The boys were the most dapper chaps along the Strait of Juan de Fuca after a visit to the little hat shop in Port Townsend which is a Victorianish town that sticks out into Puget Sound on the end of the Quimper (rhymes with whimper) Peninsula which has a Beaver Valley which is home to an RV graveyard which is indubitably the place to be if in search of mossy doo-hickeys for your Winnebago. Adam contributed half his own, hard-earned substantial savings toward the stylish number which would have looked at home in a London hattery but still it was tricky not flinching when later in the weekend he came dashing to the house proudly sporting a trio of gunkified gull feathers tucked jauntily atop his noggin now dusted with the gray silt transported (swirling in eddies past yawning, frustrated bears and through Goblin Gates) from snowy prominences which loom over the Strait.
Adam and Oliver enjoy being grown-up, all by their ownsomes, on beachcombing forays to the Elwha and they’ve been adopted by the loose clan of a half-dozen harbor seals which have a tendency to show up for early brunch. One evening for a particularly low tide the boys went down to the Elwha as usual to check for eagles or something, I went in the other direction. Having a tendency to not keep my hand out of the cookie jar, I rounded smooth, buff-colored sandstone in and out of lonely, dank coves for close-enough-to-touch views of Striped Peak and the distant boat launch whereabouts Adam and I have explored the small creek flowing into Freshwater Bay from the woods. Dusk caught up with me, I took too long (the cookie jar was empty) and having over-exuberantly walked seven miles earlier in the day in search of snowy Shangri-La I found myself hobbling back to the house over slippery cobbles at first, then even more slippery mounds of kelp and finally cowboying over driftwood logs resting at right angles with the forest, before the beach smoothed to soothingly firm, dark sand for my cement barrels which resembled human legs when I looked down at them (one of those harbor seals could’ve brought me down with a well-timed expert whip of a flipper).
Here was one of the driftwood houses inside of which the boys have conducted various imaginations the past several months. Always I’m reminding them, just like felsenmeer these things aren’t built to code and can teach awfully painful lessons so be safe and not sorry! Friends and acquaintances visiting from other places always exclaim astonished at the remarkable array of wood detritus on our saltwater beaches, both ocean and Sound. It took years before I fully comprehended the critical niche driftwood (the deadly, enormous Leviathans which boggle the imagination but also the trillions of tiny mouse walking sticks) occupies in the Pacific Northwest natural ecosystem.
Finally, I arrived at the house in the dark that evening of the long walk and as Oliver Fern makes much ado about the old cemetery across the lane, I tried my goonie best for a good old-fashioned scare through the living room picture window. Perhaps it was the clatter of dominoes across the dining table but the boys smiled only a little surprised, their faces ruddy from the flickering flames in the corner stove.
Browsing the oft-impossibly narrow warrens and dens of antique shops filled with fragile, glassy esotera, with five year old boys in tow, is not a pastime for the faint of heart. Timid pattycaking doesn’t get it done: A resolute parental disposition bordering on downright meanness is required yet the classic tools of cajolery and bribery will serve useful or lo and behold wretched Garbage Pail Kids cards should reveal themselves, count your lucky stars and let your arm be carefully but slowly twisted. One blustery afternoon on the way home from school (after paying down the mortgage on our library card) dear Oliver Fern and I visited the antique shop which is next door to the small Italian restaurant that makes the best lasagna in the city (strata of delicate handmade pasta bringing to mind the buttery softness of chocolate consumed in the shade of a warm July afternoon) and found this tidbit tray from the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909 here displayed as it was for several weeks with the rare dirty old magic horseshoe against the mirror of the sidetable where I work but relegated since to that infamous junk drawer which contains scrabble tiles, Lego blocks, expired seed packets, coins of unknown international origin and certain other antiquities of objectionable taste. The proprietor of the shop told the funniest story for Oliver Fern, about his grandfather who was suffering from dementia at the time and I know you’re thinking dementia could not be funny at all but trust me this nugget was and could’ve been funnier still had I not been distracted by poor Oliver Fern concentrating so hard to comprehend the grown-up nonsense I thought he might collapse with catatonia onto the rickety table before us, causing a very fragile-appearing globe containing marbles galore to go a-smithereen-shattering. Antique marbles surely must cost an outrageous fortune and we cautiously shimmied to safety out the door.
On the subject of antiques and whatnot, earlier this winter I finished Betty MacDonald’s landmark The Egg and I along with Paula Becker’s Searching for Betty MacDonald (incidentally, Becker is the co-author of an informative work on the A.Y.P Exposition) and last month while enjoying coffee and a chat with one of Seattle’s preeminent dark horse historians who lurks amid towering library stacks, whirring copying machines and the taller-still conifers of the north end, I was invited for a short tour about the grounds of the old sanatorium where Betty MacDonald was treated for a spell of tuberculosis. Believe me on this, the day thereafter a convincing brochure from the nursing home tucked in the very shadow of old Firland Sanatorium arrived in the mailbox attention to my mother-in-law who has lived with us both in spirit and junk mail as her continuing myriad correspondences travel to us instead of the afterlife as would be more appropriate yet indeed that cruel irony I feel closer to her than when she was alive and part of me is honored to receive the odd letters from her old acquaintances, mailers for excitingly revolutionary hearing aids and infuriatingly numerous ghost subscriptions to such fine magazine publications as Farm Country Cutesy Stories and Nauseating Nostalgia (my pleading-best efforts at cancellations astonishingly rebuffed at each turn). If colorful marketing materials are to be taken at face value, the relief of assisted living under the tall trees thereabouts the old sanatorium is boundless except during the occasional two hundred year windstorms which have the potential to bring enormous firs crashing down through the rooftops although the various infirm and memory-impaired will barely notice as they monitor the steady drip of updates down their RSS feeding tubes which are checked at least twice each half hour.
We missed the boat quite literally but not metaphorically having thereafter shifted to silver linings: Not only a nice consolation prize, but ending up first for the next sailing aboard the Tacoma felt like an omen of sorts getting the year started off on the right foot. The boys and I speculated as to whether or not our emergency brake would hold fast in the unlikely event the ferryboat captain were to faint from the mid-afternoon munchies but a mootish point because front-row seat on the bow notwithstanding we don’t usually sit in the car on the ferry unless it’s one of those groggy, late nights on the way home. Still humming his defiantly cheery personal anthem of late (circa 2007 Jack White meets Johnny Cash), Oliver Fern split off with his mother to satisfy a hankering for a juicy hot dog (discernment is in the taste buds of the beholder when it comes to ferry food) from the galley while Adam and I did as many laps as possible on the sun deck but my feet started hurting when we were even with the West Point Lighthouse (it seems to stick out all the way to Bainbridge Island) and the brilliant afternoon sunshine shimmered painfully from downtown skyscrapers to Elliott Bay to my eyes so I said see-ya-later-alleygator and went down to the car deck. Speaking of which, we almost had to drive away from Colman Dock without Adam: He came running (and gasping for breath) to announce he’d managed ten laps.
As you could imagine, the boys’ favorite part of the weekend was sledding except for the time Oliver Fern got caterwhomped by some big kids after flying out of his inner tube on icy snow. The path to Hurricane Hill was tempting but overly festive for my liking so while the boys zipped and whooshed downhill 257 times, I headed in the opposite direction, timidly offering right-of-way to skiers, snowboarders and other shredders until establishing due course above the terminus of the bunny lift and trending toward Mount Angeles on crusty snow via familiar, lonely ridges until laughter and delight of children and adults alike faded to snowy silence and peachy afternoon glow across distant salt water. Time stood still before I realized quite a bit of it had actually passed and although the boys and their mother are used to me being gone too long, I was a tad nervous about the backcountry ranger on the opposite end of the long ridge from me (he was approximately the size of this uppercase letter B). Engaged in lonesome retreat though he was, it became clearer my own progress was being monitored and having already in provisional self-defense pegged him for the nannyish sort, I noticed he was having trouble with purchase up a steep slope in his fancy cleated snowshoes and upon closer inspection with some relief ascertained he was the stout but teddy bearish sort but that only made me nervouser the nearer we drew together because I could’ve sworn he was going to trip over his own snowshoes at any moment and the pistol in his holster was going to shoot me by accident because he absentmindedly forgot the safety having oiled it up on his dining room table in Sequim while listening to the radio so after exchanging big guy pleasantries (the nicest fellow, as I suspected) about the transcendental beauties of wintertime and such stuff, I sped up and created some distance between us. On the other hand, later back at the ranch he delivered a rousing reproach to a band of ne’er-do-well Johnny-come-lately-frolickers (nope, the wintertime curfew was closing in and everyone needed to head home to their fireplaces so the snowplows could be readied for the next morning).
Adam and I went for a nighttime walk from the beach house to the mouth of the Elwha. It was threatening to rain but very low, scudding clouds swirled clockwise like an aperture to behold the moon, larger than life. It was a sublime scene, we felt like characters in a snow globe and commenced to lose feeling in our hands as we knelt down to splash the icy water of the river where it mixes with the sea and after a perusal of interesting debris on the gravelly finger of the river’s west bank (here today, twenty feet over there tomorrow) that reaches into the Strait, the moon was cloaked once again and dusk descended very suddenly and we easily imagined the shapes of scattered driftwood here and there to be otters and seals. We revisited the river a handful of times the next couple of days, no moons but a couple of eagles and five curious seals on New Year’s morning. The beach house sat low across the road from a Native cemetery as well as a troublesome slide area high above. One night when I had trouble falling asleep I couldn’t stop imagining a tsunami carrying the boys terrifyingly adrift in the middle of the night while we cried for each other and I startled awake and it was Adam wanting to take a morning stroll to the Elwha for seeing if we could find interesting things washed up during the night such as colorful bobbers or sticks shaped like Han Solo’s blaster and I was starkly reminded nature is neither ruthless nor benevolent.
It’s certainly no longer autumn through the mountain passes. This indisputable truth was revealed to us a few days ago during a snowy tromp which devolved into a heron-like choreography of frosty one-two-threes (not unlike beleaguered, bundled-up sumo wrestlers) northwardly over-and-sometimes-through thigh-high drifts along an historic, abandoned portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. With surprising accuracy, the boys found it delightful sport to free snow laden boughs (directly above my head) from their wintry burden and it was barely cold enough for tolerating the fluffy blizzard-dusters (warmer but wetter plops can hurt).
It’s shivery up high (unless a Pineapple Express comes along and puts a damper on things) but one of my favorite rituals in the lowlands before autumn really fades and everything turns gray-green is documenting our festering, rotted jack o’ lanterns because that’s when even the most uninspired carvings will take on life their own but owing to the time-honored tradition of post-Hallows Eve pumpkin-smashing by who-the-heck-knows-who (pampered, spoiled rats have been known to pry in search of forgotten seeds and send gourds rolling) my subjects have dwindled to an odd couple perched atop the sidewalk and I expect they’ll be meeting their grisly denouement at any time.
Speaking of grisly denouements, macabrely entertaining meals for the Venus flytrap include Halyomorpha halys (the stinkbug) in that they don’t go down without a fight, veritable gladiators in the face of certain death. This morning we delivered a would-be juicy package of protein with the bug tweezers but it clawed its way to freedom so we brought him back and the ugly little bugger once again refused to go silently into the night. The discomfiting scene of stick legs feebly wiggling for freedom was unsettling to me and I couldn’t help opining on this sinister business, the feeding of his little monster but Adam reminded me rather brutally there are no vegetarians in our household. I’m not going to disavow my notions that easily but it is creepy the way the bony, ugly things come crawling nose-first down the drapes on some sort of bug mission such as crawling into bed with me. Feed the little monster!
Where the stinkbugs come from, your guess is as good as mine but it could be someplace like the woodpile. I don’t know how many cords are sitting there outside the kitchen window but it makes the boys proud and frankly it makes me feel manlier having it around although I worry a little about termites. We don’t have a fireplace let alone a wood stove, that’s true. On the other hand, the neighbor’s murderous cat has one less place from which to creep and pounce upon unsuspecting birds just minding their own business, window-shopping their way down to Grandma Bird’s treetop in the Arboretum. The pussycat had it in for me from the first, I believe for no reason at all. Our relationship is damaged beyond repair, unlike that bond which I shared with his predecessor, an orange tabby who before succumbing to old age (limping through the flowers with hurting kidneys, he’d arrive to me desperate for drinks from the garden hose or lick water-drops off the leaf-tops) always stopped by for tea and napped in the upstairs closet where he’d paw a nest out of my dirty laundry. Furthermore, the bad chap has the most ridiculous swinging teats which certainly must hinder him each and every dash from cars, dogs, hurried package delivery drivers and other hazards of the urban environment.
postscript: The inspiration for this musing was a set of interesting close-ups featuring a giant stinkbug being devoured alive but several months later upon editorial review by the Probably Should Get Rid of this and Start Over with Something Else Committee it hardly struck a chord and no wonder since the Venus flytrap is now in hibernation (a very unimpressive, solitary green sprig resembling prison-yard flagpole is holding down the fort) and I conceded perhaps turning my gaspy, wheezy journal into a B horror movie isn’t the way to go. As a paean to the rhythms of life, ramblings have been left alone (including halfhearted complaining about uncharismatic, naughty house-cats) and the spotlight instead swiveled to horribly foul gourds.