Arlita Crockett. ‘Sea Ranch Scene’, acrylic on canvas on board, 2008. Private collection.
We made our first visit, together with our beloved Tibetan terrier Bika, to the remote section of the northern California coast known as The Sea Ranch, in January 1999. Bika was then just three years old and in perfect health, a joy to remember at that period which I now think of as the morning of our life. I had only known her for a couple of months then, but we had connected instantly as kindred spirits. It was northern California coastal winter, with cool windy days, rain off and on, and sunlight breaking through often enough to make walking and outdoor excursions both possible and fun. We rented the first of what would eventually be many houses in a search for that perfect place which, in terms of rentals, we never actually found. But they are now all delightful to recall. The fun part about this first house was that it had a large fireplace exactly opposite the entry. You had only to step into the vestibule to see the crackling fire you had started first thing that morning framed in the wide living room doorway before you. Large windows looked out over meadows to the sea. I felt myself in a kind of paradise.
It was the meadows which Bika loved, and an unforgettable image was imprinted on that visit into my mind: Bika leaping joyfully through the brown waving grass under a bright blue sky as I watched her through one of the large plate glass windows to one side of the hearth. It may be my favorite memory of her, out of many thousands of memories, because she was so happy and carefree and young. What we didn’t know about yet was ticks: tiny blood-sucking insects which love to attach themselves to dogs’ stomachs and legs and noses and ears, and hang on for dear life. Not only can they carry diseases, but they can be most difficult to remove. They burrow head first into the flesh, attach their tiny jaws to the living tissue, and begin to drink. When Bika came in, we found a large tick attached to the middle of her nose, the removal of which left a tiny scar visible for the rest of her life. It took us a couple of years, and various trips to the vet, before we became very adept at keeping Bika out of the grass and on roads and trails. Still, I’m so glad she had that day of unrestricted fun. It’s something I often think about now.
I suppose we made about a dozen visits to The Sea Ranch with Bika. The drive was sometimes difficult for her: 100 miles north of San Francisco, the last forty minutes consist of precarious hairpin turns along the edges of dizzying cliffs which drop hundreds or even thousands of feet to the sea. Bika had the whole back seat to herself, and piles of blankets and pillows to keep her comfortable, but she usually preferred to sit up front with us. I have another fine memory: Bika perched warmly the length of my leg, all 25 or 30 pounds of her, as I sat there in the passenger’s seat trying hard–as she no doubt was too–not to be sick. We were each comforted by the nearness of the other.
Bika’s last visit to The Sea Ranch came just twelve and a half years after the first, and only two months before she died. We rented a very large house right on a bluff, the crashing waters about a hundred feet away. By then, Bika was having trouble with her legs and for the first time preferred to stay quietly in the house when we went off to visit the lovely property in the forest which had been purchased for her a couple of years before. The house had two rather grand stairways, and Bika had to be carried up and down both of them to move from floor to floor. Soon after she had died, I walked past that house and imagined that, somehow, she might still be waiting patiently for us inside, if we could just open the front door. I suppose I’ll always feel that way whenever I pass it.
The California plein air painting of a Sea Ranch scene pictured above was given to me by the artist friend who made it. The meadow is golden, as on our first visit long ago, and when I look up at the picture I can imagine Bika leaping joyfully through the grass. A kind of heaven for her, and so for me too.