The Hungry Bear Cafe is a cheerful sight on the dark drive to Forks. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

WEST END NEIGHBOR: Holiday displays light up West End

THE SUN HAS set, darkness has overcome the road.

Coming up Fairholm Hill from Lake Crescent, the rain gives itself up for actual snow.

Streetlights at the top of the hill mark the Sol Duc Hot Springs Road and the Olympic Discovery Trail crossing.

The banks of snow along the road reflect their weird orange-yellow glow.

Then there is darkness except where headlights illuminate the roadway.

Though the car is doing less than 60 miles per hour, residential lights slip by unnoticed.

Unnoticed until you pass the first bridge that straddles the Sol Duc River, then up on a small hill to the south is an outline of an orca in white Christmas lights.

There are some other strands of colored lights, but this is the first orca to celebrate the holidays on the West End.

Drivers don’t always notice the slow decline of U.S. Highway 101 as it moseys to Forks from Fairholm.

Winter brings evidence that can hardly be disputed.

Snow amounts noticeably decrease as one gets closer to Forks, so that by the time one reaches West Twin Road, the banks of snow along the road are mostly gone.

The darkness sticks around though.

This time of year, the nighttime darkness seems only barely broken through by murky daylight.

The precipitation has once again become the customary rain.

Up ahead, there is a glow bouncing off the low clouds. It seems bright enough to be a small city.

Rounding the bend by Hillstrom Road, you realize it’s the Hungry Bear Café’s holiday lights.

What a sight.

The brilliant colors dispel the black and light up the area like daylight. It’s hard to take it all in at once.

Inflatable figures of a Santa snow globe, Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Minion and Santa bear stand at joyful attention.

Strands of lights line trees and windowsills. Two giant bells outlined in lights are hung on the gable of the restaurant.

Roofs of cabins adjacent to the restaurant are lined in strands of large lights.

Getting out of my car, I hear holiday tunes. They don’t seem to be coming from the inflatables, and they clearly aren’t coming from the building.

It’s difficult to admit and it sounds crazy, but I swear the music is coming from an ivy covered stump.

Stepping inside, I see Debbie Johnson sitting at the counter.

I can’t help but blurt out “Is the music really coming from that stump?”

She is the owner, she ought to know.

She smiles and says she thinks that’s where Woody put it.

Woody is her son, Gary is her husband and together they are the owning-operating core of the Hungry Bear Cafe, Motel and RV Park.

Today, I got a rare interview with this tight-lipped lady.

“Lights, lots of lights” she explains of their holiday decorating philosophy.

Johnson said that they like to do the elaborate decorating for the community.

“Everybody, they all thank us for decorating,” she said.

In her conversations with customers, she has come to the conclusion that folks who grew up in the generations that really liked to decorate for the holidays are getting older.

It’s difficult for older ones to get up on ladders to hang lights and hefting the boxes to and from the garage is no simple task when the cold aggravates old injuries and arthritis.

The Johnsons also notice the extra lights and decorating cause their power bill to increase by hundreds of dollars each holiday season.

Nevertheless, they try to add to their display every year.

Looking around the inside of the cozy restaurant, I come to the conclusion there are just as many lights inside as there are outside.

In a corner by the cash register is a large decorated tree. On every flat surface is some seasonal figurine.

Even the pillars are decorated with red and white tinsel to resemble candy canes.

The smells of stick-to-your-ribs food emanate across the pass shelf and the glass-faced cooler has pieces of homemade pumpkin pie that just need a dollop of whipped cream to be perfect.

It is hard to leave this oasis of warmth and light and return to the cold darkness of the road.

_________

Zorina Barker lives in the Sol Duc Valley with her husband, a logger, and two children she home-schools.

Submit items and ideas for the column to her at zorina [email protected], or phone her at 360-327-3702. West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.

Her next column will be Dec. 27.

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