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Poetry in Stone: The Memory Vault at Fort Worden


Since moving to Port Townsend, WA, in late April, I have discovered transforming inspiration everywhere: in nature, galleries, historical landmarks and through people we have met. One of the most stunning and significant for me was an installation in the midst of Madrona trees and hundred-year-old military defense fortifications. Dealing with after-effects of the move, my husband Jim scheduled a massage at a healing arts center at Fort Worden. While he was doing that I had determined to hike along the beautiful trails. I mentioned this to the receptionist and she suggested that I walk to the Memory Vault, a practical distance to cover in the time I had.

I assumed the Memory Vault had something to do with the history of war. But as I walked down a path overshadowed by towering fir and into a clearing, I found stone pillars – and on the pillars poems were engraved! The first one I read began: “It is difficult/this being a stranger on earth.” The completely apt words lodged in perfection of Northwest imagery, entranced me, a stranger finding my way:

There are some to whom a place means nothing,

For whom the lazy zeroes

A goshawk carves across the sky

Are nothing,

For whom a home is something one can buy.

I have long wanted to say,

Just once before I die

I am home.


There was no attribution at the bottom of these poems and I didn’t know who wrote them. Then I found another monolith giving credit to the artist who designed the cement sculptures in the center – and below that in slightly smaller font, the poet, Sam Hamill. I should have guessed! The founder of Copper Canyon Press, so tied to this area. A spirit who had just passed earlier this spring.

I re-read the poems and later brought my husband up the trail to witness this miracle. When we got home I walked to the library, a block from where we were staying until we could move into our permanent home, and checked out all the Sam Hamill they had on the shelves.

I have known since I was a child that I am clairaudient, rather than clairvoyant. Deepest message and meaning come to me through sound including written and spoken language. By enshrining words associated with land and verdure and wind and rain and love and longing and everything human, the wise people who shaped Fort Worden gave me my new home. Even in the midst, right in the midst, of relics of the history of conflict, I found solace. If you have never been to Port Townsend, come. And while you are visiting, make the pilgrimage to the Memory Vault, worth every breath and footstep to find a place of which a great poet wrote: “If it fills me with longing,/ it is only because we are wind and smoke,/…falling through our own most secret being.”

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