Atlantis Arisen/Chapter 3
ABOUT THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA.
Where the Columbia meets the sea, in an almost continuous line of surf, is some distance outside the capes; but from the one to the other of these—that is, from Cape Hancock to Point Adams—is seven miles. Should the sea be calm on making the entrance, nothing more than a long, white line will indicate the bar. If the wind be fresh, the surf will dash up handsomely; and if it be stormy, great walls of foam will rear themselves threateningly on either side, and your breath will be abated while the quivering ship, with a most "uneasy motion," plunges into the thick of it, dashes through the white-crested tumult, and emerges triumphantly upon the smooth bosom of the river.
The north channel, which is now little used, comes in pretty close under a handsome promontory. This promontory is the Cape Hancock of Captain Cray and the United States government, and the Cape Disappointment of the English navigators and of common usage, since the long residence in the country of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Inside the base of the cape, we find ourselves in a pretty little harbor, called Baker's Bay from its discoverer, with an island or two in it, and surrounded by sloping shores, originally densely covered with a growth of spruce, fir, and hemlock, with many varieties of lesser trees and shrubs. Along the strip of low land, crescent-shaped and edged with a sandy beach, are the recently abandoned quarters of the garrison of Fort Canby, for the cape was fortified during the civil war—when our government had some distrust of the friendliness of the English and French powers, and some fears of Confederate cruisers—with several powerful batteries.
There is also a light-house at the point of the cape, in which a first-class Fresnel light is kept, tended by the resident of a modest mansion under the shelter of the hill, and we are tempted to take the path winding around and about up to the top of the promontory. What fine trees! What a luxuriant undergrowth!
Sauntering, pulling ferns and wild vines, exclaiming at the shadows, the coolness, the magnificence of the forests, we come at last to the summit, and emerge into open ground. Here all is military precision and neatness: gravelled walks, grassy slopes and terraces, whitened walls. When we have done with the contemplation of guns and earthworks, we turn eagerly to gaze at the sea; to watch the restless surf dashing itself against the bar; to catch that wonderful monotone—"ever, forever."
The fascination of looking and listening would keep me long spellbound; but our escort, who understands the symptoms, politely compels us "to move on," and directly—very opportunely—we are confronted with the light-house keeper, who offers to show us his tower and light. Clambering up and up, at last we stand within the great lantern, with its intense reflections, and hear all about the life of its keeper,—how he scours and polishes by day, and tends the burning oil by night. When we ask him if the storm-winds do not threaten his tower, he shakes his head and smiles, and says it is an eerie place up there when the sou'westers are blowing. But, somehow, he likes it; he would not like to leave his place for another. Then we climb a little higher, going out upon the iron balcony, where the keeper stands to do his outside polishing of the glass. The view is grand; but what charms us most is a miniature landscape reflected in one of the facets of the lantern. It is a complete copy of the northwestern shore of the cape, a hundred times more perfect and beautiful than a painter could make it, with the features of a score of rods concentrated into a picture of a dozen inches in diameter, with the real life, and motion, and atmosphere of nature in it. While you gaze enchanted, the surf creeps up the sandy beach, the sea-birds circle about the rocks, the giant firs move gently in the breeze, shadows flit over the sea, a cloud moves in the sky; in short, it is the loveliest picture your eyes ever rested on.
When we ask the light-keeper, "What do you do when the thick fogs hang over the coast?" he shows us a great bell, which, when the machinery is wound up, tolls, tolls, tolls, solemnly in the darkness, to warn vessels off the coast. "But," he says, "it is not large enough, and cannot be heard any great distance. Vessels usually keep out to sea in a fog, and ring their own bells to warn off other vessels."
Then he shows us, at our request, Peacock Spit, where the United States vessel of that name was wrecked, in 1841; and the South Spit, nearly two miles outside the cape, where the "Shark," another United States vessel, was lost in 1846. The bones of many a gallant sailor and many a noble ship are laid on the sands, not half a dozen miles from the spot where we now stand and look at a tranquil ocean. Nor was it in storms that these shipping disasters happened. It was the treacherous calm that met them on the bar, when the current or the tide carried them upon the sands, where they lay helpless until the flood-tide met the current, and the ship was broken up in the breakers. Pilotage and steam have done away with shipwrecks on the bar.
We are glad to think that it is so. Having exhausted local topics for conversation, we descend the winding stairs, which remind us of those in the "Spider and the Fly," so hard are they to "come down again." How still and warm it is down under the shelter of the earth-works! Descending by the military road, we come out near the life-boat house,—for there is a life-saving station here,—and, being invited, go in to look at it. We find it well furnished for its duties, which evidently have been well performed, for here are the names of half a dozen vessels of different sorts which have been rendered service in their hour of peril.
There is annually great loss of life among the fishermen at the mouth of the Columbia, and it is here principally that the life-saving station is most useful. The number of men rescued during some seasons has reached half a hundred. The fishermen have recognized this service by presenting the captain of the crew with a powerful glass, and the men wear medals of which they are very proud. Having inspected the well-kept boats, ropes, and buoys, we take a look at the fishing-tackle, with which the light-house keeper goes out to troll for salmon. Glorious sport! The great, delicious fellows, to be caught by a fly! But we, humans, need not sermonize about being taken by small bait.
Baker's Bay is not without its little history; albeit, it is nothing romantic. In 1850 a company conceived the plan of building up a city, under shelter of the cape, and expended a hundred thousand dollars, more or less, before they became aware of the fruitlessness of their undertaking. By mistake, portions of their improvements were placed on the Government Reserve, to which, of course, they could have no title. Yet this error, although a hinderance, was not the real cause of the company's failure, which was founded in the ineligibility of the situation for a town of importance. The buildings went to decay, and the site was finally overgrown with a young forest of alders, spruce, and hemlock. But after many years the title to the land was confirmed to the early speculator, and the town of Ilwaco, a summer resort, has grown up on the site of obsolete "Pacific City."
There is a fine beach-drive of twenty miles from the cape up to the entrance of Shoal water Bay, and several seaside resorts are scattered along it. From Ilwaco to Sea-Land is sixteen miles, this distance being traversed by the Ilwaco and Shoal water Bay Railroad, which has several stations, namely, Stout's, Centreville, Tinker's, Loomis, Ocean Park, and Sea-Land, the present terminus. The cottages of summer residents are scattered along for two miles from Ilwaco, after which the road runs past waving fields of grass and grain, and thrifty vegetable gardens. For a part of the distance the ocean is in full view, its long rollers seeming to attack the beach with a purpose to demolish it, receding and renewing the onslaught perpetually. The scene is rendered more wild by the dense growth of dwarf timber covering the low land stretching back to an arm of Shoalwater Bay lying to the east. Many fresh-water lakes or lagoons dot this long peninsula, which, with its black, rich soil, would make profitable cranberry fields.
At Ocean Park there is a grove of gnarled spruce-trees through which streets have been cleared from the railroad to the beach, making beautiful vistas through which one may catch glimpses of the sparkling sea. The trees which brave the heavy northwest wind of summer, and the terrible strength of the winter's southwest storms, lean inland, and have a stunted appearance very different from the straight, tall timber of the river bottoms and mountains.
Sea-Land is situated in a spruce forest, on the inner shore of the peninsula, fronting Shoalwater Bay, the clearing being of very recent date. It has a wharf and warehouse extending half a mile into the bay. Several small steamers ply on these waters, carrying passengers to and from towns on the mainland side, whence railroads in the near future will convey them to Gray's Harbor, or into the interior of Washington.
To a sportsman with sufficient hardihood to invade the rugged and heavily-timbered mountains on the east side of Shoalwater Bay, bear, elk, and deer offer temptations. Bear are numerous, and keep fat on the wild fruit of this region,—whortleberries, sallal, and salmonberries. They also invade the apple-orchards of the settlers, and have to be trapped for their presumption.Returning as we came, we take the "General Canby" at Ilwaco to cross the Columbia. Such is its expanse that, although its course brings us off Chinook Point, we have but an indistinct view of it. Not as it was eighty years ago, as Franchere and Irving and Cox wrote about it,—a populous Indian village,—the dwellings of the white invader overshadow the ancient wigwams. Even its burial-ground, memelose illihee, which freely translated means "spirit country," is profaned. Alas! nothing of one race is sacred to another; least of all is there anything in common between the white and the red man.