I woke up December 30th with a sore throat, the same sore throat that has haunted me the past few months, coming and going, always threatening to turn into a cold or worse. I thought about canceling the drive to Port Townsend to see my friend Martha. The forecast said rain and I had promised to bring my corgi, Oliver who hates to travel. Between me being miserable and Oliver being miserable it seemed stupid to push things. However, I have known my devious ways for decades and recognized this as rationalization. Besides, the lure of seeing Martha’s two grown girls, home from New Orleans for the holiday, and watching Oliver run on the beach with Mrs. Peel, his sister (though not litter mate), was strong. I bundled up, poured a thermal cup full of tea and went. There was little traffic on the bridge and the sun broke through the clouds as we crossed the bay to Bainbridge Island.
I read yesterday that the average adult spends over eight hours in front of a screen every day, and that’s without television factored in. Appalling. Instead of pulling out my laptop I read the comics, thought about doing the crossword and instead just sat in the sun in the driver’s seat and looked at the water. I love the Seattle/Bainbridge ferry run. It’s long enough to create a sense of passage without taking all day. The morning continued to clear and by the time we crossed the Hood Canal Bridge the day was turning beautiful, clouds on the horizon but clear sky above. The water was ruffled on either side of the bridge. Ollie had taken up a miserable sitting stance, head lowered, refusing to lie down.
I drove through Port Townsend with joy, as I love the town, but also because Martha has recently moved back into her house by Fort Worden after a year in Mexico and several living with her paramour John, in his house across town. It was a pleasure following my old route. The place has been painted and re-floored and had several busy friends working on plumbing and cabinetry throughout the afternoon.
The girls are grown women now, though still largely themselves: creative, inquisitive, outgoing, guarded, sparkling, opinionated and wry. The twenties are a splendid decade. After lunch we took the dogs to North Beach, through the pine forest on the edge of the Fort. There was a cold wind and the high branches thrashed with it, a thrilling sound. The dogs were a trotting team, neither willing to let the other pull ahead but both old enough not to pull on their leashes. The path breaks out of the woods overlooking a meadow and pond that long ago was called the Chinese Gardens because the Chinese immigrants to Port Townsend planted truck gardens on the sunny slope. They brought poppy seed with them and this generous plant, grown for opium and medicinal use, escaped and traveled to the town. Today Port Townsend still has extravagant displays of these volunteer flowers in all colors, the blue green foliage distinctive in the gardens and roadsides. I have some of these in my own garden and shake the seed out of the dried pods in the fall, hoping for a cold winter to temper their life and encourage a strong spring showing.
On the beach Mrs. Peel chased the waves, which were high and made me worry for her. The beach is her great love, next to the ball, and she will run its course until you make her stop, hurtling through the wash and nipping at the foam. Oliver indulged her but then sheltered behind my legs. It’s a wide world and sometimes a dog feels small in it.
We were all cold and headed back after a short time. Skirting the meadow at the top of the hill and by the pond are gorse thickets, showing their wintertime red and gray stems. A beautiful color palette that I told Martha I thought could be mixed in watercolor by combining Rose Dore, Paynes Gray and white, though now I think you would need Alizarin Crimson to pick out the reddest stems. Martha shares with me a love of color and she is a master watercolorist. Her color charts are inspiring, as are her paintings. The dogs sniffed at coyote markings and settled into their traces again, leading the way.
Over tea we talked about music and books and our walk. Martha mentioned that a Japanese buoy had washed up on North Beach. “Did you hear?” Pilar asked, “a body washed up downtown and they’re doing forensics on it but they think it’s from the tsunami.” So it had already begun, the revisiting of this great disaster of 2011, the flotsam and jetsam of sorrow and loss from Japan. No light without darkness.
Waiting for the ferry in Winslow, after we had taken a walk, I got in the back seat with Oliver. He crept up in my lap to be petted and then curled up next to me. He stayed in that same spot, resting, until we got home to our own house and its own brand of joy. The new year was breaking the following day but he didn’t know that. He greeted Vic and the cat and ate his dinner with gusto, tracking sand back to his bed where he passed the night with ease and snoring. As did I.Photos: Gorse by Carl Gray; Martha and Pilar with baby Oliver and Mrs. Peel, and Herself in the water one summer, by me