Sonny the husky and I and departed Newport in the blackness of the early Monday morning. I had everything planned so we could hit Nestucca Spit in Bob Straub State Park as dawn arrived. This is the special beach where my 16-and-a-half-year journey with Sonny began when I lived in the area and served for a decade as caretaker of the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. By my crude calculations, I’ve rambled the spit 1,200 times with her and figured this would be our last time together because I wasn’t coming this way again for the foreseeable future, and well, she didn’t have many weeks left.
Once my great runner, she’s now blind and can’t walk very far. It didn’t matter; any brief moment with her on the spit is sacred to me. They remind me to keep being the kind of person who gets up early and roams Oregon’s publicly owned beaches with dogs.
I timed it almost perfectly. First light beat us by only five minutes and we were the park’s only visitors — my reclusive preference. I carried Sonny out to the trail and set her down gently. She sniffed to the west and made her way into the dunes. I followed her until she stopped at the crest of a dune, facing the ocean. She couldn’t see anything but I sensed she knew where she was, or at least I wanted to believe that. I took several grainy photographs of her and marveled at the incredible amount of driftwood sprawled at the wrack line.
Rain started falling, as it had on us here so many times before. As I watched her sniff around the remains of a small campfire, my mind drifted to all the indelible memories from Nestucca Spit, almost all of them with Sonny as my companion.
• In 1999, I built my first driftwood forts with students, seventh and eighth graders from Neskowin Valley School.
• I saw a woman throw her wedding ring in the ocean.
• Three coyotes tailed me and the dogs for a quarter mile.
• I witnessed a dolphin leaping through the waves.
• My interesting conversations with Butch in the predawn before work.
• I saw a man crash his brand new model airplane in the surf.
• I reconnected with an old high school girlfriend.
• Running through sea foam in slanting rain
• I recovered from the biggest literary disappointment in my life by dashing naked into the ocean.
• I channeled the spirit of Bob Straub, the late great Oregon politician who saved the spit from an insane relocation of Highway 101 in the late 1960s.
• I watched an old sea lion die gracefully from a bullet wound.
• I refused to aid a man whose $60,000 truck nearly ran over Sonny and then got stuck in the sand with the tide rushing in over his wheels.
• Many, many more.
The rain picked up and it was time to leave. I shepherded Sonny back to the trail and she made her way to the truck. I lifted her into the shotgun seat and dug out a treat. I got in beside her, turned the key in the ignition, and drove the truck away from Nestucca Spit with Sonny the husky for what felt like the last time.
Matt Love is author/editor of 14 books, including his novel “The Great Birthright” (Sonny is a major character in the book). They are available at coastal bookstores, through www.nestuccaspitpress.com and local libraries.