Coming back: A Port Townsend reminiscence | Guest Viewpoint

John Cheyenne Wilbur
Posted 10/6/21

”I’m walking,” I said and headed down the path. “I’ll meet you at the car.” 

“Wait, dad, don’t you want to talk about it?” cried my older …

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Coming back: A Port Townsend reminiscence | Guest Viewpoint

Photo courtesy of John Cheyenne Wilbur

”I’m walking,” I said and headed down the path. “I’ll meet you at the car.” 

“Wait, dad, don’t you want to talk about it?” cried my older son.

I had lived in Port Townsend 30 years ago. We were briefly visiting, on vacation from Los Angeles.

My two sons, my older son’s girlfriend and myself had just completed lunch out at Fort Worden. I had suggested we take a walk. They, with uniform conviction, wanted to go into town.

“Done talking,” I said without missing a stride.

“How long are you going to be?” His voice faded as I gained distance.

I didn’t answer.

I know. I was pretty hard on them.

Feeling guilty, I remembered my older son had the keys to the car, so they could drive into town. I would catch up with them later. I texted him, and he thumb-upped it.

I relaxed into my surroundings. Pines whispered. The sun winked through the branches.

I encountered a bunker and entered the dank concrete cellar. Stillness enveloped me. I took a breath and made a sound. It bounced every which way off the hardened walls. I played with the tone and found the room’s harmonic frequency. The space swaddled me in sound.

I sang. Show tunes. I sang 16 bars from A Chorus Line, one I used auditioning a long time ago. It’s about a guy holding his headshot wondering who he is.

A woman poked her head in. I stopped, embarrassed. “Oh no, don’t stop,” she said. “Keep singing.” And she left.

I continued, then broke into sobs. 

As a young man, I moved here on a whim. I had just left my life career, the ministry. It broke my parents’ hearts. I knew that, but something fundamental and profound was going on. The ministry never felt like the right fit. It never rang that figurative bell inside that says, “This is it, this is who I am.” And, ironically, I believed God agreed. 

Abandoning my assumed career path, I was no longer flying by sight. I had to rely on some internal navigation system. A notice on a bulletin board at my Sacramento Co-op announced a writers’ workshop at Fort Worden. I had never heard of Port Townsend, but I loved writing. I went and was instantly smitten with the surroundings. I never left. 

Hearing my voice in that bunker, pure and clear, informed me at a deep level: I found my voice in Port Townsend. Put another way, Port Townsend, so off the grid, so free of urban distraction, offered me the space to discover who I was.

I continued my walk and encountered a formidable concrete marker. “Memory’s Vault” it read. Concrete columns memorialized poems by Sam Hamill. But the center of this art installation was an actual vault, open, with an egg-like object inside. Directly across from this, a concrete chair was fixed upon a terraced foundation.

I ascended the few steps, sat upon the ascetic throne and gazed into the vault. And, surrendering to the swirl of forest magic, gazed into my own, now opened, memory’s vault. 

Living in Port Townsend at the age of 28 was a time of tremendous transformation. I was a Jersey boy who had never been in the woods. My distressed parents thought Port Townsend was beyond civilization. They asked if the streets were paved. And, quite honestly, many of them were not. 

Nature could be heard, loud and clear, in Port Townsend. And she had much to say: Be more; do less. Do way less. Many was the day I scheduled nothing. And on those unscheduled days, the minute I stepped out my door, an adventure inevitably unfolded. In contrast, my former life packed every minute with meetings, deadlines and appointments.

Every fiber, every cell of my body transformed. Parts of my body let go, like my stomach, as if for the first time, causing me to realize how formerly I held myself so rigid.

The experience was nothing short of a human-ectomy. My body was removed from the corporate industrial body and placed inside Earth’s garden. My exoskeleton shed, allowing the soft flesh of my soul to breathe and thrive. And thrive, she did, flesh to flesh, breath to breath.

I was born again.

I arose from my chair and headed out of the forest, into a clearing, back to people, well, actually one woman packing her car behind one of the officer’s quarters. As I walked, what the hell, I didn’t care, I launched into “At the Ballet” from A Chorus Line. 

A car pulled up alongside and the power window slid down. The woman driver said, “You have a beautiful voice.” I thanked her. Her window closed and she drove off. 

I almost fell down. Such praise…for my voice!

Air and sky soaked me. Once in town, I walked with purpose, turned my head and there were my kids, sitting on a bench beside the water.

“How did you find us?” the girlfriend asked.

“It was easy,” I said.

“No, really. How did you find us?” she asked like that one child at a birthday party who refuses magic and demands to know how the hired magician did that trick.

“That’s Port Townsend,” I said.

epiloge: My solitary walk could only have been done alone. The moment was brief; the memory is forever. Thank you, Port Townsend!

(John Cheyenne Wilbur is a single dad raising two boys in Los Angeles. He lived in Port Townsend in the 80s. He is an actor, writer and realtor.)


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  • MargeS

    You are right about Port Townsend, you expressed many people's feelings about why we live here. thanks.

    Thursday, October 7 Report this