Shelton-Mason County Journal - Dedicated to the citizens of Mason County, Washington since 1886

Two different versions of 'covering the spread'


March 24, 2022

Mark Woytowich

The Big Empty: Looking from Bear Gulch across drained Lake Cushman, a fresh ribbon of fog reaching from beyond a distant bend on the North Fork Skokomish River.

This week, no matter the weather, you need to visit Lake Cushman while the lake water is low. At the far end of the lake, just before the Staircase entrance gate to Olympic National Park, is a small day park that serves as a beach and kayak launch in summer.

Bear Gulch is its official name. You'll know it by the restrooms and tumbling creek on the right side, just after you pass the Lake Cushman causeway bridge.

This is a beautiful spot in summer, with shallow, sheltered water especially suited to small children (and tired moms who need to nap,

safely, in the sun).

However, in winter and early spring the lake level is low, thanks to the annual Tacoma Power drawdown. The low water exposes a forest of cut trees, weirdly shaped boulders, and giant, hollow old-growth trunks, some larger than hot tubs.

While cleaning up Party Rock recently as part of our TrashMash Litter Posse, seven of us meandered around Bear Gulch, following the gentle contours of exposed shores dotted with driftwood and vein-laced, multicolored rocks, chief features of these beaches.

We found very little trash but a treasure trove of beauty. Far up the valley a waterfall acted as a fog machine, sending a thick plume skyward, only to have it become like a ribbon, pulled along the forested slopes just above the river - a fog train slowly rolling by.

It was the kind of thing you noticed and stopped for. Gale pulled out her phone, snapping a shot of a single wisp.

The big empty

It's about bowls, vistas, bare trees and long land lines. You get out far on the beach and everything stretches apart, as though in a wide-angle lens. Tall things aren't so tall anymore when viewed from your low spot way out where the Skokomish River runs boot-high across the stones.

It's not that the surrounding 4,000-foot mountains aren't there, and remain impressive, but the dynamic force that fills your being is the huge flatness of the river basin, made more obvious by the absence of water.

To balance this "big empty" feeling, the sky works overtime, sending puppets of fog to tumble and delight you, some like thick necklaces or swirling scarves, others like little pale gummy bears popping up along the mountain crests, or more often, forming like gray flames in dark mountain folds where snowmelt plunges down the creases, breathing vapor into air.

These are the days when temperature and uncertain skies make paintings of fog - Mother Nature's version of March Madness. Grab your camera and get out there before the lake fills up so you can "cover the spread" of the big empty fog phenomenon.

By the way, the forest road along Lake Cushman was graded recently and is in pretty good shape. The official Staircase entrance remains closed, however, due to the blowdown that came in December.

New topic

I'm not so certain the "game responsibly" gang behind the TV ads promoting the Washington State Lottery are as sincere as they'd like us to believe.

After watching 20-plus years of ads promoting the lottery as "the ticket" to life, liberty, happiness and every luxury item I could ever fantasize about, it's hard to accept their official stance as not promoting gambling.

For one thing, they refuse to call it gambling, substituting "gaming" to lull me into accepting a softer, less accurate term.

You might think of that as a "tell," which is a poker term meaning "to expose one's true stance or intention."

I think the "tell" here is the dark shadow of guilt those in government would rather not face if they were to be confronted with the following conundrum: What is your part, exactly, when you actively promote a vice that, the more I give in to it, the more revenue you receive?

Who's not gaming responsibly now? What are the odds of some poor bloke actually hitting a Powerball? I never hear those odds when the ads parade their fabulous prizes.

After all, on the back end, when the house is foreclosed, the marriage over, the credit rating lower than a typical Mariners' score - when the game is over, so to speak - I get help at Gambler's (not Gamer's) Anonymous, where they call 'em like they see 'em.

So what exactly is gaming responsibly?

Like I said, it's the last two words in a lottery commercial. After showing me all those yachts, beautiful houses and fabulous cars, the commercials always seem to run out of time before explaining what "responsible gaming" is all about.

Looks like I'll just have to go and find out for myself.

Big empty wallet

I have a friend who likes to gamble on college basketball games. My luck is in, I guess you could say, because he's red hot to head over to Little Creek Casino so he can lay some Jackson green ($20 bills) on Alabama to beat Notre Dame.

That's going to be super easy to do now, thanks to our Legislature, which has made sports betting legal now at Native American casinos in Washington.

All I have to do is watch, learn, and write the story. I'll be there in the middle of March Madness; it's a safe bet gaming will be going on.

My friend Chuck has been betting on March Madness basketball for many years, including three trips to Las Vegas and a 15-year-long office pool where up to 60 guys filled in their brackets.

It's busy when we arrive at Little Creek. A uniformed gentleman shows Chuck how to make his first bet at a digital kiosk the size of a small ATM. He makes three bets, putting $50 at risk.

Bets laid, we settle into big, stuffed chairs packed together like at an airport lounge. We look up at three different basketball games playing on four giant TV screens, which becomes immediately disorienting. The commentary is barely audible on the Texas-Virginia Tech game, further trampled by growling rock music from muddy ceiling speakers plus the ambient drone of a thousand slot machines.

The whole place hums like an electric tuning fork.

Chuck loses all three bets. Honestly, it's hard to tell with so many screens. After drinks and food we've both emptied our wallets. I can't wait to get out of there. It is a world entirely artificial, of rings, dings and distractions, a world totally opposite the big empty of the North Fork Skokomish River.

Did we game responsibly? I don't know. But I'll lay you good odds this guy will never have a gambling problem.

Mark Woytowich is a writer, photographer, video producer and author of "Where Waterfalls and Wild Things Are." He lives in Potlatch with his wife, Linda. His "On the Go" column appears every other week in the Journal. Reach him at his website,, or by email at [email protected]


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