When Memory, History & Fantasy Converge

November 17th, 2018

Michael with His First Book

This morning’s blog had to take a back seat for a few hours.  Michael Lemeshko arrived early bearing a cardboard tray of to-go cups — a caffè mocha for me, an Earl Gray tea for Nyel, and something else for himself.  It was a coffee date arranged some time back – a chance to catch up and, maybe – just maybe – a chance to exchange some useful information.

Currently Michael is gathering material for a new book.  This one is about B.A. Seaborg who was one of the movers and shakers here on the Peninsula in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.  From the Aberdeen Packing Company in Ilwaco to the town of Sealand contiguous to Nahcotta, it was Seaborg who was responsible.  And oh! so much more.

With his usual dogged determination and single-mindedness, Michael is pursuing every possible scrap of information about Seaborg – even to the point of trying to ‘reconstruct’ the Ilwaco streetscape of the 1870s, building by building.  One of the reasons for our coffee date was the hope (slim, I thought) that I might have some old photographs that would help.

Judge John Briscoe

“Come on over and have a look at my files,” I offered.  “I think I have about 30 photos of early Ilwaco –but you probably already have found them elsewhere.”  I knew he’d combed the various local museum archives and maybe even the Oregon Historical Society plus who knows what other nooks and crannies that might be hiding local history.  Michael is nothing if not thorough.

But before we got down to it, we talked about some of the aftermath from his first book about Judge John Briscoe, The Cantankerous Farmer vs. The Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company and the Rest of his Neighbors on the Long Beach Peninsula.  Last summer we both entertained the judge’s descendants – a group of great-greats from Pennsylvania and a great-great-great-granddaughter from Australia.  Already, Michael told me, he has met with several of the Hawkins family — descendants of Mr. Seaborg.

B.A. Seaborg

And, I picked his brain a little about some things I’ve been working on.  Especially about online research sites.  Too, we talked about early magazine publications – especially Harper’s Magazine and their terrific illustrations.  Harper’s is the oldest general interest monthly in America.  Its debut was made in June 1850 and it soon began featuring works by American artists and writers such as Horatio Alger, Stephen A. Douglas, Theodore Dreiser, Horace Greeley, Winslow Homer, Jack London, John Muir, Frederick Remington, and Mark Twain.  But I digress…

When we finally got to the photographs, I was absolutely gobsmacked that Michael found five in my files that he hadn’t seen before.  One of them was actually a photograph that he was hoping against hope existed — and not just in his mind’s eye.  And voilà!  There it was!  I think he was beyond Gobsmacked.  All-in-all – a most satisfactory coffee date!

Come again?

November 16th, 2018

Bumper Sticker

“Maybe that’s why we haven’t had a razor clam season this fall…”  I had just arrived at the post office and there was my neighbor looking at the “I sell guns to clams” sign in the store window.

“You think it’s some kind of standoff, then?” I asked him.  “Could be…” was the reply.

“But how do you do a background check on clams?  Is it obvious if they are suffering from mental illness?” The conversation continued along those lines for a while – perhaps one of those better-to-laugh-than-to-cry-about-it discussions.

Digging Razor Clams

So far this fall there has not been a razor clam season on the Long Beach Peninsula.  The reason according to WDFW [Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife]:  Based on beach surveys conducted this summer, WDFW estimates the total razor clam population on most Washington’s beaches has increased significantly from last season, which means more days of digging this season. The exception is Long Beach, an area that is recovering after a decline in clam survival due to low salinity in winter 2017.

And for those who don’t live in the area or who have never had the pleasure of digging for the elusive razor clam, a clam gun is one of those answers to the question, “When is a gun not a gun?”  In this case, it’s a long tube made of metal or, perhaps PVC, with a handle so that you can push it into the sand over a clam hole.  Some say they are THE fool-proof method of procuring your 15-clam limit – if the clams are showing.  And, of course, if the season is open.

“Come Again” said the old Oysterville Approach Sign

Others swear by the tried-and-true clam shovel – which was actually the first tool referred to as a “clam gun” back in the day.  That’s when most diggers simply repurposed a garden spade by shaving the sides and bending it at an angle to the handle.  Before that, at least for me, was the old-fashiioned hand method: dig-like-mad-and-hope-for-the-best.

All of those techniques, of course, were used well before guns were being sold to clams.  (What do you suppose a clam’s gun looks like, anyway?)

“Kevin’s Song” by Mary Garvey

November 15th, 2018

A few days ago, songwriter Mary Garvey continued a conversation that we had begun last May when Kevin Soule died out in Willapa Bay:  “I think I have a song for Kevin… The lines about not having time to do much came a while back.  The others just recently.  The final one as I was driving to the bank last week or so…it was like a message…whoosh… I don’t have a tune yet…sort of a shadow of it though.”

“Kevin’s Song”

By Mary Garvey

November storms becalmed in May
With search and rescue on its way
There’s not much left for me to say
Farewell farewell to thee

Not much time to say my prayers
Nor enough to set my flares
The sea has caught me unawares
Farewell farewell to thee

Farewell to my noble wife
My daughters I love more than life
A world of beauty and of strife
Farewell farewell to thee

Farewell to those I left on land
And those at sea who understand
It is not ours to command
Farewell farewell to thee

As I take my final breath
I feared not life I fear not death
I grieve for those I leave bereft
Farewell farewell to thee

Life is like a morning star
It can only shoot so far
We must take things as they are
Farewell farewell to thee

“The Graveyard of the Pacific…”

November 14th, 2018

Exhibition Announcement

This Friday evening, November 16th from 5:00 to 7:00, is the opening reception for a new exhibition at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, “The Graveyard of the Pacific: Dangerous Currents, Shifting Sands.” More than 20 ships will be featured in the exhibition along with historic artifacts, photographs, and first-person accounts from the Admiral Benson, the Alice, the Potrimpos, and the Glenmorag.

Those of us who live on the Lower Columbia are familiar with the term “Graveyard of the Pacific” which probably originated during the earliest days of maritime fur trade.  Some local residents may even have ancestors or relatives or friends who have fallen victim to the unpredictable weather conditions and treacherous coastal characteristics that have caused more than 2,000 shipwrecks and along the Pacific Northwest Coast with some 700 lives lost.

The Graveyard of the Pacific

Included in the exhibition are special tributes to two men who have raised our awareness about the history of shipwrecks along our coast – Charles Fitzpatrick and James A. Gibbs.  Fitzpatrick, an Ocean Park photographer from the late 1920s through the 1960s, documented wrecks that came in during that time period and memorialized others through his postcards.  In 1950, noted shipwreck historian Gibbs wrote Pacific Graveyard, still considered the definite work on this “shore of lost ships” as he called the area.  Also highlighted will be the U.S. Life Saving Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and volunteer rescue units who have risked, or even given, their lives to saving victims of maritime accidents.

Charles Fitzpatrick Postcard

The exhibition will be on view from November 16 through March 9, 2019 – roughly coinciding with what has been called “shipwreck season” along our coast.  Although modern aids to navigation have greatly reduced the number of shipwrecks since the 1920s, there are still lives lost each year.

Every resident who lives here, whether they simply endure, greatly enjoy, or actually revel in our winter storms should see this exhibition!

The News from Olympia

November 13th, 2018

Dale, two years eleven months

My mother, Helen-Dale Espy (Little) was born November 13, 1911 in Olympia.  (It was during the period of time that her father was serving as a state senator and both my mother and her 11-months-older brother Willard had been born in the state capital.)  Most of the rest of the family was at home Oysterville in the care of Mama’s sister Ruth.

This letter from my mother’s sister Medora (who was 12) tells of how she learned the news in those long-ago days of slower everything.  The “cast of characters” includes my mother’s other siblings:
Mona, 6
Sue, 8
Edwin, almost 3, (who apparently was with Mama and Papa in Olympia)
Willard, 11 months.

1912 – The Espy Children (Dale, Willard, Edwin, Mona, Suzita, Medora)

Wed. 8 p.m.  Nov 15, 1911
Dear Mama,
At recess yesterday morning Mona came over and said I had a baby sister.  She told me first and then Sue.  You can imagine how tickled I was.  Mona is tickled to death and insists that its name is Katherine.  I haven’t heard anybody’s opinion on the subject.
Sue said yesterday “I think Daisy is going to have a calf,” and Ruth said, “If you think Daisy is going to have a calf when she is walking around in the yard, can’t you tell when your own mother is going to have a baby when you live in the same house with her.”  And Sue said “I tho’t Willard is too young.”
Ruth received a card from Papa written in Tacoma.  He said he would be home Thursday.  He said Edwin was with him.  I guess Edwin was sound asleep thru the whole performance.  I do hope you don’t have the severe after pains
Sue was promoted to the third grade Monday.  I sent to Meier and Frank’s for her books.

Dale Espy Little, 1999 — “Mom at 88”

The three books we have to read out of school are Laura E. Richards’ “Florence Nightingale,” “Ethics of Success,” and “David Copperfield.” Mr. Sargant will buy “Ethics of Success” and I want to buy “David Copperfield” and “Florence Nightingale.” I have to buy one of them…
Mrs. Guy Hughes had a baby girl Saturday, Nov. 4th and Mrs. Bowen Friday. Nov. 3rd and you yesterday.  I guess we will hear of Aunt Susie’s baby soon.
With love and a kiss for the dear baby,  Medora

When the Timing is Off

November 12th, 2018

There’s something about this time of year that is difficult for me.  And probably for the chickens. For one thing, the change from day to night and then back again comes all of a sudden.  There isn’t a long, lazy twilight nor is there a slowly rising sun.  It all happens in the blink of an eye, or so it seems.

In the evening, usually just as I’m putting dinner on the table, I realize it’s gone pitch black outside.  Not a huge problem.  I have only to walk down to the coop, lock in the flock, and gather the eggs.  By dark they have already gone to roost, so there is no problem.  I try to remember a flashlight… although I’m not always sure that’s wise.  It’s when I have a flashlight that I often see the deer people have a conference in the yard.

Bear in the Meadow

One night there were four of them.  Startled, apparently, they each went in a separate direction – leaping the rhodies and the fence.  Effortlessly.  Soundlessly.  It was a bit disconcerting.  Another night I thought I ‘felt’ movement behind me and when I turned and looked there was a small doe passing a few yards behind me.  She seemed to be in slow motion and I swear she was on tiptoes or tiphooves, as the case may be.

I’m always thankful, of course, they are deer and not bear or some other less benign creatures.  I tell myself that six o’clock in the evening is too early for the predator people to be prowling and try not to remember that they don’t have clocks.  And I vow to get a bigger flashlight.  In the morning, when I see bear scat along my path, I vow to pay better attention to my timing.  But, of course, I don’t.

Mornings aren’t so bad.  Not for me, anyway.  It gets light as I am at my computer writing my daily blog.  If the wind is right, I sometimes hear the roosters crowing – letting me know that they are thirsty and want out of the coop.  Time to take them food, water and a treat of scratch.  And to do a check of the parameters – see if any pesky raccoons have been working on the enclosure. So far, so good in that department.

But I can’t help feeling that those raccoons are looking at me from the copse of trees just to the west of the coop.  Looking and waiting.  I’m sure they are well aware that timing is everything – especially at this time of year.  And, all too often, my timing is off.

11th Hour, 11th Day, 11th Month

November 11th, 2018

Brongwyn “Bronk” Kahrs Williams, Armistice Day 1919

Today we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I – “the war to end all wars.”  The armistice with Germany went into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  The yearly commemoration has been called Armistice Day, Remembrance Day and, now, Veteran’s Day.

Although the war had begun on July 28, 1914, it was not until April 6, 1917 that America entered the war on the side of the allies. President Wilson’s administration decided to rely on conscription rather than upon voluntary enlistment to raise military manpower for the war. All male citizens and non-citizens between 21 and 31 (later, between 18 and 45) years of age were required to register at local draft boards.

In the following months, the headlines in Pacific County newspapers concerned “Home Guards” and “Red Cross.” Drill schedules were given and lists of needed bandages and sewing instructions were provided to the women on “the Homefront.”  Patriotism ran high and, by the Spring of 1918, 21 logging camps had been established throughout the Willapa Hills employing soldiers of the unique “Spruce Division” which (according to some estimates) provided a 5,000 percent increase in the production of aircraft lumber in little less than a year.

Brothers Rees and Lew Williams in France, 1917

Though the United States participation in the Great War was short-lived, especially by more recent standards, peace was eagerly awaited and, as reported in the November 15th South Bend Journal, there was a bit of confusion concerning the end of the war – not only here in Pacific County, but throughout the United States:

Sunday, Oct. 13th, at 3:39 a.m. witnessed the first demonstration for peace. Whistles blew, bells rang and generally everyone made demonstration. Everyone knew that it was about time peace came even though it was later learned that the report was false.

Then on Thursday, Nov. 7th, the report came that seemed so authentic that all over the nation there was rejoicing and great demonstration, even though the governmental heads gave no confirmation.

Again, on Monday, Nov. 11th came the word, this time confirmed from Washington that the armistice had been signed…So on confirmation of the report, the employees of the Willapa Harbor Iron Works, who have been employed on government jobs for a long time, making logging jacks and blocks and other logging tools, started out in force upon the street with cans and a circular saw, making all the noise possible. People generally were afraid to enter into the process lest it might prove another hoax, but the report being confirmed, the town fell into line. Whistles blew, bells rang, blanks were fired and every other exhibition of joy entered into…

…The streets were filled.  Flags were everywhere. Everyone was rejoicing. The South Bend division had a coffin on a small wagon, labeled “For the Kaiser.” The men had their hats off all through the march and if any forgot they were promptly knocked off for them…

…The city had the appearance of a great carnival.  Children were dressed in various costumes and draped with the national colors, flags were carried, confetti thrown, sparklers burned, firecrackers and revolver blanks were fired…

After all… it was the end of the war to end all wars!

Shrapnel, Nepotism and Other Weird Stuff

November 10th, 2018

Sheriff Scott Johnson

Sometimes I really wish I could get inside another person’s head to get an idea of how in the world they think.   But mostly, I don’t.  Certainly not in the case of our recently defeated Pacific County Sheriff, Scott Johnson.  I am totally content to let his actions speak for themselves and to keep a seemly distance from him and from the fallout that will surely occur from his most recent behavior. At least, I hope there is fallout.

And, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop reading this and go directly to http://www.chinookobserver.com/article/20181108/ARTICLE/181109910?fbclid=IwAR2YnULR1-1lzXvwglt_d7GppapcIQq6YqINS2PSzpUfqm8XbxTJ8Oxk6GI.  You will see a “developing news story” from the Chinook Observer with this headline:  “Outgoing sheriff appoints his dad to be undersheriff.”  The article goes on to say that Johnson’s 80-year-old-father is a retired county road-crew worker and, at this point, his qualifications for the job are unclear.

Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 8:15 a.m.

Also unclear is whether or not our county has an anti-nepotism policy.  (Were I a betting woman, I’d bet not.)  According to the article, Washington state law says little about nepotism, but many cities and counties “allow staffers to supervise, or be supervised, by a close relative.”  So, perhaps, Sheriff Johnson hasn’t fallen completely down that rabbit hole.  Perhaps.

My own take on decision-making by Sheriff Johnson is (and has always been) extremely tentative.  After all, my understanding is that he still has shrapnel in his head from that 2010 shooting he was involved in back when he was a State Trooper. (See the story in the February 13, 2010 issue of the Observer: http://www.chinookobserver.com/20100216/-ive-been-shot-in-the-head-slideshow.)    I’ve always wondered what might happen if one of those fragments got loose.

Just sayin’…

Here comes winter!

November 9th, 2018

A Serious Fall Frost, 2013

The winter solstice is still a month and a half away – December 21st according to the calendar. But Jackie Frost has been here the last few nights as evidenced by the layer of white he’s been leaving here and there.  It’s a sure sign that summer is over and winter is making ready to descend.

When I was still teaching and traveled along the back road each day, I loved seeing the frost on the cranberry bogs with the accompanying dense layer of fog hovering just above ground level on early fall mornings.  Now my morning vista involves our expanse of lawn that turns frosty white and the sunrises over the bay that provide spectacular counterpoint to the somewhat bleak aspect of the garden.

A Serious Fall Sunrise, 2013

Of course, we could still have an Indian Summer.  Even though I’ve heard those warm days of the last few weeks referred to as just that, Farmer’s Almanac says that it’s not so.  Here are the criteria that the venerable publication lays out:

  • As well as being warm, the atmosphere during Indian summer is hazy or smoky, there is no wind, the barometer is standing high, and the nights are clear and chilly.
  • A moving, cool, shallow polar air mass is converting into a deep, warm, stagnant anticyclone (high pressure) system, which has the effect of causing the haze and large swing in temperature between day and night.
  • The time of occurrence is important: The warm days must follow a spell of cold weather or a good hard frost.
  • The conditions described above also must occur between St. Martin’s Day (November 11) and November 20. For over 200 years, The Old Farmer’s Almanachas adhered to the saying, “If All Saints’ (November 1) brings out winter, St. Martin’s brings out Indian summer.”

Frosty Under Foot

So, I’m looking forward to day after tomorrow.  Maybe we’ll have one more little spurt of warm, sunny weather.  Meanwhile, I’m bundling up for the morning and evening chicken run and watching out for that wintery skim of ice on their water container!  Brrrr.

Lucy Locket should’ve been so lucky!

November 8th, 2018

Another Three-Egg Morning

Being the wife of a somewhat impaired chicken farmer isn’t easy.  Right now, all coop duties fall to me since Nyel can’t put any weight on his left leg.  Besides the chickens missing him, there are other problems.  Like yesterday morning when I got up and put on my bathrobe…

The problem with coop duty at this time of year is that, no matter the weather, the grass is wet.  That entails boots and, for several years, there has been a boot crisis here at our house – as in my (extremely) old, comfy ones have sprung way too many leaks and I can’t find any in this new-age world that I can easily slip on and off when I’m wearing my usual blue jeans.

So… I’ve taken to doing the food and water run to the coop in boots and bathrobe so I can slip those boots onto (and off of) bare feet and legs.  Easy Peasy! The hem of my robe gets a little damp, but my next morning activity is to shower and get dressed so the bathrobe has essentially twenty-four hours to dry.  Over and out.  The bathrobe had the added advantage of having big, roomy pockets, and therein lies another problem.

A Pair of Pockets, 1700-1725, British Museum

Yesterday, just before dawn’s early light, I slipped into that warm, fleecy bathrobe and felt a rather familiar weight in my front right pocket.  Oh no!  An egg!  It all came back to me.  The morning before there had been four eggs waiting in the nest boxes.  I could carry three in one hand and, since my other hand held the water and food containers, I slipped the fourth egg into my pocket.  Apparently, that was the end of my thought processes about that particular egg.

Which made me think of Lucy and Kitty.  You may remember that “Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it, Not a penny was there in it, Only ribbon round it.”  Well, at least these days it’s harder to lose your pocket, egg or no egg.  I read somewhere that, although men’s pockets began to appear in trousers and waistcoats as early as the 1600s, women’s pockets were separate items – more like a modern purse – and in the 17th and 18th centuries were typically attached to a ribbon tied around the waist and worn under the petticoats.

Embroidered Satin Pocket, 1725-1825, Germany

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that dress patterns show pockets being sewn into the seams and not until the two World Wars when women began wearing trousers that pockets became part of everyday fashions for the female gender.  As you might expect, there is a lot of political palaver that goes with pockets and their sexist beginnings.  All I can say is, doing the chicken chores sure is easier these days than it would have been a few hundred years back.  And all because of that bathrobe pocket!