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My Summer in the “Twilight” Zone

The summer of 1966 sticks out in my mind as an extremely memorable one and one that has not been repeated. The “Twilight Sagas” had not been written yet, but I can easily see why the author, Stephanie Meyers, chose the Forks, Washington, area as the setting for her vampire and werewolf novels because the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State is the perfect backdrop to a horror flick. That area receives over 150 inches of rain a year where the sun rarely shines and, when it does, the locals say sun lovers in that neck of the woods don’t tan. They rust.  

It’s a place where thick gray marine layers blanket the coastline and wend their way over the pebbled beaches, up the rocky cliffs and into the waterways, making the scenery look surreal.  Tall, dark green Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Coast Douglas Fir, and Western Red Cedar populate the forests thick with ferns and undergrowth, while emerald green mosses coat the bark of trees and drape from the branches, adding to the hauntingly beautiful landscape. This was the summer I spent in the “Twilight” zone.

In the months before my senior year at Western Washington State University in Bellingham, I found a job from June through the end of August working at the Bogachiel River Resort, which was located south of Forks, Washington, and north of the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula. The older, more rustic resort complex nestled in the tall pine trees and lying on the south bank of the Bogachiel River along highway 101 had a small, two-story grocery store that used to be a farmhouse with gas pumps near the front door. There were five wooden cabins between the store and the river for overnight tourist rentals, four of which were in rentable shape with the fifth one needing much repair because there was a large hole in the wooden floor around the toilet that had to be straddled when in use.

The owners of the resort were the parents of a college friend of mine who had worked there every summer; but this particular year, she had found a job as a forest ranger fire watch at a lookout station high up in the Olympic mountain range. As a result, Katy arranged for me to cover her duties at the resort for room and board plus minimal pay and stay in her attic bedroom. Mr. McKinley appreciated me because the drivers of the large logging trucks, some of which hauled two trailers stacked high with Western Red Cedar logs, each at least three feet in diameter, and traveled the route from the southern Rayonier logging forests up highway 101 to various sawmills on the way to Port Angeles and back again, would invariably stop at the resort to see the young, slim, blonde with the blue eyes dressed in tight blue jeans, stretch tops, and white tennis shoes pump gas and clean truck windows for them. 

It took at least an hour to fill the multiple gas tanks for one logging truck and McKinley’s gasoline sales soared that year. Amazingly, the trucks with their loads would line up along the shoulder of the highway approaching from the south to wait their turn and, at the height of the summer season, there must have been a half dozen logging trucks parked on hold to get gassed up. It was crazy! I had to climb up on the running boards of those huge rigs in order to reach over to wash the windows and, one time, a truck driver slammed the door on my little finger without realizing I was holding onto the door frame. Thank god the bone in that digit was small enough to fit into the door crack because it did not break – just had serious swelling and bruising for a couple of weeks.

I found my days full of pumping gas and washing windows for those large logging rigs as well as for cars of all kinds, vans, motor homes, camper trailers, busses, and smaller Ford and Chevy trucks. Between my gas station duties, I sold groceries, ice cream cones, sandwiches, beer, and dirty magazines to trailer park residents; sawmill workers, loggers, tourists, forest rangers, and Quiliute Indians. Occasionally, I rented out a cabin or two to strange looking couples, some married and some unaffiliated, some out-of-town tourists and some locals who were too drunk to drive home. 

One couple in particular seemed to have stepped out of the pages of the “Twilight Sagas,” because the gray haired man with the protruding Adam’s apple had lost his front teeth chewing tobacco, leaving a gaping black hole with two brown-colored incisors on either side that made him look like an old hillbilly vampire. His wife sported thick black hair streaked with gray, which hung down her back making her look like Morticia on the television show, “The Addams Family.” Without comment … or judgment … I handed them the key to cabin number three and wondered whether they had brought their fold-up, portable coffins with them to sleep in. The resort certainly didn’t have any spares. 

Contrary to the decades prior to the 1960’s, those were the days of ‘make love, not war’ (although we were still embroiled in Viet Nam), so few people thought much about unmarried couples sleeping together, especially since the birth control pill had been made accessible directly to all women, not just married women, and husbands did not have to sign for the wife anymore, thanks to the feminist movement. I didn’t care what others did because it was not my call, no matter what I thought personally. To each, his own, and I was getting paid to sell cabins… and secretly read all the dirty magazines on the rack in the grocery store in my spare time, which was an education to this somewhat religious, straight-laced college gal from south side Chicago … and a Missouri Synod Lutheran to boot. 

For appearances sake, I had to slip a Playboy into the center fold of a Women’s Day magazine, so it looked like I was reading “good girl” stuff, not “bad boy” smut to the customers and the owners alike. Mr. McKinney got a kick out of my perusing his literary material, but Mrs. McKinney was ‘old school’ and thought good girls just didn’t read those sorts of horrible magazines, so I had to be quick about hiding the reading material under the counter when she came out of the back living area into the store. I became quite good at sequestering the publications away in the shelves under the cash register because I wanted to read through every one of those sinful rags on the stand to educate myself before summer was done.

Most of the depraved periodicals were pretty watered down back then compared to what they are today and showed pretty females posed in all manners of dress or undress – on bear rugs, beaches, and beds, holding bongs, basketballs, and bananas with a stray Bambi thrown in – and the models were totally natural as well with no plastic surgery, no implants, no liposuction or Botox because those techniques had not been invented yet. Well, maybe plastic surgery, but it was not commonly used. Large boobs drooped a bit from the weight, mid-drifts sported emerging fat tires, and cellulite peeked from small patches on thighs and bottoms here and there. In short, the models were real women. I was glad to see that because, with those parameters, I had half a chance at being marriage material, which was almost every woman’s dream back then.

 The perfect figure was a size twelve like Marilyn Monroe’s was, although Twiggy would be changing that in the same year by making the feminine ideal into an emaciated, boney walking stick that literally disappeared into a thin line when she turned sideways. Twiggy look-alikes did make good “clothes hangers” (as Twiggy herself said), which fueled the fashion, diet, and exercise industry. On the negative side, her ideal also made every woman in the country feel fat, which was the advertising agenda after all. Women had to be made to feel fat to spend all that money trying to become thin like Twiggy and most failed, falling into such illnesses as anorexia and bulimia – terms not yet coined – while the fashion, beauty, diet, and exercise industries enjoyed record profits … and they still do to this day.

Many of the grocery store’s male customers lived in the area and worked at one of the local saw mills. As a result of their trade, many were missing fingers on one or both hands because of accidents with the circular saws at the mills – saws that could be as large as nine feet in diameter and were powered by water turning huge wheels or turbines.  The sawmill workers had the responsibility of feeding the raw logs lying on a belt into the circular saws by holding a large iron hook in their hands to hook the log and pull it over to the circular blade which cut it into plank boards. Sometimes, their grip would slip too closely to the moving saw and bloody fingers would go flying through the air. One rough and ready sawmill worker who lived in the trailer park across the highway only had a thumb left on his right hand, which made me wonder how he managed to pick his nose. His wife probably did it for him, I mused. That’s the way it was out there in the fringes of the “Twilight” zone. 

Sometimes, a Quiliute Indian or two would drive down from the La Push reservation to purchase groceries, beer, and dirty magazines at the resort store. I remember one nice-looking Native American man who would blush at having to buy his wife’s Modess pads, so I accommodated him by slipping the personal feminine item into a separate bag where other customers would not see the package. He would always thank me in Quiliute … at least I assumed he was thanking me. I would smile and reply with ‘you’re welcome’ every time. In retrospect, he could have said anything, even something downright dirty, and I would not have known because I did not speak Quiliute. Maybe that’s why he usually sported a lewd, leering grin as he walked out the grocery store door. 

Once a week on Mondays, I had to drive the four wheel drive Jeep along highway 101 up to Port Angeles to get grocery items for the store at the wholesale food warehouse on the east side of town. Once or twice, I stopped down at the Coho Ferry Terminal to say “Hi” to the customs officials (think Tom was one man’s name) because they knew my father who was the Officer-in-Charge of the U.S. Customs Station in the Victoria Harbor across the Straits of Juan De Fuca. Those trips were enjoyable because it felt like I was on vacation with all the beautiful scenery as I drove by the dark green Douglas Firs thick along the side of the road, passing them with a whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. I rode on the inside lane of the two lane highway that wound against the cliffs going around Lake Crescent on the way up to Port Angeles and felt fairly safe driving most of the route to the grocery warehouse. 

The logging rigs would travel that stretch of highway going fifty miles per hour plus, around curves, rocks, cliffs, and along the soggy banks of the lake which became flooded in a heavy rain and they would really haul ass going back to Forks at high speeds because they had no load, so I had to be vigilant to avoid a crash. That section of road was nerve wracking enough, but the worst part of the trip was when I had to travel from Port Angeles back to the Bogachiel Resort driving on the outside lane around Lake Crescent where the dirt shoulder was narrow before the lake bank dropped down into the water. That left me with little room to avoid hitting a rig going the other direction that had wandered into the outside lane because it hit the curve too fast. 

Lake Crescent was beautiful – almost a fairy tale lake especially when the fog hung low over the water in the mist – but my fingers turned white as I gripped the wheel driving that outside lane and my heart raced until I reached the open stretch of road south of the lake where the shoulders on both sides were wide and welcoming should I need to drive onto them. McKinley told me later that more than a few logging trucks lay at the bottom of the lake because they took the curves too fast and went flying into a watery grave. I wondered if the ghosts of the big rig drivers hung in that eerie mist over the water, just watching and waiting for the next big rig to fly out into the deep. 

I made friends with a young gal named Sherry who came to the store to shop from the trailer park where she lived and whose dad was the one with only a thumb left. She had a small motorcycle that she rode all over the place and, on one of my days off, she and I traveled down highway 101 on her motorcycle to the Hoh Rain Forest where we ran around through the mossy trees along the wet park paths and jumping over dead logs for the afternoon. We ended up acting like we were werewolves and vampires because the scenery with the dark green ferns, firs, draped mosses, and undergrowth that were almost black in the overcast light looked like it had jumped straight out of a gothic horror movie. Bella, Edward and Jacob could have been following us through the thick forest and we would never have known. 

Early one morning at around three a.m., the McKinley’s woke me up and took me moonlight clam digging at a beach up near La Push where we joined quite a few people from the Forks area who were holding buckets and shovels to catch clams as well. We parked the jeep along the forest road and made our way through the brush to the beach using flashlights to make our way in the dark. Once we got there, I scoured the sand with my flashlight to notice a few other people wandering around and kneeling down next to their buckets. I could also see little bubbles bursting from small holes in the sandy surface and McKinley told me those were clams exhaling air. He said that, to catch a clam, I should find a bubble and start digging as fast as I could before the clam ate its way down deeper where I could not reach its neck. And those giant clams traveled fast, believe me!

So, taking my trusty clam digger and bucket in one hand with my flashlight in the other, I ran to the bubbles and dug furiously, scooping sand over my shoulder, until I got deep enough to reach down and grab the clam by the neck to pull it out. That sucker was huge with a neck that was as big as my wrist! It seemed like everything grew large in that area, including the giant green rainforest slugs which were as thick as a man’s arm. After two hours of clam digging, filling four buckets full, we walked to the jeep and drove back to the resort where Mrs. McKinley showed me how to shuck our catch after which she fried them in real butter for breakfast. Those were by far the best clams I have ever tasted and my mouth waters today when I think of it.

My boyfriend from college came down to visit for a week and Mr. McKinley said he could stay in the farthest cabin in disrepair next to the river for free, so what’s-his-name-that-I-used–to-date moved in. We bought beer in the store after it closed and headed over to the cabin in the dark to drink and dance, tell jokes and talk about our hopes, wishes, and dreams. He brought his transistor radio with him on the trip and we managed to get one rock station from Forks full of static in order to listen to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones while we gyrated to the music around the cabin room. 

That’s when I learned about the hole in the toilet floor where mice, gophers, and snakes could climb into the structure, so we had to watch where we stepped especially in the dark. Since appearances were so very important back then, I would sneak back into the grocery store after midnight like a good girl and tip-toe up to the attic bedroom to crawl into bed for the night. It made Mrs. McKinley feel comfortable that I was not a slut … and kept me employed. Mr. McKinley could have cared less.

The McKinley’s told me that their daughter, Katy, said she would enjoy company at the lookout station, so the next day my boyfriend and I borrowed two sleeping bags from the store and drove up 101 to where a road angled off the pavement through the forest, seeming to head upward toward the Olympic range. There, we veered off the highway onto the two dirt tire ruts full of potholes with the yellow VW Beetle jumping and jerking its way over the mud as we climbed up a narrow switchback to get to the top of the mountain. When we arrived at the lookout station, which was on stilts fifty feet above the ground with a narrow step ladder leading overhead to a trap door in the floor, we had driven through the fog bank and out into the sunshine, so the Olympic Mountain scenery was stellar. 

Carrying sleeping bags and suitcase up that ladder into the lookout cabin, we joined Katy and her little dog for the night. Since the lookout structure had windows on all four sides, the views from that altitude were breath taking! We could see the Pacific Ocean with the marine layer hugging the shore in one direction and snow capped Mt. Olympus and Hurricane Ridge in the other direction. If the mountains had not been so high, we probably could have also seen Vancouver Island to the north. As a fire lookout, Katy had to use her binoculars to scan the mountain range for smoke constantly and she had a short wave radio to call in any fires.  My thoughts were that it was usually too wet and humid in that neck of the woods for fires to cause much damage, but watch for fires, she did, and I think she spotted one or two all summer. 

The outhouse was down the ladder and maybe twenty feet into the trees where bears and mountain lions could be a problem if a person had to visit the commode at night; but Katy had an old fashioned porcelain potty to use in the cabin for safety and convenience. Since there was no one around, she could dump its contents out through the trap door in the floor with no trouble at all. There was a small kitchenette against one wall stocked with bread and sandwich fixings, fruit, bottles of soda, crackers, and cookies as well as a bag of puppy food for her dog who kept her company. After visiting for awhile, we crawled into our sleeping bags to hunker down for the night and it got quite chilly up there at that altitude.

With everyone quiet and seemingly asleep, I noticed that I could almost hear the silence surrounding us. An occasional werewolf would howl and I did hear an animal rustling through the trees on the ground surrounding the lookout stilts. I can’t remember if Katy had a gun sequestered somewhere, but it would not surprise me if she did because she was alone for the duration of the summer. Forest rangers would drive up once every two weeks to stock her with food and toiletries … and to check on her situation. Other that that, the only company she had was her dog, the short wave radio, her books, occasional birds, and the deer, mountain lions, and bears that wandered around down below.

The day after we left the lookout far behind, we decided to explore the area near Cape Flattery, so drove up to La Push to wander around the Quiliute village passing through the tourist lodge gift shops to admire the hand woven baskets, stone carvings, and hand-woven rugs. Looking out to sea, we could see the sea stacks offshore looming large through the light foggy mist and framing the outline of James Island. Those sea stacks reminded me of huge sea monsters rearing their heads above the water in the dim light.

Leaving La Push to drive back down to Forks and the Bogachiel River, I noticed that the sky stayed overcast between the tall, dark pine trees, and the gray clouds leaked out a light rain which dripped down, coating all the needles, leaves, branches, and rocks in a shiny wetness as we drove along highway 101. We stopped at a food mart in Forks to buy a six pack of beer and proceeded to the Bogachiel River Bridge. Just before the river, my boyfriend turned the steering wheel of the VW Beetle to the right off the highway and onto a forest service road that ran along the banks of the fast moving rapids. The single lane road became unpaved dirt which had turned to mud and we bounced and sloshed our way through the muddy water filled potholes until the ruts all but disappeared into the fern filled and moss covered undergrowth. There we stopped, deciding to get out of the car to explore the river’s edge. 

We noticed a log jam a few yards up the bank, so we grabbed the six pack out of the trunk and made our way through the brush to where we could climb up on the large wet logs to walk along the timber tops and over dead branches to the center of the river where we sat down on the wet bark, opened a couple beer bottles, took a long drink, and surveyed the eerie scenery.  Along the side of the river, I could see fingers of fog floating between the tree trunks and through the ferns and brush in the thick dark green undergrowth. Even back then, I could imagine those forests being full of vampires and werewolves because the scenery was the perfect backdrop for a Dracula movie … or later, the “Twilight” series. The fast moving water under our feet churned and gurgled with the occasional fish jumping through the surface and into the air. I have to admit that, as we finished each beer, we would toss the bottles out into the rapids and watch them bounce and race downstream. That’s more aptly called littering and those bottles are probably precious beach glass now. 

I did wonder what would happen if that log jam became un-jammed and started moving, sending us floating and bobbing along with the dead logs all the way to the ocean; but the more beer we drank, the less important that issue became. Swinging our legs over the side of the largest log and leaving them to hang down close to the fast moving water, we talked about what we wanted to do when we graduated from college. My boyfriend wanted to become a business entrepreneur whereas I wanted to be an artist. Last time I heard, he did become what he wanted to become and I guess I did, too, in a part time sort of way. Life seemed good and anything was possible back then. It started to rain harder, so we decided to crawl back across the logs to where the car was parked and head back to the resort cabin before we got soaked.

The next day, we drove south along the highway to where a path led down a steep embankment to the pebbled beach below to explore the driftwood along the ocean shore. I can’t remember the name of this particular beach, but there were beaches all along the coast from Cape Flattery down to Ocean Shores. Walking along the tops of the largest driftwood and singing songs to the transistor radio, we made our way down over the beach pebbles to where there were large, dark caves in the cliffs. When the tide was out, we could explore the caves to see what treasures the ocean had washed up on shore. My boyfriend found a piece of blue beach glass that he gave to me and I picked up a sculptured piece of driftwood that looked strangely like a Bozo with a boner. Thought I would leave it in Katy’s bedroom, so she could use it to drive her mother crazy, which thought made us both chuckle.  

Going back to the pebble-coated beach, we both stood, arms around each other’s waist, and watched the pale light fade behind the clouds and fog at sundown. I remember that the song by Donavan called “Sunshine Superman” was playing on the transistor radio.

“…we stood on the beach at sunset … do you remember when? I know a beach where, baby, it never ends …”

And, with those music notes floating through the mist at dusk, I am sure Bella, Jacob and Edward were  watching us silently from inside the dark shadows of the sea cliffs, secretly wanting us to join them forever in the “Twilight” zone.