Archive for the ‘Oysterville’ Category

Place of the Yellow-Hammers

Saturday, April 3rd, 2021

Flicker Nest — Photo by Tucker Wachsmuth

My grandfather named this house “Tsako-Te-Hahsh-Eetle” which, he said, meant two things:  “place of the red-topped grass” and “place of the yellow-hammers.”  The name is Papa’s rendition of the Chinook jargon that he and his boyhood Indian friends spoke in the 1870s and 1880s.  It is not the name of this house in particular, but the name that this entire area at the Peninsula’s north end was called.

Flicker Nest Lit From Within by Flashlight – Photo by Steve McCormick

Last night we were able to see “up close and personal” what the real home of a yellow-hammer (which we call the red-shafted-flicker) looks like.  Tucker brought a part of the dead tree that Chris took down the other day– the part that had the beginnings of a flicker’s nest.  “He didn’t know it was there,” Tucker said.  But, as it turned out, Tucker had seen and heard that flicker hard at work several days previously.  My feeling of sadness almost overwhelmed my interest in a “teachable” (or maybe a “learnable”) moment.  Almost.

All of us Friday Nighters were amazed at the precision of the hole — perfectly round and absolutely smooth inside — an ideal nursery for raising a flock of 7 to 9 babies.  According to the experts, both Mom and Dad Flicker work on nest conconstruction and, during the 11-12 day incubation period, Dad takes the night shift, Mom the day.

Red Shafted Flicker

As for the tap-tap-tapping we often hear at this time of year — it’s the mating call and delineation of territory that’s happening– unless it’s nest-building.  Contrary to popular belief, Red Shafted Flickers feed mostly on the ground — they love ants! —  unlike some woodpeckers who actually listen for grubs and larvae inside of trees and then peck away to get at them.

However, there is confusion about the “yellow” part of their jargon name — I wish Papa was around to ask.  I’ve always assumed it referred to their beaks but, a close look reveals gray/black, not yellow.  Go figure.  Or maybe all beaks were called “yellow” in jargon…

Patch-Patch-Patch Some More

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

Repaired and Awaiting a Summer Replacement

Yesterday, the back door of the chicken coop came off in my hand.  Not the whole door — just the trim piece on which the handle is situated.  Even so, it was startling.  It definitely wasn’t one of those I-don’t-know-my-own-strength things.  It was a question of old age (the door’s, not mine), years of weathering, rust, and rot.  It left an inviting gap for chicken-hunting critters to get into the coop.  I was proud of the the girls, though; they didn’t seem at all worried.

Luckily, it was early morning so chances of marauding visitors were slim.   I lugged the trim piece up to the kitchen to show Farmer Nyel and he thought he could probably fix it.  I didn’t ask how.  “Just lean it up against the workbench in the garage,” he said.  I tried not to think about him in his wheelchair using power tools like drills and saws while standing on the cement flooring balanced on one leg.  YIKES!

Inside View From The Back Door

As it turned out, I was so busy trying to jam an hour or more of information into a half-hour time slot for today’s video presentation, that I didn’t have much worry-about-Nyel-time.  By late afternoon, he had the door rebuilt and hung in place.  I was still timing myself and trying to decide which of the “crucial” information about Oysterville to leave out. In the old “misery loves company” mode, I called Dobby to see how he was coming along.  We commiserated with one another but the only advice he had was, “Wear your long underwear!”

At least I can trundle off to today’s live-stream video taping secure in the knowledge that Farmer Nyel and the chickens are safe — Nyel inside and warm and the chickens with a repaired door to keep out those pesky raccoons and possums.  Yay!  There will be plenty of time to worry about a total coop re-build before summer arrives!

Late Breaking News…

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

Gathering at the Pacific House, 1870 — not recorded in the news.

Pacific County’s first newspaper was established in Oysterville in 1883 — nineteen newsworthy years after Oysterville was founded by R.H. Espy and I.A. Clark.  A lot happened during those nineteen years —  the development of a thriving oyster trade with San Francisco, the establishment of the County Seat here in 1855, and the building of the first school in 1860, just for starters.  But without a newspaper, the recorded life and times of Oysterville from 1854 to 1883 is spotty at best.  What we know of those important years are from oral histories, from surviving letters, or by reading between the lines of legal documents — not from the headlines and articles and advertisements of the town newspaper.

Although I’ve never been able to find out his reasons, it was Lewis Alfred Loomis who brought editor Alf Bowen to Oysterville.  Maybe it was a matter of happenstance or perhaps Loomis felt that a newspaper could help him as he developed his transportation empire.  In any event, Bowen’s Pacific Journal  was short-lived.  He moved his news operation to Nahcotta in 1889,  about the time the first train pulled in there, and finally relocated to Ilwaco, eventually merging with the North Beach Tribune.  Unfortunately, existing copies from the Journal’s Oysterville years are few and far between.

Building the first Pacific County Courthouse in 1875 didn’t make the news, either.

However, two years after his arrival in Oysterville, Bowen published a promotional pamphlet entitled “A Description of Pacific County, Washington Territory, and Its Resources.”  The booklet was intended as a promotional piece for visitors or other “outsiders” who might be interested in settling here.  In the booklet were descriptions of our healthy climate, of industries and “school privileges,” of churches and taxation and typical wages.  (Loggers, from $50 to $80 a month; mill hands, $25 to $50; oystering and fishing, $40 to $50; ranching, $25 to $30 and always including board.)

Thinking about how much we don’t know about the early years of settlement here causes me to reflect upon how blessed we are to still have a functioning weekly paper here on the Peninsula — especially in this day and age when so many newspapers, large as well as small, can no longer stay afloat.  For me, anyway, there is great comfort in being able to read local news and actually hold it in my hands, so to speak.  I wonder if 140 years hence, hard copies of the Chinook Observer will be as scarce as those first issues of the Pacific Journal are today.  I wonder where else our descendants will be able to find out about our life and times in this little off-the-grid byway.  Hard to imagine…

Waiting for that other shoe to drop…

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020

I’m pleased to “report” that the Driscoll Sign Thief of Oysterville is now known to the candidate and to the Sheriff’s Department.  Although Dan has given me his “blessing” to reveal the culprit’s name, I am choosing to wait until the Sheriff acts on Dan’s report.    As of yesterday evening, Dan has not received any word of “official” action.

Apparently, the latest sign removals were caught on camera — “loud and clear” you might say.  Dan called the Sheriff’s Department and a Deputy travelled to Oysterville Sea Farms to interview him and, presumably, to see the “evidence.”  One would assume that the next step would be to interview the person shown in the photograph.

Dan at Work

Dan also is hopeful of having the signs returned to him.  “I’ve had more than $1,000 worth of signs stolen in Oysterville,” he told me.  “I’d really like them to be returned.”

So far, however, Dan has not been apprised of “the rest of the story.”  The Sheriff’s Department has not indicated that the “other party” has been contacted nor has there been any word as to the whereabouts of the stolen signs.  Curious. isn’t it?

Based on Dan’s track record of tenacity and follow-through, I have confidence that the matter will eventually be resolved and that the rest of the story will be clarified.  Which is another great reason to vote for Dan for Commissioner.  If there is one thing Dan does NOT do, it is to ignore wrong-doing on the part of those in a position of public trust — in this case, some sort of official follow-through with regard to his complaint.  Stay tuned…

Journey to Oysterville: Spring 1898

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

The IR&N

My grandmother, Helen Richardson Espy, was a “city girl,” used to the amenities of a cultured household.  She first came to Oysterville on her honeymoon trip in the Spring of 1898.  She and my grandfather had been married at her home in East Oakland, California, the preceding November, and though the groom’s father and older brother Ed were in attendance, she had yet to meet her mother-in-law or any of the other R.H. Espy chldren.  Years later, she  would write her recollections of her introduction to them and to Oysterville:

When I came here forty years ago, Mother Espy was using whale ribs as chicken perches.  The highway along the Bay front was referred to as “the road to Nahcotta.”  It was a three hours’ ride from Astoria to Ilwaco by Baker’s Bay.  From there we travelled on a narrow gauge train which ran by the tides.  The boat which it met could only come in at certain heights of tide.  I doubt if the train travelled 25 m.p.h.  When we got on it that first day the gawky old conductor asked Papa if his wife had seen the Potrimpos.  He said, “No.”    “All right, we’ll stop the train  and she can go down and see it.”

Potrimpos wrecked on North Beach Peninsula, December 1896

I had always been taught to never attract attention to mysef.  It was embarassing.  To see the boat, the Potrimpos, we had to walk over soft sand — what is now called “The Prairie.”  It must have taken us at least 15 minutes…

When we returned to the train, nobody seemed too annoyed.  I was almost afraid to come back in.  It was 45-minute ride to Nahcotta.  There was a single carriage there for us.  The rest came down by stage.  On the road to Oysterville, the sand was soft and deep just as it is on the Ocean Beach.  The wind covered up the tracks.  If anyone had asked me the distance to Oysterville, I would have said 20 miles.  [It’s actually 4 miles. SS]  We were nearly home when the horse shied.  He ran into an alder tree.  It bent down, passed under the carriage and popped out at the back like a cannon shot.  Papa was a wonderful horseman and the sand was soft or we would have had a real runaway.

Territory Road circa 1900 – Stony Point Pictures

I didn’t know what to expect of Oysterville.  Ed had said… he kept talking about “the ranch” … when I asked him if he lived in the country: “Oh no, our house is right in the center of town.”  I saw people pumping water out in their front yards and taking it into the house in buckets.  But the Espys were more civilised.  Their pump was on the back porch.  We arrived on a fairly decent day.  But a day or two later there was a big storm with a tremendously high tide.  We were surrounded by water.  Tina Wachhsmuth came down the street in a rowboat.  I was on the front verandah.  Waves came up to the front fence.  The ocean was roaring just as if it were trying to break loose.  I never wanted to see the place again.  I was just barely nineteen years old.  I have often wished I were older and more experienced and tolerant…

H.A. Espy Family, 1904

Four years later, Papa’s mother died and, of the family members, he was the most logical one to go home to Oysterville to look after his father.  “It will just be for a short time,” Mama assured her two little youngsters.  But, as it turned out, she lived here until her death in 1954, a dairy farmer’s wife, raising seven children, burying two of them, assisting Papa in his brief foray into politics, joining the women of the village in the Sewing Circle and earning the devotion and respect of all who knew her.  In the end, she came to “an accommodation” with Oysterville.  She once told me that she felt like Lord Byron’s “Prisoner of Chillon” who, when all was said and done, had grown to love the place of his imprisonment.

Characterizing Oysterville… Again!

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

During these Spring months of sheltering, I’ve been thinking, or rather-rethinking, how I characterize Oysterville.  Not a village — it’s not even close to self-sustaining, even in a limited go-to-the-corner store sense, and we have far too few residents to meet traditional requirements (500-to 2500) as suggested by National Geographic.

A hamlet, then.  Defined as  “a small settlement, with a small population which is usually under 100, in a rural area … typically unincorporated…”  I’ve long advocated the hamlet designation.  But it’s the “rural” part that confounds me a bit.  Not that we are urban or suburban… but it’s our lifestyle these days that doesn’t really fit my mental grasp of “rural.”

My ruminating has been prompted by a book recently suggested to me by my friend Alan Griener who lives in Switzerland — the rural life by Verlyn Klinkenborg.  I think I’m in love — with the book and the author (who is but four years older than my son.)  His writing reminds me of Thoreau and E.B. White and Aldo Leopold, perhaps all rolled into one. .

The book takes the reader, month by month, through the daily life on the author’s small farm in upstate New York where he raises horses and cows and bees and grows hay and fruit trees and vegetables.  You accompany him on his summer trips  through the midwest with its farms and ranches on a completely different scale.  You’ll  attend a small town Fourth of July parade (much like ours in Ocean Park) and maybe you’ll relate to sipping root beer and listening to the radio in an air-conditioned pickup on a hot summer night — certainly not here, but somewhere, long ago.

H.A.Espy Children on Danny, 1924

Or, if you’re like me, you’ll begin to re-think whether we live a “rural” life or if that was a few generations back.  When my mother was a girl and her father was a dairy farmer with some 50 head of cattle and 10 to 15 horses (work horses, a horse for each family member, the horses for Mama’s phaeton, etc.), Oysterville was indeed, rural.  Every family had horses and cows and gardens and, of course, chickens and maybe pigs and goats.  Not like now when many of us have none of the above.  Or maybe only one.  Like chickens.

So, is Oysterville still rural?  Is it “the new rural?”  Or is there another designation entirely?  I hesitate to think what it might be.


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Thin Places (and I’m not talking body parts)

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

Oysterville Church in the Sun

I’ve had two discussions within the last ten days that involve “thin places.” Come to think of it, one discussion only — when I met with Cyrus Habib, our Lt. Governor.  Yesterday’s mention of thin places was by me at my “Ghost Lecture” and, although a few heads nodded in recognition, most people hadn’t heard the term before.

Neither had I until a few years ago when one of the ministers at Vespers spoke of thin places in relation to Oysterville.  He spoke about that certain something that always strikes him about this little village — a feeling in the air or a quality of the light or the silence at dusk.  He and his wife have spent a great deal of time in Ireland  and he said that the feeling or the quality of Oysterville is reminiscent of those spots, some very ancient, that the Celtic people identify as places where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin.

Solstice Sunrise at Stonehebge

Stonehenge Sunset

I did a little research and found about a gazillion places regarding thin places.  Most involve  tours that you can take — many in Ireland or Scotland, but some in the United States, as well.  There were sites called “Thin Places, Where We Are Jolted Out of Our Old Ways of Seeing” and “Thin Places, Holy spaces: Where do you encounter God?” and even a site called “There are no thin places.”  The most succinct definition of a “thin place” came from a tour site, not from a dictionary source or even from Wikipedia (as is usually the case):

Thin places are places of energy. A place where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds – the worlds are fused together, knitted loosely where the differences can be discerned or tightly where the two worlds become one.  (from The Thin Places Mystical Tours site)

A Bench Beside the Road – Ireland

So far, Oysterville is not listed on any of these sites.  Thank goodness!  On the other hand… I am scheduled to give an Oysterville History Tour to a group from California next week.  I am hired to do one or two such tours a year.  Maybe if the tour companies got onto Oysterville as a Thin Place, I’d have a full-time job.  YIKES!  Come to think of it, perish the thought!

What’s a few years or a few miles anyway?

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Oysterville Store, July 2015

And back to “Oysterville, A Simply Lovely, Living Ghost Town” — the skewed, some-right-some-wrong sort of article in the 2019-2020 issue of Discovery Coast.  Paragraphs #11 and #12 are mostly correct. Except for the parts that are totally wrong:

Eight houses, a church, the  cannery and a one-room schoolhouse are on the National Register of Historic Places.  And some structures date back to the 19th century.
Though Oysterville might be considered a ghost town, it does have life.  The post office is the oldest continuously operating post office in Washington.  The Oysterville Store sells groceries, souvenirs and gifts.  Oysterville Sea Farms sells harvested seafood.

Oysterville Store c. 1940

Once upon a time, the Oysterville Store did indeed sell groceries, souvenirs and gifts.  But not recently.  As many a tourist or out-of-town visitor can tell you, the little store has not been open for some time — maybe two or three years now.   I understand, though, why Mr. Webb didn’t think to come all the way north to Oysterville to check it out.  Everyone we know is in agreement that it is very much farther for people who live in the southern regions of the Peninsula to drive north “clear to Oysterville” than it is for us Oystervillians to drive south to their neck of the woods.  Go figure.

Oysterville Sea Farms, 2018

Oysterville Sea Farms, July 2018

But, it’s the Oysterville Sea Farms reference to selling “harvested seafood” that really flummoxes me.  I can’t imagine anyone in the greater Peninsula area or even in Pacific County — especially anyone associated with the Chinook Observer — not knowing that Sea Farms owner Dan Driscoll finally won his fight with the county and can now sell all manner of things (including the souvenirs and gift items erroneously credited to the Oysterville Store.)  Even some of my books are sold there!  Especially the ones about Oysterville!  Perhaps they could have been useful in fact-checking the article for Discovery Coast.  Perhaps a radical idea…



In the beginning…

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

“Native American Tribes at Time of Columbus’s Arrival” wall poster

As promised yesterday, here is Installment #1 of my commentary on the article, “Oysterville, A Simply Lovely, Living Ghost Town” in the recently published Discovery Coast 2019-2020,

Mr. Webb begins his Oysterville story with this one-sentence paragraph:  Oysterville could be the only place in the United States that has always had human occupants.

A short paragraph, to be sure, but I had to go back and read it several times to see if I was missing something.  Since the next paragraph begins The Chinook Peoples… (and will be examined tomorrow), I can only assume that the writer means that no other place in the United States was inhabited by indigenous peoples before pioneer settlers arrived.

First Map of United States — by Abel Buell, 1784

Really?  Oysterville was the ONLY place?  Not Boston, not Sarasota, not Yosemite, not even Bay Center or Tokeland?  Just Oysterville?  Wow!  I wonder how one could arrive at such a conclusion.

Or maybe — though I don’t see it so stated — the “always” is taking into consideration scientists’ best guess as to the age of the Peninsula.  About 8,000 years old, isn’t it?  Maybe all other places in the United States pre-date the appearance of humans entirely.  Hmmm.  Does Oysterville occupy the very youngest sandspit in the United States?  Wow!

But, perhaps I am mis-reading it.  Perhaps the emphasis should be on HUMAN rather than on “only.”  So just who or what were the occupants of Boston or Sarasota or Yosemite early on?  Mastadons?  Dinosaurs?   Aliens?

Map of Historic Oysterville by Charles Fitzpatrick with information by H.A. Espy, Dewitt Stoner, H. Wirt, Charles Nelson, Eva Slingerland

Well… I am obviously getting carried away.  But, upon re-reading the paragraph —  Oysterville could be the only place in the United States that has always had human occupants — I find myself totally flummoxed.  Perhaps it will come clear tomorrow as I take a  closer look at Paragraph #2.  Or perhaps a reader will understand the words better than I.

Old News and Fake History

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Bob Duke’s Photograph of Oysterville — page 16, “Discovery Coast 2019-2020”

When our friends Susan and Randal came back from a foray to Jack’s Country Store yesterday, they were full of chuckles and questions.  Susan was carrying a copy of Discovery Coast 2019-2020, the publication put out each year about this time by the Chinook Observer.  It is geared for the tourist crowd.

“Look at this!” they said!  “Did you know that Oysterville is a ghost town?”  And they pointed to the headline, “Oysterville, A Simply Lovely, Living Ghost Town.”

Superior Publishing Company, 1970

As a matter of fact, I did know that.  It has been a “ghost town” for some time now, at least by some definitions.  In 1970 when Washington Ghost Towns by Lambert Florin was published by The Superior Publishing Company of Seattle, pages 59 to 63 were devoted to “The Town That Oysters Built, Oysterville, Wash.”  It was among the 33 towns of Washington listed in the table of contents, and the book, itself, was part of the “Western Ghost Town Series.”

The publisher (or author) apparently felt compelled to explain how a town had qualified to be a part of this book.  On the page before the first entry (“Altoona, Washington”) they say:  One of several dictionary definitions of “ghost” is “a shadowy semblance of its former self.”  We have elected to prefer this somewhat ambiguous phrase  because it accurately describes many towns on the borderline of being dead or alive…  Works for me.

Randal Bays, Sunday at Vespers

So, I didn’t really share Randal and Susan’s amazement/amusement over the headline.  My eye was drawn, instead to Bob Duke’s absolutely stunning drone’s-eye-view of the village — or at least most of it.  Wow!  Whether or not you agree that Oysterville is a ghost town, the photo puts into full-color perspective its size and isolation relative to the rest of the Peninsula.

But, as my eye scanned the printed matter below the photograph, my blood pressure began to rise appreciably.  “Who,” I facebooked to Bob, “wrote the article?”  He didn’t know but Editor Matt Winters soon weighed in.  “Patrick Webb refreshed all the content this year, including Oysterville.”

Susan Waters, PhD – at Vespers Sunday, June 23rd

Wow!  I don’t know how that works.  The “Oysterville” article is largely about its history.  So… how do you “refresh” history, anyway?  Randal read it and declared it “Fake News.”  But I don’t think news and history equate any more than research and fact-checking do.  Mostly, I am appalled that with the plethora of historic information available about Oysterville, Mr. Webb apparently didn’t do a bit of homework.

On the plus side… there are fourteen paragraphs in the article and each one contains at least one whopper.  To me that translates into fourteen days of blogs in an attempt to correct the record.  Or not…  I’m trying to decide if anyone besides me gives a rip.  (Can you tell that my blood pressure is rising again?)

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