The Mukilteo Ferry

I love custodians. Here on Polyform, we bring you stories about, among other things, custodians I've met. On our next episode, the story of T. the Custodian, former roadie for the 70's girl band "Thundermama."

In other news, my housemate S. performs a hilarious impersonation of Isabella of Castile forcing the last Emir of Granada to give up the Alhambra, set to the music of Andres Segovia. (Isabella speaks with a pronounced Castilian lisp.)

I have enabled the anti-anonyspam defenses. Yes, it's true, even my patience has limits.

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You have to sail across a channel on a ferry to get to Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound. Swathed in mist, the freeway slowly sprouts lanes blazing with strange signs and weird imprecations commanding commuters to line up for ferry traffic, strange in that such traffic was largely invisible up until the ferry itself was ready to leave. For much of the time, our van was rolling slowly through the fog in a spectral, desolate world. Larger signs, and skeletal archways loom suddenly, as traffic patterns diverge and then converge again, all haloed in feeble lights that somehow seem bravely vulnerable in the fog. And the water is grey and still, like a lake, except the Sound opens directly onto the ocean in the far north, and you can taste the ocean air carrying hints of spices and an archipelago far more vast than these mere shores. Seagulls stand on lampposts watching things, and waiting for the ferry.

The ferry itself is a massive, robust affair of steel and pavement, essentially a parking garage set on a boat hull. The dock supports a causeway, lined with riveted girders and wooden piles, and the lip of the causeway rests on the deck of the ferry, with the traffic lines and the seams of the paving lining up like the teeth of a zipper. Inside, heavily insulated ferry employees wearing watch caps and reflective surfaces quickly usher in the crowd of vehicles that suddenly materialized in the mist, and as the lines are cast off and the ramps are roped closed, a curious restiveness settles on me, and I know how seagulls feel when they reluctantly fold their wings and wait for the right wind.

The ferry sails so slowly and so steadily that the dull, thrumming murmur in the distance, and the slow progression of seascapes glimpsed through the open girders of the boat, are the only signs that the ferry is under way. The dock and the forested hills recede into mist behind us, and soon there is only the still water and the billowing fog. Beside us, the seagulls keep pace so perfectly in the air that they seem not to move at all, but rather it is the world beneath them that is slowly gliding past.

And inevitably you think of ferry literature, of Charon and his cold coins, the Moor's last sigh, hobbits scrabbling away from Ringwraiths, Egyptian crocodiles and Israelites hidden in the bulrushes, pale arms wielding magical swords breaking the mirror-surface of the water.

Ahead of me, Whidbey Island slowly resolves out of the stillness of sea and mist. Pilings and moorings heavily festooned with large reflective surfaces seem slowly to approach us, as though our ferry were the island anchored in the water, and the rest of the world were afloat. Ukiyo-e, the Floating World again. Dew mists the windshield and shines on our sleeves. The lights of the island are pale and clear. The trees are so thick that they melt into the mist, as though tree and fog were merely distinctions of shade on the watercolor canvas before us. As we arrive, the seagulls settle onto their lampposts, and wait for the next ferry.

More soon,



sirbarrett said...

har har sailor! Reminds me of this: http://sirbarrett.blogspot.com/2005/07/seagull-acted-as-concierge-to-island.html

Those seagulls with their leisurely lifestyle.

sirbarrett said...

I can't wait! I think it is just the world moving, not the ferry. Do you ever get to see albatross? I especially like the part about the trees fading. Very mysterious, like you're seeing an uninhabited land for the first time.