Dog Days

I will not bore you with the details of N and I sussing out the best ice cream in Skagit Valley (Co-op, you know how I feel about your mint chip and chocolate cherry!) Instead, I will tell you about the last week of my summer, one that made heading back to work today almost bearable.

A friend invited me to her beach cabin on the Long Beach Peninsula. The fingerling of land boasts America’s longest stretch of beach–twenty-eight miles.

During one evening’s walk along several of those miles, we watched sandpipers, I think, fly down the coastline. For as far south and north as we could see, the plume of birds jetted by, hundreds, we figured, then thousands, then hundreds of thousands, because for the thirty minutes we gazed, they kept flapping by, now millions heading south on their winter migration. Some thousands of them formed an ebbing cloud, circling over the waves, some bobbing on top of the white-caps. It was like something on the Discovery Channel, all those birds and birds and birds and birds. I was reminded of two passages I teach where both James Audubon and Annie Dillard quake undercover of a skyful of birds. I don’t expect in my lifetime to ever see that magnitude of movement again.

Behind us,the grassy dunes–a far cry from the So Cal beaches of my youth–were the foreground of beautiful grey, purple and white clouds. I have a hunch one long winter’s night I will find myself hunkered over a canvas, capturing that landscape now lodged in my brain.

I rode an old pink Schwinn, much too small and  squeaking wearily under the weight of my bum, around the beach cabin lanes, to the market for chocolate and wine and to the bakery for still warm blueberry scones. It’s the kind of place where you can leave ‘ole trusty lodged up against a sand dune, take a stroll on the beach and come back to find your bike and baguette in the basket still there.

We went for a jog in Leadbetter Point Park, where we hoofed it over beach and forest, on a single track just wide enough for my shoe. Since the peninsula is home to more black bears per square foot than any other place, and since we curled around tight forested corners, I expected to stumble upon a salal-grazing bear at any minute. Instead I found a pristine sand dollar, a beach comber’s treasure, and clutched it gently in my hand for the run back.

Sand dollar secure on the dash, I scurried home to pick up my better half, a change of clothes and headed for the North Cascades. Way back in the spring, when we still had our right mind, my friend and I had signed up for the Cutthroat Classic, an eleven-mile race over a section of the PCT. I hadn’t really been training; the longest I’d run was seven miles, and I hadn’t run at elevation since, well–ever. But it’s amazing what a night of camping beneath an illuminated sky of stars, a Shimmer Sister of a running buddy and a bus ride to the base of Rainy Pass, elevation 4,700 feet, will do.

It’s also amazing what climbing 2,000 feet in five miles will do. Constrict  lungs and remind you that you are alive and reflect on your lack of preparation and conjure conversations with whatever spirits may be listening and emit awe that lungs and legs are still working  and suggest you not dwell on how far till the summit, but rather, how insightful the journey has been. And it will afford you sweeping views of Mother nature’s greatest wonders.

Reaching mountain tops–with a ragged breath and gracious heart–is a spiritual experience.  A six-mile descent allows recapture of your breath, your stride and your soul.

In the end, N and I found some inner tubes and Summer Solstices and floated down the Methow River. There is a town named Twisp. Twisp. Swallows that dart across the slow-moving water and a duck diving for rock scum while a trout, facing upstream, hovers over a gravel bar. The sun splashed across our shoulders, the water, across our legs. We drove home, exhausted, but happy, with just enough energy to taste samples of ice cream at the Methow store and Cascadia Farms. We were, after all, on a mission to declare a winner.


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