles, sea otters and assorted seabirds. But it didn’t have the wild power of the coast, where the waves are ferocious, so we made the long drive from our small beach house through the logged hills to Rialto Beach, just so we could watch the waves pound the coast. But we only had two hours to spend there before we needed to drive back to our beachhouse, and on the long drive back, I realized it was too much driving, which is wearying in itself, especially through butchered landscapes.
Instead, over the course of two days on the strait, I came to love our small beach, where I meditated every morning and walked the beach in the evening. I got to know the beach’s moods, quiet and peaceful one morning and tumultuous the next, when 16-foot swells on the coast caused big enough waves to attract surfers. In the morning, all the kelp beds were uncovered, while later in the day the tide moved in and the sun set to the west (left).
A few days before that, I went for a walk on San Juan Island and came across my favorite landscape: a small pond bordered by tall grasses facing a green field with the Olympic Mountains in the distance. I could have easily planted myself in one of the chairs on the pond’s deck for several days and taken in that whole landscape. But there was the rainforest to check out, and the coast to explore. There’s always something else to see, somewhere else to go, a ferry to catch. But after running around for a week, I’ve decided next time that I want to stay put, that it’s better to get to know one place well than to only briefly touch other places.
Traveling is broadening they say, and it’s true that my view of the world has been enlarged with every place I’ve been to. But sometimes we trade the deep for the narrow, see too much without absorbing anything.