Sound’s Kinda Scary

Dubsie on SoundI keep asking Dubsie if she wants to throw rocks in the Sound, and the answer comes back a stubborn no.

We are living for the week in a cabin on a beach on Camano Island. Camano is one of the islands of the archipelago that occupies Puget Sound. We have just moved from Washington D.C. to Seattle, which also sits on the Sound. In our new lives we will be constantly looking at and visiting this body of water.

The beach isn’t a Californian’s idea of a beach. No pillowy drifts of fine sand, but gravel and rocks, millions of rocks, many worn to roundness and in shades of gray to amber. And shells. The broken carapaces of bivalves are everywhere, reminding you that under the stones is a tangy menagerie of mussels and clams and a gigantic local delicacy called the geoduck. Silently filtrating saltwater in the darkness beneath your slightly uncomfortable butt.

Dubsie won’t only not throw rocks in the water; she won’t even go over the low concrete wall and onto the beach unless she’s carried. Set her down and she flails her arms for rescue.  Maybe it’s hard to traverse those rocks in little, Teva-clad feet.

But the source of her disorientation could also be the water. It stretches for more than two miles to the far shore. At first I thought that demarcated the far side of the Sound, but no, it’s just the shore of another island, called Whidbey, and beyond that the Sound rolls on for miles and more miles.

What is a sound, anyway?

I take iPhone in hand and look it up. Wikipedia says it is “a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, and wider than a fjord.”

Oh, well, that clears it up.

So I punch “Puget Sound” into Google Maps. Someday when Dubsie is older she will have lots of questions about Puget Sound, and a father must be prepared. But even that is not much help. My screen shows a blue spidery maze of bays and channels and inlets. The inlets are so long and convoluted that I have to follow shorelines with my finger to distinguish island from mainland.

Puget Sound. Image courtesy of David Rumsey.

Where does the ocean come in? In the northwestern quadrant of the map the world gets more watery, so that’s the direction the Pacific lies. But I can’t see it. In order to find the ocean I expand my view of Google’s map again, then again, and then again. Broaden out from Puget Sound and one finds that it’s merely the southwestern fringe of a colossal inlet that extends deep into Canada, nearly halfway to Alaska. The Canadian portion is called the Strait of Georgia, defining the shore of British Columbia and its massive satellite, Vancouver Island, and is spangled with enough archipelagoes and channels and shorelines for Riya to explore for a lifetime.

Feeding it all, almost due west of where Riya and I stand, is the  Strait of Juan de Fuca, a channel funneling straight to the North Pacific. It is ten miles wide at its narrowest. Ten miles wide! That’s when I realize that it is ocean, nearly pure raw ocean, lapping up gently on this stony shore. Seagulls laze overhead, and if you paddling offshore, you see schools of jellyfish.

Which is a long way of saying that Dubsie was not the only one taken aback by the bigness of it all.

The next week we visited our friend B, who lives in a house on a hill with a view of the Sound but also a stony little creek running through the backyard. Dubsie surprised me by asking to put her feet in it. It isn’t cold water or stones that overwhelms her. It’s the big water of the Sound that will take some getting used to.


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