Our Community Mourns

May 21st, 2018

Kevin Soule: father, husband, son, friend.  In a small community we build relationships effortlessly.  Kevin was my student at Ocean Park School more than thirty years ago.  Tall for his age as a third grader.  Quiet.  Curious.  The kid every teacher wants a classroom full of.

I don’t think any of us who knew Kevin in those years was surprised that he grew up to be a fisherman, an oysterman, a man whose interests and livelihood centered on the bay.  There have been Soules living around our bay for generations.  Boats and saltwater were part of his DNA.

From our house in Oysterville, we all too often hear the search and rescue helicopters at work over the bay.  Just ten days ago Doug Knutzen left our House Concert and flew out to rescue a man whose canoe had capsized.  But we were unaware of the search for Kevin on Saturday.  Ironically, we were sitting in the midst of many of his colleagues at the Science Conference in Long Beach, listening to the problems and proposed solutions involving our bay, our ocean, our river.  We didn’t know that on that very day, the search began for Kevin and his boat, the Kelli J.

It stands to reason, in a small community like ours – all but surrounded by water – that our young people will gravitate to jobs that take them out on the water.  An it probably stands to reason that some won’t come home from their day’s (or night’s) work.  Fishing is hazardous.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Fishers and related fishing workers deal with a set of working conditions unique among all other occupations. This occupation is characterized by strenuous work, long hours, seasonal employment, and some of the most hazardous conditions in the workforce.

And though there is a tacit understanding of those facts here in our community, it does not make it easier.  Since I moved here in 1978, I’ve known six young fishermen who have died at sea.  One was the father of two girls who were my students.  Three others were brothers of my students. Another, the son of friends. And now, Kevin.  Once again, I have no words.

I woke up thinking of Mary Garvey’s song after the Lady Cecilia went down. It began:

I wished I lived in Phoenix or some hot and dusty town
Where the ocean did not roar at night and no one had to drown
Where fish were raised in fish tanks as fish were meant to be
And no one had to risk their lives by going out to sea

In my heart there is a song for Kevin.  And for Bonnie and Ernie and Heather and his daughters.  It’s the same song we all have when tragedy strikes our community.  I hope Mary can write it for us.

Convergence at the Science Conference

May 20th, 2018

No one asked me last night: “What was your take-away from the 2018 Annual Science Conference?”  If they had, I’d probably have answered with one word: “Convergence.”

For one thing, it had been an all-day event – multiple speakers talking about eleven different topics from the ‘History of Hatchery Reform’ to ‘Integrating Logging and Salmon Restoration – An update on Ellsworth Creek’ – and I couldn’t really believe how much I already knew about every single topic!  Enough, by far, to keep my mind engaged and my eyes glued to the various power point programs that accompanied each presentation.

Too, I knew many of the attendees and was pleased to meet many more – scientists, oystermen, politicians, writers, historians, fishermen – during the breaks and mealtimes.  (Great food, by the way!  All catered seamlessly by Bob and Judy Andrew of the Cottage Bakery.)  Plus, it was all taking place in familiar territory – the Meeting Room at the Pacific Coast Cranberry Research Foundation’s headquarters on Pioneer Road.  It was only a few weeks ago that I was writing about the creation of that very space as I finished my upcoming book, “Washington’s Cranberry Coast.”

Up first was a report on Washington’s Coastal Resilience Project, a three-year effort to rapidly increase the state’s capacity to prepare for natural events that threaten the coast — specifically,  rising sea level and, as a forerunner, an announcement about what to do if an earthquake should happen right then and there.  “Do not head for your car,” we were told, and we were given directions for walking to the nearest high ground – twenty minutes to the Lone Fir Cemetery.

Already, I felt on ‘familiar’ ground, so to speak.  It’s about a twenty-minute walk to the Oysterville Cemetery from our house.  That, also, is the highest ground near here and, as I have often said, if the big one comes, my plan is to go there, hug a tree, and if worse came to worse, I’d be exactly where I intend to end up anyway…

And, so it went.  From topic to topic I felt a personal connection.  Only a few days ago I had finished reading Robin Cody’s Another Way The River Has.  The last chapter deals with the success of reclamation efforts on the Umatilla River – reclamation of both the river and of the Chinook runs that had been long absent.  The chapter dealt with dams and hatcheries and the Umatilla tribe and federal agencies and more.  It was definitely a precursor to the second topic on the agenda – History of Hatchery Reform.

And then there was the topic about burrowing shrimp – those ghostly critters right outside my front door, on my very property, that, so far anyway, have more rights than oysters or oyster growers or any of the rest of us.  And the update on spartina… now thankfully gone from our property – and the vigilance needed to keep it that way.

And on and on.  Convergence!  I am struck once again how no one part of our lives is isolated from any other part.  If you’d ask, I’d tell you that my interest in and knowledge about this area is its history.  But this conference was a visceral reminder that nothing at all is in isolation – not even the books I read or the burial place of my ancestors or the sucking mud just a few hundred feet from my front door!

It Seems to be Snowing at Our House

May 19th, 2018

Flakes of Paint, Not Snow

The lawns, the flower beds, even the porch – no matter where we look, there is “snow.”  Some of it is an improbably bright pink; some is a faded red; and some is stark white.  The rhododendrons are losing their blossoms!  But, even more distressing, the tired, old paint has been scraped from the house and the residue blows hither and thither, breaking into smaller and smaller flakes.  On the green leaves and on the grass and in the newly mulched beds – wherever it settles – it looks exactly like we’ve been visited by one of those winter flurries.

Snow Falling on Cedars

I remember this phenomenon from paintings past and I know I will be picking up bits and pieces for years to come.  However, when the walls are pristine and white again and the flowers are blooming to distract the eye, I probably won’t give it a thought.  And I console myself with all the other snowfall images that are brought to mind.

My first thought, on seeing those white flakes on the glossy leaves of the Jean Maries was “Snow Falling on Rhodies” which led immediately, of course, to Dave Guterson’s wonderful Snow Falling on Cedars. It’s a book I haven’t read since it’s publication in 1994.  Its subject matter – the racism and hatred of Japanese Americans during World War Two, their incarceration in “Relocation Camps” and their difficulties in returning to their communities after the war – has many implications for our world of today.  I think it’s time for a re-read.

That ‘snow’ also puts me in mind of one of my favorite children’s paintings, Done by a first, second, or third grader in one of my classes at Ocean Park School, it is the quintessential Snow Picture!  There is no question about how the painter felt about that all-too-rare occasion here when the snow really, really comes down fast and furiously.  I wish I could remember who painted it.

In truth, it’s only when I’m working out in the garden that I find those snowy paint flakes distressing.  But I’d better find a way to come to terms with them.  Like so many modern-day aftermaths and consequences, no matter how diligent we are in our clean-up attempts, the problems linger on.  Relentlessly.

By the time you are 149… !

May 18th, 2018

Work In Progress

Even though we have been waiting eagerly for the painter to begin working on our house, seeing the leprous west façade as I returned home from erranding yesterday was a bit of a shock.  All I could think of was that old joke: “When you get to be forty, it’s patch…patch…patch.  By the time you are sixty, it’s PatchPatchPatchPatchPatch.”

Our house was built in 1869, so it stands to reason that it needs constant TLC.  Being 149 is nothing to sneeze at, even for a house.  And especially in our northwest coastal climate.  There is always something.  This year it’s painting parts of the west and south sides – the worst parts.  Which are actually the major parts of those particular sides.

More Work in Progress

Yesterday was pressure-wash-and-scrape day.  And, it was a day of reckoning because that’s the time when whatever is happening underneath the old paint comes to light. The siding on this house is redwood lumber from California.  It came up as ballast on an oyster schooner back in the early days and has lasted as well and as long as it has because redwood is quite impervious to bugs and rot.  But nothing lasts forever and a few problem areas were discovered. YIKES!

Once the house and its owners recover from this current trauma, I think we will begin planning a 150th Birthday Party.  I’m not exactly sure how one gives a party for a house or for any 150-year-old, for that matter.  Right now, my thought is that it should involve a big donation basket in preparation for the next 150 years!  Or… maybe just a cake.

Look who’s back!

May 17th, 2018

Looking Out Our East Door

It wasn’t quite dark last night when I walked past our east door and saw on the lawn… one small black chicken!  Our runaway had returned!  I stood very still so as not to frighten her but I needn’t have worried.  Up the three steps and onto the porch she came, staring intently at me as if to say, “Don’t go away!  I’m back!”

I, however, was terrified that she’d get skittish when I opened the door, so I called Farmer Nyel and turned the situation over to him.  I needn’t have worried.   He opened the door, spoke in encouraging tones to naughty Miss Runaway, and was able to pick her up without incident.  She looked a bit rumpled, but steadfastly refused to tell us where she had been or what she had been doing.  How she knew to come to the once-upon-a-time front door is beyond us but, clearly, she wanted to come in.

Nyel soon had her settled back in the ICU next door to her sister who ran back and forth along the adjoining chicken wire, cheeping excitedly.  Ms. Runaway, however, paid no attention.  Clearly, she was famished and immediately (and for some time) gave full attention to her food dish.  When she’d eaten her fill, she settled down for a nap without so much as a “glad to be home.”   Her sister. on the other hand, was still chirping and cheeping and trying to find out all about where the heck she’d been and why she looked like she had a few wild experiences.

Farmer Nyel Checks Her Out

It was the perfect ending to a rather peculiar day.  I had been scheduled to give a history talk/tour of the Oysterville Church and its erstwhile Parsonage to a group of Community Historians.  Of the fourteen people on the signup sheet, only six showed up.  Just as well – half way through the tour, one of the women whispered to me, “Your sweater is on inside out.”

Sure enough – the label was at the center of the front neckline like a shiny brooch and there was another label sticking straight out of a side seam at about waist level.  Oh brother!  I, of course, responded with a loud, “You’re kidding!  Inside out?”    “I was trying to be discreet,” my informant said kindly.  Oh well.  Might as well admit to knowing what everyone by then had noted.  If I could have made a fashion statement out of it, I would have.

I’d like to make a cause-and-effect claim.  Something like: if your young chicken goes missing for four days, put your sweater on inside out and she’ll come home again.  As I have often said, you never can tell with chickens.  (Or with old ladies, apparently.)

When Memory Collides with the Here & Now

May 16th, 2018

Hulda Klager House – Closed

Yesterday’s field trip to the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens was a bust – not at all what we had hoped for and nothing like our memory of it.  Definitely one of those you-can’t-go-home-again things!  The worst part was that we had talked it up to our neighbor Carol.  Plus… she had offered to treat us to lunch and couldn’t be dissuaded.  The lunch (Mexican food) was delicious and we, course felt doubly guilty.

Nyel and I are pretty sure that our first trip to the Lilac Gardens was when we were both working and we are also pretty sure it couldn’t have been during “Lilac Days” which take place for the three weeks just prior to Mother’s Day.  We remember that even though there were only a few lilacs were bloom, plants were being sold, docents were in evidence to answer questions, and the house, potting sheds, and other areas on the grounds were open to the public.  Not so yesterday.

In Hulda’s Garden

Our first clue was only a few cars in the parking lot and an honor system put-your-money-in-the-box arrangement.  We were free to wander the grounds but all the buildings were locked up presumably until next year.  And the lilacs were mostly “over” – about three weeks earlier than ours on the coast.  Damn!  Even so, there were many other things in bloom – many photo ops and we spent an hour or so wandering and marveling and, truth to tell, feeling some relief that there weren’t hordes of visitors crowding the pathways.

I had spent some time prior to our trip on the Hulda Klager website – but apparently not on the right pages.  I had not noticed the mention that Many of the lilacs were planted by Hulda herself while others were planted by the many devoted volunteers that work hundreds of hours each year in the Gardens.  The potting shed and lilac display gardens are located behind the Historic Home.  Lila plants are sold only during Lilac Days.

Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens

It wasn’t until we read the little brochure (free for the taking in the mailbox) that we learned their policies had changed sometime in the ’90s and, for lack of docents,  they are now only fully open during the three weeks of Lilac Days.  Somewhere else I read that they get 10,000 visitors at that time.  Despite our disappointment and having led Carol astray, I think I’m just as happy that we had the place to ourselves!

We had noticed on our way into Woodland that there was a nursery just north of town, so before we began the homeward trek, we stopped in.  Somehow, our impression was that it was a small operation but, once again, we could not have been more wrong.  Tsugawa’s Nursery is huge!  The workers were helpful and informative and Nyel and I found two lilac plants promising deep purple blooms – just as we had hoped we’d find a Hulga’s place.  And, they come with a one-year guarantee!!

Variegated Lilac in Bloom at Hulda Klager’s Place

Carol (bless her!) shared the back seat with the two five-gallon pots and we were home by four o’clock. Five hours coming and going on the road had given us time for lots of visiting so, even though Hulda’s place was a disappointment, the trip, itself, was great. Still… we feel we owe Carol bigtime.  For sure, lunch will be on us next time!

Basking in Spring’s Summer Sun

May 15th, 2018

Basking Nyel

Sunday was a perfect day – weather-wise, Oysterville-wise, music-wise, friend-wise, and every other-wise.  For starters, we woke up with sunshine already streaming in our east windows and the sky remained blue and cloudless all day long.  (Well, that was my impression, but there might have been a bit of white puff here and there.)  It got to be 88° on our south porch but the breeze from the west kept all those “it’s a scorcher” remarks at bay.  So to speak.

As for the bay, itself – gorgeous with its own hint of summer.  On Saturday, Betsy’s Laser had come out of winter storage and gleamed, white-bottom-side-up, in front of our house at what has become known among the sailing set as the Oysterville Moorage.  Tucker had announced that the annual Oysterville Regatta will occur on August 17th and, already, summer seems imminent.

Sunday afternoon also marked our last House Concert of the season.  Double ‘J’ and the Boys arrived in new glitzy regalia and some of us wore our cowboy boots in their honor.  It was the first time (maybe) ever that I remember leaving the door open during our potluck dinner.  It’s not often it’s warm enough to eat outside in our garden, even in summer!  I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of the folks who had taken their chairs out and were enjoying the ambiance of it all!

Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens

And, maybe to top it all off (and certainly to underscore Nyel’s continued good health) his All Time Favorite Nurse, Holly, came all the way from Vancouver. She and her husband Max and dogs Tater and Bear could only stay for a bit of the Concert. “Work tomorrow,” Holly said, which probably meant being at Legacy Emanuel at six ayem.  We loved seeing them and I couldn’t help thinking that our spectacular weather would surely bring them back soon!

Never mind that yesterday dawned overcast and gray and stayed that way all day.  Today promises to be the same.  But… we are in a summer frame of mind now and so we are going on a field trip!  Yes!  We’re going to the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland.  We haven’t been for ages and it seems a fitting way to remind ourselves that, it truly is still Spring.

Expecting the Inspector

May 14th, 2018

Ten days ago, there was a field of smooth brown dirt where the lawn used to be.  Right outside our north bedroom window.  Now?  Not so much.

It’s even-ness has given way to lumpy and chunky.  I guess those few days of “intermittent rain” were the culprit.  The dirt shifted here and puddled there.  Rocks and broken rhododendron branches (WHAT?  They broke our rhodies?!?) are peeking out.  Hills and valleys are beginning to form.  And… did I see a bit of green poking through?

You can be sure it’s not the first sprigs of new lawn that I see.  We cannot re-seed until we can fill in the trench and we cannot fill in the trench until the Inspector arrives and gives his okay.  (I don’t know why I think of the Inspector with a capital letter.  Actually, an ominous capital letter.  As in Inspector General with hardhat and clipboard.) I think he or she is a State, not a County, Inspector.  And I’m pretty sure it’s an Electrical Inspector we’re expecting.  But I’m not really sure.  It’s one of those the-customer-is-last-to-know things.

If you Google “kinds of home inspectors,” all sorts of sites pop up.  One is titled “More Than 45 Inspector Certifications (free & online for members).” Wow!  Chimney Inspector, Electrical Inspector, Stucco Inspector, Meth House Hazards Inspector, Moisture Intrusion Inspector…  The list goes on and on.

I can’t help but wonder who, if anybody, inspected this house when it was built back in 1869.  Maybe the homeowner, Tom Crellin.  Maybe not.  There might have been the presumption back in those days that a Master Carpenter knew what he was doing.  And, of course, there was no need for an electrical or plumbing inspection.  Life was simpler.  New toilet facilities needed?  Dig a hole; move the outhouse.

Not that I’m advocating giving up our modern creature comforts and safety standards, mind you.  I just wish the process was more timely.  As almost anyone can tell you, Patience is not my middle name!

Missing and Presumed…

May 13th, 2018

“Don’t beat yourself up about it,” said Farmer Nyel.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

Maybe not.  But, anyway, I feel terrible.  The littlest black hen – the one with the injured shoulder – escaped yesterday afternoon and, try as we might, we haven’t yet found her.  It was my idea to take the chickens outside yesterday for a bit of sun.  Their older sisters had enjoyed a “field trip” to the garden a few weeks ago and I thought these two smallest girls were ready to meet the great outdoors.  Little did I think it might be “meet their maker” instead!

We knew we couldn’t put them together in the little chicken wire enclosure Nyel had fashioned.  They have been separated in their individual ICU areas for a few days now – hopefully recovering from the literal henpecking that they have recently gone through.  Nyel determined that the little black chicken would be the first one for the sunbathing expedition and set her up securely (he thought) with available water and a grassy area to explore.

In an hour or so, he went to check on her.  Gone!  No way of knowing how she got out – under? over? through?  He checked and “chick-chick-chicked” everywhere.  Not that we thought calling her would do any good.  She’s too young to have been offered scratch which is the usual reward for coming to the familiar call.  So… no little black chicken appeared.

The girls confined down at the coop (because of the septic system project) squawked and clucked thinking, no doubt, that they were missing out on a treat.  I went down to explain to them, and hoping that maybe, just maybe, the little one had gone down that way.  You know… birds of a feather and that flocking thing.  No such luck.

This morning Nyel has called again.  And looked everywhere.  “She’s gone,” he said.  He’s philosophical.  Farmers have to be, I guess.  But… I feel terrible.

Waiting for Grass to Grow

May 12th, 2018

Meadow in Spring

Halfway between our east garden fence and the bay is the swath of land we’ve always called “the meadow.”  Not ‘The Meadow’ across from the Little Red (now Gray) Cottage.  That meadow was once owned by my grandfather and was where he grew hay.  No, the meadow east of our house was pasture for a horse or two and now is just a pleasant open space, ideal for bird-watching.

In the fall, after the nesting birds have vacated, we have the meadow mowed.  It then puddles up, sometimes to pond proportions, and the ducks and brant and other waterfowl have their meetings there.  The eagles perch in the Monterey cypress trees nearby watching for voles and field mice and, often, a red-tailed hawk works the area – back and forth, forth and back in big lazy circles.

Bear in the Meadow

In late spring, when the rains abate and the meadow dries out, the grass begins to grow again.  Now, in mid-May, it is a luxuriant expanse of green and you can almost hear those stalks heading skyward.  By summer, the grass will be taller than the kids at the Red House –  my seventh generation Espy cousins.  Great cover for sneaking over to our house and checking out the nest boxes at the coop.  It’s in summer that some of the native grasses develop their red tops from which the sign on our house, TSAKO-TE-HAHSH-EETLE (place of the red-topped grass) gets its name.

Meanwhile…to the north of our house is a huge of expanse of plain old brown dirt.  I wish I could say that I’m watching it and waiting for the grass to grow.  But, so far, we haven’t even seeded it.  We are waiting for “the inspector” who must okay the work of the electricians who dug the trench for the connections to the new septic system which is under that fallow brown dirt.  Once the inspection is made, the trench can be filled in, and the seeding can take place.

Waiting to be Planted

I feel like all of the above paragraph could become a song and end with “…and the green grass grows all around, all around, and the green grass grows all around.”