Still smiling

This little icon of yours truly has become my online visual proxy in a number of fora (that’s plural of “forum” for the Latinally challenged), including Technorati, TechRepublic, MyBloglog, BlogCatalog, Gravatar, and who knows where else that I’ve forgotten that I dropped my pixels. But have you ever wondered (oh to imagine my vast following of groupies) whence cometh said image? Well, wonder no more!  Behold, the full image from which this icon was clipped.

I’m standing on the beach belonging to our former home on Rich Passage.  This was the last day that we visited that beach, being under contract for sale.  It was a bittersweet day.  We loved that place — at low tide we had about 100 feet of beach from our house to the ocean, and at high tide you could cast a line from our upper deck and hit the water.

Sometimes at night the deer would walk down to the beach and lick the salt off the rocks.  I often miss the sound of the waves breaking on the shore while I was drifting off to sleep.

Why did we leave there?  The lot was a grand 0.19 acres, and half of that was under water at high tide.  Our children had no place to play.  The road, which was within twenty feet of our front door, was getting busier every day.  And every available square yard of land around us was being built up with grand houses overlooking the Passage and destroying our peace.

Our children needed a place to ride bicycles.  Our fifteen-year-old dog passed away, and we wanted to get a new puppy (which turned out to be Halley), but we had no room for an active dog to run around.

So, we sold our waterfront dream home and bought a place on 2.35 acres surrounded by huge cedars and hemlocks.  We can’t see our next door neighbors.  Our kids can ride their bikes for hours and never leave our property.  Our dog has a huge run.

But sometimes I miss the water.  Early every morning I would walk along the shore.  On a clear day, I would pause to gaze at Mount Rainer.  I took this picture on one such walk.

This was about a mile from our house.  Another quarter mile brought me to the Treehouse Cafe, run by my good friend Arnie.  He was just getting started in his own business there when I first visited.  Now he’s booming — rented more space in Linwood Center, installed taps.  He’s fathered two kids since then and hardly shows up on weekends.  I’m happy for his success.

Many times while the sky was still black I’d show up at his doorstep before opening time, but he’d let me in and pour me a Triple Americano Grande with cream.  He and I would philosophize while I sipped the strong brew and he prepared for the day’s business.

One day in mid-winter, the cold rain beat upon me as I advanced along the shore in the darkness.  But the lights at the Treehouse ahead promised dry air and hot coffee.  I lurched through the door and threw the hood off my head in the warmth.  Arnie greeted me and introduced me to Bill, who was seated at a table, sipping a cup and eating a bagel.

Bill was a retired trucker from Arlington, Massachusetts (that’s pronounced AH-lingten Mass) who took a part-time job delivering the bagels from Port Townsend.  The Treehouse was his southernmost delivery, so he would relax with a cup of coffee and a bite of something before heading back home.  He greeted me with a big handshake and asked me to sit down at the table with him.  We hit it off instantly.

At one pause in the conversation, Bill sighed.  “Have you ever had to deal with the approaching death of a pet?”  I had — just a few months before, our beloved fifteen-year-old Samoyed had passed away in her sleep.  Bill revealed that his seventeen-year-old dog was on his last legs.  We got to talking about dogs of ours that had gone before.

“The last time this happened, I swore I’d never own another, ” Bill said.  “After that one died, you’d never want to see a sorrier sight than this rough old trucker driving his big rig down the turnpike and blubbering like a baby.”

“I know how you feel, ” I replied.  “You can stand beside the casket of your own parent whom you mourn bitterly, and nevertheless be aware of their faults in life — as much as you love them.  But a dog only ever wants to please its master.

Once when I was a sapling Southern Baptist, I asked my great-grandmother the question that was always difficult for other church members: “Do dogs go to heaven?”

She replied, “Well, son — of the dogs I have known, if they didn’t deserve heaven, then no people do.”

Bill slapped his big palm on the heavy oak table and declared “Isn’t that the truth!”  We talked for an hour or more on many subjects.  After that, Friday conversations with Bill became a regular event.

When we were preparing to move, I told Bill that my new home was too far away to make it to the Treehouse even once a week.  We traded phone numbers and promised to keep in touch.

But neither of us ever called.  I think we both knew that the same ongoing conversation couldn’t be transplanted out of the Treehouse, away from the big oak table, two cups of coffee, and Arnie cleaning up behind the counter, getting ready to open for the day.


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