My Happy Place

Life is the hospital where healing takes place.

Oliver Sacks

The happy little girl you see above was born less than four years after the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In that photo, if my estimate is correct, I would have been about three or four years old, so the nation was still raw, recovering from the greatest war the world had ever known.

At four years old, of course, I knew nothing about that reality. I was on a camping trip with my family, one of our favorite places in Olympic National Park, and I was seated next to my big brother, who would of course protect me no matter what happened in the world. In that world the good guys wearing the white hats always prevailed. The Lone Ranger and Tonto were there looking out for me, along with my big brother, Pat.

That innocence would not last. It never does of course. A few years after that photo was taken I started school, and as early as the first grade I remember participating in air raid drills, during which we would all hover under our school desks, crouching on our knees with our hands laced behind our heads as if to assure protection. I grew up in a city that was less than ten miles from two large military bases, so I assume the district believed that Tacoma’s children were at greater risk than children in other districts.

Whatever the reason, even as a first grader I never questioned the risk. What I questioned was the whole idea that crouching under a desk was gong to keep me safe. Even then I was rapidly learning that not everything adults tell you can be trusted. War movie reruns had replaced Hop-along Cassidy on our family’s television by that time, and I would watch them with my brother after school. It was not hard to figure out that my school desk would provide flimsy protection if bombs should drop from the sky. I needed a Plan B.

Fortunately for me that was easy. The following summer my family planned our usual camping trip in the Olympics, and as our old Chrysler made its way to the Staircase Rapids Campground, I followed every detail of that journey, noting where we turned off Highway 16 to cross the Purdy Spit, where we headed around Hood Canal, and the turnoff near the Skokomish River Power Plant that would take us up a dirt road to the campground. I went over the route again and again in my mind until I was confident that I could get there by myself on my bicycle if I needed to, and certainly war and devastation was a good reason to head for a safe place, a better option than crouching under my desk.

When you are seven years old a safety plan does not need to be rational. I knew only that I felt happy and protected there. Whatever was happening in the world, at Staircase there was fresh trout for dinner every night, long walks by the river, and the smell of vanilla leaf in the meadow. Yes, all would be well at Staircase Rapids.

Old now. Wiser perhaps. The risks we face today seem even more ominous than bombs dropping from the sky, and I long for the childhood magic that enabled me to believe that a campsite by a river would make everything okay. Perhaps it is still possible to go to that Happy Place and feel the relief that comes from knowing that at least here, in the meadow by the river, everything is exactly as it should be.

I leave today for my twice yearly trip to spend time with friends and red rock under Arizona’s blue sky. My friend has a remote cabin in the Painted Desert, and going there in the fall and spring has become a kind of pilgrimage for me. I have decided not to publish this blog for a few weeks. I do not want to be distracted by trips to town to charge the batteries of my laptop and use the wi-fi at the library. I would rather immerse myself totally in the desert, dry out and shrivel up if necessary.

Yes, shriveling up. That does not seem like such a bad plan. It is no more nor less rational than riding my bicycle to Staircase Rapids as a little girl, battered by a threat I could not possibly comprehend. And so for now I will place my trust in the desert, in the blue sky, in the red rocks, in the rapids, in the meadow, in all the wild places over many years where I have felt safe and happy. I hope that you have one of those places.

Published by Colleen Drake

Colleen Drake (AKA Teacup) has over sixty years of hiking exerience (yes, I'm really old) and has seen some pretty big changes over those many years. Join her on the Solitude Trail & share some of these adventures while exploring with her the value of solitude in the wilderness.

One thought on “My Happy Place

  1. Hi.  The round house is my plan B 


    div>also.  We can be safe there together. 😀J

    Sent from my iPhone


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