The winds howled, as the rain pelted off my windows like bullets gone astray. It was the week of Thanksgiving. I looked out my portside upstairs window, down upon the beach at Battery Point lighthouse and felt a pain inside for the poor souls congregated below, hunkered down in multi-colored tents, the homeless inside were doing their best to batten down.
A strange confluence arose from those images and a book I was re-reading at the time, Jack Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums.” Written just a year after Kerouac’s classic, “On the Road,” it tells the story of two ebullient young men, setting out to find the truths of the universe, framed in the philosophy of Zen.
One of the cornerstones of Kerouac’s novel, in spite of the abject poverty, akin to Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” is the gratefulness of protagonist Japhy Ryder for all things encountered upon his worldly trek.
“And in keeping with Japhy’s habit of always getting down on one knee and delivering a little prayer to the camp we left, to the one in the Sierra, and the others in Marin, and the little prayer of gratitude he had delivered to Sean’s shack the day he sailed away, as I was hiking down the mountain with my pack I turned and knelt on the trail and said, “Thank you, shack… .”
In that attitude of gratefulness, I offer up the following.
Not too long ago, in one fell swoop, literally overnight, I’d lost a cherished job, income, benefits and the ability to make rent, food and other essentials of daily life. You take a step back, tell yourself to keep your mouthpiece in, stay off the ropes and make it to the next round and you’ll be alright. But you knew that wasn’t spot on and that things had gone south on a downbound train and it wasn’t turning around anytime soon.
And just when it looked darkest, I get a phone call from Jean Robson out in Fort Dick. I’d never met Jean and her husband, Jim, but they’d talked about it and were offering me a nice two-bedroom house, with five acres pasture out back. The rent they asked for was far less than half of what they could rent it out for.
Directly across the pasture lay their son, Mark and wife Lori’s spread. For the next two years, we became great friends, looking after each others’ homes and Lori’s three horses and four dogs. You hear folks talk about that old phrase, how this or that fella or gal would “give you the shirt off their back.” I can’t tell you who wrote that line, but I can give you four people who daily live it and their name is Robson.
The treasure of good fellowship and camaraderie I found embracing me in Fort Dick extended beyond the Robson family. Just 100 yards north of the Robson home was the Fort Dick market. Two notable things arising out of a bachelor’s getting canned or grilled grub every day at the market, were my ability to daily thank the CO’s for their service as they changed shifts at Pelican Bay just down the street a piece. The other was Jennifer Gokey’s fantastic cheeseburgers. Add to it, Eileen, Tracey and all the other folks who run the market who, a la “Cheers,” always have a kind word.
Right next door is the Fort Dick Postal Station. It turned out to be much more, getting to know Postmaster Tracy Yates, a fine conversationalist on everything from MMA to his latest novel.
As for Pelican Bay, while on my walk, I’d always stop by the entry gate and talk with Sgt. Stephen Pettus who never failed to pick me up and leave me with a smile.
Just across the street is Del Norte Ambulance and one of their EMT men named “John,” who were there a year ago when they cut me out of my Toyota after a nasty accident on the 101. Also, returning to that event, just up the street, the Fort Dick Fire Department who responded within minutes of my rear-ender. I can still hear one of the firemen, Willy, putting my Stetson over my eyes, with me yelling, “I’m not dead, damnit, I’m not dead yet.” Patiently, Willy, told me that he’s was only covering my eyes from the shrapnel the ‘jaws of life” might fly into my eyes. You get to times like that, you can’t feel your legs, friendly voices like John and Willy’s walking you through it, you can’t put a price on it, while the value is beyond calculation.
Trying to walk or ride my bike every day as part of my cancer regimen, the list of kind souls in that place named Fort Dick seemed to grow exponentially. Many of the mornings, I’d walk my three mile loop, I’d bump into Chuck Blackburn, a man of infinite good cheer and country wisdom. I miss my old friend and our talks on Lake Earl Drive, which never failed to pick me up.
Further into my daily hike or bike, invariably, I’d run into some of the Alexandre clan out on their dairy lands. Forever indebted to Stephanie and Blake for their trip to San Francisco to support me during the inquisition, meeting up with them or their kids, never failed to put a smile on my face.
Likewise, just down the road a bit, Billy Tedsen and his parents, Bob and Laurie.
Crossing into the trails, and up to the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation’s cemetery, I always managed to take a knee and say a prayer to the Tolowa and their ancestors buried there, thanking them for sharing their earth and sacred ground with us.
Half a mile further and I’m passing the home of Butch and Laurie Lee and their grandson, Hayden. Always good for a bit of jawin’, I still recall all the work Butch and I put in to get justice for the victim in the Jared Wyatt homicide. A good cop, a great friend and another reason I loved taking to the road every day in Fort Dick.
Further up the road, the rolling pastures of Helen and Brian Ferguson. There from Day One after the curtain came down, I looked across their ground, thinking back to their kindness in giving me work surveying those fields, in search of calves breached or in distress.
Then finally cycling up Lower Lake to the gated spread of Becky and Dennis Wood. Not only the great and compassionate work they do with the Marine Mammal Center, which they founded, but for all of the injured birds that I’ve come across and given to their care, which was always accepted.
And so, just like Japhy Ryder, I took a knee out in the Robson’s pasture on my final night there, and said a prayer of thanks to these people and this place, which took me in while I was taking one of Life’s standing eight-counts. Thank you, Fort Dick.
Jon Alexander lives in Crescent City.