As we move closer to the Winter Solstice, the sun drops as though someone hit a light switch: one minute we are in the sunset’s golden glow; the next – it’s dark! When I first moved to Obstruction Island in late November of 1992, I was still learning how quickly the bright day switched to black night.
A little summer cabin was my home while we built the main house. The electricity was not quite connected. There was no inside running water. I had driven from Oregon in a Dodge Ram. In it was all the clothes and furniture I would have on the island for the next four months. Lurching behind it, connected by the tow bar, was an inboard/outboard that eventually won the name of Bad Boat. It too was packed.
A week after my move, my friend Kathryn drove my equally crammed Honda Civic up from Oregon. She had missed the earlier ferry and now we would be crossing the water after dark. I chose to meet her with the Whitehall rowboat rather than Bad Boat because of the latter’s fickle temperament. With trepidation, Kathryn found herself sitting in the boat’s stern seat, inches above the black water. She was trying to trust that her friend knew where she was headed, — somewhere on the dark black of an island lump that barely showed against the starry black sky. Relief hardly describes what she felt when we reached the dock.
We each put on a backpack. Kathryn held the flashlight and I carried a large box with a light the electrician wanted to install. She followed me up the 77 stairs of the North Dock and straight up the hill.
A crashing off to our left indicated that we had disturbed a sleeping deer. “Oh good,” I thought. “Kathryn will see some wildlife.” The bumbling and crashing continued, coming straight toward us. I braced my feet. Bamn, the deer hit me in the knees. Kathryn said I started to topple backwards, my pack dipping toward her, and then regained balance. The deer stumbled off in the dark with a possible bruise on its ribs. With the light behind me, it had never seen me.
We laughed about the attack deer but the next afternoon when I took the electrician back to Orcas, she was no longer laughing. While the electrician and I rowed to Orcas, I hoped Kathryn was on the point enjoying the final moments of a winter sunset of beaten gold.And suddenly it was dark.
I returned, tied up and walked back up they hill to the cabin. There were lights in the cabin but the door was locked. “Kathryn?”
“Caroline is that you?” a tentative voice called out.When I assured her it was, “Do you know your phone is not working?”
“Well, maybe the electrician unplugged it. Why is the door locked? We are the only ones on the island.”
Kathryn let me in and told me her story. After I’d left, a raccoon appeared on the cabin’s deck. She thought it was cute and gave it a cracker. In a flash, there were several raccoons, circling, standing on their hind legs, little hands out for a cracker. And then more appeared — about fourteen crowded in, circling, coming closer. Kathryn tried to shoo them. One of them hissed. Then they all hissed.
She shut herself inside and decided this would be a good time to call a friend in Seattle. But the phone was dead. There was no other human on the island. It was dark outside. A great many raccoons were circling around the cabin. “What if something happened to Caroline?” she thought. “What if she doesn’t come back?” That was when she locked the door.
Kathryn making her peace with a raccoon.
In later visits, Kathryn made friends with the raccoons. But on this trip she returned to Oregon convinced her friend had moved to an island where there the deer attacked and bands of dangerous raccoons were circling the wagons.
©Caroline Buchanan 2010
A somewhat different version was first published on September 15, 2009 in Project Home, a division of Sound Publishing, Inc. and circulated with The Islands’ Sounder, The Islands Weekly, and The Journal of the San Juans.