We drove north along the Washington coast to a check out a town recently featured in Sunset Magazine, Seabrook, which is advertised as a “new beach town,” by the Seabrook Land Development Company.
Looking around, I was reminded of Disneyland’s Main Street or a Hollywood movie set, except without fake facades, just cottages and houses that look like them. The development has its own store, trendy restaurant, playground, park, and rental cottages (for those less ready to commit the $299,000 to start vacation homes). The tiny lots and close-in proximity of neighbors are a striking contrast to the dramatic expanse of landscape outside: tall Douglas Firs, a roaring Pacific Ocean, rolling fields, wide skies that carry blustery weather in winter.
I prefer the old, established, worn-around-the-edges town of Pacific Beach just 2 miles north, where everything is more run down, slow, dented and scratched. I wonder if the folks in the two towns mix, and something tells me they don’t. Gritty isn’t included in the amenities of Seabrook, as much as insularity from the local environment, its community, that surround the magical wonders of a McTown plopped on the Pacific Northwest Coast.
As we returned to Seattle, I took the photo above driving through Hoquiam, a city in Grays Harbor County about 2.5 hours west from Seattle. Highway 101 to the Washington Coast passes through Hoquiam and its neighboring town, Aberdeen, on its way to the Pacific. The indigenous peoples of the area include Quinault, Humptulips, Wynoochee, and Chehalis Indian tribes. These are old places, built by logging and forestry. These are working towns with an earned patina surrounded by lush and expansive landscapes. Aberdeen was Curt Cobain’s hometown, and the sign that welcomes visitors now also reads: “Come As You Are.”
The coastal communities, and those just inland, struggle, hanging on in much smaller scale to industries that thrived in the previous centuries: forestry and lumber, fishing. They have rich histories, quirky charms. Maybe it’s me? I’m nostalgic. For me a visit to the coast means clamming, crabbing, charter fishing, camping, dodging rain and wind, and camp fires: decidedly unglamorous and utterly Pacific Northwest. These communities could use a shot-in-the-arm and a boost in their economies from new generations of tourists, travelers, settlers — like the ones now being drawn to Seabrook, which looks a lot like some beach town, just not any on the Washington coast.
Here’s to finding ways to strike a balance between growth and sustainability, something short of abandoning distinctions of place and culture for the comfort of conformity. To travel somewhere means also to journey from what one knows (and who one knows) to discover what else is out there, who else there is to know. What lays beyond the shore of our familiarities or the sea of our interiors?
Photo: “Green Means Go,” Hoquiam, WA in August 2013 with iPhone 5