Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Trimming the Bougainvillea

SANTA BARBARA. Another day at work -- a few hours trimming the bougainvillya (sp?) -- which drapes down the hillside and sprawls over the fence. The problem is that this lovely shrub is infested with morning glory vines which are choking in profusion. It is necessary to trim the bougainviller quite a bit in order to get at the roots of the morning glory. Fortunately, the boogervillain loves a good whacking and will sprout abundantly after I am done with it...... Such is my plan for today.

A Short Poem is a Good Poem -- this one takes place at the LaConner Tavern

A Baptist and a Buddhist walked into a bar,
But I haven't gotten very far,

In writing this poem
In yellow and chrome
In pale-green sea foam.

The Buddhist said Save Me,
I'm scared half to death.
The Baptist laughed and said
Save Your Breath,

Cause I'm going to visit the Dalai Lama,
And tell him that it's time to stop this drama.

This is an old story, it might not be true,
Of a Baptist, a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Jew

In the LaConner Tavern in 1982,
Sonia was making crab-burgers for a select few.

That was back in the day when you could run a tab.
You could get drunk and walk home, you didn't need a cab.

Dirty Biter was scrounging,
Clyde Sanborn was lounging,

Robert Sund was sponging,
While he chalked up his cue.
And tourists came in for the view

Of Swinomish Channel,
The log rafts, the sea gulls,
The herons, the eagles,
And derelict hulls.

(Dirty Biter was a well-known dog-about-town at that time)

The next poem happens on the East Coast -- it's also very short

The Lion of Cambridge

I saw Harvey Blume
Arise from his tomb.

I am not dead, he lamented,
Only pickled and somewhat demented.

Dill pickled? I asked.
No, bone-weary, bare naked, un-masked.

That was in Cambridge in Harvard Square
Where Harvey played chess with devils and bears,

Bears of uncertainty, wild and free,
While the Red Line rumbled underneath on its way to the sea.

Does a bear shit in the woods? Harvey joked.
No, the bear took the Red Line to Quincy and croaked.

Meanwhile back in LaConner

Charlie Berg lived on South Fourth Street in LaConner. He had a constant view of Mount Baker from his front yard.

“Yes,” Charlie said. “We live under a volcano and we’re all going to die. That’s why I keep these lawn chairs in the front yard. This is how I figure it – when she blows, the mud and ice come racing down the valley, first Concrete, then Lyman, Hamilton, Sedro-Woolley, one town after another all swallowed up, cows flung about like matchsticks, sirens blasting, people racing around, but not me – when I see that mud flow coming at LaConner I just sets me down in this lawn chair and watch the show. The End. We go out with a bang. It will be like the last surfer riding the biggest wave.”

And from Nebraska, we have

Retirement Plans

Got a phone call from a friend in Nebraska, he said, "Retirement is like being unemployed until you're dead."

The guy got retired by his firm of long-standing -- shown the door.

"It really hit me last week. I had my tires rotated. I never did that before, never had the time. And I don't have hobbies. I hate hobbies."

You could travel.

"I might travel. My wife wants to go to India. I want to go someplace with good plumbing."

What are you going to do otherwise?

"I'm going to start feeding stray cats until I get 2 or 3 dozen crawling all over the place. Then I'm going to sit on the front porch and glare at people walking by."

Sounds like you have a vision.

"Just a way to pass the time. I enjoy pissing people off."

And, for the last time, back in LaConner

Ben Munsey Leaped Over the Fence -- with apologies to Ben Munsey who would just as soon forget this story.

Ben Munsey leaped over the fence that June day in 2002. He crashed the party at the Museum of Northwest Art in LaConner, the annual fundraising auction fueled by high-ticket prices. Munsey didn’t have the money and he didn’t believe he should have paid anyway.

Docents guarded the front gates of the museum that fine summer evening, smiling at the ticket holders, but glaring at street urchins like Munsey.

“I’m too told to be an urchin, I’m past fifty years now. I teach English at Skagit Valley College, but I’ll be damned if I’ll pay $150 to eat shrimp off an ice sculpture and speak nonsense with nobodies from Seattle who come to the valley to ride their bikes past fields full of sweating Mexicans picking strawberries. I live here. I’ve been here a long time, before they built this museum. There was an apple tree right here, the tree was here for years, in a field of tall grass, before they built the museum, which I call a mausoleum, a burial place for the living art which once graced this little town, before the swells came and bought it up, and the before the docents came to keep out the riff-raff. But I am talking to myself,” Munsey said.

He spotted Singin’ Dan, who used to live on the river, a former river rat like himself, a denizen of Fishtown and Shit Creek, a slum dog drummer on Bald Island summer nights. “Dan, I thought you didn’t live here any more,” Munsey said.

“Well, I don’t live here anymore,” Singin’ Dan said, “I sort of got married and I sort of live in Olympia now.”

“Okay, so maybe we can sort of get a beer or something,” Munsey said.

And they stood there on the sidewalk, watching the patrons ensconce from polished vehicles. “Pretty soon they’ll have valet parking,” Singin’ Dan said.

Then it was like – not a plan, no, without any intention, or desire, or any voice of complaint or rebellion, but as natural as the tide rising that Munsey and Singin’ Dan drifted around to the back entrance of the museum, where the busboys unloaded the catered dishes, where the portable fence was installed to guard the premises on this special fund-raising evening -- a fence that looked like a double dare to two old hippies.

Munsey and Singin’ Dan – years later they both said “I thought it was your idea” – but it wasn’t anyone’s idea, more like the purest of action, despite being much too old for such a stunt – they leaped over the fence, Singin’ Dan easily and thinner, but Munsey with a beer-filled paunch dragging over the top rail.

It felt like robbing a bank, Munsey said later, you might spend twenty years in prison, but for a few seconds you feel more freedom than you ever felt in your life – like a vision of ecstasy, like breaking the law is even breaking the law of gravity and you’re flying.

They dashed right into the main gallery of the museum, to the fountain of ice festooned with dainty bowls of shrimp and smoked salmon and real wine glasses for the white wine, people talking in summer dresses and heels and linen sport coats, juggling napkins, and some idiot playing the guitar in the corner to give it that lah-di-dah flavor.

Munsey and Singin’ Dan filled up their dainty plates, but the matron came barreling down – it was Kathleen Willens in a stern, very stern voice who came bearing down with the brunt of the law, because she had been told by the bus boys that two old hippies had crashed the gate and leaped over the fence.

In truth, Munsey and Singin’ Dan stood out from the crowd and, besides that, Willens knew them for who they were, knew that Munsey and Singin’ Dan needed to be watched and suspected. She marched up to them and asked to see their tickets, knowing as well as the skies above that they did not have any tickets

Willens could have let them stay, if only for a hoot. How did all that art get to the musuem if it wasn’t for a hoot?

But the hoot was over, there was no more drinking sake at Fishtown. No, by the summer of 2002 it was all in the can, under lock and key at the museum, and creatures like Munsey and Singin’ Dan may as well move on down the road. If you don’t have a ticket that’s just too damn bad.

Fishtown Woods. I wrote 3,000 words on this topic in the last issue. Three people read the whole thing and they thought it was really great. I have quite a few more thousand words to go, but in the mean time I give you these little poems and vignettes for your amusement.

Subscriptions for $25. Your subscription money keeps the editor from getting cranky. Your dollars keep him on an even keel. He needs to maintain a sense of detachment and keep his sense of humor. Help him out.... Just follow the instructions below.

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Saturday, March 08, 2014

Oyez! Oyez!

The Trees are on Trial

The trees are on trial. The Fishtown Woods stand accused. The prosecution rises up and cries,

“Guilty! Guilty! And we will not rest until the last stump is cut. Sawdust and saw bones, every tree, gone to the saw mill. Be it cedar. Be it fir. Be it maple. All coming down. Alder, willow, all coming down.

But the defense stands tall and sings out, “The trees are covered with moss and carry small ferns in their nether branches. They are old and beloved. We love these trees.”

The prosecution glares back, “It’s not love, it‘s money, it’s so many thousand board feet, paid on delivery and take it to the bank. We have to work by the sweat of our brows, we are not blessed, we can only toil. It isn’t free. Nothing is free.”

The defense appeals, “Everything is free. Stand with us, stand with the trees. There is a blessing if you let it come to you. Don’t be angry. Don’t be afraid. This forest is beloved, it is a shelter, it is our home, it is your home. Let it be. Let it grow. Forgive everything. Join us.”



Thursday, January 21, 1988, from the Skagit Valley Herald, in a story written by John Draper. The photograph of Sande Howard and Willow Jorgenson was taken by Stephen Schroeder.

MOUNT VERNON – Art Jorgenson wasn’t talking much this morning about his second night in jail this week.

But his friends were, and they talked about how roughly sheriff’s deputies treated Jorgenson and other protestors at the second day of active demonstration at a Fishtown clear cut site near LaConner Wednesday.

Six people were arrested near the clear cut Wednesday as a follow up to 11 arrests made at the site on Tuesday.

For three of the protestors, it was the second arrest by Skagit County deputies in two days. Art Jorgenson, a resident of Fishtown, David Helm of Ferndale and Elizabeth Fries of Bellingham were arrested on charges of criminal trespassing and spent the night in the Skagit County Jail.

The three were released on their personal recognizance this morning by Skagit County District Court Judge Larry Moller. The judge let them go only after they promised they wouldn’t go near the clear cut site, the access road and any other places that will be posted no trespassing….

Wednesday’s arrests bring to 14 the number of people taken to jail in connection with the protest of a 60-acre clear cut near Fishtown.

“These are not scum they’re putting in jail,” said protester Paul Hansen, who was arrested Tuesday. He was among a small group of protesters holding signs in front of the jail this morning while their comrades were making a court appearance….

As the protestors stood in front of the jail, William Welch, owner of the logging company cutting the trees, walked by and smiled. He is serving on jury duty.

“He’s mean and stupid and yucky,” said Jorgenson’s 10-year-old daughter, Willow, who held a sign reading, “Free Dady.”

The land is owned by the Chamberlain family. The owners decided to clear cut the land about ten years ago and waited until now for the timber market to improve.

They were advised by forestry consultants that the only proper way to harvest the land was to clear cut it, and the state Department of Natural Resources issued the permit for the harvest after it determined it posed no potential for damaging public resources.

But an appeal of the permit by LaConner resident Fred Owens states, among other things, that the permit wasn’t given proper review and that the clear cut endangers wildlife in the area.

The appeal will be heard Monday by the Forest Practices Appeal Board at the Skagit County Courthouse, Jeff Bode, Seattle attorney for the protesters, said this morning.

Bode said also said he will seek a suspension of the permit by the Forest Practices Hearings Board today.

Well-known novelist Tom Robbins of LaConner was in front of the clear cut with others when the six were arrested Wednesday and he described rough treatment by the deputies.

Robbins said he was standing next to Jorgenson at a small nearby bon fire when a deputy arrived and asked whose fire it was. Jorgenson said it was his and the deputy said he was under arrest, Robbins said.

Jorgenson was grabbed, “slammed” into the trunk of the car and called a derogatory name, Robbins said.

Along with criminal trespassing, Jorgenson was also arrested for reckless burning.

Helm and Fries complained they were standing in the public right of way when they were arrested Wednesday.

Ron Panzero, chief criminal deputy with the Skagit County Sheriff’s office, said the deputies were not rough with the protesters.

Also, he noted that the people were arrested on the public right of way, that was after the deputies saw them on Chamberlain’s property.

Fries complained she was treated roughly when arrested. She said three deputies grabbed one of her arms and dragged her across the road.

Art Jorgenson Started It

Art Jorgenson could not abide the prospect of logging near his cabin in Fishtown. He gave me $600, which was all the money he had in the world. He told me to file a lawsuit against the Chamberlains, “Not One Tree,” he said.

I filed the lawsuit pro se and then we hired Jeff Bode, an attorney who worked for us pro bono. I forget what we did with the $600.

All this happened in 1988, a long time ago. Fishtown started quietly, as a haven and retreat, but it ended in almost violent conflict. Drama can be put off, but drama will have its day.

My Reward

My reward for writing the Fishtown Woods story is two-fold – people will get mad at me, and I won’t make any money…………… That’s pretty thin.

I don't even claim to render a true account. In the process of correcting old errors I will likely introduce new errors. But I will try my best. As for being even-handed, balanced, objective and so forth -- I will try this but only to a limited extent. I was actively involved in the protest and in the legal appeal, which is why I have all the court documents. I will talk to William Welch the logger, if he wants to talk with me, and I will talk with the Chamberlains -- but basically, they can write their own versions if they don't like mine.

Gordy Bell says

They [the Chamberlains] helped me and some friends put food on our tables that winter by letting us cut firewood for free. I too have been roaming those words for over 50 years and was down there when the archaeologists were exhuming artifacts. I think the tribal members were probably more concerned with that than the logging. I always asked them for permission as I knew whose property it was. I also know that a lot of people moved in to that neck of the woods in the 60 ' s and 70 ' and took advantage of landowners like Cram, Lee, Chamberlain, Al's landing owner, Cliff Oredsen, and Staffansons.

Frederick Winyard, A Computer Programmer from Anacortes, gives his reaction to the Fishtown Woods story. He says he made other choices.

I was an econ grad-student at Berkeley in 1966
when I noticed hippies and took a 600-microgram
(double) dose of LSD I bought from the grad-student
chemist who made it.

I spent 3 years as a boy in Borneo, and had a close
look at natural-man (Dayaks). Never wanted to be
worm-ridden, constantly at war with other tribes,
die young with no teeth. So didn't last long as a
Berkeley hippie: deliberate downward social-mobility,
no money, no power outside a collective, no sanitation,
no awareness, no educated vocabulary.

I had paying jobs since I was 16, very rarely been
totally broke for very long, regularly sent money to
causes I liked until they got rich and didn’t need me.
Nature Conservancy was a prime example of how I liked
to do things: buy land, own it, set it aside to preserve.
Works a lot better than a lawsuit in which plaintiffs
Think it is un-necessary to demonstrate valid standing.

But the fact is that every artist, wannabe writer, and
leftie hippie is my moral superior. I know I am do the
right things, just don't say the right things.

Nearly Normal Jimmy

Art Jorgenson fought the loggers and got arrested twice for his effort. Nearly Normal Jimmy lived in Fishtown -- just like Art -- but he didn't join the protest -- wanted nothing to do with it, just a lot of trouble for him and his wife Joan and his dog Zeke.

A year later, when they tore down the Fishtown cabins and evicted everyone, Nearly Normal Jimmy got kicked out too....... I never talked with him about this, to ask him if he was hoping to play it safe, or just figured it was pointless to protest, but if that was his strategy it didn't work. Got hung for a traitor anyways.

Keith Brown’s Cadillac

Keith Brown was installed in a hospital for the criminally insane in 1986 after climbing to the roof of the Lighthouse Restaurant carrying a can of gasoline. The police stopped him before he could set the match.

Keith’s Fishtown cabin was empty two years later when the Fishtown Wood Massacre began, and his old car was growing weeds in the parking area out by the old quarry on Dodge Valley Road. It was a Sprite, one of those little English sports cars, only Keith had removed the trunk cover and done some work with a hack saw to make room for a rotary gas-powered lawn mower. That way he could drive to his lawn-mowing appointments in town, to make enough money for Prince Albert in a can, and chunks of cheese, and bags of onions and coffee. Maybe some beer, but Keith didn’t drink much, he was crazy as a hoot, but not a drunk.

The Sprite sat on the gravel by the side of the road, where the other Fishtown residents parked their vehicles, by the old quarry, as I said, and just across the road from Ken Staffanson’s big old farmhouse. Staffanson leased the farm land from the Chamberlains and he grew strawberries, potatoes, cabbages, peas, the usual thing.

You parked your car, if you were a visitor like me, and set out to walk across the field -- there was no sign of course – “Fishtown straight ahead” – no sign, that was part of the magic. If you needed a map and a set of directions, then Fishtown was not for you.

Besides that it kept the traffic down. Farmers let people walk across their fields, but they didn’t want God and everybody doing it -- you kept foot traffic light and waved to the farmer out plowing. If it was across the field going to Fishtown you hoped the farmer had not plowed right up to the ditch because then you had to walk over the broken clods – hard work and muddy, but the farmer wanted every inch of the field. You might walk across, but you could scarcely ask him to leave you a pathway.

So we parked next to Keith Brown’s Cadillac – we called it that for fun – and walked out, very often, me and the wife and the two small kids, out to visit Keith Brown or some of the others, usually Ben and Meg and they lived in Bo Miller’s old place.

That was our habit until they started to cut the woods down, and then we organized a protest and blocked the logging road, linked arms in a circle and sat down to stop the trucks coming in, and then, just for fun, without really planning, Singin’ Dan and a few others walked over to the parking area and began to push Keith Brown’s Cadillac over to the protest zone – pushed it into the road, right behind the protestors, to make it part of the blockade

I was there watching all this. It was a comic interlude, because this was serious business – all those people going to jail, but we had our laugh. “Keith can’t come, he sends his love from the looney bin, says we’re welcome to donate his car for the cause.”

I was sitting on a rocky knoll across the road, smoking a cigar, watching all this. I wanted to join the arrestees, but, being the chief litigant, having the dubious honor of my name on the writ – it said “Fred Owens vs. Chamberlain Farms” – the lawyer, our dedicated friend and companion, J.J. Bode, advised me to stay out of the criminal process. “You’re leading the civil case,” he said, “so don’t get arrested because that just confuses things.”

So I watched from the rocky knoll and smoked a cigar.

Willow’s Dream

The Chamberlains did not own Fishtown because the cabins were outside the dike and on river tidelands. Nonetheless, they collected a nominal rent and obtained leases.

Here is one of the leases, dated Dec. 16, 1986, in a letter from Christopher Shaefe in Arizona -- he was an in-law of the Chamberlain family. The letter is addressed to Sande Howard, wife to Art Jorgenson, mother to Willow Jorgenson.

"The attached lease will allow your continued occupancy of that certain property owned by Chamberlain Farm for the calendar year 1987.

Please sign the lease, indicating your correct address where provided and return to me along with 1987 rent in the amount of $230.00."

I have copy of the lease because it was submitted in the legal process that led to eviction. In the legal action, the Chamberlains could not prove title to the Fishtown cabins, but they could establish "superior possession" and the evidence for that were the leases, which the occupants had signed.

Willow, Art and Sande were evicted in 1989 and the cabin was torn down.

Be it said, many years later, that nobody ever owned Fishtown.

And also be it said that the Chamberlains owned the woods and owned the fields that gave walking access to Fishtown. There was never any formal permission or denial of passage across Chamberlain property, but I, speaking only for myself, feel like they probably don't want me on the premises. I have not been there ever again, except one time in 1999 when I was working on the U.S. Census to correct the maps for use in the Census of 2000. I had a legal right, as a census worker, to access the property and confirm that the cabins were no longer there. Which I did confirm. The cabins were gone and left no trace, only the willows of eternal spring, and the river that flows forever.

Art’s Coffee.

Art Jorgenson started all this, putting up the money for the legal action – an appeal to the Forest Practices Hearing Board – an appeal to deny or foreclose on the permit to log off the woods. “Not one tree,” he said.

Art died a few years ago, maybe ten years ago. He was going deaf and losing his sight, and I hardly ever saw him. After they tore down his cabin in Fishtown, he moved across the slough, to the head of Barge Island, and built another cabin. It was hardly a quarter mile from his old Fishtown place, just across the slough – really a side-channel of the North Fork of the Skagit River. Barge Island might be named on a map, it was a few tree-covered acres, but it was really only a sand bar that got bigger and decided to become permanent, and then inhabitable.

Now there was a tiny passage, going down the inside of the island, a hidden waterway, not 15-feet wide, where you could pole a kayak from Art’s place, at the head of the island, to the downstream end, and there you might espy a drunken board landing leading to the modest hutch of Crazy Peter, who, unlike Keith Brown, was a drinking man, and you figured, if you saw him in town, that he might have been a glue-sniffer at one time, but had gotten over that, and now all he did was drink beer. He wasn’t that crazy, just drunk, and I might talk with him a little bit because he made no effort to engage me in his world vision – let people off easy for the most part, kept his ravings to himself.

I’m sure he had a world vision, but I just didn’t want to know it. Or did I wish to recruit him to my world vision……

Be Grateful

In a way, the Chamberlain family was punished for their generosity.

The Chamberlains did not own Fishtown, but they did own the land that gave access to Fishtown and they did freely allow anyone to walk across their fields and to walk through that beautiful stretch of woods.... It would have been so simple to erect a No Trespassing sign, but they never did that.

So, for many years, people wandered through the Fishtown Woods and came to love them, and when the Chamberlains decided to log off the woods, it stirred up a powerful reaction, so powerful that the protestors forgot to be grateful.

Willow Jorgenson, the daughter of Art Jorgenson, grew up in Fishtown. When the cabins were torn down in 1989, it was her home that was destroyed. She does not see the Chamberlains as being generous.

Uhhhmmmm, grateful for what exactly? Thanks for the access to the river for a few years, so go ahead and wipe out the ecosystem and some ancient burial remains? I guess I still have a lot of passion. I remember them logging the last tree with a bald eagle's nest because the fine was less than the cost of the timber. I would try to protect that woods a thousand times over. And my Earth First! shirt from the protest proudly hangs in my closet 26 years later. As I remember it, most people were grateful to us for trying to protect the earth. Your comment painted us protestors with a wide brush. Just because they gave me river access does not mean they are entitled destroy a sensitive ecosystem and historic site. The court even decided later there was "glitch in the computer" and the area should have had further protections under the shoreline act. I wonder how the tribe felt about the destruction of their ancestral remains? Or should they have been "grateful" a few years went by before they were decimated? Sorry Fred, but there was a lot more to the story.

We are currently facing the 6th mass extinction in the history of the earth. The leading cause is habitat loss caused by humans. Excuse me if I don't see our protest as a "punishment for their generosity.”

I wrote back to her.

Yes, there is a lot more to the story. Many people were involved and everyone has a different way of remembering it....... .....It's just not so black and white........... My intention is to tell this story -- and I have quite a bit more to tell -- because 26 years later, it still matters.... You lost your home in the process and suffered a much greater harm than others did. It was a spiteful action to tear down those cabins and it was wrong.

Art’s Coffee

I was writing about Art’s Coffee, before I interjected all these other stories. Art Jorgenson, sculptor, kayak builder, river dweller. He never came into town -- I never saw him not once come into town. Heron-friend and hermit. He had a cabin with a small cook stove, but he liked to build a fire on the ground outside and sit around it on a rock or a log – where I sometimes joined him.

Art’s coffee. Boil water on the fire. Take a heavy coffee cup and pour Yuban coffee grounds right into the cup, about half-full. Then pour the boiling water on top of the grounds. Stir it up a bit with a stick, then let the grounds settle for a few minutes. Enjoy – very strong and very hot. Art was a beautiful man.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Fishtown Woods Trial

Sam Cram’s Unerring Weather Forecast

Sam Cram had a farm outside of LaConner. If you met him at the post office it went like this.

“Hey, Sam, nice day we’re having.”

“…. So far. “

The Fishtown Woods Trial, 1988

You would need a scorecard to keep track of the litigants and their attorneys, but it went roughly like this:

The Great Blue Heron Society, and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, being the plaintiffs, and being the parties which objected


Chamberlain Farms and the State of Washington, being the defendants and being the people who owned the property and the trees, and believing it was their trees to log, as they so stated in court

The Interrogation

The dialog comes from a 25-page deposition in which the attorney for the defendants, aptly and truly named Ann Forest Burns, interrogated Bo Miller, president of the Great Blue Heron Society, representing the plaintiffs. Ms. Burns sought to determine if, in fact, the Great Blue Heron Society actually existed.

"Mr. Miller," quoth Ms. Burns, "did you bring the articles of incorporation as stated in the subpoena?"

“I did not,” said Miller.

"Did you bring the list of membership and subsequent bylaws and the minutes of previous meetings?"

“I did not bring any papers,” said Miller, “because there are no papers to bring.”

"Then who, would you say, belongs to the Great Blue Heron Society and when and where do you meet?" asked Ms. Burns.

“We meet very often or hardly ever, depending on the flow of the tide and the rising of the moon,” Miller said. “And membership is given to those who declare an interest in the proceedings.”

"And what are the proceedings?" asked Ms. Burns. "And I remind you that you are under oath."

“The proceedings, I suppose, are the care and protection of the Fishtown Woods,” said Miller.

The Logger

Notice of Appearance, dated May 27, 1988, in the matter of the Great Blue Heron Society and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, plaintiffs vs. Chamberlain Farms, and the State of Washington, defendants

"You and each of you will please take notice that William R. Welch hereby enters his appearance...."

That being William R. Welch of Welch Logging of Anacortes, being the logger himself who did remove all the trees in the Fishtown Woods, with his crew helping, of course, and despite the dedicated opposition of various parties who wished the Fishtown Woods to continue as they were, or at least not massively altered.

And Welch did appear, not smugly nor triumphantly, but as a humble petitioner before the court, and being no better and no worse than any other man in the state of Washington.

“This is how I make a living, and my work speaks for itself,” he said.

Richard Gilkey Objects

A letter to the Seattle Times, dated January 28, 1988, after Gilkey was arrested at the Fishtown Woods protest.

I am obliged to respond to implications in some local press coverage of the Fishtown clear-cut-logging issue.

I take exception to references to those in dissent as ex-hippies, indigents who pay no taxes, and radicals who put spikes in trees.

Because my name was reported on television and in newspapers, with reluctance I make the following statement in contradiction.

As a fourth-generation Skagit Valley resident, a World War II Marine Corps veteran who served in the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion in the invasion of Bouganville, Solomon Islands, I have painted landscapes in the area since 1946.

I was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in painting for travel and study abroad in 1958. My work is in museums and public and private institutions, and has been shown in Europe and Japan. I own my own home, studio and truck free and clear.

As a matter of conscience and social responsibility, and as an individual concerned with aesthetic and environmental integrity, I stood in the path of logging trucks and was arrested for criminal protesting.

I was pleased to be standing with fellow artists, mothers and fathers, architects, a carpenter, writers, and university graduates, among others.

My position was that the logging operation should be halted until the outcome of the court hearing is known.

The fate of eagles, eagles, herons, and 400-year-old trees deserves our careful study. Also, I feel that Fishtown woods should be a refuge for wildlife, plants, and other threatened species, such as artists.

Affidavit of Margaret Lee

Margaret Lee lived her whole on a farm next to Fishtown. She thought Fishtown was a special place and here she tells why it was so special.

Her testimony was submitted before the court in writing.

I, Margaret Lee, on oath depose and state as follows:

I am of legal age, reside at 1180 E. Landing Road, Skagit County, Washington, and make this affidavit upon my own free will and voluntary act.

…. I am the granddaughter of Frederick Gage who purchased the homestead of DeWitt Dennison in 1885 which lies south of and adjacent to the present Chamberlain Farms property commonly known as the "Fishtown Woods" .... My grandfather Frederick Gage and my grandmother Elenore Gage lived on the property for the remainder of their lives. Their daughter Louisa, who was also my mother, and her husband Randolph Valentine lived on the property all of their lives. I was born in 1916 and lived on the property my entire life.....

I am familiar with the historic Indian occupation of our property (the “Lee Farm”) and the Chamberlain property in the area known as Fishtown and the larger area that forms the state historical district. I have both personal experience and the stories and information that I was told about by my parents and grandparents. My mother was quite good friends with an Indian woman named Mary. She and Mary spent many hours sharing tea, toast and jam and talking and sharing stories. Both of my parents would trade and talk with Indians that would bring clams and homespun socks. I remember my dad always wearing Indian-made socks.

Sometime around 1890, a partial dike was constructed along the Skagit River in front of Fishtown Bay which lies just west of Gage’s Point (named for my grandfather). A granary was built on the dike and a road was built in the valley that extends northward from Fishtown Bay connecting the granary to Dodge Valley.

At and before this time, Indians lived and used this area. Several Indian trails that predate the granary are still present and were used by my sister and I when we were young to go to school and to walk through the woods.

The Indian Valley Trail connects the old village area with Dodge valley to the north. It followed the hillside on the southwest side of the valley and was several feet up the side of the hillside. I would often walk this trail as a young girl and I recall my mother warning me to “look but not to touch anything.” Mother said this was a “sacred place” to the Indians and they told her that a big chief was buried there. She said that the chief continued to watch over the Indian people and the Indian spirits guarded the place.

The Lake Trail connected the old village area to a lake to the east up on the bluff on my property. Indian watchmen used to sit on the tip of Gage’s Point looking west….When Indian raiding parties approached, the Indians moved camp and retreated to the lake up on my property to hide out until danger passed.


Roy Larsen Skull. Around 1911, Roy Larsen discovered a human skull near the old village area in Fishtown Bay. Roy was a fisherman that lived in a shack on pilings near the old granary by the river.

Spruce Tree Skull. I remember personally discovering a skeleton under a log on the north side of Gage’s Point a few feet up the hill when I was nine years old. It was very near the old village site, and I remember covering the skeleton up the best I could.

Indians Move to Swinomish Reservation. When I was nine years old, I went inside an Indian shack next to the river on the dike where the granary used to be. It was small and contained bunks at opposite ends. Around the walls were cattail mats about waist-high and there was a hole in the roof to let smoke out. My mother told me that Indians who had lived there moved to the Swinomish Indian Reservation…. in the early 1900s.

Burial Ceremonies. When my grandfather planted the orchard next to my house about 1890, several Indians came up to him and told that there were Indian burials there. They warned that the spirits would be disturbed if the graves were not removed before planting. My grandparent agreed to the reburial and told me of loud ceremonies and involved a lot of chanting and wailing. A number of artifacts were removed with the bodies including gold coins and a children’s China ring. The bodies were taken to Little Dead Man’s Island to be reburied….

Indian Spirits. I also remember Indian workers and stories that my grandfather and mother told me about Indians that worked on our farm who would not go through the woods because of the Indian spirits they called “Skalatutes” that lived there.

Gravel Pit Bones. The sand spit that the old village site in Fishtown Bay was located on was used to supply gravel for the granary road and by farmers whenever gravel was needed. A big pit was dug near the big Spruce in the middle of the spit. Human bones from the pit were discarded in a pile next to the pit which grew larger over time as more and more gravel was removed. Bones discovered in the gravel … were discarded all along the south side of the road in the valley behind the old village. There were all kinds of bones: leg bones, arms and skulls.

High Water. The winter high tides fill up the Bay where the old village is. Just last year, the tide covered the boardwalk that runs along the river next to Fishtown Bay and several planks floated off. During those tides, the entire bay is under a lot of water all the way back to the hillside. These high tides are a regular occurrence and something my mother was continually warning us about.

I swear on oath that the above statements are true and correct to the best of my knowledge. Dated this 19th day of April, 1988. _________________ [signed] Margaret Lee

Art Jorgensen Started It

Art Jorgensen could not abide the prospect of logging near his cabin in Fishtown. He gave me $600, which was all the money he had in the world. He told me to file a lawsuit against the Chamberlains, “Not One Tree,” he said.

I filed the lawsuit pro se and then we hired Jeff Bode, an attorney who worked for us pro bono. I forget what we did with the $600.

All this happened in 1988, a long time ago. Fishtown started quietly, as a haven and retreat, but it ended in almost violent conflict. Drama can be put off, but drama will have its day.

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Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is Fred Owens

My writing blog is Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001

Friday, February 14, 2014

Clouds and Love letters

By Fred Owens

People used to write love letters, and people used to keep the ones they received. This is an archaic almost pre-historic practice. This journal entry was written in 2007, but refers to an earlier pre-Internet age.

Clouds and Love Letters

I sent an email to Wonder Woman -- she said she doesn't like the phone. She is booked up and out of town the next 2 weekends, so I said let's see each other again and tell me a day when you can be free and we'll think of something to do..... Wonder Woman and I both descend from the Welsh -- we have such nice surnames. This Welshness, and the fact that I am still intermittently steamed at Joan for dumping me by email -- both remind me of Rebecca, or Her R-ness, a former girl friend, more than ten years ago, who is still mad at me.

Rebecca comes to mind because she is also Welsh, and probably knows Wonder Woman, because they both know the same people. Rebecca is not likely to poison the well for me, she is not depraved like that, but she can be impressively miffed. My affair with Her R-ness was a wonderful months-long spat, interspersed with tenderness and lovemaking, followed by a series of delightfully insulting letters that we exchanged, and which I kept. Ten years after the affair, she called me to ask me to return her letters. I had kept them because they were good letters and I like to keep letters. But I said no, I would not return them. This sounds unreasonable, but the fact is that my current wife was in the room when Rebecca called and I was not able to explain that her letters -- although I still had them -- were stored in the attic of a friend in Boston, and I was hardly going to fly across the country to retrieve them.

More years passed, and I have kept moving around and now find myself in Seattle and within Rebecca's aura. She might bless my new ventures, but she might find ways to embarrass me. Oh well....Postscript: I did eventually return to Boston to retrieve my belongings, and I threw out the letters, after calling Rebecca -- she said that would be sufficient and she no longer wanted them back.

Happy Valentine's Day

P.S. You may have noticed that the story has no clouds in it. The truth is that I called it "Clouds and Love Letters" just because it sounds nice.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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My writing blog is Frog Hospital

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35 West Main St Suite B #391
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Friday, February 07, 2014

California Dreaming

I thought it would never rain in Santa Barbara, but it's raining real rainy-rain right now and we are staying in the house.
This will leave us still officially in a drought, but me and everyone else will ignore that depressing fact -- being Californians, having that great good quality of forgetting the past and ignoring the future. Living for the moment -- that's a virtue, isn't it?
No, plan for the future and remember the past. Learn from our mistakes. That's the right way to be..... sure.

I'm speaking of coastal California where I live, near the beach. You go inland you may as well be in Texas -- a foreign country full of dust, hard work and poverty -- so I'm told, but I never go there. Bakersfield, Fresno, places like that, you might as well be landing on the moon.
And Sacramento. I was there once. It was hot and flat and I didn't stay long.

Governor Jerry Brown lives in Sacramento and he seems to like it. He also seems to enjoy piles of paperwork and long meetings with angry people demanding everything. He's kind of a weird guy if you think about it. But he enjoys being Governor, so we might elect him to a third term. I wouldn't want the job myself.
The Movies. The movie business is leaving California, gone to tax havens in Louisiana and Michigan and other dreadful places. Of course it's cheaper back East -- because it's so far from the beach..... But the Hollywood stars and financiers will stay here. They have their fantasy castles in Malibu. Malibu is far too precious to leave just because of some tax break.
What is Real? People say California isn't real. Well, they're right. California is half dream and half illusion. If you want real, move to Nebraska. Nebraska is incredibly real and they have lots of cows there too. Nebraska is so real they even made a movie out of it starring Bruce Dern. But guess what -- the movie was made be people from California. We're good at making movies because movies aren't real. Movie making is a multi-billion dollar business that supports thousands of people around the country and around the world. And it's not real, except it is.
Hard Work. They say hard work leads to success, but they lied. Look at Russia, they are the hardest working people on earth. Grandma shoveling coal in her babushka. Peasants toiling in the fields from sunrise to sunset. Factory workings sweating and cursing. Working hard all right, and yet they are so poor. You know why?

Because hard work isn't enough. You need to have a dream. You need to have hope and freedom. You need to think that things just might get better. You need to have imagination. And a lot of those good things come from California -- we're the dream factory. You need a cloud to sleep on -- we've got them. You do have to work hard, but without that dream...... whoah..... without that dream you're just walking to your grave.

Now for the Owens Awards. The Owens Awards are just like the Oscars except there are no rules.

Best movie about Nebraska. Not Nebraska. Nope. The best movie about Nebraska is Badlands starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, filmed in 1973, the story of Charlie Starkweather.

Best movie about Kansas. You know the answer -- The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland. The runner-up is In Cold Blood.

Best movie about Texas. The best movie about Texas is The Alamo starring John Wayne.

I can go all around the country like this. But all these movies were made in Hollywood, except for some outdoor locations. Take Texas, please. No, I mean take Texas as an example. Texas is a pile of dirt if it doesn't have a story to tell. And who tells that story? Hollywood. Hollywood makes Texas look good......You're welcome.

So bring on the rain. More rain in Santa Barbara. We hope.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

California Drought

No rain in sight. Brown lawns and dusty cars. The Governor declared a drought. This proclamation hardly made the front page -- because everybody already knows.

It was the heat wave in mid-January that finally pushed public awareness over the edge. We had a string of strong Santa Ana winds and daytime high temperatures of 85 degrees and higher. It just feels like it's never going to rain again.

But I am no native, so I contacted the folks with 50-year memories. Oh yes, they say, it was like this in the 1970s, seems like it went on for years back then, endless blue skies, water rationing, short showers, saving the dish water to pour onto the roses, you just hunker down and hang on -- that's what they said.

Walking on the beach we see a lazy haze over the water. Air pollution is up. Dust lingers in the air and not washed by the rain. Spring flowers are unlikely. The weather people are more accurate than they used to be and the long-range forecast is bleak.
But you never know -- it could rain in February and March. Everybody would be happy if it did.

Yesterday we saw a bobcat just sitting in the corral in the backyard. The bobcat lives in the ravine past the edge of the property. The bobcat just sauntered off when he saw us looking at him. But that got us thinking about how all the critters suffer when there's no rain. Where do the little birdies get their drink of water? Maybe they overcome their fears and drink from the pond in the garden near the house. Maybe the bobcat is waiting for them.
And the trees. You know some of them are dying even if they look fine today. The old ones and the weak ones. Drought culls the forest and the hills.
But the tougher plants have deep roots and they will survive.

Rain washes the mountainside. Sediments and minerals flow into river and into the sea. Plankton feed off the milky stew. Fish eat the plankton. Pelican eat the fish.

But there's no rain, no nutrients falling to the ocean, less plankton, fewer fish and the pelicans are getting hungry.

There are two things you say for certain about a drought:

Droughts always end, and
We never know when.

Civil Rights.
I can't remember the name of the church on the south side of Chicago where I heard Martin Luther King preach in the summer of 1966 but I remember being there a half dozen times. It was a large Baptist church and it was packed to the roof. King gave long and mighty sermons -- what a preacher he was! I never did care to hear a sermon, but I did listen to him. You had to be there -- it was hot, sweaty, crowded, and electric.

King marched with hundreds of people through white neighborhoods, surrounded by even more hundreds of Chicago cops who were there to protect us marchers from thousands of very angry people who were yelling and cursing and throwing rocks and tossing garbage cans at us. You had to be there. King's presence started an argument that raged through every home and church and tavern in the city. The thing is, the man was right in his actions and he had a right to be there, but he wasn't from Chicago. Not a local. Jesus could have walked through some of those neighborhoods and met the same reception -- not a local. You had to be there. The locals weren't right, but it wasn't all about race, it was also about territory. That's the way I see it. Of course, they might have welcomed Rev. King and rented him a house and brought him a tray of cookies and then none of this would have happened.......This was all a long time ago. They made a holiday after him, but I never liked that. It seems to usurp my personal memory of those days. You had to be there.

Long Disheveled Black Hair Tumbling Down Her Back

(a very short story about college years at St Michael's College at the University of Toronto)

I remember being in the second floor lobby of Carr Hall, in September, 1964, just starting college, waiting there to get into Father Waldron’s office. He was the assistant registrar, a grey-haired bespectacled priest who assigned the Freshman students their courses.

Waiting in the line in front of me -- on the second or third day since my parents had delivered me, now emancipated, 18, a baby-man, to St. Mike's -- was Curley Dowling. Boy, was I ready for her. She was a vision in beatnik black. She had a black trench coat and high heels. She had long disheveled black hair tumbling thickly down her back. She was tall. She was not pretty, with a blotchy complexion and a round nose. She chewed her fingernails and smoked Pall Malls.

We struck up a conversation. I had just spent four miserable years with 1,600 snotty, spoiled suburban punks at Loyola Academy in Chicago -- all boys. Here was a woman. I immediately began to see the possibilities. She recognized something in me that I had never dreamed of. We were kindred spirits. Things happened fast. It became too boring to wait in line to register -- all this administration nonsense. We decided to go to Yonge Street for a cup of coffee. I didn’t even drink coffee, but I was game. The conversation became -- what’s a good student word? -- intense. In those years I had a lot of intense conversations, and this was the first one.

Oh, the world was new, and I was just born, the structure fell away and I was free. Curley, it turned out, unlike all the other Freshman women, did not live in the dormitory. She shared an apartment with her older sister Gretchen, a senior. Heaven.

We went to the apartment and someone brought over the beer that night. Curley and I walked around town and made love in the elevator late at night. Or maybe it was just drunken groping, we didn’t know better. It was very passionate.

Curley didn’t stay with me long. She hooked up with David, a “hippie” who lived in Yorkville. This was 1964, so I put the word in quotes, it being the first time I ever heard it.

But I loved her still and we became friends. During our school years it seemed that she was available for me when I was going with someone else, and then I would break up with that someone, but she had a new boyfriend.

Once, several years afterward we met at a bar across from Grand Central Station in New York. We drank the place dry and had our last intense conversation. She caught the milk train back to Greenwich, and I never saw her again.

Five years after that she sent me a postcard: she had married an attorney and was living in Portland, Maine.

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Subscriptions. Thank you --- Subscriptions can be paid at PayPal on the Frog Hospital blog for $25. Or you can mail a check to the address below.
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cell: 360-739-0214

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send mail to:

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35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001

Friday, January 10, 2014

Polly Pojante

Polly Pojante

Tom Blethen recently moved from the West Coast to New England. He sent a letter to his friend, Polly Pojante, an artist who lives in a salt-marsh shack on The Skagit River.

The letter gives portraits of three women: Cathy O’Brien, a school teacher, Louise Benton, a poet, and Nora Glass, a corporate wife.

March, 1991

Dear Polly Pojante,

I heard you didn’t marry that guy in Alaska. Well, he sure was a good looking fellow, and he was crazy about you, I could tell. Steady worker too. It must have been a tough call.

Do you want to marry me? I think you’re cute. I better be careful what I’m saying.

I told Don Coyote that if I wrote you guys a long letter, then he would take pictures of everybody and mail them to me. Jim Smith promised to write me a letter and tell me who’s sleeping with who. I want to know.

I have set myself in fancy digs in Cambridge, just down the street from Harvard Square. Nice people live around here, all intellectual snobs. Everybody thinks they’re really smart, and most of them are really smart.

It’s very expensive to live in New England, which is why everybody is leaving and moving out to your neighborhood in Puget Sound. I tell them, “Move to the Skagit Valley. It’s cool, and when you get there, tell them I sent you.”

This is a story I wrote about three women who live in Boston. They don’t know each other. They’re at three different income levels. I’m the connection. That’s what I do. I carry the affection and hostility from one group to another. Here goes --

It’s Wild in Woburn

It’s wild in Woburn -- I used to make a joke about that to Cathy O’Brien because it’s such a quiet suburb. I went to Cathy’s house yesterday. She lives on Mayflower Street.

She said, over the phone, “All the houses on Mayflower Street are Cape Cod. My house is the only one with a brick front.” It’s a nice little house. It looks like a school teacher’s house. I really only saw the kitchen because I went in the back door, and our plan was to go out walking.
She wore a leather jacket and sneakers. She put her ear muffs in her pocket, just in case. It was windy and sunny that afternoon. She got in my car and we drove to the pond. We began to take the path around the pond, walking at a brisk pace, fast enough to stay warm, but slow enough for talking.
I wore my black cloth trenchcoat -- perfect for walking in the city. I like to put my hands in the pockets and turn the collar up. I walk up and down the Charles River everyday. I walk by the Fenway Marsh in Boston, and I walk around the different ponds in Cambridge, usually by myself. Cathy says she prefers company when she walks.

What did we talk about? Her kids, my kids, the high school where she teaches, this and that. She has two children: Hal, a high school senior, and Beth, a sophomore. She said that neither of them were very ambitious in their school work, but they were good kids. She raised them herself all these years. Her former husband has been long gone and no help. She has been a teacher of English as a Second Language in the Boston Public Schools for many years. She explained, “When my children were small I taught adult students. Adults learn more slowly, and I wasn’t sick of children by the end of work. So I could come home and care for my kids. But it was never easy -- doing it by myself. Now, of course, I just teach teenagers. And the immigrant kids are wonderful.”
Cathy doesn’t seem to be beat up by life, or resigned to her fate. Maybe that’s from being a high school teacher, and being motivated by those earnest young faces.

The sky was bright blue. The wind whipped across the frozen pond, but the bare trees gave us a little shelter. We skipped around icy puddles, keeping our stride, and I told her about my life and my kids.

We came back to her house after about an hour of this, and sat in the kitchen. I told her that I admired her kitchen cabinets -- maple, with a lovely grain and a glossy, satin finish. She said, “Thank you, yes, they’re very easy to keep clean too. Do you like decaf or does it matter? My daughter baked the cake.”

I had noticed the cake right away -- two layers with a misshapen lump in the middle and chocolate frosting. We talked and ate the cake. Then we both ate oranges. I said, to be funny, that the oranges were dessert for after the cake.

I brought in my New England road atlas from the car so Cathy could explain about the beach towns on the north shore. She recommended Crain’s Beach and Plum Island. I plan to do some summer beach-walking out there someday soon.

Then I started to tell Cathy about Louise Benton, a woman I know who lives in Cambridge. Louise is the older sister of Mary Agnes Benton who lives in Minneapolis. Mary Agnes is a dear friend of mine from college days. Now it seems that Mary Agnes has not seen or spoken to her sister in more than ten years. Louise will not talk to her mother or her two sisters, or return phone calls or answer letters.

Thinking that Louise might be my friend because she’s a poet, I visited her and I wrote Mary Agnes a letter telling her how Louise is doing:

Benton Girls are Fun

Dear Mary Agnes,

Louise has been living in that apartment for twelve years. It could use a coat of fresh paint. The walls are getting yellowish from the cigarette smoke. In one room golden clouds were painted on the ceiling, painted many years ago. Hundreds of books lined one wall. In another corner is a neat pile of clothes, folded in a pile about three feet high, like a pyramid against the wall. She has a very nice 12-inch Sony TV, on a long term loan from a friend. Next to it is a small desk with an IBM typewriter.

On the wall next to the doorbell outside is a business card that reads “Louise Benton, typing service, manuscripts, etc.” Next to that is a large manila envelope for customers to drop off papers. But there’s no more business, she said. No more writing of poems either, I think. She goes to demonstrations for poor people, and haunts the corridors of the state capitol on Beacon Hill with a group of activists.
There are eight units in the apartment building, which is owned by a retired policeman. He can be a bit of a sleaze ball at times, Louise told me, but she has never had any problem with him herself.

The building is about four blocks from Central Square, the low-rent, bohemian, immigrant center of Cambridge, as opposed to Harvard Square, which is quite a bit uptown. Central Square is more crowded, more urban, poorer, but not a threatening or menacing place. It has Indian restaurants, donut shops, inexpensive stores, taverns, litter, winos, idle youth, and people waiting for the bus.

On Monday nights the Stone Soup poets perform at a tavern on Brookline Street, which is a few blocks from Louise’s apartment. The Stone Soup poets have been doing this every week for twenty years. It is an open mike thing, you sign up and you get five minutes. They have two featured poets who read for about twenty minutes.

I went with Louise one night. It was her idea to go. She said that she hadn’t been there in a long time. Jack Frazer runs the show. He was very glad to see Louise and urged her to come back and be one of the featured poets very soon. Louise said she probably would, although she hasn’t read in public for some time. She said to me, looking at the crowd, “It’s intimidating. Everybody looks so young, and the women poets are so angry.” I told her, “Don’t let that bother you. We’re middle-aged and we can tell these kids to just get the fuck out of the way.”

It cost $3 to get in. I paid for both of us. Then I bought two Rolling Rock beers at the bar and brought them to our little table. Rolling Rock comes in a green bottle; it is brewed in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Louise liked my taste in beer -- it is the proletarian brand.

Louise smokes Salem menthol cigarettes, which is a serious problem for me. Not because she smokes, I mean I used to smoke a lot, but menthols are weird, almost deliberately anti-poetic in my mind and reeking of the psychiatric ward.

Her hair is grey. She had a light brown rinse on it, but she had let it grow out and two inches of grey roots were showing. She has a nice, soft face and warm, friendly eyes. She wore a dark, ribbed sweater and dirty old sneakers. The sneakers bothered me too.

Louise was very interested in all the poets; she had a very kind and supportive attitude towards them. Although some of them were clearly awful, not a discouraging word came from her lips. She just said, “This is great.” She insisted on staying until the very end because, “You never know who’s coming on next -- it could be very good.”

Two days later we met for coffee in a Middle Eastern restaurant in her neighborhood. It was so easy to talk with her, and I could tell that she liked me. I told her that I was living uptown now and busy erasing all traces of poverty in my life. I reminded her, in the kindest way possible, when we talked about your old home, where your mother lives now, that she had not always been so poor, that she grew up in a house like mine. I said simply that I was once again living the way I lived when I was a child -- in a nice house in a nice neighborhood.

Now I’m not trying to get her to move uptown, but I’m trying to stretch her mind a bit to see if she would be willing to be friends with me. Because I said, hey, I’m not into these politics anymore. My own politics used to be intensely radical, the same as hers, which is why we talked so easily.
I’ve just decided to keep my mouth shut, so I can live more comfortably. Louise has been living a little hard herself -- and a little afraid, I think, to have too much contact with people who aren’t poor. There is such a barrier between poor people and middle class people.

Your friend,

That’s what I wrote to Mary Agnes. I can see Louise’s point of view. She’s poor; she lives on her SSI check. She used to write poetry, and she might have been very good. I don’t know, because she never showed me any poems.

I can understand why she hates Mary Agnes, so smug and well-married and comfortable in her brick house underneath the lovely elm trees of Minneapolis. Louise is a poet, but an object of pity and concern in her sister’s eyes.

I’m a little like Louise myself.

I told Cathy that I’m a little like Louise myself. I said, “Louise can’t work at all, I can kind of work, now and then, and you work steady.” when I said “you” I pointed my finger at her. I immediately realized that I had been rude to her, had characterized her. I wanted to apologize but this got Cathy animated for the first time that day, to defend herself, to say, “I’m more than what you see.”

She told me of her plan to take a year’s sabbatical from teaching. “I’m going to live in Haiti and learn to speak Creole.” Many of Cathy’s high school students are from Haiti.

Cathy’s problem is her children. She can’t let them go. “I can make them go with me. After all, I’m their mother. But if I forced them to go, I couldn’t stand their negativity. I’m not strong enough to make them do a lot of things, and they’re very conservative -- they have no sense of adventure. It would be so good for them to live in Haiti.”

I told her it was a great idea. When I drove home I thought to myself -- Is that what poets like Louise Benton do? Wake people up and get them to talk about their plans and dreams?

Several days later I visited Nora.

Corporate Wife

Nora Glass lives in Newton, in a house overlooking a pond. She’s a great fan of Yo-Yo Ma, the celebrated cellist. When I arrived in Boston, she and her husband invited me to a performance by Yo-Yo Ma of the Bach Suites for Cello, at the Boston Symphony Hall. We sat in the second row. The music was heavenly. The man is a genius. The people of Boston have always loved classical music, and Yo-Yo Ma is a big star. He lives in a very nice house in Winchester, every bit as big as Nora’s house by the pond in Newton.

Nora’s husband works downtown, as a partner in a big-name law firm. Of course, we can’t talk about such things, but he makes an enormous amount of money. If I hadn’t known Nora for the past 25 years, I’m sure she would never let me in her house on a social footing. I’m really angry at her, I should say that right now. It’s about money and art and Louise Benton and Nora’s brother Billy.

Nora grew up in Pittsburgh, the oldest of five children. Her father is a doctor -- stern, Catholic, and old-fashioned. “Would you believe that I married the first man that I slept with?” she told me once. I forget what I said then, but, yes, I believe it. Her first husband wanted to be an artist. She made him go to law school. He quit law school and they divorced -- no children.
Her next and current husband was willing to go to law school. He quit his teaching job after he married Nora. Nora worked to support them both until he got his degree and until she became pregnant with their first child.

It’s a life. She stays home to care for her three daughters. She drives them to music lessons now. She reads books -- Tolstoy, Dickens, modern novels and poetry. And she believes in Bach, her personal religion. Music -- Bach -- is God, holier than words or written beliefs.

So I can relate to her on this basis. I can go to her house and play Bach pieces on her wonderful grand piano in her spacious living room -- such a piano made possible by her husband’s large salary. Except I have such a contempt for the legal profession. I keep my mouth shut. We are always polite. Politeness is required at Nora’s house.

She talked mournfully of her dear brother Billy, “Poor, poor Billy.” He is the would-be artist of the family. As the son of a doctor he had been required to pursue a profession, and he chose architecture, which is acceptable. But unfortunately, he’s much too interested in designing beautiful buildings and tends to disregard the bottom line. Worse, he took it in his mind once to design furniture, which everyone agreed was wonderful, but which no manufacturer would produce. “Billy doesn’t know how to market his work,” Nora explained. Poor Billy. He drives an old car. He lives by himself in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve tried to help him. I’ve sent him a few hundred dollars. It’s so hard for him. Dad doesn’t understand him at all. They hate each other,” she said.

Then the fight started. I said, “You sent him a few hundred dollars? Your brother? You spent $6,000 last summer to send your children to camp. Why don’t you send Billy $6,000. That’s real money. If you send him $6,000 it’s like saying I love you, you’re my brother. But when you send him $200 it’s like telling Billy he’s a pathetic puppy.”

I trespassed the boundaries of politeness. I was angry because I couldn’t understand -- it was this barrier that she couldn’t cross. She loves music and reads the books. Doesn’t she understand what it takes and what it costs to create the books and music? I had expected her to understand, but she couldn’t, and I was disappointed.

I said, “You see, it’s like a battle.” I was preaching to her now because I was angry. “You love Yo-Yo Ma because he’s a star. He’s a hero. He’s one of the best. He won the battle, and he came home. We all cheered at the parade. We gave him medals and showered him with gifts.

“But Louise Benton didn’t do so well. Louise was in the same battle. She took a bullet in the spine, and now she’s permanently paralyzed from the waist down. There was no parade for her. Her family doesn’t want her to come home. She lost. Her poems are dead.

“And what about Billy? You pity him. You’re stronger than he is. You try to help him -- I understand that -- and I know you love him, but you torment him too.”

End of tirade. Nora was smiling, calm, under control, barely. I left.

I drove home and I thought about you, Polly Pojante. You had to decide whether to marry that guy and change your life, and stop living in a shack by the river. Did you do the right thing?

I love your paintings and your sunny smile. I know you’re not happy all the time -- who is?

When you’re looking out the window, watching the tide come in, will you think about me?

Your friend,


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