Monday, October 08, 2012

Ch. 19 The End of Fishtown

By Fred Owens

It was September, 1989, seven years later. “We never did find Lisa,” Jimmy said. He put his arm aound Joy Helen and gave her a squeeze. Jimmy and Joy were sitting around their living room on South Fourth Street in LaConner and catching up with an old friend.

“We went out there to Ika Island and climbed around all day, but there was nothing there, no cave. After a while it just seemed kind of stupid, so we got back in Robert’s boat and rowed back to the Sand Spit.”

“So you never found Lisa?”

“Nope. Either Atclew killed her and put her body somewhere or maybe she just left and went someplace else. Lisa’s parents contacted Allan Olson. He’s the tribal attorney. I don’t know why they picked him, but being a lawyer he won’t say anything about what he knows, so you’re guess is as good as mine.”

“Maybe there was no Lisa.”

“All I can say is we saw a woman with long black hair hanging around Atclew’s barge out on Shit Creek. But I never met her, I never went there. Atclew was the weirdest dude ever lived on the river, and I didn’t want to have nothing to do with him. I figured if the chick was crazy enough to be with Atclew, then it wasn’t going to be my problem.”

“But Keith…”

“Keith Brown was always a brick short of a load. Anyplace else but Fishtown they would have sent him away to Western State Hospital. But he was normal-crazy until Atclew started coming around. I mean he wasn’t scaring people until Atclew got to him.”

“How did Atclew get to him?”

“I don’t know. All I can say is when Atclew started living on the river, then Keith Brown started going round the bend in a major way.”

“They say Atclew was a magician.”

“That’s a load of crap. He was an illusionist -- that’s a word. He could let you think he had some kind of magic act if you were dumb enough to believe him. Mostly he had this really strange look in his eyes, really creepy. I think he got Keith Brown to brew up some kind of beverage made with battery acid or something poisonous, told him it would make him invisible, said he could get a real girl friend or have money, and you know how Keith liked tinkering with things.”

“Keith Brown had a good soul.”

“He did. He still does. Anyway he drank the Kool-Aid and that’s when he started saying he got messages from the anti-Christ and the CIA and got all paranoid. He started scaring people in town with all this talk about finding Lisa, and Lisa was captured by the CIA and there was a secret prison underneath the Lighthouse Inn. That’s when he made the bomb and came into town and that’s when I talked him into giving up and then they put him away for good.”

“You believed him? I mean about Lisa?”

“Keith Brown was always half-crazy, but he was my friend and I owed it to him. So we came out the next day to Ika Island and looked around to see if Lisa was there.”

“Nobody ever goes to Ika Island.”

“I only been there twice in my life. I could see it every day when I lived on the Sand Spit, but you just don’t go there. It’s not a sacred place and it’s not a haunted place either. The tribe never said anything about that. I figure Ika is special because it’s so ancient. It was there before all the spirits came to live here and there. It’s just that nobody goes there. Anyway we didn’t find her.”

“What about Atclew?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care. But he left pretty soon after that. Left his barge and all his junk piled on it. Had a fifty-horse Johnson motor on it. Somebody stole that right away, but the barge just sat there in the cattails for years, getting covered with leaves and getting less ugly, but nobody ever went near it, except for maybe some kids looking to steal something. It’s probably sunk by now.”

The End of Fishtown

They tore down Fishtown in the spring of 1989. But it started the year before when the Chamberlains logged off the Fishtown Woods. It happened just like Atclew said it would when he talked with Joy Helen that day on the float in front of Keith Brown’s cabin. Atclew was no magician, but he picked a good hunch – he said Fishtown would all be gone in a few years and the woods all cut down. He just said that to Joy Helen because it was a really bad thing to say and he got lucky because that’s just what happened.

The Chamberlain Family had owned the property since before statehood. They didn’t live there anymore but leased the farm land to Ken Staffanson, and the 70-acres of woods next to the dike was their property, running up to the boundary with Margaret Lee’s place on the hill. Fishtown itself was on the river side of the dike, built up on pilings and connected by a casual boardwalk that curved between small willow trees, over mud banks that flooded with the high tides.

The trees in the Fishtown Woods had been logged about 100 years ago, but not clear-cut, so by 1988 there were some fairly big firs and maples, ripe for the taking and the family decided to log it and hired Bill Welch to do the job.

The Fishtowners walked a soft path through these woods for many years, with an informal easement, across Staffanson’s fields and across the woods, and these were well-loved trees and the biggest patch of forest in the area, a sentimental remnant of the old growth, with a heron rookery on the one side, and an eagle’s nest piled high in a tree -- not in the area to be logged off but near to it -- and the shell middens from old Indian camps, and even a pocket wetland for salmon fry to spend a week or two in, before they hit saltwater two miles away.

“In other words we can stop ‘em,” Art Jorgensen said. “We got issues and we can sue ‘em.” Art lived in one of the Fishtown cabins and he gave $600 in cash – about the most money he ever accumulated in his life – to a friend in town. “Hire and lawyer and sue the Chamberlains.”

“But they’ll run you off, it’s their land.”

“I don’t care if they run me off. Not One Tree. You hear me. Not One Tree.”


That’s what happened All the Fishtown hippies joined in to protest the logging, and they held a campfire vigil out by Dodge Valley Road where Bill Welch was coming off the property with truckloads of logs. They sat down in the road one windy day in January, 1988 and refused to move until they were all arrested and carted off to the Skagit County Jail.

A lot of people objected to the logging and raised funds for the lawyer and to bail out the hippies, but a lot of other people said No. It’s private property. It’s nobody’s business. I don’t want the government to tell me I can’t cut a tree down on my own land.

Besides, what’s wrong with logging? They’ll plant new trees and pretty soon it all grows back. It just part of nature’s cycle.

The judge that heard the lawsuit was very sympathetic to the hippies and their cause, but Jeff Bode, the lawyer, whispered, “They generally act nice when they’re going to rule against you – kind of let you down easy.” So the tree huggers lost.

The hippies were really mad about this. They called it the Fishtown Woods Massacre, but it was done. And they made a bitter joke about when Art Jorgenson cried out “Not One Tree.” It turned into “Not One Tree Left.”

Right down to the stumps.

Then for spite, or just to get rid of the troublemakers, the Chamberlains evicted everybody in Fishtown. This took another court case because they only owned the land up to the dike, and the cabins were on the river side.

But the Chamberlains had the hippies outsmarted years ago by having them sign $10 a year leases for the cabin. So the judge made a ruling, “you don’t have title, but you have superior possession and the eviction stands.”

That was in April, 1989. Everybody moved out. Then one of Staffanson’s men came out with a tractor and a steel cable, wrapped the cable around each cabin, and pulled them down one after another into a splintered pile of logs and boards.

Pushed over all the pilings on the boardwalk. A month of high tides floated all the old boards away and by late summer that year you didn’t know Fishtown had ever been there.

Fishtown is Forever

But it’s kind of like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, they just ride on forever in the sky and wherever rivers meet the sea, in every land, and in every time, there is a clutch of cabins and shanties with nets drying and old men telling lies about the fishing while they watch the tide coming in.

-- the End --


Here we do a little catching up on the lives of the many characters in this story, starting in 1982 and leading up to the present.

Leila, the Turkish terror, she and her husband Beau Diller had their place on the river, but she protested when they logged off the woods and then they were evicted from Fishtown and their cabin was torn into a pile of splintered wood. They moved into town, but it was a rocky road and they separated.

Leila found Beau with a new girl friend and she laid into his Honda, parked on the curb in downtown LaConner, took a large rock and bashed in his windshield -- she had a bit of a hot temper.

She herself hooked up with drugstore cowboy from Texas, a rich man who came swaggering into LaConner wearing alligator boots. She went and married the cowboy only to find out he was really from Arkansas and he wasn’t rich at all.

Well, too bad. She finally settled in Bellingham, trying various schemes and making a living somehow. “My needs are modest. I choose to live close to the earth,” she said, “but I like to wear expensive shoes. I don’t apologize for that.”

Charlie Krafft stayed in Seattle, had a studio in Chinatown, had a modest success as a painter, developed a strange interest in Nazi memorabilia and spouted what he called a “genteel anti-Semitism.” The soft-headed arts crowd in Seattle tolerated this madness.

Aurora Jellybean moved back to Seattle and tried to become a real person again, telling everybody her real name was Elizabeth Holtzman, and that was, in fact, her real name. Only she found out that Elizabeth Holtzman was also the name of a feminist Congresswoman from Brooklyn. “I just give up,” she said. “I will never understand what is real and what is not. Things will just happen and that’s that.”

Amy Hahn left her job at the LaConner library. She shaved her head and became a Buddhist monk, and went down to Dallas, Texas, of all places. “You wouldn’t think they have Buddhists in Texas,” she said. “But they do.” After a few years, she came back to LaConner and married Kevin Sunrise -- still being a Buddhist nun, but they worked that one out.

Robert Sund turned 62 in 1991 and became eligible for social security. Getting that small monthly check was the best thing happening to him in years. No more mooching the friendly fiver, he could pay his own way now, or some of it. With renewed confidence he took his poems and manuscripts and moved to Anacortes. To hell with LaConner.

He died of lung cancer in 2001. He was dying in the hospital when the planes struck the World Trade Center on September 11, and one of his friends said thank goodness Robert didn’t live to see that. A memorial trust was formed after his passing and some of his best poems finally got published.

Fred Martin stayed on at the LaConner Drugstore. He started the business in 1956 and stood behind the counter every day for fifty years, finally retiring in 2006, always a steady fellow and a friend to mankind.

Larry Yonnally got tired of being chief of the LaConner Police force – to many Barney Fife moments for him, squabbling with the mayor and the town council over his tiny budget, buried in paper work, when all he wanted to be is just a cop, so he left and got hired as a Skagit County Sheriff’s deputy, got his own Crown Vic, driving the highways and enforcing the law. That suited him fine and the pay was much better too.

Mr. Grobschmidt sold the Frog Hospital to Kirby Johnson. Kirby was a crafty old farmer (and a graduate of Stanford University). He tore down 90 percent of the Quonset hut, leaving just enough of the shell to qualify as a re-model and then built a much larger edifice around it – to become an antique mall.

Charlie Berg and his wife Beth moved out of his house on South First Street and built a new home on some land on Pull and Be Damned Road. The house was entirely home-made in Charlie’s unique style. He – standard euphemisms do not apply – “left this earth a few years later.” In Charlie’s case, people wondered was he ever really here in the first place? Of all the characters in this story, real and imagined, Charlie was the fully Transcendent One, with no plot and no happy ending – beyond this author’s ken for sure.

Keith Brown remained at Steilacoom, in a protected environment for the criminally insane – thirty years now, it’s become his real home. Jim Smith gets a phone call from Keith now and then, and sometimes a letter. “Keith is fixated on what happened in 1982,” Jim said. “Keith still talks about Lisa and the anti-Christ and the CIA plot against him and wants to settle things with the people who put him away. I’m afraid they can’t let him out until he gets over some dangerous illusions. But he’s got a good home down there, so leave it be.”

Jimmy Kuipers and Joy Helen Sykafoos got married in 1984 and took over Charlie Berg’s house on South First Street and then bought the place a few years later when Jimmy’s parents sold the farm and gave him the down payment money. Jimmy worked at Michael Graham’s wood-working shop over by Sam Cram’s barn. And he turned the old chicken coop into an artist studio for making his watercolor bird paintings. Joy Helen worked at a sailmaking shop. Joy had a daughter, Heather, who had been living in Marysville at her grandmother’s but she came up to LaConner to be with Jimmy and Joy Helen. They were a happy family so there is not much to say about that.

Hitch remained leader of the Clan of Men Who Walk Slowly into Town. He came by Jimmy’s place from time to time, but Jimmy’s drinking days were over. “I love every day I spent on the Sand Spit, but that’s not my life anymore.” Then Hitch would stick around for dinner. “That’s what you need, Hitch, you wouldn’t be so hang-dog skinny if you ate some food every day.”

“I’m twice as wide as you. You’re so skinny I could mail you like a letter.”

“And you ought to get rid of that Fu Manchu mustache, we only want respectable Indians coming around here.”

“I’ve read more books than you could fill up your living room. I got a Ph.D in fishing, psychology, ancient customs, and air traffic control. You don’t know the half of me…”

“You still like fried chicken?

Clyde Sanborn, although he was never in this story, may have created the space for it by his absence, because he was gone that summer of 1982, up to a cabin in Big Lake with his girlfriend Linda, not drinking and working a steady job, which he hated.

He soon shucked off his town clothes and kissed Linda goodbye, and came back to the river and his drinking ways. He set up a simple camp on Brown Lily Hill and managed to scrounge enough money in town every day for drinking wine. Everybody liked Clyde. He wrote poems on cocktail napkins – little zen sayings that meant nothing.

Clyde was rowing his boat one day in April 1996, and somehow, after a thousand years on the river, and drunk most of the time, but that one night he slipped over the side and the Skagit River took him home. They found his body washed ashore out by Hole in the Wall. More than 300 people came to his funeral.

That leaves Crazy Peter, still living out on Barge Island all these years. Maybe we shouldn’t call him Crazy anymore. He’s been out there so long he’s Old Man River now.


Subscriptions. We need your help to continue publishing stories like this. Please go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button with your $25 donation. Or write a check for $25 made out to Fred Owens and mail it to 35 West Main St., Suite B #391, Ventura CA 93001.


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

No comments: