Thursday, December 21, 2023


Fairhaven Village is Bellingham’s historic neighborhood. This week the Fairhaven community grieves the loss of its oldest commercial building in a fire. The Terminal Building was home to the Harris Avenue CafĂ© and Tony’s Coffee.


I’m part of the Fairhaven community because we share a dog. The last time I went into the coffee shop in the Terminal Building, Bear waited on the sidewalk while I ordered my usual: “Americano to go, four shots, black, 16 ounce cup with extra room because I’m walking my dog.” The barista looked outside and asked, “Is your dog Bear? I used to work across the street at Acme, and I miss him.”

Bellingham is blessed with an amazing network of trails. If I got to choose the route, we would stick to the waterfront or go through the woods. I’m a writer, so I like to commune with nature while dictating to my watch. 

But Bear is a people person. In particular, Bear is a people-with-treats-and-hugs person. Several welcoming businesses in Fairhaven keep dog treats behind the counter. Bear has calculated the shortest route to each such establishment. (If they’re closed, Bear insists on being compensated with something from my backpack.) Trading treats for hugs has become the highlight of many Fairhaven folks’ day. At Acme Ice Cream, the dyed-haired baristas have taught Bear to shake hands. At Village Books, Bear can count on Nathan for the best back scratches. On busy retail days, Bear’s contribution to the ambience can close a sale. On quiet days, there’s time for every lonely dog person to get a personal cuddle. 


Then Bear shakes his hair as if humans have cooties, and prepares to move on. As Heather at Acme said the other day, “I know you’ve got your other spots, Bear.”

This fall we expanded our treat-seeking itinerary. Bellingham residents who live in the neighborhoods around Fairhaven all receive copies of Southside Living, a glossy local real estate magazine. A recent article with the headline “Meet Skylar, a Fairhaven Regular” described one dog’s foraging route. Bear and I were already familiar with Village Books, Acme Ice Cream, and the Woods Coffee outpost in Boulevard Park. But we hadn’t heard about some of the other treat-offering businesses that Skylar regularly visits, including the toy store down the street. On our next walk through Fairhaven, Bear stopped by to introduce himself to the toy sellers. 


It turned out to be fake news – they politely directed us next door to Bay to Baker Trading Company. This made Bear think we’re supposed to stop at every shop on the block. But he quickly figured out which door had treats behind it. Now whenever we leave Acme, Bear drags me straight down the street to Bay to Baker. At each Fairhaven location, Bear offers all the loving craved by the various dog-starved baristas, bookstore clerks, and college students we encounter. But it’s the treats that bring him back.  

Long walks with Bear help me think clearly enough to get my work done. It’s been a challenging year. This summer we averaged over nine miles a day. During the darkest time of year we’re down to six miles a day. But this week we welcome Christmas, the solstice, and the return of light and hope. 


In addition to walking along the seawall in Vancouver or on other trails in Bellingham, this year Bear and I have walked along the Boardwalk connecting Fairhaven and Boulevard Park almost every day. Bear thinks it’s because the Boardwalk links the supply of treats in Fairhaven to his friends at Woods Coffee. Bear is a dog. 


Boulevard Park has always been my favorite spot in Bellingham, with its rocky beach and spectacular view of Canada, the Olympic Mountains, and the San Juan Islands. Nowadays our path takes us past the spot where the city has poured concrete for a bench donated in honor of Henry King, the genial homeless man who used to sit near there. Henry always saved food to share with Bear. He and my brother Doug Leishman both died this spring. Every day I walk along the waterfront with Bear and think of them fondly.  

Bear’s favorite spot in Bellingham is nearby, at the south end of the Boardwalk. We learned about the kitchen door at the Chrysalis Inn from the Southside Living article revealing Skylar’s secret pirate treasure map. It’s already become Bear’s dream destination. Nevertheless, this stop on our Fairhaven pilgrimage is bittersweet because Bear can’t count on a treat every time.


It’s a trick of lighting. Behind the glass door a long hall leads to the kitchen. Although we can see everything happening inside, Bear’s friends usually can’t see him unless they happen to be on their way to grab something from the walk-in fridge next to the exit. Bear is patient. But some days we need to move on without a restaurant treat.


Bear would say it’s worth the wait. Even the gourmet dog treats at Acme can’t compete, let along ordinary Milk-Bone® biscuits. One time the busboy brought out a huge piece of applewood-smoked bacon. (I would have eaten it myself, but he insisted on cuddling with Bear until the bacon was all gone.) Most days Bear gets generous chunks of chicken breast that didn’t make it into someone’s Caesar salad. 


Usually one of the dog-friendly kitchen workers emerges from the walk-in refrigerator with a handful of tender chicken. Occasionally they’ll bring out the whole plastic tub from the fridge. The first time I saw the treat tub, it was labeled with an expiration date and the name “Skylar.” But Bear has been busy exerting his charm. Now the tub just says “Woof!”


This morning after I finished this essay and posted it to my blog, Bear and I walked to Fairhaven. Bear said hi to his friends at Village Books and Bay to Baker Trading Company. At Acme Ice Cream, Maddie’s farewell was similar to her co-worker Heather’s:  “Go see your other friends, Bear!”


Bear’s next stop after Fairhaven, Chrysalis Inn, is near the top of the Taylor Dock, where the Boardwalk begins. Before Bear started getting chicken at the kitchen door, this little park used to be one of our regular water stops. (Now Bear prefers to wait until the shelter on the Boardwalk, so he can cleanse his palate after his Caesar salad.) Even before we learned about Skylar’s secret stash at the Inn, Bear was already hanging out with the kitchen staff during their smoke break.


Today a couple of busboys on break called Bear over to say hi. Just as I was saying “We should have texted the kitchen to let them know Bear was on his way,” one of Bear’s favorite treat-boys came out the door – a piece of chicken breast in one hand, and an unlit cigarette in the other.