A River Runs Through It

View of the river from the bluff.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

I’ve always wanted my own place on the water. Ideally, it would be a house built on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean, with my own private little sandy beach down below. I’d have the best of both worlds: a front-row view of nature’s finest storms as angry waves crashed into the rocks, sending a spray of seawater upwards toward the house; while providing a sandy playground on sunny days with an endless view toward the horizon. But, when it came down to it, any place on the water would do. I crave water. Not to drink, because that’s just nasty! But, as a respite from the world, a place to disconnect from technology and get away from people. I love being in water, being on water, and just being around water. It grounds me. Life just seems to slow down when I’m around water.

I’ve looked online at waterfront property for years, dreaming what I’d do if I had the money, the time, the resources, the…whatever. Some waterfront property I’d found was just too far to drive to enjoy regularly. Some had too stringent restrictions for my taste. Most was just too expensive. Even remote waterfront is expensive. It’s scarce; there’s only so much to go around. And, as a single woman with a single income, buying waterfront seemed as far out of reach as owning a piece of the moon.

And then, one day….

I was idly looking at property on Zillow, searching for something remote where I could go camping and practice bushcraft skills. Property in western Washington tends to be especially expensive, so I concentrated my search to the south and east of the metropolitan areas, checking out parcels at least an acre in size and under $20,000. One piece of property kept popping up in my searches: one and a half acres, split by a river. The price was well under my limit, with possible owner financing. It was further away than I’d have liked, but at 60 miles, it wasn’t too far. After all, I wasn’t going to live there; I was only looking for recreational land. 

But, my beloved Sport Trac was in the hospital, and I’d just received the bad news that it needed a new engine. I was in no position to buy anything, especially since the money I’d planned to use as a downpayment was now going toward auto repairs and Mouse, my little rental car. 

And, I’d just bought a plane ticket to Ulaanbaatar, one of my bucket list destinations. I wanted to have a bit of spending money saved up for the trip.

It wouldn’t hurt to look, right?

It wasn’t hard to find. Although it was fairly remote, it was right off a busy short-cut road to Highway 101. Traffic whizzed by pretty non stop. Lots of RVs full of vacationers on their way up the peninsula. However, the property was well overgrown; it was nearly impossible to see past the wall of greenery. If it was this hard to see into the property, then it might also be difficult to see the traffic, so perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad.

I found an access trail and headed in to take a look. Right away, the vegetation swallowed me up, as if I’d entered another world. Saplings clothed in moss bowed gracefully like long branches, creating beautiful but eery arches as their tops nearly touched the ground. Bunches of ferns, interspersed with ivy, covered the forest floor. Piles of deadfall marked where roots had given way, causing trees to topple, taking down more trees with them. Others had grown up in their places, filling in the gaps in the canopy. The forest was dense and green and lush.

The only opening was ahead of me. I followed the path to the edge of the bluff.

It wasn’t very far; the property was long and fairly narrow. I walked out to the edge of the bluff and looked straight down to the river, about forty feet below. There was no way that I could see to climb up or down that sheer drop. I walked around a bit, fighting my way through ivy, prickly vines, tall ferns, and other undergrowth, while carefully climbing over fallen saplings. I liked the wildness. This place hadn’t been touched in decades. The brush and trees hid the traffic well, and the sounds of the flowing river helped cover the noise. The smell of earth and growing things filled my senses. It was calm and peaceful.

I wandered around a bit and almost tripped over a massive steel zipline extending out over the river to an unknown destination in the trees on the other side. The huge cable was firmly wrapped around an immense tree stump, probably six feet in diameter. Giant iron staples the size of shackles dug deep into the wood. What the ? I had no idea what it might have been used for or why it still remained; an old forgotten relic of logging days long gone? Clearly it hadn’t been used in decades, perhaps 50 years or more. The stump was badly decayed and hollowed, the inside blackened from fire. There really wasn’t much holding it anymore. What was on the other end, I wondered. The cable disappeared into the trees on the other side, hiding its secrets.

I was intrigued. I didn’t like the heavy traffic, but the heavy foliage hid it well. I couldn’t even see Mouse, my bright red little rental car I’d left parked along the edge of the road. I could live with it in return for having waterfront. I could see there was some nice flat areas along the bank above the river. They looked like great camping spots. There had to be a way down there; I just hadn’t found it yet. If I could get down there, then the bluff would block all noise and give me even more privacy. The river itself had several areas that looked like great swimming holes and might even be kayakable. Plus, it looked easily fordable, and the property continued on the other side. I could go find out what was on the other end of the zipline! And, as a bonus, it was surrounded by thousands of acres of timber land and public trust land. This little acre and a half was like a gateway to a vast backpacker’s playground. 

Should I? Could I? Dare I?