Winter settles fairly evenly across the middlest part of the Midwest. One part is cold and snowy, so most of it is, and the rest will be soon enough if it doesn’t immediately fall under the same blanket. There might be a difference of 20 or 30 degrees, but all the temperatures end up south of the freezing point eventually, so it doesn’t matter so much.
Washington isn’t like that. There are snow-clotted passes and temperate Sound- and ocean-bordering areas and this middle part that’s apparently part desert, and winter settles unevenly, uneasily across the state. After moving here, I realized the whole grunge/layers look was just a simple adaptation to the Seattle weather. These things are revelations when you’re from the outside.
But it goes beyond that. Many long-time residents here have rich wardrobes of wicking fabrics and fleece and water-resistant shells and the like, and that is because you need at least that to cross more than two areas in a day.
I got a better sense of this while spending the weekend in La Push* on a work retreat.** We stayed at this rad place, where I enjoyed my second oceanfront hotel room this year. I’ve spent some time on the beaches of Florida (and Hawaii and Mexico as well), and they are nice, of course… but there’s nothing like a Washington beach. The first one I experienced was Shi Shi*** some years ago, and I was lovestruck by the boulders covered in skittering crabs, the purple and orange sea stars hanging out with their dozens of arms, and the general rocky aliveness of it all. In Florida, the beach is flat and largely featureless, aside from the odd sand flea or clam hole.
In Washington, you get the feeling that you’re only on the beach because the beach is allowing it – for now. There are piles of driftwood that have to have tumbled in most strikingly, and now they’re uneasily piled together, slick and angular and daring you to try to scramble across them. The cliffs look like the aftermath of rocky avalanches, and even the jutting islands just off shore look sharp and unrefined, topped with tenacious fir trees. These beaches are sharp and unsteady, and they exist for themselves, not for you. Just what I like in a trip.
That aside, the peninsular weather in December is incredibly welcoming, assuming you’re down for misty and cool. Fortunately, that is the weather of my (assumed) ancestors, and so I hiked happily along for two days.
In order, we went to First Beach (which my bedroom window faced), Third Beach, and Second Beach, with a quick stop at Rialto Beach on the drive home – just long enough to soak myself from the ankles down when I wasn’t nimble enough to leap out of the way of a sudden high wave.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I wouldn’t go to La Push in the summer – I am not in a place where I can turn down a new experience and a change of scenery right now, to start. But we saw almost no one else on those trails. The beaches showed no footprints but our own, and people seemed pleasantly happy – if surprised – to see us. And it was at least 45 or 50 the entire time, which is exactly the temperature that best supports misty, vaguely magical-looking forests, which is one of my very favorite things.
Get your layers out, pack some tea and whiskey for nighttime, and try the peninsula in the off season.
Recommendations: world-famous River Burger****, the Quileute Oceanside Resort, Cafe New Day in Port Angeles, ferries, rainforests, and long walks on tumbled driftwood as you pretend you’re at the end of Planet of the Apes.
*Yes, it was in Twilight. This footnote is brought to you by my mom, for my mom.
**”Work retreat” is from the Latin for “some time in the woods, more time in the bottle.”
***Lotta Washington beaches have names that sound like someone’s messing with you at first, huh? But you get used to it.
****Where we saw lady Santa and an elf waiting to grab some takeout. Wish-taking is hungry business.