On the first day of fall, Anacortes, city of sails beneath the sleeping volcano, greeted my weary eyes. The island town situated between Padilla Bay and the Atlantic should have signified a milestone. Perhaps I had dreamt of great thunderbirds swooping down to catch salmon-hunting orca, and flying high, wings straining from the burden only to drop their victims into the seething mouth of a volcano. Years after, I would read my journal entry for the day, "Excitement, relief." Amused, I would interpret this as just going to show how fatigued I had become. By the time I reached Anacortes the road had become a mouse-wheel.
Anacortes was a seaport just east of where snow fell on cedars. I had ridden through corn fields with green stocks taller than I could stand in the saddle, past red-barned farms, as if farms could be barned, for what is a farm without a barn that happened to it, and the mudflats of Padilla Bay, those stinking mudflats, where perhaps clammers once hunted, now only fit for the pluck of seabirds finding repose on rotting stumps, or were they piers? And Mt. Baker, clad all in snow, rose above it all like some carmelite, great white watcher of seas and stories.
After biking around I found lodging downtown. That night I studied my maps and was amazed to see that the next day's journey would take me to Whidbey Island, from which my old ship was named after. The map was marked with the color brown to indicate U.S. Naval Reservation. The island conjured up memories and fantasies from the depths of my imagination.
Tomorrow I would ride along green clad hillocks of the island, and perhaps see my old ship, the USS Whidbey Island, nestled in her berth. I would recognize old seaman going about their duties, harking to the call of the boatswain's whistle, loading provisions for a new voyage, or perhaps coming and going on shore leave. Bands of brothers starving for the attention of women would sally forth from the ship in droves. The night would resound with their marching songs like a chorus celebrating honor, courage and sacrifice.
A duty officer in navy whites would hail me from atop the gangplank.
After marching up the gangplank, turning aft, saluting the Stars and Stripes, right facing, and saluting the Officer of the Day, I would say, "Permission to come aboard, sir!"
"Permission granted," the OD would say, returning my salute, "And welcome back, sir."
Of course, they would recognize me, even though I hadn't been aboard since December, 1997.
I would tour the ship like an old captain on the eve of battle. Every nook and cranny, every portal, bulkhead, hatch, and compartment would bring back the mirth and camaraderie of old friends swapping stories in the galley during midrats.