Saturday, July 26, 2014


One day there was this guy working in a field, chopping weeds all day, hot work, tired and thirsty. He had a big field, chopping weeds day after day, and he got tired of it. There must be a better way, he thought. He's the guy who invented Round-Up....

But there are other ways to avoid the problem of chopping weeds all day. Like hiring poor people from 3rd world countries to do it for you......

Or you can keep chopping weeds but make it more fun with better pay, nice clean field bathrooms and shady rest areas.

Or you can plan your tillage and planting to avoid the worst of the weeds.

There's actually several ways to solve this problem. And none of them work too well.

None of them work too well, so we go back to the Bible and read that we are condemned to work by the sweat of our brows. And dream about gardens where there is no work to do at all. Besides the Bible you have several visions of paradise to work with, depending on your religious and cultural persuasion -- a favorite of mine is to imagine it was so much easier when we were all hunter-gatherers in small tribes wandering --- "the fish just jumped into the boat!" .... "the fruit fell off the tree" ..... "there were tasty roots in the meadow" ....

Penny Jennings, from her farm in Oregon, responded. "We're experiencing the weed issue here on the farm. But I refuse to pollute the land with Round-Up. Instead, we are putting about 5 inches of compost and bark mulch and planting plants that eventually will replace the weeds. But they are relentless. It may just be my fantasy...."

I wrote back to her -- "The key to understanding the weed problem is that nothing works. We face this hopeless moment and then we move on."

The Reaper.

Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper in 1837. It was soon widely adopted. You can make a nice nostalgic painting of happy workers reaping the grain with scythes and sickles, but a million farm boys and farm girls were pretty happy to be relieved of that labor when the mechanical reaper came along......

Round up and Reapers are some of the machines and chemicals that do the work for us --- you can say that's good or you can say that's awful -- it depends on who you talk to.

It Might Have Been Different

David Ben-Gurion attempted to enlist in the Turkish army at the beginning of World War I. He and the other Zionists hoped to form a Jewish regiment that would fight on the Turkish side. But their offer was rejected..... Imagine how different history would be if Ben Gurion had fought for the Turks. With Jewish help, the Turks would have defended Jerusalem and Damascus against the British invaders...... But no, the people of the Middle East consistently and stupidly reject the potential of Jewish "help." And what good does it do them? We in America had the good sense to welcome millions of Jewish immigrants - to our benefit.

A History of Hovels.

My life in a shack. I hope I never live in sub-standard housing again. I guess that's what I remember most about the Skagit Valley -- slum housing amid natural splendor........ Other people excelled in shack management -- you know, chop wood and carry water, all that lovely vision of back to the land.

Not me. My experience was blowing into a funky wet fire on my hands and knees, trying to get the fire going in some damp cabin...... You think I could even heat a wood stove -- lots of people did good at that. Not me.

And work. Menial manual labor. You think I might have picked up a marketable skill, like the friends I knew who became carpenters and boat builders and made decent money. Not this space case. Unskilled minimum-wage labor -- that was my specialty.

Loading the truck. I was good at that. Once me and Jim Smith unloaded an entire railroad box car full of surplus government cheese.

Once Singin' Dan and me dug a 200-foot long 18-inch deep ditch to put in a water line -- at least it wasn't raining when we did that.

And not forgetting the natural splendor of the Skagit Valley.

But other people did better, just fit into the landscape better. Years ago we camped beside Steve and Katy Philbrick on Illabot Creek. They lived in a warm and snug two-story tepee, with clean glass kerosene lanterns, sitting next to a carefully stacked and dried pile of alder wood.

They were cozy. We were cold and wet. And Steve and Katy still live up there. They moved out of the teepee, bought land, built a house, had children -- the whole nine yards.

What I'm saying is that the Skagit worked for them and I'm glad for their happiness, and I'm sure they had tears and tragedy along the way.

But it leads to my saying and this is it. "You don't pick the place. The place picks you."

You might want to live in some place very badly, but that doesn't mean it will work out. Then you end up somewhere else and things start to click -- and that's where you belong because that place picked you.

Santa Barbara. It's festival season in Santa Barbara. The Greek Festival is this weekend. Next weekend is the Fiesta -- celebrating Old Spanish Days with lots of parties and dress up and the grand equestrian parade with hundred of horses. I love the parade and seeing all the horses. There might be a few hundred thousand visitors and no place to park, but it's a lot of fun. and if you don't like parades and parties, you can always go to the beach.

Here's my toast Santa Barbara, Viva la Fiesta!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Fagin is Still with us

I finished reading Oliver Twist. It was such a good book and it helped me. I resent most writers and that’s not an attractive disposition. I compare myself to other writers and that’s odious. But Charles Dickens elevates me. Dickens has plenty of room on the cloud where he roosts, so I have joined him there.

I will keep going on this Year of Dickens, and the next one I will read is Nicholas Nickleby.

Fagin. Fagin is the most interesting character in Oliver Twist, and the most enjoyable although I cannot detect any redeeming virtues in his character. He is the Jew. The Jew walked. The Jew talked, The Jew stood up. The Jew sat down. The Jew. The Jew. The Jew. Dickens said “the Jew” at least 300 times in the book.

I can explain that. Fagin was a Jew, so that is what Dickens called him. You can read your own prejudices into that as many readers have done, or just sail right past it as I did. I mean, if someone called you a Jew, would you be insulted? I would not be insulted given such an appellation., although I might point out the contrary -- I am not a Jew.

But Fagin was more than interesting to me. There was more than the appeal of such a delightful villain, I even liked him and I could not understand the source of my affection until yesterday when I was transplanting tomatoes at the greenhouse where I work part-time. This is what I remembered:

Seymour. It was early April, 1972. I left my editorial position at a small magazine in Chicago. I flew to New York and went to visit Mark Mikolas and Judy Capurso in the West Village. They lived in a converted storefront down the street from the White Horse Tavern.

I decided to try my hand at living in Manhattan, Mark and Judy loaned me their couch for a couple of weeks with the understanding that I was to get established and fairly quickly.

Well, I didn’t give this a moment’s thought and I had no plan -- travelling lightly you might suppose -- I just figured something would work out.

Mark said I might want to talk with Seymour, he could fix me up with a gig.

“Who’s Seymour?”

Mark said you can find him at the White Horse Tavern and they told me who to look for. “He can fix you up with something,” Mark said a second time.

Seymour came into the tavern and there was no mistaking him. He was a cripple, probably polio, with gimpy legs and metal crutches. He had massive shoulders and a broad muscular chest. He heaved his crutches and legs along in a methodical way making dull thuds on the tavern’s planked floor.

He was neither old nor young. He had a huge, bushy black beard, coal black eyes and a balding head. I would say he had a twinkle in his eye and a merry look about him, but that was not so. He did have a smile, and it was friendly, but that was only one layer. There were hidden layers beneath that smile, there were deeper concerns in his eyes. You might read his face and you might be wrong in the reading.

Nevermind. Mark said he could fix me up. “Are you Seymour?”

“I am. How can I help you?”

“Let me tell what I need.”

We took a table. Seymour’s table. Where he sat. A cripple. He knew how many steps from the door to the table, and from the table to the bar and to the pay phone on the wall. Measured steps for his strong arms and weakly legs.

He unfurled his crutches and set them aside. I told him I had just come into town from Chicago and I needed something.

“You mean you want some kind of hustle.”

Seymour was the Jew. Of course he was. This was the West Village in 1972 and he was the Jew, the cripple, the hustler and he was going to do something for me. He was the Jew.

“I have some ideas for you. Do you want to hear them? Yes, good. You can make the most money running numbers, this is some hundreds of dollars in a day and it’s not a long day. Nobody knows you because you just got into town and you have a clean record. You look like a college student. If you were carrying the bag it would look like your lunch. You might do for a runner.”

“In Harlem?”

“Not just in Harlem, all over town, down to Wall Street. I could set you up on a cleaner route. A lot of respectable people play the numbers. You’d be surprised…… Can you keep your mouth shut? You don’t want to talk too much. You don’t want to know too much either. Just run the route and you’ll get paid. Sound interesting? ……. Okay, probably not ….. the numbers …. You don’t really want to know…… But I have another way, you could run a gypsy cab. You would have to put up some money for this gig. I can fix you up with an unlicensed cab for under a $1,000. You gotta pay to get into this racket. You could be a cab driver, you take drunks home at 3 a.m. You meet all kinds of people. The money is good. The cops won’t bother you. But you gotta know your neighborhoods.

You can establish a route, like from downtown to the Puerto Rican neighborhood in East Harlem. You have to get to know people. They respect the right kind of white guy, and if they respect you, you can make a living. You won’t get ripped off. I know some people up there, so I can put in a word.

Nah, that won’t work…… Look, pardon me for saying this, but you strike me as kind of a lightweight.”

I heard all this. I was waiting for the catch. Seymour wasn’t doing me a favor – no warm-hearted smile, he was more matter of fact. So if he was offering me something, then what was he expecting from me? But honestly I was too dumb to worry about stuff like that.

“You might try selling balloons. It’s easy and you can make money. You’d be surprised. The money can be very good. I know a spot in Central Park, right across the street from the Plaza Hotel. The other vendors know me, so you can work there. If they don’t know you, they run you off, or steal your stuff, or let the cops hassle you. But I can talk to them. It’s not exactly legal, but it’s been going on for a long time and it’s lightweight.

I’ll meet you in the wholesale district where they sell toys. I’ll show you where to get the balloons and a pump and the other stuff -- it won’t cost you $50 bucks to get started.”

That was Seymour’s offer.

There was no catch. I met him in wholesale the next day. I bought the stuff. We went up to Central Park. On a beautiful spring day in Central Park in Manhattan you feel like you’re on top of the world.

We sold the balloons. Seymour worked the crowd. He was the cripple. He had a sense of humor – if it would help him make money. A spiel, a patter, and the mommas and poppas lined up with crying children to buy balloons. Seymour was like Santa Claus with a cash agenda.

“You talk with them, but not too much. You talk with them, give them a balloon, take their money and shut up. You don’t talk to them for free.

We sold a lot of balloons and the next day I was on my own. It was too much fun, spending the day in Central Park, sparking at pretty ladies, watching the horses and the carriages, watching the swells stroll out of the Plaza Hotel, eating hot dogs off the cart – and making money. Having fun and making money, thanks to Seymour.

I sold balloons in the park for two months, but you can’t ride in that good-time parade forever. After a while you get tired of smiling at small children and you want to throw rocks at them. I got a regular job. My friends fixed me up with a rent-control studio apartment on East 54th Street.

The funny thing is that I never saw Seymour again. There I was making a living in Manhattan and I owed him, only he never said so. There was no catch. So why did he do me this favor? I don’t know. He was the Jew. He was a small-time crook and but this was a mitzvah just the same.

Seymour was who he was. You could take it or leave it. He knew the prayer, Thank God I am not a Gentile, Thank God I am not a slave, Thank God I am not a woman.

He didn’t say the prayer but he knew it. He had no ironic affection for God. He knew who he was with the crutches and how people looked at him when he walked. That’s who he was and sometimes he did you a favor without calculating the interest.

In time I forgot about Seymour, but the memory came back to me yesterday while I was transplanting tomatoes. Fagin reminded me of Seymour and that’s why it resonated. Dickens never remotely hinted that Fagin had a good side, but I imputed a small amount of Seymour-style goodness into Fagin’s character and liked him for that.

You can do that with a generous author like Dickens. He gives you his characters, then you can play with them as you like.

Visiting Ballard, Anacortes and LaConner. I will be visiting my daughter in Ballard the week of July 17-23, also staying a couple of nights with Fred and Nora Winyard in Anacortes, and spending a little time in LaConner as well. I hope to see some old friends while I am there.

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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Oliver Twist, also “Israel or ISIS”

Oliver Twist is an angelic sap, devoid of mischief and guile. I would not want to play with him. He might run home and tell on me. What you’re looking for in a friend is a co-conspirator, not a role model.

I’m half-way through this novel by Charles Dickens – I am disillusioned. I don’t care very much about young Oliver, but I will bring the book with me to the beach and soldier on.

My next Dickens novel might by Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit or Bleak House.

Nicholas Nickleby, being the one written after Oliver Twist, seems like a good choice.

Martin Chuzzlewit is funny, and since Oliver Twist is humorless, I might need a laugh.

Or Bleak House -- people say this is his best work, and I had been saving it for last, but why not now?

It’s summertime, beach reading season, in Southern California – all conditions point to a sublime experience, so it might be Bleak House.

Feel free to advise me on this choice.

I could write at much greater length about the novels of Charles Dickens, but I suspect not all of you are interested.

Israel or ISIS

Rather a dramatic change of topic, and yet it is what we are considering. Let me talk about having dinner with younger friends last week. They cheerfully admitted to a lack of news, as in not reading the news, not the newspaper or the Internet. It depressed them, so they avoided it.

You avoid bad news in order to be happy? How shallow. Happiness comes when you square up to the misery and cruelty of this world and still smile. I make a daily effort to be the good news, or at least part of it. And that makes me happy. But if there’s trouble, I want to hear about it, and hear about it right away. And people say, wrongly, that it does no good to hear about war in the Middle East because there is so little we can do about it.

Paying attention is doing something. Paying attention is no small thing. Read and learn about all the turmoil and all the calamities of all the people of the earth and make your heart big enough to be happy just the same.

And that brings me to this news item that I found on the Daily Beast. (Kids read news sites like the Daily Beast, if they read any news at all)

Israel or ISIS

Who has the toughest, most zealous, most determined military force in the Middle East? The Israelis. They’re not “weighing their options.” That is our luxury, not theirs.

We don’t defend Israel. It defends itself quite well. Israel has its boots on the ground right now and has no exit strategy.

You can find much fault with this society, but Israel does exist. And I will state, with my limited knowledge, that Israel might be just a hair less psychotic than the rampaging religious maniacs called ISIS. People might not feel free to say that out loud but it’s true.

Realizing this almost made me smile, because the ISIS is downright scary, and who can stop them? I will tell you who can stop ISIS – those same people you said don’t exist, the ones you will drive into the ocean. Now you will swallow your words because you will need their help.

And that would be a good thing, if people admitted, without actually having to come out and say so, that Israel is part of the solution to the future of the Middle East, not a peaceful and good future, but any future at all, because at this point, with all that war and fear of war, and martial intoxication, and the wild urges of young men to join in battle, any future at all is worth seeking and believing in, and this future will include Israel in some way, and it will not include ISIS.

That’s the choice. Those are the options. Israel or ISIS.

Thomas Friedman. Honestly, I should pass this on to Thomas Friedman at the New York Times, but he’s a clever man and will likely arrive at the same solution that I have just declared.

Not Forgetting Charles Dickens. This is why we read Charles Dickens on the beach, in the summer in sunny Southern California. Good books are not an escape at all. They are a part of what makes us alive, and that’s how we can be happy without hiding from the raging realities.

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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

At the Beach in Santa Barbara

I was stymied on how to proceed with the newsletter. I sent out two editions in March celebrating the Fishtown Woods Massacre of 1988. This heartfelt and well-researched story met with widespread and rather definite indifference.

And then I thought -- "Geez, I'm in Santa Barbara three years now, and I'm getting out of touch with the Pacific Northwest, and I just can't sell another Fishtown story. Their not mine to tell anymore."

So I dropped it. I put the files back in the box and put the box back in the attic. Let it gather dust with the rest of the archives.

I plunged right into another project which has kept me occupied these past two months -- and those two months, if you may have noticed, did not get you any more Frog Hospitals.

Instead I composed a family story -- about my Uncle Ted and my Granpa and my great-Grandfather. I had lots of photos and documents, and I spun it into a story -- rather than a history. With a story you can just make stuff up to fill in the gaps -- it saves you a lot of painstaking research.

Anyway, most of this "Uncle Ted" story was posted on Facebook in daily doses, like a publication in a serial format. And a lot of people liked it -- mainly my cousins. I really enjoyed getting back in touch with some cousins I haven't heard from in 20 years.

My cousin Florence, for instance. She married Uncle Ted's boy Dick in 1951 and they moved to Wisconsin and we didn't see them much after that. But I got her phone number from her daughter and I called her one Sunday afternoon. Florence and I haven't had a chat in almost 50 years, but she was right there. I just said hello, this is Fred Owens, and she laughed and said "What a surprise!" And right away we got talking.

Cousinhood does not expire, I realized. Friends may fade away, but cousins are forever.

Charles Dickens. I'm reading Charles Dickens this year, all of Dickens and nothing of non-Dickens. Not literally all -- I doubt I will read Martin Chuzzlewit, but I will read Little Dorrit and the Old Curiosity Shop, and am reading Oliver Twist right now, and did finish the Pickwick Papers last week, with an intervening plan to read two Sherlock Holmes short stories between each Dickens novel. This will keep me literarily occupied for 2014.

The thing about reading Dickens is that there is no possible better use of your time.

Writing Letters. I began to miss writing letters, so I have began doing that again. Paper, pen, envelopes, stamps, the post office -- the whole shebang. Send me your address, and I might write to you.

Or send me a letter and I will write back. Write to Fred Owens 1105 Veronica Springs Road, Santa Barbara, Ca 93105

This is a revolutionary and highly subversive activity, because I am sticking it to Facebook and Gmail and the NSA. I am tired of those people and their "free" services. Facebook is mining my data. Gmail has saved and will never forget any email I ever wrote on their program. The NSA snoops on everyone. To hell with them.

Besides that, the mail works just as good as it ever does. Think of what you have to say, and realize that almost everything you have to say can wait for the time it takes to deliver a letter. "Instant" communication is rarely necessary or helpful.

Thank you very much and Happy Father's Day to everyone

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.

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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

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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cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is Fred Owens

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