Archive for the ‘Willapa Bay’ Category

Once in a Lifetime

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Music, Not Moons

I’m getting more and more skeptical about these “once in a lifetime events” that the media hypes.  Maybe it’s because I’m fast aging beyond the charts in terms of life expectancy for women in the United States.  It’s 81, according to a December 2017 HuffPost article and since I’ll be 82 toward the end of February,  once in a lifetime doesn’t always cut it anymore.

However, tomorrow night’s super blue blood moon that will be visible as a blue moon, a supermoon and a total lunar eclipse coincide to create the spectacle which experts say has not been viewed for 150 years.  If those experts are correct – another thing I am finding more reasons to doubt as I approach my BEY (Beyond Expectancy Years) – then, indeed, tomorrow night’s phenomenon will be new for me.


Part of the problem, I think, in these once-in-a-lifetime deals is that I’m having trouble remembering all the ones I’ve seen.  Some niggling little part of me thinks that ‘they’ are sneaking repeats in and counting on us older, fuzzier people not to remember.  Of course, tomorrow’s triple-header has not been seen since 1866.  If that’s true, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t around to see it.  Parts of it, yes, but not all in one fell swoop.

The parts involve our second full moon for this month, commonly called a “blue moon.”  Plus, a full eclipse caused by the moon passing through the earth’s shadow that will cause the moon to take on a coppery color for about an hour – the “blood” part.  And the “super” aspect is because this particular passage is happening when the moon is at the closest point in its elliptical orbit to the earth.  So…super blue blood moon!

Moonrise Over Willapa Bay, August 2013

Of course, for us here on the western edge, the biggest unknown is will it even be visible.  Cloud cover in January is always a distinct possibility.  One website said that the best chance for us would be to watch our TVs.  Well… wouldn’t you know?  Maybe that will be the once-in-a-lifetime event for me –   watching the moon on television instead of through my east windows as it rises over the bay.  A bit underwhelming as singular lifetime events go.  Just sayin’…

Skinny Dipping in Oysterville?

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Oysterville Kids High and Dry c. 1946

My skinny dipping days were over by the time I moved to Oysterville full-time in 1978.  Or so I thought.  Mostly.  Besides, even when I was a summer kid here and every day was sunny and warm, I don’t remember swimming in the altogether.  We swam in the bay in our “bay-suitys” as one of my friends called them, and we even wore “bathing shoes” to keep from getting cut on oyster shells barnacles.

I don’t know about skinny dipping in my mother’s day.  There was a time that I would have considered that idea totally shocking but that was before she told me about going “nicked and wicked” in the dunes.  No tan lines for her, no siree!

‘Swimming’ in the Bay c. 1951 — Tucker Wachsmuth Photo

As far as swimming in Oysterville was concerned, though, first choice in those ‘olden days’ of my childhood was the bay.  I think some kids went to Skating Lake, too, but that seemed like a long way away – especially to our moms who could keep an eagle eye on us if we were just out in front of the Heckes house where the shallow water was best for wading and lolling, but not really swimming.  By the time I was a teenager, Ted Holway had dredged out a real-for-sure swimming hole right at the end of our lane – still that warm bay water, but deep enough to really swim.

Nowadays, there is “the canal” and I hear tell that skinny dipping is de rigueur among swimmers of all ages.  (Just sayin’…)   Its location north of town makes it less accessible to tourists or other non-locals – a well-kept ‘secret’ you might say – though every once in a while some unlikely duck-hunter or other intrepid explorer comes upon it and asks what it is.  “The remnants” of a development called Terra Mar is the answer.

Clark Wachsmuth at The Canal c. 1980s

Here’s the skinny (ahem) according to a 1989 article by Sou’wester Editor Larry Weathers:    TERRA MAR: Abandoned real estate sales scheme north of Oysterville on Willapa Bay. Terra Mar “land by the sea” was planned as an ocean / bay recreation and retirement community in 1968. The development was to include 1,400 acres of ocean front beach homes, interior lakeside lots, bayside marina, condominiums, riding stables, airport, shopping center, clubs, and a boat canal system linking all areas “in a world where land and water are the basis of all wealth”. Terra Mar, a division of Sherwood Pacific, Inc., a Spokane company, surveyed and filed several plats at the county courthouse in September 1968 and paid for an expensive advertisement campaign which attracted several thousand investors. But Terra Mar “land by the sea” was actually “land under the bay.” Attempts to dike tidal wetlands along the bay, and dig canals in the peaty soil, were a bust. The dike could not hold back floodwater in 1974 and the normal high water table ended water pipe and canal construction. Terra Mar lot owners attempted to recover their investments, but the developers announced bankruptcy and cleared out. Nature has reclaimed the marsh and tidal wetlands but traces of the disintegrating dike and canal system still blight the landscape.

Oysterville Shoreline from Above — Bob Duke Photo

 It’s interesting how things change over time.  I’m not sure that ‘blight’ would be my word of choice these days regarding erstwhile Terra Mar.  Mother Nature has a way of reclaiming and softening and probably, like my own sainted mother, would have no difficulty in accepting this ‘swimming hole’ north of Oysterville.

Life in the Wet Lane

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

High Tide on Clay Street

The lanes in Oysterville are grassy thruways that, for the most part, lead from the bay up to Territory Road and vice-versa.  From the north they are Division, Merchant, and Clay Streets.  Main Street is the only lane that runs north to south; part of it is paved and part is grassy.  All the lanes are dedicated County roads and all are maintained (read mowed) by the adjacent neighbors.

Clay Street is ‘our’ lane; we share its care with Susan Holway, but other neighbors have weighed in over the years, too.  The inviting bench at the end the lane was built and installed by Chris Freshley.  It was Chris, too, who put up the “No Cars Please” sign about halfway along.  Not that the oystermen and other people with bay business shouldn’t drive to the bay’s edge.  Actually, that’s why the broad grassy roads exist.  The sign is to discourage unnecessary to-and-fro traffic from tearing up the lane’s fragile surface.

Willapa Bay Comes Visiting – Up to Our East Fence

On Friday, the bay made its way right up to that No Cars sign.  It made me think that we should have changed it out with a “Boats Only” announcement – at least for the hour or so that the tide was high enough to creep up over its banks and try to come on into town.  The water got about as far as our east fence but, politely I thought, stopped there and didn’t come on into our garden.

I love it when the tide is high like that.  It doesn’t happen very often because the magic combination that brings the bay into the village has to include a strong and stormy southwest or westerly wind, in addition to a nine-foot-plus tide.  Usually, that happens in December.  But I love it whenever it occurs!

The Meadow at High Tide, February 10, 2017

So do the waterfowl.  Saturday, a fleet of geese swam around and around in the erstwhile meadow.  They seemed to be out for the pure pleasure of the paddle and didn’t appear at all interested in the trees or in Willard’s stone bench that had become part of their watery territory.  Nor did they pay any attention to the occasional car that stopped on the road so that the occupants could take high tide pictures.

As I always do, I wished that the water would come on up and cover Territory Road.  I’ve seen that happen only once or twice in my lifetime and remember someone actually rowing up the street on one occasion.  I wondered if anyone had a dinghy at the ready this time… just in case.  Tucker, maybe?  Now that would be a high tide picture worth taking!

Hands Up for Hands On!

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015


Tonger on Willapa Bay

Tonger on Willapa Bay

I am a firm believer in hands-on learning experiences. When I was teaching 1st/2nd/3rd graders, I often dreamed of holding class in a big bus and moving continuously from one interesting spot to another – historical sites, state parks, art museums – or maybe a trip to the mountains or the desert or… Well, you get the idea. The practical logistics (like what to do about housing and parents and money) were not part of my fantasy, of course.

The next best thing were day trips or even short walking trips to interesting nearby places. In Ocean Park it was the Wreckage and the Door House to say nothing of the library and (sometimes) to the beach.

Tucker with Oyster tongs - Summer 2014

Tucker with Oyster tongs – Summer 2014

And guest speakers! Especially those who brought ‘stuff’ for kids to do or to look at. Fun for the class and fun for me! And, I hope, illuminating and memorable.

My approach to teaching adults is much the same even though, for a two-hour evening class, field trips aren’t really an option. However, asking an expert to do a little ‘show and tell’ works wonders to liven things up. Or so the events of yesterday’s class at Grays Harbor College seemed to prove.

For starters, Tucker Wachsmuth (who is actually a class member) brought a set of oyster tongs and demonstrated their use – first with a small, model set, and then with the real McCoy. He had to stand on a couple of sturdy chairs to show us how the oysterman would work the tongs. How I wished that the floor would roll back revealing a pit filled with water below – just to make the whole thing even more authentic! (And there I was, fantasizing once again.) To round out his demonstration, he had brought a model of an oyster bateau – so much more understandable than the power point photograph I was showing!


Mary Garvey, Singer/Songwriter

Then came the guest singer! Yes! Another dimension entirely!  Mary Garvey, our treasured local singer/songwriter, sang her fabulous “Oyster Shell Road” for us, bringing to life the story of our Willapa Bay oyster industry during World War II. As usual, her song and sweet voice left me a little teary – in the best of all possible ways.

I can’t thank Tucker and Mary enough for their help in “Putting the Story Back in History.” I think the only thing better would be a field trip back in time. And there I go… daydreaming again!

Apples and Oranges

Monday, January 19th, 2015


Dredge in Front of Oysterville, c. 1950s

Dredge in Front of Oysterville, c. 1950s

Despite the title of today’s blog, I really want to talk about oysters, not fruit – well maybe ‘fruits de mer’ on a fancy French menu. I am continuously amazed at how sparse my knowledge is of the Willapa Bay oyster industry, especially considering that its main headquarters is right outside my front yard.

Every day we watch oyster dredges ply the waters of the bay and most times we have not a clue as to who they belong to or what they are doing. In fact, they are so much a part of our landscape (or is it seascape?) that we don’t always pay attention. It is often a visitor who calls our attention to activity out there and usually there are accompanying questions. “Like how many oysters are grown out there, anyway?”

Charles Fitzpatrick Postcard, 1941

Charles Fitzpatrick Postcard, 1941

I always feel I should have ready answers but I’m never sure of my ground (or oyster beds, you might say.) Some years ago, I was told that one out of every three oysters purchased in restaurants across the United States comes from Willapa Bay. I don’t know if that is still true. I tried to look it up online and found that the annual production of oysters in our bay is 1,500 metric tons shucked. Whoo! That sounds like a bunch.

"Willapa Bay Oysters"

“Willapa Bay Oysters”

But, I have no basis for comparing it with the one-out-of-three figure that I remember. That’s where the apples and oranges come in. Nor can I compare 1,500 metric tons with the 80,000 gallons produced back in 1941 – or at least that was the claim made on a wonderful old Charles Fitzpatrick postcard I ran across recently. That card also claims that 7,650 cases of canned oysters and 5,845 cases of smoked oysters were produced that year. Maybe it’s a matter of comparing apples, oranges and raisins.

My “answer” to oyster questions these days usually involves a recommendation to buy or at least to watch Keith Cox’s oyster documentary, “Willapa Bay Oysters.” The five-disc set will answer just about any oyster question possible. And no apples or oranges (or raisins) involved!

Winding Down Summer

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Early to Bed

Early to Bed

The alarm is set for the same time as usual and, just in case we might ignore it, Osa-the-Cat begins her insistent call for breakfast a few minutes before it goes off. But it doesn’t seem like morning any more. It’s pitchy black out these days at five a.m. Why does it seem too early in the year for darkness to settle in around us?

At the other end of the day, the chickens are going to roost at least an hour earlier than they did a month ago. As August gets used up, I’ve been trying to remember if summer has always left us so abruptly. I’m sure it was still brightly lit summertime right up until school started when I was a kid. Right up until the day after Labor Day –at least in my mind’s dimming eye. Didn’t we play outdoors after dinner “for hours” until we began lugging homework back from school once more?

Oysterville Regatta 2012

Oysterville Regatta 2012

And here it is already. The final week of August. The days may be getting shorter but our calendar still shows Summer Full Speed Ahead. Every little white space is filled with plans for fun, fun, fun! The Randal Bays Family arrives this afternoon for a few days of downtime at the beach! Saturday is Betty Paxton’s 100th Birthday Party in Ilwaco and the Annual Oysterville Regatta here in the village. Sunday it’s the Williams Family Reunion, this year in Seaview, and the final Vespers service featuring Barbara Poulshock and Friends. And on Monday, more overnight visitors. And then… it’s already after Labor Day!

We aren’t making any Back-to-School plans for this fall, though. Instead, we are making preparations for Nyel’s big quadriceps surgery (or his cane-ectomy as Judy Eron calls it) on the ninth. To say nothing of the three-month recovery period when his leg will be encased in an inflexible fiberglass cast.

We are already looking toward the Christmas holidays and the best present of all – the unveiling of a good leg to stand on! Right in time for the return of longer days!

From An Oyster Shooter’s Perspective

Monday, August 18th, 2014
Keith Cox

Keith Cox

Last night many of the movers and shakers of the Willapa Bay oyster industry gathered at the Neptune Theater in Long Beach to see a film about themselves and their work. It was the culminating documentary in a four-year-long project by Keith Cox, South Bend native and movie industry professional – a documentary Keith is considering pitching to PBS sometime in the future.

“In order to do that,” Keith told me last week, “I’d have to get specific written releases from every single person who shows up on the film. I just haven’t had the time to do that yet.” No kidding. Among his ‘day job’ credits are more than 125 movies including “The Pianist,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Man of Steel,” and most recently “The Hobbit.” What it is exactly that he does is a mystery to me – maybe editing – but for the eight DVDs in his Willapa Bay Oysters” series, he did it all. It is beyond impressive.

Marta (my ‘other child’ who is visiting from California) went with us and to say that she was blown away by what oystering is all about is to understate to the max. “I had no idea!” she kept saying afterwards. In fact, as soon as the film was over and the house lights went up she walked up to several of the “stars of the show,” and told them how great they were, how hard their job looked and that she “had no idea!”

"Willapa Bay and the Oysters:

“Willapa Bay and the Oysters:

Indeed, if you have no idea of what oyster farming is all about, the film is a complete eye-opener. Not only does it explore the history of oysters on our bay (the second largest estuary on the Pacific coast) and how the industry began, the footage takes you into modern-day hatcheries, out on the beds to visit with workers knee-deep in mud, onto dredges planting mountains of oysters and into the opening houses and packing plants. Every aspect of the industry is explained by the growers and workers, themselves.

Later, while we were enjoying dinner (yes! oysters!) at the Pub, a couple of local women came in and stopped at our table to chat. They, too, had been at the Neptune. They, too, said “I had no idea!” “And,” they said, “We live here!” It was obvious that from now on they would view oysters (and oystermen/women!) with an even greater appreciation and respect.

Keith has definitely accomplished his mission – to document what is entailed in growing oysters on Willapa Bay and to convey that the end product is “more than an oyster, it’s a quality of life.” If you missed last night’s screening you will have other opportunities:  Keith will have a booth at the Pacific County Fair in Menlo August 20th through the 23rd where the film series will be offered for sale and on Sunday, August 24 there will be screenings at the Raymond Theater from noon to 6 p.m. as well.  The beautifully packaged “Preservation Edition” 5-Disc Set (plus booklet of photos from the films) is available at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum or at

Well done, Keith! We’ll be looking for you and your film on PBS!

An Evening on the Tarlatt Trail

Sunday, May 25th, 2014
Tarlatt Slough

Tarlatt Slough

Last night we sacrificed our usual Saturday night date with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer (in the re-run of “A Time Goes By”) to go hiking.! It was a highly unusual undertaking for us and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

The occasion, “Listen to the Night,” was the first in a year-long series of events being sponsored by the Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. With dozens of others, we walked a mile-long track on the Refuge lands at the head of the bay, stopping at various ‘stations’ along the way where enthusiastic volunteers talked to us about what we were seeing and hearing and what the plans are to make the Refuge more user friendly.

Ben Walton, an avid birder (and hunter) talked to us about the importance of Willapa Bay as a primary migratory bird flyway – more than 100,000 geese counted during the big spring migration just a few weeks ago. He said that a prime viewing location (and where he does his count) is at Dan’s Oysterville Sea Farms, four blocks north of us.  We tried not to look smug or to say, “Yep, we know that! We watch from our house, too!”

Bear Scat

Bear Scat

Farther along the way, Community Historian colleagues Ellen Wallace and Betsy Millard talked about the importance of Tarlatt Slough as a Native American and early pioneer portage route.  And a bit farther on,  volunteers cautioned us to “Watch out for the bear scat” and to “Look to your right over the next rise to see the elk herd in the distance.” The bear scat we saw but the only herd we glimpsed in the distance were cows. We took the charitable view that the elk had moved on before we were in viewing range.

My favorite stop was to see the two little saw whet owls. I had never seen any ‘in person’ before, though I used to hear their distinctive metallic-sounding call when I lived on the bay on the old Douglas land claim. Josh Saranpaa, assistant director at the Wildlife Center of the North Coast (a bird rescue organization) talked to us about the saw whets. One has a permanently injured shoulder and the other is blind in one eye. Since they cannot be released back into the wild, they have become ambassadors for bird rescue, traveling with handlers to schools and other venues such as last night’s trail walk.

Saw Whet Owls

Saw Whet Owls

At the far end of the trail, Bob Duke had some serious looking telescopes set up for viewing the night sky. It was fairly clear, the moon was in its last quarter, a slight breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay (mostly), and it should have been a perfect night for taking a look upward. But it would be at least an hour before it would be dark enough and was already approaching our bedtime. When we decided that we’d give the telescope experience a miss, Bob kindly said that the fall sky would offer better viewing opportunities and suggested that we come back to a similar event planned for September.

Before we headed homeward, the president of the Friends of the Refuge, Clay Nichols, told us a bit about the plan for this particular part of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge – the part called the Tarlatt Slough unit. Federal funding has already been appropriated but not yet allocated (or is it allocated but not yet appropriated?) for the construction of a Visitors’ Center and plans include a boardwalk path that will hook up with the already existing Discovery Trail and go clear to the bay. How fabulous!

All-in-all, we didn’t miss Judi or Geoffrey even once during the course of the evening.  Maybe that was because we did meet an amazing number of other friends and acquaintances along the way.  In fact, someone remarked that it felt like ‘old home week on the trail.’  But, I did realize as I sat down to sing the praises of the evening in this blog that I really don’t know the official name of the route we took. “Tarlatt Trail” sounds great, though, doesn’t it?

On the Peninsula’s Bay Side

Saturday, January 4th, 2014
Snag at Anchor on Willapa Bay

Snag at anchor on Willapa Bay

I never tire of looking out at Willapa Bay.  It is my first view of the world each morning and, often, my final view of the great outdoors in the evening.  Depending upon the tide and the time of year, we watch first light streak across the water, its rosy, golden glow heralding the sunrise to follow.  And at dusk, a paler version – the sunset on the Pacific reflected over on our side of the Peninsula.

There is always something happening on the bay.  Oyster dredges are out there year ‘round and in all kinds of weather.  ‘Round the clock, too.  Their bright lights can be seen way off yonder in the pitch of the night.  I never fail to wonder at how those oystermen can stand the cold and the wet, even in the middle of the icy winter blackness.

During storms, the wind lashes up the waves and the bay is covered with angry looking whitecaps –“white horses” my British friends call them.  That’s the most likely time for flotsam and jetsam to be washed up on shore.

Results of a good set

Willapa Bay Treasure

I remember being startled some years ago to see a large, perhaps inflated, rubber oyster glove poking out of the mud one morning as I walked out on the tide flats.  It looked for all the world like someone was trying to claw his way up from an untimely burial in the mud.  But… it was empty.  Shoes, or more accurately, one shoe is another eerie sight now and then.

For the last month or two, a casual (not very careful) glance out our east windows gives the impression that there is a man just offshore at the end our the lane.  But, no.  It’s a huge snag, apparently stuck in the mud and not intending to move on until the next big storm.  For many months it was to the north of us in front of our neighbor Carol’s.  She said it had arrived with a big spring storm and it wasn’t until our first nasty wind in November that it uprooted and came our way.

There are many stories from the early days of Oysterville about boats breaking loose from their moorings in front of town and the brave (or foolhardy, depending upon your viewpoint) men of the village taking out a rowboat in hot pursuit.  Last night at our Friday gathering, Tucker spoke about the West Coast Oyster Company’s plunger, Vivian, that broke from her Oysterville anchorage and headed for the open sea during one violent storm in the early 1900s.

The Vivian

The Vivian

DeWitt Stoner and Anton Nelson put out in a dinghy trying to intercept her, but they swamped and capsized in the tossing waves, and only the desperation try by a rescue party in another boat saved them from drowning.  It was the Vivian’s final voyage; she wrecked on Grassy Island just off Leadbetter Point.

Willapa Bay – a never-ending source of nostalgia and excitement!  Which reminds me, the Oysterville Regatta date for next summer has already been set.  It will be Labor Day weekend – not ideal for landlubbers, perhaps, but it’s the weekend of the best tides at the most opportune times.  We’ve marked our calendars.

In the meantime, we’ll be keeping a sharp lookout to the east.  No telling what will come in or go out as the tide ebbs and flows