Washington State: sling man on Puget Sound

Washington is big country. Big land, water, mountains and sky. Almost as big as Alaska. As an easterner, when I think of water, I picture a river I can throw a stone across, or a lake small enough I can tell the colors of the cottages on the far shore. Space-wise, Washington is kind of a halfway point between my New York backyard and infinity.

You cannot throw a stone across the Puget Sound. The first time I stood on the beach – as wide as a football field is long, and squinted to make out a freighter a couple miles off shore, with its “cabin” the size of a five-story apartment building and carrying hundreds of tractor-trailer-size containers, with eagles soaring behind me and pelicans perched on the pier in front of me – I was humbled.

Within shouting distance down the beach were two men. They appeared, as I approached them, to be homeless. But I was intrigued by what they were doing. They halted as I came nearer, to let me pass so they could resume their exercise.

“Is that a sling?” I asked the man who seemed to be teaching the other, a teenager.

“Yep, it is,” replied the unshaven man, tossing long hair away from his face. He was missing several teeth.

“Mind if I watch?”

He nodded to the teenager who propped up a heavy wooden pallet with a driftwood log. The man selected an igneous stone the size of a bar of soap and placed it in the leather pouch of the sling. I’ve pictured David slaying Goliath, twirling the sling around and around and then releasing it. False. No twirling. The man used the two-foot long sling cord as an extension of his arm. Imagine a pitcher lobbing a ball into home plate with a four-foot, instead of two-foot arm. The man held the sling so that the stone hung next to his knee. He eyed the pallet, made some kind of silent calculation, and with one quick animal-like movement, lurched forward, while thrusting his arm and swinging the sling. He hit the pallet squarely, shattering a three-quarter-inch pine board and knocking the pallet to the ground. What I saw was a weapon accurate and powerful enough to hit and shatter a ten-pin all the way down a bowling alley.

He picked up another stone. He faced the open water now, paused, calculated and let it rip. I heard the stone pierce the water some two hundred feet from us, not with the splash or ker-plunk of a stone, but with the “zip” of a bullet.

I said, “I haven’t seen anything like this back east where I come from.”

He just smiled. I think his earlier, “Yep, it is” had him all talked out.

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