Walk the land, and understand

APPROACHING A BEACH, ON THE WEST SIDE OF BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – We are descending from the highest point on the island, elevation ca. 400 feet near Gazzam Lake, to the lowest, a rocky shoreline on the banks of Port Orchard Bay, with surprisingly few strides. Stretches of 40 percent grade will do that.

Stalks of morning sunlight shoot down through the thinning canopy above; despite the lateness of the season, we manage to surprise a few broad leaves in mid-plummet. It’s our second trek along this trail in three days; while we have hiked or biked most of Bainbridge Island, certainly its parks and dedicated open spaces, these vertiginous 64 acres are very much their own experience and invite another visit.

This is land that revels in its own topography, that commands a visceral response as certainly as a sure foot and, on the way back up, a sturdy heart. Merely following the beaten path will take you in the wrong direction entirely; before bumbling into the remote end of Crystal Springs, one must turn north up a vague path denoted by a wooden stake and the few footprints of those fortunate enough to share this secret.

Then it’s up to the crest of a steep slope and a hidden valley beyond. That’s when you have arrived.

The Close-Foecke property northwest of Gazzam Lake – under consideration for purchase by the city and land trust, at a total cost of $2.5 million – reminds us why we live in the Pacific Northwest, and why islanders passed an $8 million levy to capture a few of its local corners for long-term enjoyment. This is the type of open space preservation around which a community – an entire community – can rally around. Willing buyer and willing seller, the fundamental principle on which the levy campaign was premised and so enthusiastically embraced.

The land is here not for the taking, but for the giving. On

this morning, a companion delights in the tactile surprise of moss at the base of a tree, the brush of ferns against passing legs. Farther along the path, perched at the edge of a dramatic ravine, we pass what is surely amongst the largest Douglas firs on the island, the massive ribs of its bark the dignified wrinkles of an aging giant.

On the beach, there is a small stone of black basalt, said to be incongruous on this side of the island, caressed to smoothness by the same forces that carried it here from some distant shoreline. There is the gleaming inner whorl of a moon snail, its shell a shattered ruin; a yard away, half a clam shell sits amidst the rocks, a perfectly rounded hole betraying a fatal breach by the snail’s clever tooth.

That is this land’s secret: it reminds us that most of what really matters on the planet takes place out of sight. It offers precious portals into these smaller moments, that greater plan.

In the face of creation, $2.5 million looks very much like a bargain. Walking this land, one comes to understand.

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