Five hundred years ago, people loved this place. We know this by the things they left behind: the bones and shells of halibut, salmon, chitons, clams, and mussels. We know they came here to the clifftops, and stood under the big trees – just like we do today. They gazed at the view, watched the volcanoes, saw the play of light and wind on the water – just like we do today. They felt the breeze blow in from the ocean, they smelled the spruce trees and salt air, they built fires and visited with friends – just like we do today.
Five hundred years, a thousand years, more. Through all this time, the eagles have watched. They look down from their perches, they make forays to the slough to catch ducks, they dance and fight in the air. They care for their young and defend their home. They call out in their jagged sharp squeaky voices. The nest is hard to see. Even after you have found it, even after you know where it is.
The path leads downhill, toward the sea. Water flows down, too, from the deep moss forest. We go with the flow, walking down, past the wild geraniums, past the chocolate lilies, past the beach greens. We pause there, and reach down… taste them. Bitter-green-fresh. At the base of the cliff, the creek runs to the sea, sweet water mixing with salt. Nori grows on the slippery rocks here; reach down… taste it. Sea-salt-fresh.
Pigeon Guillemots float on the surface of the ocean, bright black, white, and red, only the simplest colors. They whistle and call to each other in musical trills. They climb out onto the rocks; then they dive deep; return from hunting and in their bills hold fish, as though reluctant to give them up. Treasures, hard-won, they’ll give to their chicks, hidden in crevices in the cliffs.
A kingfisher’s staccato call draws our attention upward. He flies away from us, along the shoreline. Waiting until we look the other way, he returns, silently, back to the burrow. Concealed in the sandy bank at the very top of the cliff, the burrow is nestled into the roots of a spruce tree, but we can’t tell exactly where. We watch, eyes averted, waiting for movement. When the bird flies out of the hole, a thrill runs through us. We found the nest! It’s a moment worthy of a high-five, but instead we quietly look at each other, eyes wide with joy and wonder.
We feel like we’re the first to discover this place. We are the only ones who know it’s here, we are the only ones who know it so intimately.
Bones and seashells and artifacts spill out of an ancient midden, here, at this cliff. The midden proves that others came before us. Just like us, they found themselves in this sacred place. Just like us, they learned and lived and loved here.
A thousand years ago, and a thousand more.