Roughly 7,700 years ago, high in the southern reaches of the Cascade Range, the 12,000-foot Mt. Mazama began to erupt with astonishing force. Over the course of several days, the volcano released a towering column of pumice and ash that reached 30 miles into the atmosphere, spewing debris across 656,000 square miles of what is now the western United States and southwestern Canada.
On November 4, 1875, under dark skies and a mounting gale, the sidewheeler Pacific collided with the sailing ship Orpheus as it rounded Cape Flattery en route to San Francisco. The Pacific sank almost immediately; only two of its 250 passengers and crew lived to tell the tale.
In the waning days of this past July, a killer whale—soon to be known to the world as Tahlequah—gave birth to a calf in the waters off the coast of Victoria, British Columbia. The event was a cause for celebration for Tahlequah’s endangered pod, whose 75 members had not seen a live birth in nearly three years. But within less than an hour, the calf had stopped moving.
Like so many adolescents who reached their formative years in an era of grunge, my introduction to Seattle came through music. I first heard its beauty in the voice of Chris Cornell, and I felt its darkness and melancholy in Kurt Cobain’s anguished howl. The city was strangely captivating for a place I’d never been—sparkling blue in summer, misty gray all winter, and the source of so much that channeled my teenage emotions.
As the 18th century came to a close, the British explorer George Vancouver set sail to survey the wild coast of the Pacific Northwest. Among his findings was a narrow pass at the tip of Fidalgo Island, where the tides moved with such force that Vancouver believed he had found the mouth of a great river. It wasn’t until his lieutenant, Joseph Whidbey, explored further that he realized he had discovered a second island—one that stood on the other side of this confounding Deception Pass.