Fed up with the news and everything else, I took Annie walking on Saturday up the old Thiel Creek Road here in South Beach, Oregon to soak in some nature. It was sunny but cold, the sky a watercolor wash of dark and light blues and grays. These days, we usually stay on the paved roads and clearly marked paths, but there’s a path that Fred and I used to walk with our old dog Sadie that I had been wondering about.
What used to be a fairly open trail through Scotch broom and conifers is now almost completely blocked by salal, a thick shrub whose leaves are often used by florists for greenery and whose berries were a staple in the Native American diet. There used to be an open area a ways in with remnants of an ancient house and paths that led in several directions, including a clearcut area to the east where the stumps looked like gravestones. To the north, we used to be able to walk to the edge of the ravine that separated our neighborhood from the Newport airport.
The entrance is barely visible, but there’s still a sign forbidding motor vehicles, not that anything on wheels could fit there now. “Come on,” I said. Annie, game for any new trail despite her gimpy hip, plowed through nose first, pulling me along. The bushes were way over her head and brushing her sides. Deer would hesitate to squeeze through here, but she’s a determined pooch, and I was not in the mood to be deterred.
Memories flooded through me of walking here with Fred and our old German shepherd-Lab Sadie, both gone now. Last week was the eighth (!) anniversary of the day Fred fell and was taken to the hospital, never to come home again. That week began his journey through four different nursing homes before he died from the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Walking was something we could still do together up until that week. We would make our way to the clearing, pick one of the paths spoking out of the circle and thread through the tree stumps till we found our way back to the road. We’d make discoveries: a new plant, a new bird, a dead rabbit, a pile of trash, tire tracks. As you can read in my Shoes Full of Sand book, I watched Sadie kill a squirrel here one day.
As always, small planes flew overhead across the domed sky. The sky always seemed so round here, as if we were standing inside one of the glass floats artists make here on the Oregon coast.
A half mile in, we came to the clearing. The baby pine I photographed way back before my cell phone had a camera in it is a big tree now. And now, east of the clearing, I found a grove of red alders, named for the red wood inside the patchy gray and white trunks. The trees stretched skyward, looking strong and healthy. Beyond, salal, Scotch broom, Douglas fir and Sitka Spruce had risen up above the stumps. It didn’t look like a cemetery anymore.
I felt tears coming. I sat crossed-legged in the weeds and let them fall. Annie licked my face, then snuggled up against me, gazing at this new place in the forest that she had never seen. I could see some of the old paths leading out of the clearing, but they would have to wait for another day. Annie’s leg was shaking from the effort of getting here. My back hurt. Plus I was due to play music at church in an hour. Somehow I felt I had already been to church. Trees fall and new trees grow in their place. An old dog dies and a new dog leads me through the woods. There’s always another path to follow. You cry and you go on.