Posts Tagged ‘Willapa Bay’

Forums & Friendship & Ferries, Oh My!!!

Thursday, March 28th, 2024

Steamers Shamrock and Reliable — Passenger Ferries on Willapa Bay in the early 20th century

This is one of those Connect-the-Dots blogs.  The first item concerns the Pacific County History Forum and its final focus for the year — transportation.  (This is NOT next week’s Forum which is about Wrecks’N’Rescues.  This is a Planning-Ahead-to-May concern)

As many of you know, I give full credit (and blame) to Jim Sayce for getting me (and lots of others) into our love affair with history — with Pacific County history,  specifically.  Before he got all involved with making a living and being responsible, he often contributed to groups interested in pursuing local history.  He knows a bunch of stuff but where he really shines is in the matter of transportation — roads and bridges and where they were and why they aren’t there now and all sorts of things like that.

So, when I saw him on the front page of yesterday’s paper in his capacity as Port of Willapa Harbor Manager holding a map of bike routes  (of course!!!) in Pacific County and apparently discussing with a group of UW business students and the EDC the feasibility of having a “modest ferry servicing passengers and cyclists on Willapa Bay” and that it  looks to be “financially feasible,” I perked right up!  Wouldn’t it be grand if Jim could come and talk to the History Forum about such a project during our May gathering?

Jim Sayce, Port of Willapa Harbor Manager considers bike trails and bay ferry feasibilities.

More than one history buff has asked me about the old steamers, the Shamrock and the Reliable that served as passenger ferries and mail boats during my mother’s generation.  I never really thought of them as “ferries” but, of course, they were.  Passenger ferries!  I love to hear what lessons, if any, the students from UW’s Foster School of and the Pacific County Economic Development Council took from those earlier “ferries.”  And how can those of us who think it a great idea be helpful in making it happen?

So… here comes the Friendship part of this blog title.  If you are a friend of Jim’s (or a friend of ferries or of the History Forum) see if you can get in touch with him and ask him if he can’t figure out a way to come and talk with us on May 1st?  “When we’re gone, Sydney, who’s going to tell the stories?” he asked me fifteen years or so ago.  But, Jim!  We aren’t gone yet.  Come and share this fabulous story with us!

When the Red House Cousins come to town…

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022

From Lexie’s FB Page – (Thanks Lexie!)

I went visiting this afternoon — four houses north and two generations south.  It was a hubbub of activity at the Red House as it has always been my live-long life!  Those cousins of mine can pack more activities and fun into a short stay than any other ten families I know.

As I knocked at the open door and walked into the kitchen, Anna was mixing a serious looking cocktail that involved egg whites and pisco (a kind of brandy) and Angostura bitters — “pisco being about 95 proof” said her dad, Jim.    “Beeg and I met pisco in Lima Peru seventeen years ago,” he told me.  “We brought the bottle back with us and last night was the first time it has been opened.”  Pisco Sours — one for me, one for Jim — we being the Honorable Elders of this particular family gathering.

Although, “gathering” doesn’t quite categorize what usually happens at the Red House!  More of a meet, greet, and off to fly a kite or take a swim or, in the case of Anna’s husband, Rob — to paint another section of the house with a fresh coat of red.  (Or at least that’s where I think he disappeared to!)

I caught glimpses of all five of the “youngers” — Lexie’s boys, Kahrs, Anders and Bo and Anna and Rob’s two, Anwyn and Walker.  But not all at the same time and not all doing the same thing.  Kahrs, flat on his back in the lane managing the kite flying overhead.  Anwyn in the kitchen, in the back yard, down the lane, in the tall grass.  Bigger kids so far out in the bay it was hard to tell who was who.  No one still.  Everyone having fun.

Red House Cousins!  Wow!  And that wasn’t all of them by any means — only the ones here and now.  YAY!

Off on the Great Clam Hunt!

Thursday, June 10th, 2021

The Intrepid Clammers

Chef Nyel sent us intrepid ones off to tideflats to get a few clams for the paella.  “A couple of dozen should be plenty,” said he, and off we went — Alex and three of his kids with me as guide.  It was seven ayem; Charlie slept in.

Hard At It!

The morning was fabulous — blue skies with patches of fluffy white, still and windless.  We had the bay to ourselves and it seemed we could see from one end to the other.   Besides one another, the only signs of life to be seen were a few teeny-tiny crabs scuttling southwards.  I couldn’t help think how lucky we all are that our family has retained these second-class tidelands.  We represented three of the five generations since our great/great-great/great-great-great grandfather R.H. Espy first arrived on these very tideflats in 1854.  My fondest hope is that there will be many more Espy desescendents who will enjoy “Grandpa’s Village” of Oysterville and all it has to offer…

Dinner Companions’ First Meeting

There seemed to be a plethora of clams — but quite small.  We filled the chef’s request plus a few more and were back at the house by eight o’clock to scrub them clean and put them in a bucket of fresh bay water.  They spent yesterday cleaning themselves until the chef is ready to begin tonight’s dinner!  YUM!  I can scarcely wait!

Are the girls learning yet another language?

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

Lake Little, 11-19-20

Now that the tide has decided to stay within its normal boundaries and not wander around while high, Lake Little has also resumed it’s usual winter size.  Granted, it fluctuates with the amount of rain we must all endure, but it seems to call out to the waterfowl, “Come on in!  It’s a good day for ducks.”  And come they do.

I wish my duck I.D.-ing skills were better.  All I can say about who is visiting right now is that there seem to be quite a variety and they are LOUD!  Loud and busy.  I imagine they are talking to one another, mostly, but I’ve noticed these last few mornings that our chickens seem to be trying to get into the conversation.

Lake Little 11-17-20

Truly!  Amidst their usual clucking and squawking, I’m hearing  the chickens chatter with sounds suspiciously like quacking.  Plus they seem to wait for responses from the gaggle on the lake.  I’m thinking that now that they’ve mastered a little human speak (they have been quite receptive to my constant demands for “Egg! Egg!”) they are branching out.

I should point out that the above reference should read “raft on the lake” rather than “gaggle on the lake.”  Geese gather in gaggles and I have not yet seen any geese on Lake Little this year.  Ducks gather in rafts, apparently, but when talking about how noisy they are, “gaggle” seems louder than “raft.”  Maybe I should just referto them as a “gabble  on  the lake”…

Little Red Hen Listening to the Ducks

But I digress.  I just wanted to let everyone know that the girls in the coop seem to be in favor of virtual learning.  At least, I’ve never seen them actually approach the pond for up close instruction in duck dialects.  Nevertheless, I think they are getting the hang of it.  You never can tell with chickens…

Look who came calling!

Wednesday, November 18th, 2020

Yesterday afternoon the bay came calling.  Right into Oysterville she came just as bold as can be.  Quietly.  Relentlessly.  Creeping, creeping on and ever onward.

First she passed right by her usual stopping place.  Up and over the bank she came.  Into the meadow, co-mingling with Lake Little just as brazenly as you please.  She flooded out the egret pair who had been poking around the swampy edges .  And then she swallowed up the meadow all together.

She didn’t even hesitate at our fence. Under it she went, sliding along at a pretty good clip.  The wind died down and watched with ‘nary a sound ‘nor a ripple.  Over our east lawn she came, filling in the low spots, heading for higher ground.

She never made it to the front porch, but not for lack of trying.  She just ran out of time.  I didn’t hear the signal for retreat but it must have happened shortly after two.  I went to check on the chickens and the tide seemed to recede with each step I took.

It was a 12.3 footer.  Not as high as Monday’s 12.6.  But that stormy west wind yesterday morning helped blow her shoreward.  In December there will be some 13-foot tides.  I wonder if we’ll be lucky enough to welcome them clear into downtown Oysterville.  It’s been a while since anyone rowed a skiff up Territory Road, but maybe we’ll get a chance next month.  If we can find a skiff…

Time and Tide…

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

Sydney c. 1944

When I was growing up, there were only two sacrosanct rules:  obey the person in charge and be mindful of the tide.  The first edict applied everywhere; the second, only to my summers on Willapa Bay and/or when at the beach.  Those words to live by came into conflict only once and it was not a pretty picture.

It was 1946.  I was a scrawny ten-year-old and was spending my fifth summer at Dorothy Elliott’s Camp Willapa.  Although my grandparents were in nearby Oysterville, I visited them only on occasional weekends and between camp sessions in deference to my grandmother’s frail health and, more importantly, because she was blind.

On the occasion of my transgression, our camp “unit” — about seven or eight girls of 10 or 11 and a college-age counselor — had gone up to Leadbetter Point for an overnight campout.   Miss Elliott had dropped us off in the morning and had then returned with our sleeping bags, knapsacks and food supplies.  By lunchtime we were “on our own at the end of the known world” as we told each other with shivery delight.

Typical Transport with Miss Elliott

After lunch, the counselor said we were going over to Grassy Island which, in those days, was still separated from the mainland by a fairly wide channel of water.   At low tide, however, it was but a stretch of wet sand, quickly transversed and, since the tide was out, our trek was an easy one.  I can’t really remember what we did over there but I do remember keeping an eye on the water.  When the rivulets began to trickle into our homeward path, I said something to the counselor about it being time to go back.  Cheeky me!

I don’t remember her response — only that I soon was concerned enough to leave the group and head back to our campsite on my own.  By the time the rest joined me, they had had to wade in water up to their waists and I remember that they tried to dry thier clothes by standing as near to the campfire as they could.  I, of course, was grounded for the rest of the trip.  No dinner.  No campfire singsong.  A cool reception at breakfast the next day and, when we finally returned to camp, I was confined to quarters for the rest of that day as well.

Not far from our campsite.

I do remember feeling that I was being unjustly punished and, in my weekly letter home to my folks in California, I recounted the experience (apparently in lurid detail.)  What I didn’t learn until I was a young mother myself, was that my mother wasted no time in calling Miss Elliott and giving her a piece of her mind.

According to my Aunt Mona (who was the one who told me “the rest of the story”), Mom said something like, “How dare you let a counselor, who has had no experience with our bay at all, take charge of a group of children on an overnight trip such as that!  And how dare you discipline Sydney who was absolutely right with her suggestion to go back to the mainland?  She’s been on the bay every summer of her life and knew exactly what she was talking about!”

I don’t think I ever did talk about that incident with my mom or with Dorothy Elliott, either, for that matter.  But I do think that my inclination to question authority figures probably stems from that long-ago visit to Grassy Island.


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!

Mark your calendars! Hollywood’s coming!

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

WBO_Appelo_081614Keith Cox of “Willapa Bay Oysters” (the movie) fame does things in the grand manner. The Grand Hollywood Manner! He knows the ropes, living in L.A. and working in the film industry as he does. And, we-of-Pacific-County, long understood to be on the edge of the known world, are to be the recipients (and, in some cases the participants) of Keith’s soon-to-be presented pomp and circumstance.

We got “just a taste” (as they say in the oyster world) last summer when Keith previewed his documentary at the Raymond Theater. At that time it was more-or-less a ‘sneak preview’ minus the sneak. He freely admitted that he had run out of time and couldn’t present the entire finished product.

This summer and fall, however, Keith will be presenting the “full meal deal” here in Pacific County. He called last week to get my opinion (YIKES!) on optimum dates. I wasn’t very helpful, I’m afraid. There are very few white spaces on Pacific County calendars at this time of year. Personally, I feel that the documentary is SO fabulous that everyone in the county (and beyond) should try to make it to several of the showings – especially to the events at which some of the oystermen “stars” of the film will be making personal appearances. Just like Hollywood!

The late-breaking news is that we will have at least five opportunities to attend a screening. A note in this morning’s email from Keith says:

Saturday, August 16th, 2014 (11am – 1pm) – Appelo Archive Center, Naselle
“Oyster Industry and the Growers”
a screening from the documentary series “Willapa Bay Oysters” episodes 1, 2, and 3, followed by a discussion with Keith about creating the project and observations of the industry.
(Free Admission) – Open to the public

??Sunday, August 17th, 2014 (6:20pm – 8pm) – Neptune Theater, Long Beach
The documentary features “Oyster Farming in a Changing World”
This is a great chance for folks to watch the film alongside many of the oyster growers and their families, in celebration of the DVD release of this project.
($5 Admission or 2 tickets for $7, children 12 and under are free) – Open to the public

Pacific County Fair in Menlo, WA (August 20th – 23rd)
Keith will be sharing a booth with the Willapa Bay Oyster Growers.

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 (time: 12pm – 6pm), Raymond Theater, Raymond
At this event Keith will be screening multiple episodes, as well as leading 20-minute discussions with oyster growers following each screening.

Saturday, September 20th, 2014 (4pm – 6pm) – Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco
DVD/Book signing, screening event and reception (this will also include a discussion with a few of the “old timers”

We’ve marked our calendar! Multiple times! See you at the movies!

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?

Ahoy! Sails on the Bay!

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Although I am a Pisces, I’m not really a water person except in one respect:  I love being near the water and watching any activity taking place on it.  I guess I am a water voyeur.  And, for a great view of what’s happening out on Willapa Bay, our house is perfectly situated.

I’ve always maintained that, vista-wise, living on the bay side of the peninsula is far preferable to being on the ocean side. Our stretch of ocean here on the peninsula is pretty bland – no rocks for dramatic wave-watching and any boating activity is too far out toward the horizon.  It’s a great walking and clamming beach, but it doesn’t offer interesting viewing.

The bay, on the other hand, is viewer-friendly almost year-around.  Whether it’s low tide or high tide, stormy or mild, there is usually something going on out there.  There are oystermen at work, boats and dredges moving north or south, or clam crews fanning out from the cannery.  Occasionally, there is a speed boat or a recreational vessel of some sort, especially in summer.

Right now and right in front of our house is the best time of all for bay-watching – at least in my opinion.  It’s sailboat time!  The annual Oysterville Regatta is always scheduled for a Saturday toward the end of August and about now the participants are starting to hone their skills.  There’s nothing like glancing out our east windows, or better yet relaxing in one of our Adirondack chairs, and seeing the sails being hoisted in readiness.

Since the staging area is at the end of “our lane,” we are also treated to watching all the activity involved in hauling the boats down to their summer anchorage.  On weekends following that occurrence, there is often a colorful parade of sailors on their way out for an afternoon at sea.  They come back a few hours later with reports about the wind – “tricky,” or “not much,”  or “couldn’t have been better!”  No matter what, they are almost always smiling.

A few days ago, Tucker and Carol were in town with two of Tucker’s young cousins who were visiting from Germany.  Sailing was on the agenda, of course! Their agenda, that is.  I was happily into my voyeur mode.  Summer-by-the-bay in Oysterville never fails to offer the complete and perfect viewing opportunity!