Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Lost Weekend, Day Two, Part Two.

Okay. Time for the evening activities, including -- ta da! -- The Fireworks At Neah Bay.

Dan gets cleaned up, and I get a nap, and we wait 'till about 7:00 on a beautiful sunny afternoon, with a cool breeze coming off the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Mapquest it). I recalled I hadn't cornered Ken Dehnert yet, and since I'm taking the camera anyway, we drive up and stop off at his house. It's easy to recognize. With a view of the Strait, Ken has filled his yard full of 1/2 life-size wooden, painted killer whales, swimming and diving through the grass like water.

I wanted to do an interview about Ken and his work, but he doesn't want any more publicity -- he gets enough from people just driving by. He's happy doing gnome-style trees and selling a few paintings. He's been through the gallery thing and the agent thing, and he doesn't want that again. And that's why a lot of these people are up here -- whatever they do, art, fishing, writing, you name it -- they want to enjoy what they do, have a bit of a day job, and be left alone. Ya gotta respect that. And if there's anyplace you could do that, it's here.

Just be on the lookout for Ken's killer whales. Because the first time you see 'em, you'll nearly drive off onto the beach. They're that great. Slow down, and you'll catch the two harbor seals and the sea lions poking up out of the grass sea and watching the pod.

So we go ahead and drive up on up the coast to Neah Bay. The light is limpid on the water and the Kalakala, the streamlined ferry, quietly rusting away in the outer harbor. We didn't quite know where the fireworks were, so we looked for someplace that might be open. On the left side of the road was a fry-bread stand, homemade, out of plywood. We pulled onto the right side of the road. I hopped out of the car and walked toward the stand. A group of people was sitting across from the stand, in front of our car, and a young woman in an apple-leaf-green jacket jumped up and came running toward me.

"I'm sorry!" she grinned. "We're still warming up the oil!"

I said, "No, I just wanted to know where the fireworks were."

"Oh, they're down by the elder center, down by the beach. It's really something if you watch it from there, but all the smoke is hard on the breathing. This is my family," she said, and swept an arm at them. "And we just sit here across from our house, and watch from here."

"It's about 10:00?"

"Yup. You want to join us? We're just bone-gaming. Have a seat!"

"Hey, can I go get my husband?"

"Of course!"

I went back and got Dan. We slipped in on one of the raised logs that were set up around the folding chairs where the family was sitting. They were drumming and chanting, and using what appeared plastic thread spools as "bones." What looked like thick chopsticks with sparkly blue ends were the ten counting sticks. Maybe they were made of bone, bleached white. The point of the game didn't so much seem to be the count of sticks, as how much fun they could have doing complicated fake-out hand-movements and chants, to the rhythm of a hide drum. I kinda sorta started to figure out the rules, with the help of one of the guys, while I petted a "Really Stinky" dog, as he was called, a handsome friendly guy -- "He's always finding something stinky to roll in," said the guy, rubbing the dog's head affectionately. The dog's name meant "Lightning" in the Makah language, but they used a short version (my apologies for my bad memory, as usual). The funniest, liveliest member of the family was the grandmother, in her baseball cap, brightly patterned blanket, and big smile. She was good at winning the sticks.

The man with the drum across from her who kept losing sticks to her said, "I'm respecting my elders, is what I'm doing. See? This is respecting my elders," he said, and threw Grandma another stick while she clapped and hooted at him and told him to keep right on respecting them elders.

The woman who had invited us chatted with me, and turns out she's a teacher at the Neah Bay school. Pretty quick, we'd exchanged phone numbers. Neah Bay has plenty to say, culturally, socially, and politically. Nuee V. Ward says she has dances and cultural events I need to bring my camera to, and write articles about. Good things!

Dan had had to leave to find a restroom, but he was gone for a bit so I thanked the family for their hospitality, and took off with the car to find Dan. I found him walking back. He hadn't found a restroom, but he'd walked off his stomach cramps wandering out toward the Kalakala, and he felt better.

We drove on toward the beach, and at the far end of the beach area, parked in front of the Elders Center. Porta-potties! Whee! I'm always glad to see those. I grew up traveling in the woods and using those old rotten wooden restrooms. I'm sorry for being such a plastic person, but them old restrooms reeked. Americans don't know how to compost human manure cleanly and safely, without filth and smell. We're not Koreans or the Chinese, after all. The best we can do is use a lot of chemicals to stop the stink and the infective capabilities of what comes out of our own bodies. I apologize for using Porta-potties, but I wish I had stock in the franchises.

We wandered out on the beach and the kids around us were beginning to set off good ol' Fourth-0f-July Fireworks. Big dogs wandered calmly around, grinning, helping out. The kids all had big long lit punks in their hands, and were hauling handfuls and backpacks of fireworks down to the sandy beach. The beach was already full of burnt out firework bits. There were rockets of every size. And burning whirly things, and spinning things, and huge explosive things. Whoa. You couldn't buy these brutes back in Seattle, I tell ya. We got off the beach so the burning bits didn't end up on our heads and set us on fire.

By now, we realized we should have brought something to eat and drink, because this wasn't some kind of fair or public display. This was a family get-together, and most places were closed. People were there to enjoy themselves, blow off fireworks, sell a couple sweatshirts for funding for Makah Days, and have cookouts on the beach. We were definitely getting the munchies, and we were quite a ways from Nuee's family -- we wouldn't have wanted to infringe. Though, come to think of it, they would probably have been proud to share; "Makah" means "People who will feed you" on the Northwest coast. We could always have bought some of that good coffee and frybread from them. Maybe next year, we could bring something nice along, and join in. We had to hunt around to find a place still selling food, and got lucky.

In a little blue building, built within the last year, we discovered Raven's Corner, the art gallery, had moved out of its house and into a business cubicle. The art's gorgeous -- nothing naive or primitive about this. It's modern developments of the living, breathing Northwest Coastal Art. If this stuff was good in 1895, it's even more vibrant today. An "exploding" Raven mask, opened to show the inner beak lined with turquoise-painted filigree, and the Sun in bright beaten silver. Price: $3000.00. That was a lot of work, in carving and metalwork and painting, and a lot of precious metal. Worth the price. And it will appreciate. Wish I had the money.

We found, in the same building, a little pizza place. Smelled good. So we went in and ordered one, a large with one topping -- pepperoni -- and a couple soft drinks. Root beer and -- lord knows why, for me -- strawberry soda.

We went outside to sit on a picnic table, smoke a clove cigarette -- I wasn't used to tobacco any more and would have a hangover the next day -- and watch the clouds go golden, and the fireworks come out bright against the tall forested hills. A couple guys speaking Makah stood in the dusk. In a half hour, we figured the pizza was ready.

Not quite. But we'd gotten pretty chilled, and it was nice to stand in the warm shop. And it smelled good. A handsome 80-year-old woman was listening to soft native pipes, on a CD played on a big bright silver-colored tapedeck, radio and CD player. She and her daughter, who ran the shop, said their mother/grandmother had died at 100, and they both planned to do the same (so there!).

Here came the pizza. We headed back to the picnic bench. We hadn't had a pizza in a while.

That was the best pizza I'd ever eaten, including homemade. The base was a big, thick, rustic white flour crust, cooked slowly until it was perfectly dry and light, slightly browned. It was brushed with just enough savory tomato sauce, and sprinkled with just enough fresh cheese, to fill your mouth with flavor, and there was one layer of pepperoni over the top. There was no grease dripping off the filling, and the bread wasn't soggy. It was like a big fry-bread "Indian Taco," but baked instead of fried. It was so delicate and greaseless you could have eaten it and then picked up a book and read it without wiping your hands. We were both well-satisfied. Price, pizza and soda and tip? $14.50. We know what we're eating next Fourth of July. And we know where we're going to be. Man, the First Nations got ahold of white flour and just do these amazing flatbreads with it; talk about fortuitous cultural combinations. It's all good.

We're going to be in Neah Bay for the Fourth because of the fireworks. We settled down on bleachers near the community dance-floor above the beach. As it got darker, a man came up and said to everybody on the bleachers:

"We got the kegs right down here." He pointed to the beach, about 50 feet away in the deepening dusk, where we saw a few dozen big black kegs with silvery sealed tops, standing out against the water. "So if anything goes wrong, get ready to run."

Not "You have to move back," or "This isn't a safe zone," or "State law requires you leave this area." Just: this could be dangerous, but you're an adult, and if you're here, keep your wits about you. And watch that little girl you got with you.

One guy said, "Does this mean we're not quite bright?"

I said, "Well, maybe it means that some of us are just near-sighted."

We watched the kids' fireworks growing in intensity and color. Dan blinked and grinned and said, "Mad moment," referring to wild shootouts in Vietnam.

Some fireworks bounced across the water. "Dat'll wake dem salmon up," said a guy on the bleachers behind us.

Pretty soon another guy comes up and says, "We're setting off a line, now, so we're gonna start. So be ready."

Down on the dance floor, about 30 feet from us, they were laying out a row of big dark-red crackers about 25 feet long. And when those things took off, crackling loud in a myriad of white flames, well, I knew my hearing wasn't going to be the same for a few hours, and I was going to be seeing purple spots for the next fifteen minutes.

The fireworks started up from the kegs, and I started trying to take photos with my lousy little digital -- missed practically everything -- needed a faster shutter speed. Nemmind. I've never gotten to sit this close to professional fireworks. It was stupendous. One green short round blew up too close to the ground, and a shower of golden fire rained down all around all of us on the bleachers. Everybody was ooing and ahing until we realized this was a mistake, and an almost-better run. It was chilling and glorious.

After innumerable explosions, including fancy fireworks the like I'd never seen, the finale came -- a flaming Old Faithful of spiraling white fire. Backed by dozens of red and orange and green round blasts. Fire was raining down like mad, right in front of us.

The colored blasts and the white columns died out, and the audience was completely silent. They were waiting for something. And it came.

From the water, side-by-side, like a mined and sunken battleship, came three huge gouts of red-orange-and-pink flames. The effect was -- no, you had to see it. You just had to see it. I can use all the damn adjectives I want, and you're not going to get it. Mark TWAIN couldn't make you do more than imagine it in soft focus. It was just… incredible.

The white columns went up again. This time they were accompanied by screaming bee-blasts of metallic gold and silver, exploding by the thousands nearly simultaneously, like stars and comets trying to imitate the Big Bang. Those of us on the bleachers were gasping and laughing and howling like idiots. It was unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

The columns and bee-blasts went out, leaving the audience dizzy and hardly able to cheer.

And once again, up went The Fireworks From The Water, and I'm no more able to get an idea of those things across now than I was the first time. Everybody finally got up and yelled and cheered -- and then everybody went for the trucks to get home and have some more parties. The Makah evidently do Party real good.

Dan said the only time he'd seen better fireworks was in Vietnam, and those weren't as pretty. He also said he was glad he hadn't brought a folding chair – just in case he had to Run.

Dan was worried about all those trucks and cars rolling around us, but I said, "Well, you'd have to worry if those were pushy white people, all standing on their rights and privileges, but these people's attitude is that if you're driving, you're responsible for your vehicle, and you'd better not run down a kid or a grandma. Think of the trucks as Indian Ponies. They go around people."

We kept running into Makah who were asking people what they thought. All I could say was "unbelieveable." "Just unbelieveable." They were pretty proud of the display. Wouldn't you be?

Anyway, that's why I spent most of today in bed, freezing and hungover from tired; I have to let my heart and circulation get up and running again. Doing perty good now. Tea and rest and comic books – the gods' little remedies.

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