Walking Through the Seasons in South Beach

 I have been walking this road since my late husband Fred and I moved to South Beach in 1998. For the first eight years, I walked it with our dog Sadie and sometimes with Fred. Now I walk it with Annie. This road, officially 98th Street, was once known as Thiel Creek Road. Where the pavement ends, it forks into an upper and lower branch. We adopted Annie on the lower branch from a family that had two litters of puppies. The house is vacant now, but when we walk down there, Annie, who will turn 6 on Feb.16, still pauses to listen and smell and perhaps to remember. There’s something about this place . . .

Although I’ve worn out several pairs of shoes on this road, I’m still not tired of it. There’s always something new to see. Last week it was a new layer of rocks that bruised my feet right through my sturdy shoes. I also saw fresh deer tracks in the mud. The Scotch broom is tall and green now. It will soon sprout flowers so yellow they light up the sky. Wildflowers will follow and then wild blackberries which Annie and I will eat off the vines.

Paths lead off into the trees and shrubs. The ones we took with Sadie are overgrown, and some are blocked with concrete barricades, but a new path carved out by road workers a few years ago parallels the backs of the homes on Cedar Street, turning back around to Cedar at a wide viewpoint overlooking a ravine and the airport beyond. The path is isolated. I study the paw and hoofprints on the ground, seeing many dog prints and tennis shoes but also signs of deer, coyote, and bears. Annie and I both keep our senses alert here, ready to react if another creature appears.

Man leaves his mark, too. Unlike the street, where I can always find hamburger wrappers, empty cigarette packs, and Starbuck’s cups, the paths are usually clear of litter. But I see big yellow Caterpillar tractors parked along the road and muddy scars where they have carved out openings in the trees and brush. When we first moved here, we were told that the property owner–and yes, someone does own this wilderness–had plans to build a housing development and golf course resort. It hasn’t happened. We have also heard that the airport might build a new entrance off 98th Street, which would add a great deal more traffic, but that hasn’t happened either. The tree line has moved farther east, trees ripped off their stumps and carted away for lumber. But new growth sprouted up in their places.

If there is any sun, it shines on this path. Sometimes in late afternoon, we see the moon above the trees. We rarely see any other people or animals, but when we do, I wave and they wave back. The seasons of nature and of our lives change, but we continue to walk this road, rain or shine, and we always notice something new.

Seeking the end of the road

I always wondered what lay at the end of Thiel Creek Road, also known as 98th Street, the road I take to my house in South Beach. I had heard rumors that you could drive all the way to the city of Toledo, Oregon on it. A couple times I started out on it, but in those days I had more of a city car. When the road turned to gravel and then got so narrow I feared I would soon run out of room, I chickened out. I also kind of feared to meet the villains from “Deliverance,” if you remember that movie.

But I have a sturdy four-wheel drive now, and since I have become a widow, I am more daring. In the face of recent events, every other challenge seems pretty small.

So, one grouchy day last week, after a mid-day post office run, I turned onto 98th Street from Highway 101 and thought: Why not drive that road all the way to the end? The weather was great, and I had no reason to hurry home.

The road comes to a V just past Cedar Street. The north portion goes uphill into the sun, and the south branch goes down into the trees. I took the latter, a damp and shady road.

To my amazement, as soon as I left the paved portion, a bear ran across the road in front of me. Although I have heard many tales of bear sightings, I had never actually seen one here. This black bear was on the small side, streaking across the road and disappearing into the bushes, not far from where my dog Annie and I walk several times a week. 

I stopped the car, my heart pounding. “I saw a bear! I saw a bear!” Thank God I was in my car and not on foot.

Well, that turned my bum day around. Excited by my bear sighting, I drove on.

The road was narrow and mostly gravel. I passed the deserted blue house where Annie and her siblings were born. Beyond that, the road narrowed and the trees closed in. Ferns filled the roadside among the spruce and Douglas firs.Thiel Creek gurgled through marshland. Milepost 1.

I passed another house, then a for-sale sign and a big clearing with a bulldozer parked on it. More houses were hidden among the trees, one with a white goat in the front yard, but much of the road was unoccupied. On the right (south), a vast green area opened up. The road rose higher. I could see another road heading south down below but it was blocked by a gate and one of many no-trespassing signs. Milepost 2.

Although the road was already so narrow I didn’t know what I’d do if another car came, a sign warned of a “one lane road” up ahead. Narrower, wetter, darker. Time to turn around, I thought, not wanting to chicken out again, but not wanting to get stuck either.

Suddenly the road took a big curve north and I ended up on someone’s property. Thiel Creek Road ended at the front door of a massive blue house. Definitely the end of the road. If it ever went to Toledo, it didn’t now.

The road was riddled with private property signs, but I had thought they meant the areas to the sides. On the way back, I saw a blue gate that I had missed the first time. Oops. I really was trespassing.
I turned around and bumbled along the gravel road toward home, happy in my adventure, seeing a bear and making it to the end of Thiel Creek Road.

Now I know.

A meeting of the moms

My dogs Chico and Annie were born at a home down Thiel Creek Road just past where the road forks, one way going uphill through fields of Scotch broom, wild blackberries and a rainbow of wildflowers, the other meandering downhill along the creek, bounded by ferns and fir trees. Usually we walk the upper path. It’s sunny and not so steep, but yesterday I took Chico down the lower path.

I hadn’t planned to take him to his birthplace. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember the house. He and Annie were only eight weeks old, 9 and 8 pounds of scared puppy, when Fred and I put them in the car and took them home that rainy April day last year. We had never had any contact with that family since then, and I don’t even remember their names.

But this time, the woman came driving by with one of her daughters. She recognized me and the dog and stopped to talk. “He looks just like his mother,” she said. Really, I thought, gazing at my dog. Perhaps. The mother dog, a Staffordshire bull terrier, was rounder and more mottled black and tan while Chico, half Lab, is primarily black. However, this summer his fur is lightening up, with more brown showing every day. And those eyes, those huge chocolate eyes, are unmistakable. Chico’s taller than his mom was, like a woman’s teenage son.

“Is he fixed?” the woman asked.

“Oh yeah,” I said, thinking about how my brother-and-sister pets were already humping each other at four months and I was relieved to have them neutered before Annie wound up pregnant.

The woman drove on after that. Later I wondered if she had thought maybe Chico would be a good stud for breeding. No way. Two crazy dogs is enough.

Having gone that far and been sighted by the human mother, we walked toward the house. We were still a couple hundred yards away when I heard a dog barking like crazy from the garage. I was sure it was Chico’s mother. While he didn’t recognize the blue house, he did react to the voice, head cocked, ears up. “Mom?” He didn’t bark back, but I could see he was puzzled.

I felt bad for the dogs, separated for life. “He’s okay,” I called out to the hidden mother dog. “Big and healthy. I’ll take good care of him. I’m so sorry.” And we turned and headed back up the hill.

It was a long walk home. We collapsed on the cool lawn, Chico leaning all his 64 pounds on me as I pet his soft brown-black head. “You’re such a good boy,” I said, wrapping my arms around him and hugging him tight.

Was it born in a bakery?

Annie and I were walking Thiel Creek Road again yesterday when we came upon a young neighbor with a baby in a stroller. I was prepared to discipline my pup if she tried to jump on them, but the stroller made her nervous, so she wouldn’t go near it. “Pretty dog,” the mom called. I know I should have said something back like, “Beautiful baby,” but it didn’t come out of my mouth. I’m as unused to babies as Annie is.

Anyway, we were distracted by the arrival of the woman’s dog, a dachshund which had often come roaring out into the street to bark at my dogs. I always worried about her getting hit by a car. From a distance one could barely see her. Turns out she had already been hit. A while back, the doxie almost died when a car bashed into her, cracking her skull. But she has recovered and was back out in the street, barking at us while its owner hollered, “Punkin, come, Punkin!” Finally Punkin’s owner picked her up and I hurried Annie up the hill and around the corner out of sight.

Actually I don’t know if the dachshund’s name was Punkin or Pumpkin; lots of people mispronounce that word. But the bigger question is why name a dog after the big orange Halloween squash? Especially a dog who is neither orange nor big?

It gets worse. Last week when I was walking Chico, we ran into an older man with a black dog he’d picked up at the Humane Society. The dog’s name was Donut, he said, shaking his head. Can you imagine saying, “Donut, heel”? What if the dog thinks you’re saying “Do not heel”? Either way, Donut was not heeling. As the man admired my reasonably well-behaved pooch, I said lessons had helped us a lot. Yeah, he’s thinking about it, the man said as the dog pulled him halfway across the street.

So why are people around here naming their dogs after food? Mine have always had human names. But I guess that’s nuts, too. Back in the good old days, dogs had names like Blackie and Spot.

Then there was the dog Grandpa Fagalde tried to name after the first President Bush. The dog didn’t respond, must have been a Democrat, so Grandpa renamed him Skipper. Don’t ask me why. But the mutt barked so much I think his middle name must have been “Shut Up!”

Take a walk. You never know what you might see.

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