The jeep rattled down the gravel road spraying fresh mud onto the rear well adding to the layers of Northwest sediment already caked on. Mary bumped along calmly in the driver’s seat. Unpaved roads were very familiar to her. A tower of coffee cups stacked in the cup holder threatened to tip as the potholes grew worse. Shelly, Mary’s blue heeler traveling mate, lay in the passenger’s seat tired from being cooped up for the past few days.
The rain spattered across the windshield; the drops grew heavier as the jeep passed beneath the overhanging trees that clung to the path’s embankments. The head lights danced down the road, illuminating the wooden gate that was Mary’s destination. The gate was tattered here and there but still made a fine boundary to the property.
The jeep stopped a few yards from the gate and Mary stepped out of the car. Her boots squished in the mud and gravel. She slowly worked her way to the gate and swung it out as drops flung off her hood. The yard was once a manicured garden but had grown wild since its guardian lost the ability to take care of it. The rest of the path was worse than the road before the gate.
Mary’s jeep crawled over the weeds and uneven ground that could barely be called a driveway. The brakes squeaked as the Jeep stopped just to the side of the porch. The wind was howling through the countless trees surrounding the house. Mary left the safety of the car to remove her duffle bag and backpack out of the back. She worked her way to the side of the car and let Shelly out. Shelly crawled slowly down, unsure about the new place. They made their way out of the torrents and creaked their way across the porch. Mary fished the key out of her jacket. It was worn from years of clinking next to her others without any use. It still unlocked the door with no problem.
The house was hazy with a combination of dust and moisture. Mary dropped the duffle bag next to the door and worked her muddy boots off. Shelly began straight away investigating her surroundings with her nose. Obviously no one had been in here yet; he was never quite tidy and the front room showed it. Mary went to the kitchen and found a bowl and a cup. The same dishes that were here when she called this home. She filled them both with water, placed the bowl on the ground for Shelly, and drained the cup herself, dehydrated after the countless cups of coffee.
She made her way down the hall to the bedrooms and pushed the master bedroom’s door open. The bed was unmade and his wallet sat on the bedside stand. No one gets to tidy up and tie a bow on it before they leave. They are just plucked from their surroundings leaving the rest for those that remember them. Mary flipped the light off and closed the door. There was no way she was going to stay in that bed while she was here.
She pushed the guest rooms door open and made her way in. The room was just as before as if lost in time. The room consisted of a twin bed against one wall and a simple desk on the other. At the far end was a borough the held a lamp and a large mirror that reflected a worn, damp woman.
Mary dropped the backpack next to the desk and struggled out of her jeans. The mud had already begun to cake at the cuffs. The house creaked slightly as a gust blew through. She shivered and decided that the night would be quite cold without a fire. There were two logs sitting in the basket near the fireplace in the living room. She knew there were stacks out in the shed but these two would have to do for the night. Shelly had already found a makeshift den under the table and begun to recover from their travels. After lighting a small bundle of cardboard and sticks that lay at the bottom of the wood basket, Mary went to find the bottle of whiskey he kept hidden in the cabinets out of reach. She had to climb on the counter but was successful in pouring herself a glass. She gulped down a drink. The warmth of it was welcoming. Carrying the glass with her, she dropped the two logs on the fire hoping that it would not smother and made her way to the room, taking another swallow on her way.
She set the glass on the borough and worked her shirt off. After draining the glass, she settled into the bed. It took her a while to fall asleep. Since crossing into this county, years of memories had haunted her. It wasn’t until she set eyes on this room that she had eased a bit. This room had been the only safe haven she had as a child during the torrents that were her childhood. The wind continued to howl and, once her mind would allow it, she slept dreamlessly and deep.
The next morning, Mary woke late. The sun gleamed through the shades with a dull yellow. After a much needed shower, she put the kettle on for coffee. She missed her espresso maker that she had left in Alaska; the only method here was a small red pour over. It’ll do, she thought, any coffee is better than none. As the kettle bubbled away she released Shelly into the yard to inspect her new domain. The outside world was still recovering from the storm that blew through the night before and the wind had a dank chill to it. Mary wrapped herself in a throw and watched Shelly from the porch. Despite the wind and cold, Mary found a patch of sun that gleamed through the left over clouds. Shelly explored the perimeter of the yard stopping here and there for a thorough investigation.
Mary floated into memories of this yard. It was once a groomed masterpiece of an expert gardener and had always perfectly walked the line between wild and manicured. She had spent many sunny autumn days stealing apples from the tress and berries from the bushes. They were fond memories that she returned to often. Now the apple trees grew knotted and hung with moss while the blueberries and raspberries fought a losing battle with brambles.
Mary was draw back indoors by the kettle whistling loudly then returned to her post on the porch with a hot mug of coffee in hand. Shelly trotted up the planks and laid on top of Mary’s feet. Mary no longer had to fight the cold with her living slippers and fiery mug. The faint sound of waves crashing on the beach and faint scent of salt and seaweed convinced her to finish her coffee on the beach. She returned to the inside world and wrangled on her muddy jeans from the day before. There’s no need to dirty another pair, she thought.
The pair made their way down to the locals only path that wound its way to the beach below. Shelly stayed close to her owner while excitedly exploring the new trail. Mary knew this trail well in the past but as she walked through its muddy gravel and ferns it felt like a completely new path. As a child, the path was well trimmed with only a few small trees blocking the view to the ocean. Now those trees were towering and the entire trail was shaded from both the ocean and the sun and held a damp decaying smell that was common in the northern forests. Mary liked the newer version of the trail better. It felt less exposed and more private than before.
The trail terminated with a collection of aged driftwood logs that required hikers to clamber over to reach their destination. Shelly scampered up them without a second thought and waited for Mary on the other side while Mary took a slower approach being careful to not spill her precious coffee. The air held the same rich, salty smell that always accompanies the shores.
Mary glanced down the wide expanse of beach to ensure that there were no surprise play mates for Shelly. A pair of barely visible shapes were making their way towards the bluffs which would be long gone before Shelly would notice. On the other side was only a few hundred yards of beach that ended in a sharp cliff of jagged rocks which form a natural jetty separating this beach and the next one down the endless line of beaches that made up the California shoreline. Shelly understood the lazy gesture Mary had made and went sprinting down the shorter section of beach spraying sand is a large arch behind here. She arched around and began sniffing a secluded stone before launching off again. Mary made her way behind Shelly holding her coffee close to her face to allow for easy sipping.
From this south-facing beach she could see the sleepy fishing harbor and the bulbous peninsula that were the iconic features of the town. Along with these she could make out a large expanse of the county’s beaches stretching to the south. She held the belief that the county grew worse as you made your way south. Trinidad, the town she now standing in, was the last tolerable place before the chaos of the rest of the county. Stones, stumps, and rivers were known to gradually move from place to place and after she mapped out all the new changes to the coastline, she calmly focused on her current situation.
She had escaped this nook of the country when she was seventeen and found her place in Fairbanks, Alaska, a place far away with no hot weather and no need for a passport. After working her way through two years at community college and four years at university, one of her professors pointed her to a position as a fisheries biologist at the Department of Fish and Game. There she quickly became lead on some of the largest fisheries surveys ever conducted and gained a reputation for fearlessly accessing the most remote streams that very few had attempted to collect data from. She loved her job and had subconsciously decided that she was going to spend the rest of her life studying fish in remote Alaska.
She was now in remote Northern California because of the only person she had any connection to in the lower forty-eight, her uncle Sky.