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Gone to Innisfree: Journey to the Undiscovered Country
by Lionel Fisher

In January of 1994 I moved�I mean really moved. I, my old dog Britt, and an iguana named Mel. �Gone to the Beach,� read the change-of-address notice I tucked into my greeting cards that Christmas: �I haven�t retired, just retreated. This year I stopped the world and got off. On Washington�s North Beach Peninsula, about a mile from Oysterville. Drop by for a beer if you�re in the neighborhood. If I�m not home, check the beach. I�ll probably be walking the dog.�

Yes, indeed.

Surfside is a far smaller place than anywhere I�d lived before: minuscule, nondescript, inconsequential alongside Portland, Miami, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Manila and Hong Kong, my former cities of residence before this galactic leap of faith.

It�s a reclusive place, the last knuckle on a rain-scoured finger of land lapped by the beige waters of Willapa Bay and the gray Pacific, wrapped by khaki sands and olive clouds, except in summer, when the sky is the color of washed denim. Here, wind and water lean on the land, thrusting a constant coolness from the sea, buffing the stars at night to an awesome brilliance.

Yet, on the morning after my precipitous move, I wrote in my journal: �Took our first walk on the beach, me and Britt. Had a scared, hollow, desperate feeling inside me the whole time. I�m lonely today�for the crowded city and all the people I�ve purposely fled. I have to keep reminding myself why I did it, that nothing is forever. Paths ventured on can be reversed. God, I sound like Hamlet.�

Another entry, later that first day: �It�s an afternoon like the one when I first saw this house�cold and somber, a gloomy rain mottling the leaden surface of the canal below. But it seemed peaceful to me then, comforting and picturesque. Today it just seems grim. What if I�d rented that townhouse on the Willamette in downtown Portland instead of sinking everything into this godforsaken wedge of sand? How would I feel right now, watching the rain falling on the river in Portland? Probably worse because I�d have abandoned a dream. I know the changes I have to make aren�t geographical, they�re inside me. But can I bear to be alone long enough to make them?�

Anxiety, Kierkegaard affirms, is the dizziness of freedom.

Iguana Mel and faithful old Britt loved the beach right off. Most days of our first summer there together, Mel could be found gazing out a living room window, following the sun and dreaming, no doubt, of bright green love.

Britt, however, lasted only until the fall. She was a very old dog and a cherished friend who deserved her last bright season drowsing in sun-warmed sand, but I wished that she could have been with me for one more summer. Six days after she died, I drove to Portland and returned with a twelve-week-old Australian Shepherd named Buddy Holly Fisher. That's the name I scrawled on the American Kennel Club papers I never mailed because I wound up spending the registration fee on a bottle of scotch to toast the rest of our lives together. I could do without people, I quickly found out, but not having a dog by my side would be intolerable.

And so we�ve lived these past six years�one writer, one lizard, one pup�in a snug little house by a canal, a stroll away from the tawny sands of the blue Pacific. It�s what I had dreamed of for a very long time.

But here, now, alone, could I survive the dream?

(book excerpt)

Lionel Fisher is the author of Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001). Reach him at beachauthor@hotmail.com to share your thoughts on magnificent aloneness.