Some life events happen in such a way that when you look back, it makes you wonder how the universe orchestrates details that make moments poignant in retrospect. This is what happened this summer when Mark’s dad passed away. But let me tell you first about oysters because this is what I remember most – how he loved them, but also the most vivid memory of eating raw oysters with him in Alaska.
I’m sure I’ve had raw oysters before as a child, but just coming out of being a vegetarian for all of my adult life and introducing seafood back into my diet, the experience of eating the freshest, just shucked oysters outdoors in Alaska where he lived at the time, is one of my strongest food memories. Food is not just about taste, but the entirety of the experience and it involves all the senses. I remember we sat outside on rustic wood benches and tables overlooking the bay on the Homer Spit. Beyond that were the towering snowcapped mountains that filled the horizon every direction you looked. This was in May, so while it was the warmer, light filled season, we were still bundled up in winter coats. His dad and I split a plate of oysters (Mark was not eating oysters back then) and we savored each one slowly. I remember we didn’t say much. We just quietly sat there looking at the mountains enjoying our plate of oysters, the salty brine that enveloped our tastebuds enhanced by the salty ocean air. They are still, to this day, the best I remember having.
This summer when we were traveling with family to the Olympic Peninsula, Mark’s mom wanted to stop by an outdoor oyster restaurant in the Hood Canal called Hama Hama Oyster Company. It was exactly the kind of place that Mark’s dad would have loved and I remember that we remarked as such. Oysters are farmed and harvested right there in the canal with an outdoor restaurant on the water. It reminded me of that time I had oysters in Alaska. We had a seafood feast that afternoon, all of us in the family, and while we didn’t know that my father-in-law would pass away a few days later, I think about how we were all together when that moment happened. It was almost like we were already celebrating his life, through the food that he loved the most.
That trip to the Olympics, the same where we finally made it to Cape Flattery, was full of moments, some poignant and some even bizarre. The long drive back to our rental home from the Cape to Lake Crescent was a bit stressful because the roads were getting hard to see as the light from the day waned. There are no lights around at all except the ones coming from headlights. It’s a bit hypnotic trying to follow the road by focusing on the yellow stripe and only being able to see limited visibility in front of us. About halfway on our drive we saw the most bizarre thing – a deer sitting in the middle of the 2 way road, legs folded under him right on the yellow stripe, eyes wide open staring ahead. We were going too fast to make a stop and we weren’t even sure what we saw. Was it a hallucination? Since it was pitch black, we didn’t see the deer until our headlights illuminated him right as we approached, and because we were approaching him head on with our lights lighting mostly his upper torso and head, it almost looked like a deer head wall mount placed right in the middle of the road. It was a miracle that we didn’t hit the deer because we were so close. When I looked back, I noted that I didn’t immediately see the car that was driving behind us for some miles. Maybe that car stopped and helped the deer off the road. Or maybe…
It was hard to shake off that vision for the rest of the drive. This is a remote area with zero cell service and I think we were just sort of shocked at what we thought we saw so we kept on driving quietly. When we all got back to the house, we asked my sister-in-law, who was about a half hour behind us on the same road, whether she had seen a deer. She hadn’t, but she did see remains of fresh road kill in the middle of the road around that part of her drive home.
You may think it’s a stretch to consider our deer encounter as a sign of the news that we would receive just a few days later about Mark’s dad’s passing, but it was such a strange experience that I can’t help thinking about it in association. Maybe it was just an isolated bizarre incident, but when I look back on this year – another year blindsided by a string of unpredictable events and loss of family members – I find myself combing through the memories to make sense of the unexpected. Our afternoon of oysters on the Hood Canal that summer day will be as strong a memory of my father-in-law as those oysters in Alaska. And we have a mission now – to return to that spot in Alaska one day to eat freshly shucked oysters once again in his memory.