Feeling Port Townsend

Port Townsend, Friday 10 February 2012

Port Townsend is a very pretty town. It feels as if it is suspended in a time warp. Around 1870, Seattle and Port Townsend vied for the Pacific sea trade routes. The railroad went to Seattle, and Seattle emerged victorious on the economic battleground. Port Townsend, then, stagnated. Downtown, by the waterfront, is a time capsule of divine late 19th century Pacific Northwest architecture. You can imagine bustled harlots emerging from their bordellos to tempt passing seaman with an hour of their paid-for love.

The major trade, now, however is tourism. And these bordellos and saloons of my mind’s eye are mostly gift and trinket shops catering to the visitors who descend — primarily in the summer months — for the variety of music and literary festivals hosted there. Of course, being a holiday town in the dead of winter means that it exudes the feeling of being in hibernation. You know that it is ful of potential, but right now it is preparing for the summer onslaught and in just too sleepy.

Being on a peninsular also gives it a particular sense of isolation. It’s windswept and exposed. If you walk to the end of the peninsular, you can quite easily conceive of being at the ends of the earth. This feeling is helped by access to Port Townsend being either via the ferry from Seattle, or a two hour drive down the peninsular and around the Sound.

There is, however, life in this quiet town. Residents take up their quarrels in the letters page of the weekly newspaper; I counted I think nine different places of worship; and on Saturday night Katy and I went to a Valentine’s Dance at the Unitarian church, followed by live music at one of the bars downtown. We danced. Lots. Apart from being tremendous fun, it gave me an excuse to wear a pair of shoes that weren’t my hiking boots for the first time in a month. My feet appreciated that. Doubtless my dancing partners did, too.

I loved Port Townsend in winter, so I’m sure that I would adore it in summer, with more walks on the beach that are less windswept; the opportunity to go sailing; lots more live music; and less time spent being soaked through from the incessant rain. This is, so I’m told, unusual. Mostly the winter weather is swirling mists of wet hanging in the air. But seeing as I was there, it had to be different. Never mind, I might’ve been damp, but my enthusiasm didn’t suffer.