The Edge of the World – Human/Nature

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

As soon as we could drive, my friends and I would pile in my ’78 two-tone brown VW Bus and head out to the edge of the world. It was so wet and so cold, I’d have to run the defroster on high the whole drive and have the windows cracked. With surfboards stacked inside, along the way we’d make the ritualized surf checks, turning our 3.5hr expedition into a full day. It’s was the journey and we always made the most of it, finding some wave, some beachbreak or rivermouth to get wet and catch a few waves.

Before the hype, we were often the only ones in the lineup. Maybe a sprinkling of locals or travelers, but otherwise, just us and the rolling fog beneath perched eagles staring off into the distance. Finally, after a long winding route, we’d make camp at the end where evergreen mountains and their scarred clearcuts dropped straight into the Pacific. It was where sea stacks stood the ultimate test of time, wavering to none but the water and wind. It was where gulls battled the chop and the bull-headed seals crested just beyond the break. They would come so close, emerging out of the murky grey waters, we’d often jumpstart with fear and begin paddling to shore until our hearts stopped thumping and we could laugh at each other. This was wild land; empty bone-chilling drip of strong tree stands whispering of a moss-strewn giant living among the hollows. Our edge of the world was Neah Bay and the Makah Reservation. Those were the memories.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

I return as often as possible, to relive and resume the wildness at the edge of the world. With surfboard or camera, life is different at Neah. Society at large has discovered its open beauty, and the thrill called surfing has become mainstream even along the frigid fickle northwest shoreline. We’re never alone now.

Recently, I returned on assignment for The Nature Conservancy during a 14-month long book project titled Human/Nature photographing the beauty, the bounty – the legacy – and the joys of Washington culture. I drove Deborah Kidd, the TNC project manager, out along the route of my windswept memories where we met TJ Greene. TJ is a Councilman on the Makah Tribal Council, who escorted Deb and I to the northern plateau jutting into the Pacific just beyond town. It was ancestral land, an outcropping I watched for years as I lulled over the swells and scanned the horizon. He pointed out midden, un-excavated artifacts left over from centuries past, as well as various plants and bark species his ancestors used for medicine. And in a clearing at the absolute edge of the world, he pointed to where one of the Makah people’s original longhouses once stood. It was a moment, a whole experience, that put perspectives into perspective, my memories cemented into a new appreciation for where I have been and who I’ve become. All those laughs with friends. All those frightening drops on monster storm-brewed waves pumped straight from the cold waters of the northern Pacific, dropped directly onto my head. The wildlife. The soaking woods. The storms, foggy windows, wipers screeching frantically. Holes in tents, sand between our toes, books on a beach log at sunset. They formed a part of me, made me me. This place gave so much and I knew so little of it.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

TJ brought me and Deb back into town and showed us around during the annual Makah Days celebration, where we ate cedar smoked salmon with potatoes and watermelon while watching canoe races in the bay. We slowed down to take in the moment; the sounds of laughter and shouts of encouragement, the millennia this land at the edge of the world has heard these sounds pass by.

For more information regarding Human/Nature visit The Nature Conservancy.

www.CameronKarsten.com

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