Saturday, August 16, 2014

Easter at the beach in a Coastal Fort

Friends from the lower mainland invited us to join them for the Easter weekend on Puget Sound. We started with a two night stay at Fort Wardon, a Washington state park. The park, one component of a set of four forts guarding the entry to Puget Sound, was built between 1897 and 1902. With some one thousand coastal artillery soldiers, plus the wives and children of the officers, the fort was really a small town. The state park now operates the site as a conference centre and has an interesting and varied array of rental properties available to visitors.

We opted for one of the more luxurious officers quarters, three large bedrooms, and a small single bedroom for the servant. Unfortunately we forgot to bring our servant with us so that room remained empty. The main floor included a modern kitchen, a grand dining room and a comfortable sitting room with a working fire place. The large veranda was a treat.

Our Easter Dinner party
The view from the veranda was brilliant. A broad sward of grass sloped away from the house and opened a view to the beach and lighthouse beyond. Further away yet we could identify familiar mountains in our own country. From here as well we could watch the ferries and freighters connecting Seattle to the wider world. Even so it wasn't hard to pretend that we were still comfortably ensconced in the pleasant, self-satisfied western world that, in 1910, still thought itself the highest order of world civilization. A half century of brutal global warfare was still unimaginable. What bliss.

The massive blocks of concrete acting as the base for the large guns (removed and sent to France in WW I) sprawl around the perimeter of the large hill anchoring the northeastern corner of the Olympic peninsula. An early morning stroll through these silent monuments allowed the imagination plenty of scope. Squads of young men marching along the road, the efficient machinery of iron and steel swinging about at the orders of peak-capped officers and the sudden explosion of sound and air pressure as the guns are fired.

Fort Worden, Battery Benson #2 Gun Firing, 1915 (University of Washington Archive)
But this morning it is quiet. The sough of the huge spruce trees and my footsteps on concrete stairs are the only sounds.

Each battery is named. Major Amos Stoddard was an artillery man who died during the Shawnee/British/Canadian siege of Fort Meigs Ohio during the War of 1812. Col. Percy M. Kessler, at whose home we stayed, also had a small battery defending New York harbour named for him when he died in 1939. The military acknowledges the service of soldiers, instilling pride in many veterans. The extensive and detailed contemporary websites outlining the history of coastal artillery units and their fortifications is one sign of this. And the material remains of each battery thus becomes both a dealer in death and a memorial to service in this act.

The most spectacular structure is Battery Kinzie. Completed in 1912 it was the most expensive and included the largest guns in the fortress. Mechanical hoists were needed to to safely lift the heavy shells and powder charges from the well protected magazines. A sophisticated roof tram rail system up top ensured a steady stream of ammunition to the guns.

On the top of the battery I met a contemplative man with his silent dog. He stared into the forest and parried my Easter morning greeting with a reproof that he was thinking. I apologized and moved on. It was an excellent place to do some thinking.

Perhaps he lives in a city and cherishes his time with trees. I live in the forest so turned about and settled myself further down the concrete monstrosity and settled in to think about the sea.

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