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16 February, 2011

Backroads: Blue Slough

Head west, Olympian, on the ever-narrowing free way up I-5, stay right and swing onto 101, veering off to 8, crossing the black firested hills. Coming down into flat fields and eventually you find yourself on a road called Route 12, advancing on the sprawl of Aberdeen. The city's welcome sign says "Come as You Are," Nirvana fans.

And then suddenly you're on 101 again. Somehow you skipped driving around the Olympic peninsula, which means you have gained a good part of a day. Thank me later.

South across the Chehalis, writhing through miles of mud. Alder and cedar swamp. But you cross a river filled and dredged, urbanized. The ancient salmon weirs and piles for piers, piles for booming, and piles for every other purpose you can think of become entombed in mud or rot and contribute to a cargo of wood from twig to buttswell that rides this river seaward.

And then when the tide shifts, the wood drifts back inland. Into the river, its branches and limbs, its sticks and twigs.

Crossing the river was a beginning toward leaving that, though before doing so you pass through a town with one of my favorite names: Cosmopolis.

Hang a left onto Blue Slough road. That rhymes, in case you're not  familiar with Middle English landscape terms. It refers to a mire, a muddy place, often a river inlet, sometimes tidal. Blue Slough and its ilk nearby meet all of these conditions. The road is a narrow two laner, alder thicketedly woven into the mudflats on one side, a coarse blanket that must ripple during earthquakes and maybe some storms.

The effect of driving through in winter is a smear of grey. (So was the urban part, come to think of it, but I like that as whole lot less.) The clouds either just dark or flirting with lighter, but often brightening no more than an overcast day's glare on the thinned of diesel-sheened mudflat. The alders, buds just starting their spring blush, closer up and whipping by in what still ends up more blur than color. In the occasional house, people warm themselves with woodfires, their smoke smudging further the already greyny picture.

Stop, though, and color has time to compose itself, to make a showing. Down in the bottomland, trees shredding the wind high above you, the ground air motionless. A red fisherman's bobber, dropped in the sedges by a high tide. Patches of shamrocks, dappled or spotlit as the canopy whim decides.

Several times I've made this drive. The road is the wrong way to experience the place. A canoe would be much better. Ride the tide up Blue Slough, or maybe Preachers Slough now that it's not blocked by a culvert. Twist through the floodplain, maybe see some swamp mystery and live to tell about it. Get watched by eagles above and who knows what below in the muddy water. Slow down, drift, lift the veil.

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