I’m going to tell you about about something I saw on the Olympic Peninsula recently, but first, let's talk about beauty.
I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and was told many times as a child that my hometown—which was less a town than a collection of trailer parks—was the most beautiful town in the most beautiful state in the country. This was a lie, but my parents, teachers, and all the other adults in my life repeated it so often that I believed it, sort of like how kids automatically believe in Santa or God. That in, fact, was how my deeply religious third-grade teacher used to refer to our homeland—she called it God's country—and while I was never a believer, I figured that if there was a God, he or she or they or it had created the landscape around us just so he or she or they or it could look down and gaze at its beauty.
Though it would take many years and a lot of travel before I realized how thoroughly I'd been conned, I started to have an inkling that maybe, just maybe, my hometown wasn't actually the most beautiful place in the country when my cousin’s family visited us from Tacoma sometime in the late '80s. They flew into Atlanta and drove the three hours north to our house, and when they arrived, I asked my cousin—now a teacher on Bainbridge Island—what she thought of our mountains. Had she ever seen something so beautiful?
"Mountains?" she said, looking puzzled. "We must have missed them."
Was she blind or just a jerk? In every direction you looked, there were layers upon layers of mountains, each a little hazier than the last. Of course, when I eventually moved to Seattle, I understood my cousin’s confusion. North Carolina's "mountains" are Washington's hills. They're pretty, sure; but they ain’t stunning. In fact, they are short. The mountains, none of them higher than 7,000 feet, just don’t take your breath away the way Mount Rainier or the Olympics do here.
As far as landscapes go, North Carolina isn't even in the top 10. Of course, what some people find beautiful others find bland, but now that I've seen much of the country, I rank the states thus: Alaska, Hawaii, California, Washington, and Oregon, followed by the big square states in the middle, then New England, then the Southeast, the Southwest, the Midwest, and in last place, New Jersey (and, yes, I have been to the Pine Barrens). North Carolina is, at best, number 20, and everyone who told me it was the most beautiful state in the union should probably take a road trip out west.
When you live in the fourth most beautiful state in the union, you might as well look at it, and a few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I went up to Lake Crescent for a day trip. We'd hope to get a canoe and paddle around the lake, which is both gorgeous and, unlike some of the lakes in Washington, easy to access. You don't have to traverse a mountain range or even walk up a hill to get there; you just park at the historic Lake Crescent Lodge—which looks like a place Teddy Roosevelt would have vacationed or the Kennedys would have owned—and are rewarded for this effort with a view of deep green mountains (or are they foothills?) reaching right down into a deep, clear, and very cold freshwater lake. It was early August, but overcast and so windy that they weren’t renting boats, so we walked into the woods around the lake and then retired to the lodge to drink hot chocolate and stare at the water.
This is what we do most weekends since we bought a house and moved to Kitsap County earlier this year. When we lived in Seattle, the Peninsula was distant, enough of a pain in the ass to get to that we'd only make there a couple times a year. The ferry to Bainbridge or Bremerton or Southworth just seemed like an insurmountable barrier. But now the Olympics are in our backyard (or, at least, visible from our backyard when the weather cooperates) and so more weekends than not, we choose a random spot on the map—Lake Crescent, Neah Bay, Forks, Sol Duc, Sequim—and drive out for a day or the weekend, listening to whatever local radio we can get on the way.
The NPR and pop music stations turn fuzzy the farther we drive west, replaced by static, oldies, conservative talk, and the Bible Broadcasting Network, or BBN, a Christian station that airs shows with names like News and Good News, Unshackled!, Our Daily Bread, and Science, Scripture and Salvation, which is short on science and long on scripture and salvation. On one show, a man with a deep Midwestern accent reads prayer requests on air. "Pray for the healing of a granddaughter who has anxiety," he’ll say, and then pause for 10 or so seconds so that the listener can, presumably, say a prayer for a stranger’s granddaughter to heal.
As we drove back from Lake Crescent and listened to BBN, I took notes. "Pray that the Lord would open the door for a sister to move closer to her family," the host of the show said. "Join us in prayer for an elderly lady whose doctors can perform no more injections for her vocal cords.” And, just before the radio turned to fuzz: “Join us in prayer for a lonely widow looking for a companion.”
I declined to pray, but shortly afterward, I did see a sign.
It was hand-painted and perched outside a small blue house on the side of the road outside Port Angeles. There was an American flag hanging off the house's porch. “Wife Wanted” the sign read in mostly capital letters. If you get closer, you can see there is also an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
My first thought was, "Don't they have Tinder out here?"
My second thought was, "I’m going to e-mail him."
And so, when we got home, I did. I sent the man an e-mail asking if he’d be available for an interview. I figured I’d get his story and tell him that there was a lonely widow looking for a companion on BBN. Maybe they would connect.
I sent him a brief message: “Hello, I saw your sign. Would you be available for a brief interview?”
His reply came a couple of hours later, “Tell me about yourself,” he responded. He did not include a photograph of himself, but his message said: “Age...what you do for a living... Etc. A current photo always helps as well.. What are your interest.. Etc.”
I briefly thought about catfishing the man but figured that’s against some kind of journalistic code of ethics. I could have sent him some beautiful photos of Washington State, but I figured that was not the kind of look he was after.
“My apologies,” I responded. “My e-mail wasn’t clear. I’m not looking for a husband (yet!). I’m interested in interviewing you about your sign for the newspaper.”
I just wanted to know who this guy was who thought he could find a wife by posting a sign in his yard.
His reply: “Yeah.... Thats what i figured you were wanting and i don't have time for that! The sign has had plenty of media attention already and is known Nation/World Wide...Sorry!”
Alas, there would be no interview, no chance to connect the man with the sign to the widow listening to Christian radio and praying, against the odds, for someone to make her feel less alone. But if you’re on the Peninsula this summer, driving to Lake Crescent or Port Angeles or some other location in the fourth most beautiful state, keep an eye out, and you might just see a sign—not one from God, but from man. Or maybe you'll see us, my girlfriend and me, touring the Peninsula in a 15-year-old Prius, listening to Bible radio we don't believe in and stopping, every once in a while, to take in the view from God's country.