By Tom Groenewal
January 15 Wednesday 1992
A call at 6:30 means a secretary is wanting me to teach. It is Nancy from Neah Bay High School. Yes, I am available and I will be there. Oh, that’s great she says and thank you and see you at 8:00.
Cape Flattery School District. I just became certified for the district and I haven’t taught there yet. I did drive up to introduce myself to the secretary and the administrator who did my paperwork. The administrator wasn’t available so I talked with Nancy. She does the sub calling for the schools, K-12 and would have many opportunities for me.
For some reason going to the Makah Indian Reservation to teach at Neah Bay High makes me feel unsure. Indian reservation, I don’t know what to expect.
Well, I certainly cannot be in Neah Bay by 8 o’clock after 50 miles of winding road along Burnt Mountain and the sharply winding curves along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
By the time I arrive, it is 8:35 and school started at 8:20. I meet Nancy and go through the formalities of paper signing and she leads me to the class. The fill in teacher, a Makah, and football coach, loved by the community, is Mr. Johnston. He releases the class to me and leaves without much small talk. In fact, no small talk.
Overall, I’m feeling confident.
Students and I look at each other, it’s quiet and no one moves. I break first. “So what’s it like around here?” They continue to look at me.
They start asking questions. “Where are you from?” “Past eight years in Michigan.” “Why are you here?” “The ocean, coast and old forests.” “Where do you live?” “Forks.” “Oh,” they say. I ask about Forks kids and if they ever hang out? Mostly, students rarely see kids from Forks. The main interaction between the towns are sports. Big basketball tournaments, play to the death games.
The teacher’s English lesson is pushed to the side and we talked about the coastline and trails. I had forethought and brought a map, they show me the location of the bunkers and ways to scramble down to hidden beaches in between headlands.
I hope for more days at the Makah schools, good kids. As days get longer there will be ample opportunities for exploring beaches, flotsam, strange fishes that wash up on the beaches and beauty.
January 16 Thursday 1992
A good low tide, 0.5 feet, will occur at 4 p.m. It is sunny and a totally clear sky with NOAA radio reporting this beautiful day will continue. There is a section of beach I have been waiting to explore and this is the day. I gather gear: pack, rain/wind jacket, compass, water, binos, sweater, map, and a hat. My bag of 10, actually15, essentials has a special zippered place in the pack.
There is no one at Third Beach as I arrive. The tide is going down and I can barely run between waves and the trees stacked on the upper beach. I like playing chicken with the waves, to see if I can judge the wave and make it to the next high ground. Not life threatening, but I love the fun. Mostly, I have made it safe!
However, this was a day when I miss-judged the waves. I was on a beach with cobbles, rocks which don’t give a lot of footing since they are round. They make a terrible sound in the crashing waves, like something that could grind anything which came in contact.
I watch the waves for a while to calculate patterns for when I should run across the beach to the next safe spot. Looks a little tricky to run across the rolling cobbles. I search the parts of my brain responsible for making decisions like this one. The response is open. I take that for a yes and plan my run.
I watch a few more sets of waves and pick an incoming set. The ocean is flowing back out so I run for it. My pack is heavy, I brought a few extra items, field guides for birds, trees, fish and the weight slows me down and leans me side to side so I have no margin of error to stumble right now.
I don’t make it as far as I thought and the next incoming wave surges past me up the beach. I keep my feet planted and everything seems good. Then, the wave starts backing down the beach at a fast speed. My feet lose solid footing and I to roll out to sea over the cobbles. I reach both arms down into the water trying to stabilize on the bottom. My arms keep me from falling and I survive yet another risky bad decision.