Wednesday, June 14, 2006


When our old Volvo sedan died climbing Cayuse Pass on the backside of Mount Rainier, my dad gave us my Aunt Audrey’s ’63 Impala that had been sitting in her garage for ten or fifteen years. Just before ascending the Cascade Mountain Range from the foothills of the Yakama Indian Reservation, the engine in the Volvo had started bucking around under the hood due to a sheared engine bolt. The clothes hanger wire I used to lash it down worked OK, but by the time we were in view of the glacier, the transmission expired. After a white knuckle tow down the mountain in the dark behind a crazed logger’s pickup, we got an auto shop to transfuse enough life into the Volvo to limp the hundred miles back home to Whatcom Falls.

Our new protector--by then a classic car collector’s dream--was a mint condition cream with red interior automatic with plenty of room for our three hound dogs in the back seat and a trunk that held coolers and camping gear for four with room to spare. The Impala’s first trip was to the Olympic Peninsula, crossing on the Keystone Ferry to Port Townsend and driving along the Strait of Juan de Fuca bluff out to Cape Flattery on the Makah Indian Reservation, where we camped the first night next to the lighthouse and helped chase some stray horses away from the beach when a couple of Makahs passed herding their twenty or so horses down the dirt road banging a garbage can lid on the side of their slow-moving rusted pickup.

The next morning, before hiking into the beach camping area with our packs, we parked in a field next to the Makah Police Deputy’s mother’s house and gave her our keys along with ten bucks to keep an eye on our magnificent metal steed. A week later when we hiked out after living on clams and September sunsets and utter star-sparkled darkness, we encountered a stripped Volkswagen at the trail head, and experienced momentary anxiety until rounding the bend where our protector sat unmolested.

For the rest of the summer, the Impala took us and neighbor kids and dogs to the falls for evening swims and barbecues. In the fall, we loaded up with crabbing gear and hauled many a Dungeness up from Samish Bay tossing buckets and boots and beverages in the trunk and Borzois in the back seat. Come winter, we hauled hay and water twice a day to our two horses pastured on the other side of the woods. By December--after removing the back seat--I was making newspaper bundle drops, crawling up Yew Street Road in a foot of snow listening to Bing Crosby on the radio marveling at all the Christmas lights and moon over Lake Whatcom.

Soon after the holidays, when Marianne’s co-worker Robyn had a baby and announced she and her husband were moving to the Makah Res, we sold them Protector, which held all their stuff, including a crib, and kept them safe and warm as they traveled back to the rainforest in hail and sleet to a new home. We have no way of knowing, but--twenty years later--we suspect that Impala now spends its days herding horses and hauling salmon and kids and grandmas around Soos Beach and Neah Bay.

Maybe next time we visit Sol Duc Hot Springs it’ll be there with a couple of stout, purple-black ravens walking around checking it out.

--Jay Taber


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