Sep 21, 2008


SAN JUAN ISLAND, Washington – This landscape, all tawny bluff and steely sea, is where my cornered brain flees. After 12 years, I once again trace the familiar cliffs of American Camp. I've dreamt myself here so many times ... Now it's strange actually descending to Grandma's Cove – fielding bizarre declarations from a tagalong German tourist: no, the Exxon Valdez did not sink offshore, really. Try southcentral Alaska: just as damp, but over a thousand miles north. And with a view of Russia, according to that other geographically challenged twit Sarah Palin.

This maritime prairie did host the peaceful Pig War, however: my favorite conflict ever. In 1859, the US and Britain squared off over a dead squealer (and border disputes). The joint occupation lasted 12 years, during which the troops began picnicking, partying and horse racing together… Except for suicides and accidents, this war shed no human blood.

Giddy, Jenny and I whip up Pickett's Lane, then tack on the Jakle's Lagoon loop, which leads up to Mount Finlayson. Or as "mount" as an 290ft bump's gonna get. "Howdy," we nod to man with an outback hat. Then, as we pass again, "the sunset's strangely beautiful, despite the clouds, eh?"

"It's always beautiful," he says. Then Richard Swanson, a park volunteer and owner of Discovery Sea Kayaks, unfurls his palimpsest, his hummock-by-hummock map of this turf. My emotions are broad-brush; his cameo, I realize, humbled.

But hey, I have a headlamp, where he has none in this twilight. Richard, in turn, gives us a lift to the Scooby van a few miles away. And so it all flows, as the ghosts here would no doubt approve.

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