By Harry Anderson
‘Tis autumn on the Rock, and although it’s my favorite season I also consider it a bittersweet time of year.
Here’s the sweet: Nature’s amazing arrangement of falling leaves in red and gold (feel free to cue Nat King Cole singing “Autumn Leaves” on Pandora), my riding lawnmower parked until spring (hallelujah!); weeds dying on their own without my having to pull them (double hallelujah!), 40-foot RVs with Canadian plates vanished from the state highway (triple hallelujah!) No back up at the Mukilteo ferry … except maybe on Sunday afternoons (quadruple hallelujah!) No waiting for a booth at Toby’s (quintuple—and loudest—hallelujah!).
Here’s the bitter: The musty smell of my sweaters after months in the drawer (pee-you!); wet grass and mud tracked into the house (Swiffer time!). The misplaced fleece vest I can’t find as I head out the door with the temperature in the 40s (brrrrr!). The wool hat I forget to bring and my bald head is freezing (something else to blame on my DNA). The empty windshield washer fluid tank I discover when I press the “wash” lever and the wipers just smear the summer’s dead bugs across the glass (damn!); the too-snug feel of my flannel shirts around my mid-section (must’ve shrunk in the wash … no way did I add a few pounds eating summer barbecue!).
On crisp autumn mornings, my Bassett hound Charlotte and I enjoy long walks from the Prairie Overlook past Jacob Ebey’s house to the vista point at Admiralty Inlet. In Charlotte’s case, it’s more like one long, very intense sniff. So many smells, so little time. With earlier darkness and colder temperatures, the nocturnal critters leave more scents all over the place. Dog heaven!
While Charlotte is preoccupied with her nose, I am enjoying the solitary pleasure of seeing my breath as I exhale. I examine the dying Canadian thistles along the path. Such a nuisance while living but so delicate and beautiful when dead. I watch the farmers below preparing their fields for winter. An old ritual but quite poetic when viewed in rhythmic slow-motion from above.
When we get to the water’s edge, I admire the wafting plumes of white steam from the Port Townsend paper plant. I remind myself of the many times I have smugly corrected a tourist who tut-tutted that it looked like air pollution. “Oh, for pity’s sake. Air pollution? Here? Get real!”
I see a ferry crossing the inlet toward Keystone. I spot a freighter loaded with containers, headed west to the far east. Then sometimes a cruise ship loaded with tourists, hopefully going someplace warm. And if we’re lucky, we’ll see a dust of early snow on the Olympics.
What we rarely see this time of year are other people on the trail. No visitors trying out their expensive new trail boots and hiking poles. Nobody with ear buds listening to rock ‘n’ roll on their smart phone. Not a soul wearing an “I’ve Been to Disneyland!” tee shirt or a Yankees baseball cap. Just the two of us, a couple of Rock dwellers reveling in why we love it here.
“Come on, Charlotte,” I’ll say. “Time to head home.” She’ll look at me as if to say, “Not yet! I smell a rabbit right over there!” Reluctantly we tug ourselves back to the car.
Autumn on the Rock. The sweet far outweighs the bitter.
n Harry Anderson is resident of Coupeville and former journalist. His column “Rockin’ a Hard Place” will appear monthly in The Whidbey Examiner.