The Dog Leaves Town
by Linda Thomas
Sometimes, I just have to get out of town. I was not always this way. Used to be, I stayed put. In fact, in my entire life, I have lived at only four addresses, all in the same county. The two in the middle were transition addresses between the first nineteen years and the last twenty-five years. But I was born in 1946, the Year of the Dog, and we Dog People are born old and grow young. The younger I grow, the more often I need to get out of town. Even for just a long weekend.
Here's what happens: a place starts to grow in my mind. Say, Santa Fe or Washington D.C. or Honolulu. At first, I fancy an image of a place--gravel, a chunk of colored glass gleaming on a length of sidewalk, an old chapel, or a purple orchid tree. Then, I find myself standing in the travel aisle of a bookstore and leafing through the pages of guidebooks. The place swells and colors in my mind, takes on hard rings of possibility. I read about an alley that leads to a fish market, or a river that runs backwards with the tide, or people who believe in solitude. There's a sound like brushed air, and I am out of town.
So it happened with Friday Harbor, a small settlement on San Juan Island in the northern reaches of Puget Sound. Friday Harbor is not an easy place to get to. First, I flew to Seattle, rented a car, then drove north to Anacortes. In Anacortes, on a foggy morning, my journey began in earnest as I watched a ferry emerge from the fog and settle into a dock, the growl of its engines sounding a ghostly promise.
My ferry traversed the channels that separate Blakely and Lopez Islands, through Upright Channel, winding its huge slow course among islands wreathed in fog. The sea was fathomless and many shades of blue, a vast inland salty lake that had flooded the glacier-carved valleys and left only the mountain tops peeking now above the water's surface in the form emerald islands. I stood on the deck to feel the salt breeze on my face and watch bald eagles swoop from the wooded cliffs. Off the stern, I watched the tall dorsal fins of killer whale cut the surface like knives.
Then, the fog lifted, and like the barges in dreams of afterlife, the ferry glided into the narrow wooden landing of Friday Harbor. But there in the tiny town, I was disappointed, as I often am when I've let a place loom too large in my mind. In a cafe called The Place by the Ferry, I did find tender red salmon. But the rest of the town was so devoted to souvenir stands, t-shirt vendors, and crowded bars that the old ache to get out of town returned. And I wandered uphill to a motor bike rental shop.
I have never ridden a motor bike. So I confessed this to the earnest young man who promised that such a feat is a cinch. Anyone can do it. After three lessons in the dirt lot out front, however, I still mistook the brake for the accelerator, and the young man suggested that I could just as well see the island by taxi. I accepted this suggestion as a challenge, twisted the handlebar, lifted my feet onto the pedals, and away I went in a rooster tail of dust and gravel.
I did not die. Instead, I found that the inland acres of San Juan Island are covered with intimate, pretty farms and meadows where cows graze. I sped along roads lined with wood fences and wildflowers--even at a mere twenty-five miles per hour, a motor bike feels like a speeding bullet. As the road rose up and my trusty bike carried me into the breeze, I sensed the sea beyond. Then, I broke through a flank of tall pines, and there at the foot of the cliffs was a lighthouse set firmly on the rocks. Beyond was the fluctuating blue of the waters of Puget Sound, near thick with ropes of seaweed, pods of whale, and kayakers out for a morning row.
I was out of town, out of the crowded byways of my mind, a pup alive with the impervious sunny blue evidence that my dreams of other places are true.
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Linda Thomas has been writing poems, stories, and essays for over twenty-five years, and her work has appeared in numerous print journals and magazines. She is a native of southern California, and though she travels frequently, she finds the Pacific seashore, inland deserts, and local mountains of her home territory endlessly fascinating. When she is not traveling, teaching writing, or writing, you can find her online as Lou. All photographs accompanyingRambles are taken by Linda herself.