Wednesday, December 23, 2009
In February, 1967, I was working as a section laborer on the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railroad, with my childhood friend, Chris Rhoads. In the mornings we drove about 22 miles out the Pasco-Kahlotus Highway, then drove down a gravel road toward the Snake River to the railroad section shack headquarters. I don't remember the name of the section, but we were down river several miles from where the Lower Monumental Dam is. Our foreman and the other member of the gang were a couple of old alkies from Kahlotus. Our job was primarily to cruise the rails of the section in a little motorized cart, hauling a trailer with the tools, and check the track for rock slide damage. The tracks were a couple hundred mostly vertical feet above the river, with another fifty to a hundred vertical feet above the tracks. As in any canyon, there were many little side canyons that were crossed on small, and not so small trestles. Our other main job was to replace the old ties that were on both ends of the trestles. The big tie crews, with the big tie replacing machines did all the track between switches and trestles.
Chris and I were nineteen years old, and we considered ourselves to be in pretty good shape. It was the norm that one man could replace one tie in an hour. This meant we had to dig around and under the old tie, remove the spikes and plates, pull the old tie from under the rails, slide and align the new tie under the rails, replace the plates, tamp the shit out of the ballast to make sure the new tie was secure and in place, and then drive in the spikes. The old guys did this job in about fifty minutes, then rolled a cigarette, and had a cup of coffee. They probably replaced an average of seven ties a day. I think on my best day I might have replaced three or four. Chris was better than me, and he usually did one more than I did.
Some days we worked our butts off, at least I did, albeit inefficiently; and other days we did nothing except cruise our section for the inspection, and build little fires to try to get warm. It was colder than a well diggers ass in that canyon with the temperature in the teens and the constant wind, we probably had a wind chill in the minus twenties. Some days it was so raw and cold that the foreman kept us in the shack. If I hadn't brought a book, there was always old porn magazines to peruse. Most days Chris and I rode in one car, but occasionally we would both need to drive. Once on the curvy gravel road down to the canyon, we would play like one of us was a moonshine driver being pursued by the other that was the revenuer. We would be fish-tailing around sharp corners with the canyon below and certainly there were not any guard rails. To be immortal and nineteen again would scare me to death now. There was a reason that I never thought I would live to be as old as I am now
About April I decided I would move to Seattle. I had friends living there and going to U of W. They had the great fortune to be living in a fire station on an old Navy hospital that had been converted into a TB Sanatarium, and a state care center for the warehousing of “special” citizens. The fire station had two vintage 1940's fire trucks, a hose drying tower, an office for the chief, two rooms and a bathroom next to the trucks for two old somewhat special men, Bob and Leroy; and six dorm rooms, bathroom, and day room for the younger men. Most were college students, but a few of us were working and saving money to go back to school. I moved in when one of the guys graduated, and then there were four of us from Pasco, one from Kennewick, and I can't recall who was the sixth. For going to one hour training sessions every week, and staying in the station and being on fire call every third night, we received our room with weekly maid service, and meals at the hospital cafeteria that was about two blocks from the fire station, and used by the hospital nurses. And, this was 1967, the summer of love! We had it made.
The call outs for fires were rare. Usually it was for a trash basket fire, or one of our “special” patients would pull the fire alarm so they could see the fire trucks drive through their grounds of the hospital. I do remember one time in August when it was really hot for Seattle, and several of us had just returned from swimming in Haller Lake, and were sitting in the day room drinking a beer, when we got an alarm that was a real fire in an old school about a quarter mile from the station. This old wannabe fireman named Pat was our weekend chief. He was a wannabe because he was too short to be a real fireman, but he did a lot of our training. Anyway, Pat called out the type of hose lay we would use, and we were hooked to the hydrant and pouring water on the flames a good twenty minutes before the county fire fighters arrived. Everybody involved said we did really well as volunteer fire fighters. What a rush! I was really full of myself that day, and later that evening when I had a date with a UW coed.
By the following spring, I moved out of the fire station, and over to Magnolia Bluff; but my place was taken by another guy from Pasco. I think we controlled three or four of the rooms. It wasn't too many years later that the hospital was closed. Modern times eliminated the need for TB Sanatariums, and the warehousing of the special patients was no longer in vogue, as they were placed in smaller foster care homes. I am so glad I had friends that had gotten into that fire station, and had invited me to move in with them. It was an experience I will always cherish.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Several weeks ago as I was driving VW Coho home from a fishing/camping adventure on the Deschutes River, during which I caught no fish, I started thinking about Richard Brautigan's 1967 book, TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA. This is a small novel about the summer in which a man is a trout bum in Idaho. In the story THE TROUT FISHING DIARY OF ALONSO HAGEN is discovered. The diary covers the fishing seasons of 1891 through 1897. During that time Hagen fished 160 days,
caught 0 fish,
lost 2,231 fish,
for an average of 13.9 trout lost for every day he went fishing.
He summarized his trout fishing experience thusly:
"I've had it.
I've gone fishing now for seven years and I haven't caught a single trout.
I've lost every trout I ever hooked.
They either jump off or twist off,
or squirm off or break my leader
or flop off or fuck off.
I haver never even gotten my hands on a trout.
For all its frustration,
I believe it was an interesting experiment in total loss
but next year somebody else will have to go trout fishing.
Somebody else will have to go out there."
I do not know how closely Hagen's fishing woes paralleled Brautigan's, but I do know that he committed suicide in 1984.
I'm not there, yet.
My fishing partner, Mike, picked me up a little after 830 on a Sunday morning late last winter. He usually drives as he has an all wheel drive Mercedes with heated seats and a great stereo. I drive a '68 VW truck I've named VW Coho which doesn't have heated seats; however it does have a working heater and a stereo.
A light morning cloud cover was just beginning to burn off here in SE Portland; hopefully we would have clear sunny weather for our weekly steelhead angling adventure. Within just over twenty five minutes we reached our destination, the Sandy River. The river itself was shrouded in a moderately dense fog; but all around the day was clear and bright. It was only a matter of a short time before the fog would dissipate from over the water.
The trek to the actual river bank involves hiking through, or around, a moderate size creek; crossing a small, weak flowing slough; climbing a slightly steep rise; and then trying to locate the path of least resistance through the riparian brush to river's edge. An additional challenge today was that we were trying to access the river from a different approach from our last trip; and recent flooding had left large piles of debris scattered across the lower plain to the bank. We planned to fish a stretch farther up the river than we had fished the previous time.
We were above the creek mouth so we had no need to ford the creek. Even after the recent high water the slough bed was only puddles, so the first obstacle we faced was about a ten or twelve foot rise up from the slough at only a slight angle. Only a moderate effort was required to top this. However, once over the rise there was another washed out stream bed and another much steeper rise to what I hoped would put us on the plateau of the small island we would cross to get to the Sandy. Mike thought we should just follow the washout, the path of least resistance. I mistakenly thought by going up the rise we would have only a short hike to the river. After a steep climb up about fifteen feet, with only ferns and small bushes for handholds, I topped the rise; only to discover it was a very tall berm that was even steeper on the other side. We descended without injury, mostly sliding on our butts. The brush was taller than us, but we immediately found fresh deer tracks and followed them. This was not difficult as we only had to push away the higher branches of the brush.
We finally came to the riverbank, I was a little short of breath, and my quads were still burning from the climb up the berm. The fog was still on the river with visibility of approximately 150 yards. I thought we were well up river to where we had planned to begin, so our plan was to fish as we worked our way down stream to the mouth of the slough. I rested my legs, caught my breath, and assembled my rod, and tied on the fly with which I wanted to start fishing. We were finally on the river and fishing!
The current was strong, but not flood strong; and the water was a cloudy green with visibility of about three to five feet. We continued to cast and retrieve our flies as we slowly waded down to a sand island of about 30 by 60 yards we would have to cross to reach the mouth of the slough that led to the mouth of the creek. The fog had burned off, the sky was clear and dazzling, and I watched a bald eagle watching us from a tree across the river.
I wanted to try some egg flies and flesh colored streamers near the mouth of the slough because we had spotted hundreds of chinook spawning in the slough and the creek. Eggs and flesh are a main source of food for Steelhead and salmon. I hoped to finally catch a Steelhead!
The sand island was hardly that, as it was barely above the surface of the river, and, as we quickly discovered, was only a very unstable mass of quicksand about 24 to 30 inches deep. Quickly I tired from taking giant steps out of the sand, and stopped to rest. This was a big mistake as I became completely bogged down up to my mid thighs. Mike suggested that I go forward onto my hands and knees. I did and this freed me to crawl my way over to the island's edge and was able to stand and wade to the shore.
Again, sitting on the bank catching my breath, I said, "Mike, I don't think it gets any better than this." And I meant it!
We fished a little longer, long enough for me to lose a couple of flies to the rocks on river bottom, and started the hike back to the road. We hiked through the tall brush, crossed some ankle deep washouts from the flood, and approached the slough where we saw dozens of salmon spawning. We waded through the slough as gently and reverently as possible, and climbed up to the road. About halfway up is a wonderful viewpoint of the slough and the spawning salmon. We observed silently for a minute and continued our climb to the road. From the highway bridge over the creek, we could see the same two salmon we had observed as we began our angling adventure.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
It is time to consider the past decade. What should it be called? The “zeros” as in zero one through zero nine? The last one was the nineties, and the next will be the teens, so from now on I will refer to it as the zeros.
Personally, it has been a very interesting decade: one of new growth and adventures, and of loss and some bewilderment. I think that the sneak attack on the Twin Towers in zero one was the middle of the end of the America in which I was born and have grown up. The end of the sixties, and early seventies was the beginning of that end.
In October of zero one, as a result of nine one one, as I think it will always be called, George Bush directed the invasion of Afghanistan with less than 2,000 troops. That is approximately a thousand less troops than American casualties of the nine one one attacks. In March, 2003, George Bush directed American troops to invade Iraq, regardless of the fact that Iraq was neither responsible for, nor involved in, the nine one one attacks. On May 1, Bush gave a speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln stating “mission accomplished” in Iraq. On that day there had been approximately sixty-five American troop deaths as a result of Bush's invasion. In the six and a half plus years since Bush accomplished his mission, there have been an additional 4,200 American troop deaths. About 90,000 American troops were in Iraq in March, 2003. In Afghanistan US troops numbered about 6,500. Presently the US troop level in Iraq is 141,000; in Afghanistan the present level is 68,000. The number of troops involved in the two wars is equivalent to the population of Boise, Idaho, America's 100th largest city.
Another major consequence of the nine one one attacks, and the Bush regime, has been the systematic erosion/suspension of the Bill Of Rights, and our civil liberties. During the “Cold War” with the communists, Americans were taught that citizens in communist countries were forced to always carry and prove their identity. Here, now, it is impossible to travel on a train or plane without your pictured I.D. Although not unprecedented in the time of war, the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus means that Americans can be arrested and detained indefinitely without cause. Will the wars ever end; will our rights ever be restored? Intrinsically, I feel the loss on a daily basis, and worry that never again will we be as free as we once were, and I am bewildered by my feelings and I am bewildered by the government.
In the zeros decade I have experienced growth of a positive nature, as well. In mid December, 2001, I and my nurse colleagues at Oregon Health Science University were forced to go on strike by what many perceived as a corrupt nursing administration. As a child raised in a labor union family, I witnessed the effects of my father being on strike, times of no wages unless he traveled across state, or out of state to find work. I had always hoped I could go through my professional life without having to go on strike. However, the fifty six days of our nurse's strike were some of the most rewarding of my life. While walking on picket lines with other dedicated nurses, I met some of the most amazing people that I probably would have never met. I worked a night as a longshoreman with a dozen other nurses. We were assigned to “lash cans” on a giant freighter, one of the hardest and most dangerous tasks of longshore work. Lashing cans is securing big containers seven deep in the holds, and five high on the decks of the ships. The rods and turnbuckles used to secure the cans must weigh about sixty pounds, and the wrench used to tighten them must weigh thirty pounds. On a night that began in a raging rainy, windy storm, soon morphed into a moonlit clear night with eerie ground fog among the trees of the island across the channel from the ship. It was the most psychedelic night I have ever experienced without the ingestion of a drug. The friends I met have become what I hope will always be friends; a solid posse that we have begun to call ourselves.
This is the decade that I have radically changed my life style. I quit drinking alcohol with the AA program and its twelve steps. I will have been sober for five years on January 11, 2010. One of the most incredible things I have learned in sobriety is how blessed I am to be married to Madelon Lewis, how blessed I am to have my family, and blessed I am to have my wonderful friends. Sobriety has also caused me to become estranged with one of my oldest friends. An alcoholic in recovery, at least in my case, can become very intolerant of acquaintances that continue to imbibe. I began to realize that the bond we had was the years of drink and drugs that we had shared together. It was a very strong link which I no longer cared to share nor discuss.
It is the decade that I retired, twice. I left OHSU in March, 2004, and worked very part-time at Providence Milwaukie; and I fully retired in August, 2009. I love being retired. This is the decade that I had to confront health problems, primarily cardiac artery disease. I had a triple bypass in April, 2007. I had to have a coronary artery stent placement in July, 2008, because I had not taken seriously the exercise program I will need to continue the rest of my life.
With the time that retirement allows, I now have time to fly fish, fly tie, and camp along rivers and streams where I fish. I have time to try new hobbies, such as the etching in stones, modern petroglyphs if you please. I am able to help friends with projects. I no longer feel guilty about lazing about for a day and reading a book. And I have time to write this blog.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
It was the end of summer 1971; the summer of my 24th birthday. I was estranged from Patty, the woman I had loved madly since I was 20, and had married just before my 21st birthday, with my parents consent, since I was legally considered a minor. I was clinically depressed, but I was not aware of that as I had never heard that term, nor that diagnosis. I suppose, for the times, I was considered a hippie. I let my hair grow, dressed in bell bottom jeans and shirts I had tie dyed, I smoked a lot of grass, and occasionally tripped on hallucinogenics. I felt a total disconnect from American society, in general. Nixon was president, the Vietnam War continued to drag on, the city of Seattle in which I lived was in a recession, as was a lot of the state of Washington.
David and Vicki were a couple, also considered hippies, that I had met during the winter when Patty and I lived in, and took care of a rural cabin in North Central Oregon. The closest post office was in a defunct general store in the crossroads community of Friend, Oregon. I would guess that the post office served less than two dozen families scattered around a ten mile radius. Dave and Vicki were living on a 20 acre tract that their friends, Bob and Winnie, from Portland had bought, and on which were building a cabin they hoped to live in full time. I had met Dave and Vicki one morning when I was driving up from Jordan Creek where Patty and I were cabin sitting. The winter snow and spring rains had made the road very muddy in places, and I had inadvertently driven into a shade covered muddy bog, and became hopelessly stuck. We walked the couple of miles to the Friend crossroad, and went to the corner farm house to seek help. A very young woman, with a very young baby, answered, and said we should go find the hippies in the woods just up the road. We did, and I met my new best friends. Later that summer, the people from Portland moved out to their land and cabin project. The word spread that there were hippies near Friend, and it seemed like other hippies began coming out of the woods and meeting on that 20 acre tract. There were craft making hippies, music playing hippies, dope dealing hippies, hippies with young children, and snow bound hippies. A few of us found temporary jobs with ranchers and farmers. I bucked hay bales for awhile, and drove wheat truck for a big grower in the next county. We met at the Friend site for pot luck parties. We smoked, we drank, we played music, and sang and danced. The non musical people like myself, were given kazoos which we blew and sucked through with great enthusiasm. I was happy, I was with other alienated people, who were very similar to me. We were generous and supportive of our little hippie community.
I need to add more background here, so I will start at the end of 1970. Patty and I had been geographically and emotionally separated since the spring of 1970. During that time I had temporarily stayed with friends in Seattle, where she and I had been living since we met, and on the road a lot as a hitchhiker. In the fall of ‘70 I returned to my hometown in Eastern Washington, and lived in my parent’s basement where I had spent my high school years. I began reconnecting with old friends and meeting other alienated dope smoking freaks in the area. It was not too long before a group of us decided to rent a big older house, and try to live somewhat communally. I was taking a few classes at the community college, collecting unemployment, and feeling pretty good about myself: depression in recession. Right around Thanksgiving, Patty entered my scene, and expressed a strong desire to get back together. I was really in a dilemma as to what I wanted to do. I only knew that I would not return to Seattle. I had some cash, from dealing weed, so I suggested that she and I take a road trip to see if we could somehow work through our estrangement, establish some guidelines, and possibly get together again.
In mid December, 1970, we left Pasco in the '68 VW bug we had bought new when we were happy newly weds, and started on a trip that took us through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas. We stayed in stranger’s homes in Boise and Boulder; these were the times when people (other hippies) opened their homes to travelers. There was a kind of underground referral network in locating these "friends." We also stayed in some rather desolate motels in Rock Springs, Wyoming and Amarillo, Texas. We stayed a few days with my grandparents in Dallas, and a few days with cousins of Patty’s in Houston. From there we drove one very long day across West Texas to El Paso, and another long day to Los Angeles, where we stayed with my cousins. During this attempt at reconciliation on the road, we ingested or inhaled a lot of dope (weed, hash, cross tops, and hallucinogens), had more disagreements than solutions, and we fucked a lot. We were either fucking or fighting. After several more days on the road, staying in a seedy hotel in San Francisco and with a friend in Vancouver, we returned to the big house in Pasco. Things had really changed there during our two plus weeks away. Most of the original people had moved out, and rougher, heavier into dope people moved in. I knew the people that owned the cabin in Wasco County, and asked them if we could care take it while we worked on our marriage problems. They agreed as long as we did a few upgrades that they hadn’t had time to do. It was several weeks later that we became stuck, and became part of the hippie subculture in Friend.