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.”
LOGGING PROTESTORS ARRESTED, THREE SPEND NIGHT IN JAIL
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 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.
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 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……
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.
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.